Q&A with Nick Mitchell, London’s leading personal trainer

The following interview with Nick appeared in edition of the now sadly defunct Raw Grip strength training magazine.

Raw Grip: A question from a Raw Grip forum member…I’m 5’10” and about 300 lbs and I want to improve my flexibility. I don’t want to sacrifice my size and strength for flexibility, what should I do?

Nick Mitchell: Why would you think that your size or strength would be impaired by improving your flexibility? In my experience quite the opposite is true. The better your muscular range of motion and the better your joint flexibility then the better able you are to set your body up for any lifting or athletic endeavour. Furthermore, the more you stretch the more you loosen the muscle fascia that sheathes your entire skeletal muscle system. The less rigid this is, the more “room” you have to grow and the less likely you are to injure yourself.
You need to do two things – primarily a mixture of dynamic (as a pre training warm up), PNF and then static stretching (as a separate two to three times weekly workout away from your resistance training sessions) to help keep your muscles healthy and free from the knots and adhesions that plague all strength athletes. Secondly we would all benefit from increased joint mobility around the ankle, hip and shoulder regions. This is an article in itself and beyond the scope of this Q&A column, suffice to say that judicious use of the foam roller and (easy, non weight loading) exercises that focus on working the joint throughout its widest range of motion are the correct way to go.

Raw Grip: Nick a personal question from me, if an athlete strolls into your London personal training gym and his main goal being in becoming much more explosive and faster. How do you approach this?

Nick Mitchell: Improve his neural drive. Assuming that “explosive and faster” doesn’t also mean “bigger”, then we would look to improve relative strength by undertaking the following protocols.
1) All exercises conducted with a low time under tension (under 20 seconds total set time)
2) Emphasis on movements that recruit the largest number of motor units – so there would be very limited isolation work and a huge focus on “bang for your buck” movements such as the Olympic lifts (or as a minimum the power clean), squats, snatch grip deadlifts, chin ups, various “power” presses such as standing military presses, push presses, flat and incline bench presses. Exercise selection does depend in part upon the sport that we are building the explosive power for. For example, a rugby player would be better off performing incline bench press instead of flat bench, as it has been demonstrated that there is far more functional carryover into the “hand off” from the incline movement. Note also that the nervous system is more active in a standing position, so as much as possible select exercises where you are on your feet.
3) Controlled eccentric movement (3 seconds MINIMUM) and an explosive concentric to increase intramuscular tension.
4) Incorporate chains and bands selectively. I especially like training with chains as they match resistance curves to human strength curves, especially in the training of extensors. Use them sparingly though – most athletes only have the recuperative powers to tolerate them every other workout.
5) Grip work – I like to include additional grip work for everyone seeking to improve their explosive power. This is typically a very neglected area, especially by bodybuilders, and one that can be very damaging for strength athletes if not rectified. Remember that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link so I don’t care how much you can squat, if your grip sucks and you can’t hang onto the ball or your opponent you’re going to be ineffectual and useless on the playing field!
Furthermore, what I especially like about grip work for strength athletes is how it can improve strength on all other lifts. As your hand strength improves less neural drive is needed for your forearms and hands, so more can go to the muscles being directly targeted. Hey presto, like magic you can shift more weight! Work on your grip and in 6 weeks you will be benching more. That’s a promise.
At my London personal training gym we use all sorts of grip related machines – I like to mix up the iron mind hand crushers with the rolling thunder single arm deadlift, but if you don’t have access to that sort of equipment you can still get a great workout by doing simple things such as pinching plates together or wrapping a towel over a heavy dumbbell to give it a thick grip. The key for grip training is variety and reasonably high frequency, at least twice per week.
6) Take supplements that increase neural drive – my favourite is good old strong black coffee (so strong that you can stand a spoon up in it) and 1500mg of Alpha GPC 30-45 minutes pre workout.

Question: This one needs to be addressed because there is too much confusion on the subject. High repetitions vs. low repetitions? Why? What for? Who for?
Nick Mitchell: Jesus, you don’t want to know much do you?! This is a book right here…my Victoria’s Secret models never ask me such questions..
OK, in a nutshell –
The lower the rep range the more you work relative strength, the higher the rep range the more you work muscular endurance.
However, I prefer to keep it simple and focus less on reps and more on time under tension (TUT / how long it takes you to complete a set), with a formula like this:
Under 20 seconds TUT – relative strength with little hypertrophy. View this as training the central nervous system.
20-40 seconds- “functional hypertrophy” – strength and some muscular growth adaptations (typically a thickening of the contractile proteins within the muscle fibres)
40-70 seconds – classic bodybuilder territory – hypertrophy, especially of the sarcoplasmic tissues (swelling of the non contractile proteins within the muscle cells) that contributes to increased size but not to much of an increase in your 1 rep maximum potential.
70 seconds plus – muscular endurance training – you need to be a genetic freak to grow from this length of TUT
Of course, nothing in life is ever so simple, so I may as well add that I have also observed that the TOTAL TUT on a muscle in a given workout has adaptive implications too. So if the total TUT is quite high (above 200 seconds) then an athlete starts to get a hypertrophic response regardless of how short the individual set’s TUT.

Thank you for your time today Nick. It has been an honour conversing with a man of your industry standing and knowledge. I am sure our readers now fully appreciate just why you are known as the best personal trainer in London (and most likely the UK)!