Interview with Alex Stott – Formula for Success

Interview with strength & conditioning coach Alex Stott! Alex trains F1 race car drivers…and you have to read about how much surprising physical effort there is in racing!

Alex also shares his views on clients who travel, online coaching, warm up drills, continuing education and so much more!

Alex Stott – Strength & Conditioning Coach – United Kingdom

Thanks for chatting with me Alex! What excites you right now?

What excites me ultimately is helping people achieve results that they didn’t think were possible. Whether that’s athletes, the Travelfit iBook , or clients through the online training programs it is about delivering them results in ways that are sustainable.

This means avoiding fad diets and methods, building strength, movement, and weight loss properly.

Ill have to check out your iBook! What’s one common diet and method you try to avoid with your clients and why?

One of the big dieting methods that I try to avoid is crash dieting or some of the drastic diets of cutting out certain food groups such as carbs, or entirely cutting out breads etc… While people use them and see rapid reductions in weight they are methods that aren’t sustainable in the long run.

The whole term ‘diet’ is wrong as people go on a diet want to do it to lose weight then come off of it. But it doesn’t address the fundamental reason that caused them to want to go on a diet and they put the weight back on (often more) once they come off.

I work more on getting people to gradually change their nutrition to suit their lifestyle more than dieting, it needs to be something they sustainable they can do for life. That’s making sure that fundamentally its a healthy balanced diet of fresh meats, vegetables, and not being scared of having breads or treats but just understanding the balance they have each day.

Essentially everything in moderation.

Its important people hear that, sometimes over and over again! How did you get started in this career as a personal trainer, coach…?

I think it’s safe to say that my career to date hasn’t been the most conventional, it has been hard work and required a lot of single-minded focus, long hours, and unrelenting determination. I’ve played sports including rugby, cricket, and football (soccer) to a good level as well as athletics and cross country. I’ve always had a passion for both sport and training.

I got my degree in sport and exercise science while also working as strength & conditioning coach for the university cricket team. That year they became the indoor champions. I was involved in research projects for tutors and lecturers, a subject in numerous Ph.D. studies, and working as part of the sports science team for Coventry Football Club academy teams.

Next, I consulted for a company in the UK looking after the physical preparation of over 30 racing drivers all the way from karting through to F1 (Formula One) including Max Chilton, Alexander Rossi, Jazeman Jaffar, Nicholas Latifi, and Mike Conway. I also worked with a number of drivers in European F3 while there.

The past 2 years I have been working as the trainer and physio for Jolyon Palmer in Formula One first with Lotus F1 where he was a reserved driver and then the start of this season with Renault following his GP2 title win. This included physical training and nutrition as well as traveling to all of the races around the world.

I was also involved in the Combined Strength Group in the UK and part of the group that are actively changing the way the fitness industry operates and driving up standards. This was following a number of workshops and continued professional development seminars with Andy ‘IronMac’ McKenzie.

You have been involved in a lot! Tell me more about your iBook and online coaching you mentioned before.

These for me have been a way to take what I have learned while traveling and the methods I use in elite sport with athletes to everyday people no matter what their goal is.

The iBook allows me to give people 20 workouts, mobility work, and nutritional tips for keeping fit in a hotel room or outside without needing any kit and was something I utilized a lot. It’s also something a lot of people who have to travel a lot with work or on gap years struggle with and that I wanted to address.

I then developed the online coaching and wanted to bring it out as I saw a lot of it being done where people are just getting generic programs. I wanted a way to bring the coaching and training methods that I use with athletes to anybody anywhere in the world. Therefore I started taking on clients for online programs where each month they get a completely bespoke program, FaceTime/Skype calls with me and as much email and phone support as needed too alongside their training programs and nutrition advice to really help people smash their fitness and sporting goals.

One thing that has been constant throughout my career as well has always been the willingness to put myself through something before I put any client through it and to lead from the front and by example.

I am a strong believer that if I am going to put a client through something, be that a physiological test and assessment, training method or exercise or something like heat acclimation or altitude training I have to have been through it first.

Both to assess how it works but also so I know what they are going through and the battles that they will face, I personally believe without this it is impossible to effectively coach an individual through an exercise, a training method or an assessment.

Getting clients on board with exercise during travel is not always the easiest thing to do. Are there any particular strategies you use to get them committed to doing it?

I agree there it isn’t always the easiest thing to do getting people on board with exercise when traveling. There are a number of elements here that help.

First up is getting into the routine of exercising while traveling as soon as I start working with someone and putting the habits in place from the start. If it is a long haul flight then always make a point of getting in the gym or out for a run or a swim as soon as possible after arriving to get the travel out the body and to start off right, also sets the right mindset. In this instance always start with something light and easy, such as mobility and potentiation work or some light cardio rather than a full on intense workout.

The other element is with the schedules for racing drivers often being very hectic and packed getting the exercise in first thing in the morning. Make it a habit and part of the daily routine to get the workout done before breakfast and to look at it in the same way as any other commitment.

By building it into the routine first thing in the morning you get it in and done before you face the other stresses of the day and before other commitments and elements can creep in that will prevent you getting into the gym later in the day.

Plan your sessions before hand, if you are staying in a hotel with a gym you can usually get the information of what equipment is in the gym before hand allowing you to plan the sessions before you travel which is one less stress or thing to think about when you are there.

If the hotel doesn’t have a gym or there is no gym near by then plan some sessions you can do in your hotel room that you can do before you travel.

With your online coaching, do you deliver exercises through video? Or do you do it live with them over SKYPE? Do you do a movement assessment?

With the online clients they are given a program for the month which gives them all the exercise, sets, reps, rest and alongside this they will be sent videos of exercises that they haven’t encountered before, ones that I might want to clarify or make sure they are doing properly or ones that they want clarification on. If an individual really isn’t sure or I am not convinced they fully understand an exercise then I will look to either Skype or face time them to run through the exercises or a few exercises to endure they fully understand them and can complete them with the correct form and technique.

I am looking at the minute into putting together a comprehensive video library of exercises that I will make available just to the online clients with password access that will give them instant availability to videos of all the exercises and a guide on how to complete them. But as you can imagine its a relatively time-consuming task to put together and a work in progress.

In terms of the assessments yes all the online clients I have will go through 2 before I prescribe them with any program. The first of these is a simple 6 exercise assessment that looks at their movement and their mobility, I get the clients to video these and send them over to me so that I can look at how they move and for areas of restricted movement or possible weakness.

From there they will then complete a 7 step performance assessment, this will give me an indication of where they are at with their strength, muscular endurance and power. If they are training for a specific sport then this element might be tweaked slightly to include exercise or tests specific to that sport to assess strength in certain exercises or to assess their cardiovascular fitness levels relative to the sport.

The two assessments combined with the information I gather from each client in the initial consultations about their goals, training history, any injuries in the past, the training environment that they have access too and available time gives me a clear picture of where they are and to put a plan in place that fits with their lifestyle, current fitness level and commitments to work towards their goals.

Can you tell us a little bit about training programs for your F1 drivers? At first glance it seems that they “just sit in a car”, but I have heard that it is very strenuous. Is there any particular focus for these athletes?

F1 drivers and racing drivers in general are a unique challenge for a coach in terms of what they have to be capable of and prepared for. To put it in simple terms you have to prepare an individual to be as light as possible, have the neck strength of a rugby player, upper body strength of a boxer or MMA fighter, also explosive lower body strength and endurance as well as high cardio fitness levels akin to endurance runners or triathletes.

Throw into the mix being prepared for hot conditions, high fluid loss, and needing quick reactions and spacial awareness too. Also to mention they need very high core strength.
To give you an example the driver can face 4-5G every time they brake and in the corners, this means that while they are strapped in tight they need huge core strength to brace against these forces.

It also means that once they have their helmet on the neck is having to withstand 40-50kg of force from all directions every time they brake or go through a corner for up to 2 hours at a time in the car and repeatedly over the course of a race weekend.

In terms of cardio, a drivers heart rate will be elevated throughout the race and often will sit at 130-140bpm so equivalent to most people going for a light jog for 2 hours, yet it can peak unto 180-190bpm at key points like race starts, pit stops and when in an intense battle with other drivers.

Throw into that the high forces needed to use the brakes in a racing car and to stop the car from those speeds, the mental challenges not only of driving cars at those speeds but also to communicate with the teams, think about what is going on and to make changes to the car via the wheel at speed and there is a lot going on for the drivers to cope with.

Therefore the training will often involve plenty of strength and strength endurance work in the off season to build up the relevant fitness levels, a lot of cardio work as well. This can be running, swimming, cycling which is a particular favorite for many drivers or even events like triathlons.

Then along side that there as a coach I will throw in a lot of core work, reaction work, and exercises to challenge a driver mentally once fatigued…this is where can really start to have some fun with the training too.

For example getting a driver to hold a plank with feet on a swiss ball and at the same time turn over and match cards playing cards where there is a physical strain but they also have to think about where the cards are and memorize them.

Among all of this, there will be a lot of mobility work and stretching to avoid injuries and to counter the amount of time spent either sitting in a car or on a plane traveling.

That’s wild! I had no idea how physical it is, and just learned so much about the sport of racing.Whats something you learned that you with you knew when you started coaching?

Don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know something! People coming into the industry from my experience are always given the impression that they need to know everything, they have to be able to give clients training programs, nutritional programs, assess and diagnose injuries and much more.

In reality a lesson from elite sport and from some of the best coaches I have had the pleasure of working with is identify your skill set, if something falls outside of this don’t be scared to send someone to a specialist in that area.

Elite sports teams will often have a multidisciplinary team of sports scientist, strength and conditioning coaches, physiotherapists, nutritionists sports psychologists and these individuals exist outside of sport too.

So the tip there would be to build relationships with these practitioners in your local area and don’t be afraid to send clients to them if there is something that needs addressing that falls into their skill set but outside of yours.

As a coach these days if an injury is outside of my area of expertise or I am not certain about the issue I will send them to a great physio I know and work with them to correct it, or too a nutritional coach if they need a really specific intervention that is beyond my skill set.

What’s one book that changed your practice/mindset, etc… and why? What’s the one thing you took away from it?

There isn’t one book here there are 3-4 that come to mind:

Becoming a Supple Leopard by Kelly Starrett: for me mobility and recovery are areas that are hugely overlooked. I was lucky enough to be sent a copy of it from Reebok ahead of its launch over here in the UK. Reading this just reinforced it and also made me look at how I was delivering the mobility work that I was doing with clients.

Most courses I have seen or experienced often talk about mobility in terms of static stretching, but we don’t often move with muscles in isolation the result being that when I finished I started looking at being more creative with the mobility work and looking at ways to involve it where there is a more dynamic movement to it that closer mimics movements in the real world and sport.

5 minute journal: I was given a copy by a good friend Andy McKenzie and while not necessarily a book you read but a journal you fill in each morning and night I can’t recommend it highly enough. We are all guilty of getting so wrapped up in what we are doing and our day to day lives we often forget to step back think about our situation and reflect on things.

This book was great on that front, the subtle prompts and way its done really encourages you to not only reflect on where you are at present but to really think about what you are aiming for with real clarity. Its something that really encouraged me to look at spending more time reflecting and really appreciating what I have achieved and have.

The rest of my book shelf largely full of reference books on the likes of exercise physiology, anatomy, strength and conditioning, nutrition, weightlifting and kettlebells from which I can understand the basics and the science before learning the application from great coaches around the world.

After talking to you I purchased the 5 Minute Journal for clients and friends, thanks! What are you reading right now?

From a coaching perspective I am currently reading Fascia: The Tensional Network of the Human Body. It’s an area I have wanted to look into further for a while as it is often overlooked with regards to training and most people don’t even look at, but from a performance perspective, recovery and a sports massage perspective for me too with athletes one that can have a big impact on performance. So I am spending some time delving deeper into this to understand it more.

As a book to read away from sport and exercise I am reading The Power Paradox by Datcher Keltner, I came across it a while ago and bought it out of curiosity but same really interesting theories in there that can be seen in everyday life about the strive for perceived power in society and how it manifests, is lost and what it does to people in all walks of life. Its quite an interesting read so far.

Finally I always have a copy of Monocle Magazine on the go as well, more of a monthly book that magazine on global affairs, business, culture and design. It’s my go to light reading that I can dip in and out of when I get 10-15 minutes spare or perfect reading on a plane.

Can you talk about a breakthrough with a client, and what led up to it?

For me some of the most rewarding breakthroughs haven’t necessarily been with athletes. Its always hugely rewarding working with them and helping them achieve their goals and its where I enjoy doing the bulk of my work. However with an athlete sport and training are their job and as such they dedicate all their time to that.

Corporate and online clients for me are where the biggest changes have been made and can turn someones life around. An example would be some of the corporate individuals that I have coached before who have struggled with weight, fitness, nutrition and their general lifestyle as well as huge levels of stress.

This is predominantly due to working long days with high demands and expectations of a job where they are sat down all day. The breakthrough with these guys is turning their lives around from that respect and helping a huge number of them to lose weight, reduce their blood pressure and improve their fitness, nutrition, and work life balance over the course of a year. Allowing them not only to perform better at work but also to enjoy home life and time with kids and families more.

The key to this was to really spend the time to get to know each individual, understand their situation and prompt them to really dig into what it was that was causing them the issues. By getting them to identify the problems and really digging deep into it with motivational interviewing and other techniques rather than just throwing things to do at them they formulated the plan of attack and identified solutions themselves, by doing this they buy into the process more and have far greater motivation and greater adherence to the program.

From there my role then is to break it down into manageable steps from them, with nutrition, training and lifestyle guidance and programs to help them facilitate their goals. Essentially the take away there is that spending the time to really get to understand each client, their individual situation and lifestyle allows you to tap into their personality, the attributes that motivate them and then tailor their training and programs to make it as easy for them to make the changes as possible.

There have been some with online clients as well, one that I recently took on decided to sign up for online training and to leave the gym that they had been training at for years. By applying the same principles and taking the time to really understand their situation, get to know them, their background and where they are currently at in 6 weeks of body weight training alone that they are completing at home they have seen some huge results.

For example 6 weeks they feel more confident, are stronger, report that they look 80% better than before and have completed their first handstand in over 12 years. For me the key with all of them is to really make that extra effort to understand the clients, while when programming I always use a process of structured warm ups, skill work and main sessions and over the week the split of push, pull, squat and conditioning as an example if you dont know what demands your client faces in their day to day life then you are only likely to be providing them with a program that isn’t attainable to realistic.

To get the most from clients, be that athletes or not as a coach not only are we there to guide and motivate but we need to make it as easy as possible for the client to build the training and nutrition into their daily life and routines. You can make the sessions as tough for them as you like and really push them in those sessions, if its easy for them to get it into their routine then they are likely to stick to it.

On the flip side you could give them really easy and simple sessions and tasks to complete but if they cant easily slot it into their life then the chances of them sticking to it are slim.

The key to this was to really spend the time to get to know each individual, understand their situation and prompt them to really dig into what it was that was causing them the issues. By getting them to identify the problems and really digging deep into it with motivational interviewing and other techniques rather than just throwing things to do at them they formulated the plan of attack and identified solutions themselves, by doing this they buy into the process more and have far greater motivation and greater adherence to the program.

Your top 3 favorite questions that you ask a new client? Your top 3 questions for someone you’ve been training for a while?

“What are your goals and why?”

I don’t just want to know what you are looking to achieve but want to understand the rationale behind them as well.

“Run me through an example of your normal day and your week, what constraints do you have on your time, what free time do you have and when?”

“What is your training and sporting history? Are there any injuries from the past?”

Understanding what someone has done before, who they have trained with, the sports they have played will give me an insight in to the type of training they are used to, where their weaknesses might be and also where their strengths are likely to be.
The second element there is one that I can’t really answer as there are no real set questions. With the athletes and drivers that I work with we spend so much time together training, travelling and at races that we have to be good friends as much as athlete and coach. The result of which is that you get to know the athlete inside out and when they are feeling good or not, things they will want to improve and work on without having to ask.

Alongside this, a lot of our work is guided by results from regular fitness and strength testing, from race weekends and results. There is allot that we will monitor over a race weekend and that I will track to guide our work.

For my online clients its the same situation really, I make a point of keeping an open flowing dialogue with them to keep tabs on where they are and to allow them easy access if they have any questions etc.

This way I have a deep understanding of their training and where they are, anything they struggle with or strength and their evolving goals as we go. I find feedback in this manner from clients to be a lot more genuine and focused that leaving it for periods of time and only getting feedback with specific questions where the answers never really give the full picture.

Can you tell me about your proudest moment?

For me there is two that role into one here, first of all is achieving the goal I set out originally as a coach of working with a driver in Formula 1 on merit. It was a goal that I set out with and took 8 years to achieve.

There were a lot of people who when you mention it said it was near impossible, with only 20-22 drivers at a time on the grid, and most of the trainers and physios being supplied through 2 companies to get there as an individual working for myself was a huge task, but ultimately one that has been incredibly rewarding.

The second element also ties into this, for me 2015 and the start of this year were great. To have been working with Jolyon Palmer all of 2015 when he had just won the GP2 championship and was completing a year as a reserve driver for then Lotus training him and also helping to support him at all of the race weekends he was driving at with the end result helping him to secure a full time drive in Formula 1 with Renault and achieve his lifelong dream, being part of that and helping an athlete to achieve that is very rewarding.

How has your programming changed since last year?

That’s a tough question to answer, for me I am always evaluating what I am doing and what can be done to improve it, this is usually only small tweaks and adding in additional skills or elements I have learnt or dropping elements that haven’t worked.

An example is the other weekend spending a day learning from Ranoch Donald a great martial arts coach and trainer on the use of indian clubs. They were something I had never used before or considered yet a day of using them and learning from Ranoch with these has left me with a number of drills I can work in for clients either for warm up or strength depending on their goals and situation.

The biggest change for me over the past year is probably the way in which I build mobility and warm up work into the training. Its something that I have always included and seen real benefit in and not in terms of static stretching or running. It has been a real focus amongst all of the coaches in the Combined Strength Group and something that when we have come together we have spent time looking at and working on.

The upshot of which is that now the warm up methods that I use with clients is much more streamlined and almost seamlessly blends into the main focus of the session. It can be 10-20 minute in total depending on the client but there is always a thought process there working through from warming up, developing range of motion in the joints relevant to the session, activating the muscles that are the focus of the training that day, working patterns, potentiation, or building in some play to the warm up to have some fun and to work the fundamentals and then finally finishing off with some skill work specific to the individual and their goals.

Is there one or two warm up drills that you find yourself using a lot over a variety of your clients?

There are a few, yes, one of them is the cat-camel drill. For me, this is one of the best exercises to mobilize the spine and to teach people to move through the spine and understand the movement.

Most people are very tight through their thoracic spine and often lacking in range of motion or just don’t know how to move, after all, its alien for most a lot of athletes too as society today people spend a lot of time sat down hunched over a desk to computer or in front of a TV, in a car and the spine doesn’t move.

So that’s the first one, teaching people that and teaching them to move each section and each vertebrae, to get movement through the spine.

Another one is scapula elevation, depression, retraction, and protraction. Again with posture for many these days, this is something that often needs to be addressed, and is a prehab exercise for drivers as well.

Getting the scapula moving well aids not just in posture but in shoulder health as well as helps to counter the issues people face of rounded shoulders from sitting at desk all day or for a driver in a car where your shoulders are forced into a rounded forward position with the seats.

Aside from the that mobility and warm up drills I end up doing will often change for each individual to they specific needs or demands. It will be based on the exercises that are in the session to come, areas of weakness or restricted movement that need to be addressed from the assessments and their individual lifestyle.

No matter the warm up the process behind it is similar and gradually builds in intensity into the session almost seamlessly.

Can you tell us some recent continuing education that you really enjoyed?

I am always looking at continual education. I prefer to go and learn from the best in the world in person than complete online courses or just read and one of the main reasons that I joined the Combined Strength Group.

But a few of the recent things I have done are:
Core, bodyweight and barbell certification weekend with Andy McKenzie which were great, they blended the theory and practice well and are all delivered in through weekends of being coached and coaching.

Spent a day working on handstands with a great gymnastics coach Jonathan Last in Bristol

Spent 3 days in Slovenia looking at movement & mobility work with a great group of coaches and dancers from Vigor Move and lift in Ljubljana. Then a day in Maribor with a phenomenal coach Marck Goran Lorencic looking at some unusual methods for some strength work and some pain assisted learning on conditioning.

A day learning about indian clubs with Ranoch Donald

I have a huge list of other element and people I want to learn from over the coming year too all over the world from world leading weight lifters, some fantastic nutrition coaches, I also plan on heading back to America for some learning at the Onnit Academy in Austin and maybe a few other weekends courses and seminars over there.

Symposiums on the preparation of individuals for exercise, competition and performance in extreme environments and climates A symposium on movement, movement screening and how to assess individuals in all walks of life

I enjoy learning and have a hunger to continually push my self and learn more, not just to better what I offer my clients but because I enjoy it and also enjoy putting myself in the position that my clients are often in too of learning new movements or skills.

What’s one thing that you think is really easy, but works well with many of your clients?

A big one here for me is sports massage and soft tissue therapy. A lot of us train, we compete, push ourselves or in society these days spend time sitting at a desk or in a car all of which take a toll on the body.

Investing in regularly seeing a good soft tissue therapist or sports massage therapist and taking that time and making the investment to look after your body really pays off. Not only will it aid in recovery from training, but really helps with mobility, posture and injury prevention.

Its not just something that I will do multiple times every day with racing drivers and athletes I work with to maximize recovery between sessions and post training but something that I invest in myself.

As a coach I have had niggles and issues before from playing sport and from poor coaching and a lack of guidance when I was younger, learning from these and combining soft tissue therapy with a properly structured training program were key to addressing these issues and ultimately building stronger more injury-proof body.

Any parting advice for us?

There are a few bits of advice, first of all find a good coach who is invested in each clients results and buys into their goals and ambition, these are the coaches that will go the extra mile for the client.

Its also important to look at the lifestyle of each individual too as to look at the available time and commitments, identify the available time and build training programs around this. Its easy to put together a comprehensive program that works towards a goal for an individual that has masses of free time but give it to an individual who is limited in their time to train and its then hard to stick to it.

So start small, build the routine and habit and gradually increase it from there. Think small stepping stones instead of giant leaps at a time, it makes the process more sustainable, makes changes easier to manage and will often lead to large changes in a short period of time without feeling like a big overhaul.

And for clients or anyone training the show up with intensity and commitment. Results aren’t achieved overnight, they take time but if you show up to each session and commit to each training session, put in the intensity each session and keep a focus on the end goal, remember why you started and wanted to make a change when things are tough you will see results.

The people in the gym who have the bodies people aspire to or the athletes they look up to are in that position because they showed up consistently with intent and commitment. The kicker is that do that, you will see result and others will too but you will find you have more energy, are happier and enjoy life more.

Thanks so much Alex, this has been epic! How do we get in contact with you?

I am pretty easy to get hold of, it’s something I make a point of and always make the effort to reply to people no matter how they contact me.

Phone: +447879998344
twitter: Stottie01
Instagram: astott_fitness

There is a Facebook page as well, but in reality, this got neglected for a long time. This is being addressed and will shortly be filled with content both in terms of advice and training sessions for people.

Books Mentioned:

Travelfit iBook

Becoming a Supple Leopard by Kelly Starrett

5-minute journal

Fascia: The Tensional Network of the Human Body

The Power Paradox by Datcher Keltner

Monocle Magazine