Tales from the Trenches: Q&A with Chris Grayson

The advantages of quantifying velocity and effort during training for athletic performance are clear (refs), but what are the intangible benefits that athlete monitoring can bring to a personal training program? We sat down and spoke with Chris Grayson, the owner of the Urban Strength institute in Chicago (http://urbanstrengthinstitute.com/), about how he took his facility to the next level using wearable technology.

Chris’ passion for exercise and training grew after high school when he enlisted as a Marine. After leaving the Marine Corps in 1998, Chris immediately began helping others reach their fitness goals. Understanding the value of hard work and determination, he took a passion for strength training and turned it into a thriving business through continuous learning and personal improvement. Now, Chris is training everyone from firefighters/police officers to mixed-martial artists to the everyday person looking to improve their health and physique. Given his broad range of clientele, here’s what Chris had to say about his experience with the PUSH Band and Portal and how it fits his specific use case.


How have your clients reacted to the introduction of the PUSH Band to their training?

My clients are a lot more engaged. They always want to see their metrics as soon as the set is over, motivating them to do better. We mostly look at velocity - whether or not they’re in the right velocity zone and/or their velocity loss after a set. The fact that I can prove their results by showing their improvement in performance metrics is big value added for both the client and myself.

When you’re explaining and using concepts like velocity, velocity drop-off, and power measured in watts, it sets you apart from other trainers and gives them confidence you are up to date and you know your stuff. The fact that you’re storing all of this data on a computer going paperless during the workout adds modern legitimacy to what we do. By staying up to date, it shows you love what you do, invest in yourself and your business, and in turn investing in them as a client.

Perception is very important in our industry. When a client sees you continually learning and growing, they continue to believe you will find new solutions for their challenges and bring them results. Seeing things like PUSH, new equipment, and hearing me talk about the latest research, shows them that I have a lot to offer.


How has your training process been affected by PUSH?

The fact there we’re collecting training data (load, reps, total tonnage) with a computer and not just with pen and paper adds a lot of value to me. I’m sure it makes me and the gym look pretty high tech as well. I no longer have to enter data by hand after every workout because it’s already done for me. I don’t know any other gyms in my area using this technology, which is another thing that separates me from the rest. Great for me, not so great for the guy down the street who isn’t.

My daily routine hasn’t changed much, although it is more fun and easy for me now. I prefer two people at my gym at a time, both using a PUSH Band and set up on our facility’s iPads. The Bluetooth signal is strong, so we generally don’t have to move the iPads from the adjustable stands that we have them set up on. To start a session, I’m having clients (that are qualified) perform a jump squat after a warm up to see what range they’re in - Dan Baker suggests a range 2% down and 2% up from their average score. This is how I initially determine if there will be a volume deduction for the day.
From there we get started with the workout and we keep track of the metrics that are important for the desired training effect. I often show the client their metrics, which helps reinforce my coaching cues. After the workout and we’ve graded the RPE of the training session, we save it. Everything flows great and the data is accessible. Now I don’t have to go back to my desktop computer with my notes from pen and paper and manually enter in the data into software online or a spreadsheet.



What is your favorite application of the PUSH Band?

That’s a tough one. I’d say the most fun part of it for me right now is when we perform a strength assessment to establish a baseline and retest after 8 weeks of training to see their improvements. This allows me to course correct and tweak the program based off of what is improving the most and what is lagging a bit. 

I’ve also been able to identify how much volume to give an athlete or client based on their velocity drop off and output after repeated efforts. This hasn’t always been possible or as easy to identify without seeing a measure of the percentage of velocity lost across a set, which I couldn’t see before using the PUSH Band. 
Right now I’m experimenting to see what produces the most postactivation potentiation by comparing a 5,3,1,5,3,1 wave against a 1,3,5,1,3,5 wave. The same poundage are used and I’m comparing the velocity scores of each to see which wave has the biggest effect.


Any practical tips for other coaches using PUSH?

We mostly look at velocity, which velocity zone our clients are hitting, and what percentage of velocity they lost during the set. For instance, when we do dynamic effort work we’re looking to see if there was a greater than 20% velocity loss. If there is we reduce the weight.

Velocity drop off is a very interesting topic because drop off is talked about a lot but generally only with reps measured. I think for a natural athlete that has a high frequency of training, only looking at drop off with reps can likely lead to overtraining. If you’re on steroids you can take sets to failure a lot, and unfortunately there’s a lot of juiced up people writing articles on the internet. People think they have to be training at beast mode level all the time to see results, and that’s not the case.
I’ve tested so many people with a very detailed general questionnaire and most people have adrenal issues. If you have big drop off where your rep range is 4-6 reps and set one is 6, set two is 5, set 3 is 5 and a real grinder, set 4 is 4, and set 5 is 3, you’re not going to be able to train with a high frequency. But if I had a rep range of 5 and looked at percentage of drop off based off of velocity and could adjust the load, keep them at 5 reps with no big grinders, not over tax the nervous system, and probably increase their frequency, which will lead to better results. You can’t ride the nerve all the time if you’re training naturally. 

Ultimately, how has PUSH helped your business so far?

Retention is great, but I do think the PUSH Band will make it better. 

PUSH is really helping me to become a better, more knowledgeable coach. It’s helped me test training methods out that wouldn’t have been as practical by just looking with a naked eye. This could be training for fast velocity with a high level karate athlete training for the 2020 Olympics, or training a football player that will be going to a combine and measuring what load he produced the most power with when we’re in a power phase. 
I’ve educated my clients on a new metric other than load, sets, reps, tempo, and rest intervals. This kind of makes them think of me as a scientist and makes me feel like one too. And that’s a big part of the reason why I fell in love with training people. Try to solve a puzzle by using science and real world experience and also testing stuff with new metrics.