SS 148 – Doping and Learning with Todd

SS 148 – Doping and Learning with Todd

Episode 148 Show Notes


In this episode, Grant and Heavey is joined by Todd Nief from Chicago. Todd owns a CrossFit gym, South Loop Strength & Conditioning and has been doing CrossFit since 2008. They discuss their motivation behind becoming great coaches, the importance of continuing education, going out of the CrossFit bubble, and some major challenges they have as coaches. Todd also dishes out some takeaways in the rehab realm of things.


This show is sponsored by State and Liberty, makers of outstanding dress shirts and polos for athletes. Worth-mentioning is the quality of fabric they use.


[03:52] Maria Sharapova Got Hit for Doping


Grant mentions this Deadspin article wherein the writer doped on the drug the same way that tennis player Maria Sharapova would have to see if it helped her with her performance in playing tennis.


A brief overview ㄧ Maria Sharapova has been banned from doping. Famous for being a hot female tennis player, she was a fairly good athlete. She actually got hit for a Latvian brand of a drug called Meldonium.


So this writer didn’t feel like she was any better at tennis. But she felt way better after the game ㄧ the normal aches and pain on the knees, ankles, toes, and all those things that hurt that would make her want to take a couple of days off after training or playing competitively ㄧ were gone. She felt better, much quicker. But she didn’t feel any sharperr stronger.


[07:17] Shouldn’t We All Be Doping?


Grant is wondering if there are any medical-related downsides to doping. Todd is not familiar with this drug, but his general belief with doping and supplementation is that if you’re getting a magnitude of an effect outside of a certain range, there’s probably not.


You’re probably burning out or down-regulating something in order to up-regulate something. It could be a trade-off you want to make but it’s probably not a free ride. You just can’t take this thing and be awesome forever.


In short, there is no such thing as “really safe” amount, especially when it involves long term use. Heavey adds this is a real challenge in sports. He doesn’t think people are getting better at catching them, rather, people are getting better at escaping detection. So he thinks it’s an unfair playing field from the start.


Even if this is hurting people, it’s a valid question. Should we just let them continue and see how awesome they could be? People will do everything to win and some would kill themselves just to have the homerun record, or in this case, hit the ball harder.


[11:32] People Who Take Steroids Even If They Know It Would Hurt Them


As a coach, Heavey wouldn’t be seeing any kind of steroid intervention. He insists he wouldn’t want to have anything to do with that. It’s not his cup of tea. It’s not the type of clientele he works with, especially with the amount of liability that lies in there.


The same goes for Todd, further saying that accepting such clients would put him in a tough position as a coach. Knowing its legal ramifications, you’re essentially breaking the rules in the sport. Over his time coaching, Todd did work with people whom he suspected were using anabolic agents. Of course, they didn’t tell him they were, but he could tell.


Conversely, he has also worked with people who have competitive ambitions in a specific sport who have experimented with testosterone replacement therapy as well as some mild anabolic agents. He didn’t fire them as clients but it’s also not something that he handles. So he would usually advise them to get someone who can keep them safe.


But it’s a different line when a person is competing in a sport that is drug-tested because they are essentially breaking the rules.


[13:50] Would You Take Responsibility as a Coach?


Todd explains there is some responsibility when you suspect your client is using anabolic drugs depending on the certainty/evidence and what the sports policy is on drug testing.


If you suspect something and you know someone is performing at a level where they’re essentially winning money or excluding someone else from competing based upon their drug use, or if it’s in a sport that has an actual testing body, Todd believes this is a valid reason for a coach to reach out to that body.


But all suspicion without any proof, your obligation as a “whistleblower” can also be hamstrung by what the organization is going to do with the information you’ve given them.


[15:12] Jon “Bones” Jones Got Hit Too!


MMA champion fighter, Jon Jones, was also recently found to have been using performance-enhancing drugs. Grant believes his coaches didn’t know about this, and that this news took him by surprise. Grant felt it was insane that he wouldn’t tell his coach and he’d only do it on his own. They put their reputation and efforts on the line too. It’s obviously an act of betrayal.


Heavey says, yeah you might say everybody’s doing it anyway and it just so happened you were the one who got caught. But as what Todd said, maybe everyone is not doing it. Maybe there’s somebody out there that’s just a natural beast, and you’re cheating on them if they’ve earned it through their own evolution without any enhancements.


[16:36] Rules Are Rules


Todd points out this is also a different story when it comes to combat sports. If you’re fighting someone who’s using, that’s an entirely different scenario. It’s not like they’re going faster on a bike than you or they’ve lifted more weight than you. They’re literally punching you with this much more force and getting less tired because they’re using something. With that said, it changes the dynamics of how that should be enforced. Regardless of what your opinion is of the rules surrounding steroids, you still have to compete abiding by those rules. Nevertheless, Grant thinks bodybuilding is one area in which, if not condoned, it’s ignored.


[18:07] Crossfit and Todd’s Knee Problems


Although soccer itself is partially the reason he went down this path, he actually experienced knee problems due to chronic overuse from playing soccer. After he graduated from college and out in the “real world,” his knees were taking its toll on him that he couldn’t run anymore. So he looked for workouts that didn’t require running and came across


Todd explains what caused his knee issue were different factors including chronic overuse, poor hip and ankle flexibility and mobility, and motor problems. Not to mention, his knees were already hurting all the time even while he was still playing, and he was having muscle cramps.


[19:40] Todd’s Quest for Continuing Education


Heavey says a lot of people just accept that their body is “just this way” but one thing he found interesting is the skew in the training and certifications Todd has done toward the movement rehab and injury prevention side of the spectrum. But this is not due to the knee problems he had which went away rapidly when he started doing crossfit.


Instead, he gravitated toward the continuing education in the motor control/physical therapy realm for a few reasons. One is there’s a lot to be gained from doing continuing education and its sister fields to something you’re interested.


Todd describes being bored by several strength and conditioning courses or books and articles about it since he already knows them. So he wanted to continue learning from an ancillary field like physical therapy since it has a different lens of viewing movement and motor control and development of an athlete over time. This gives you insights that lets you apply to a field such as strength and conditioning.


He adds that there is a very robust continuing education scene with physical therapy because they have CE requirements. Most companies would cover the cost of the courses so they will go to them. This is something Todd sees that he sees otherwise for some other fields.


[22:24] Going Out of the Crossfit Bubble


Heavey agrees with Todd in that many coaches would just check the boxes on all the crossfit specialty courses. That’s what their CE is and they never exit that bubble of crossfit. While Todd gravitated toward physical therapy, Heavey has gone down the path of reading lab work and things associated with it. And this has enhanced his understanding of strength and conditioning making him a better rounded coach.


[23:16] There’s a Limit to Your Scope of Practice


Todd believes there are a lot of questions that come up when you’re starting to apply your strength and conditioning knowledge. So when you think something is going on beyond that knowledge, you begin to ask those questions. This is what pushed him into a lot of the more rehab-focused courses.


Another thing he wants to add to what Heavey says is relevant to the lab work, just because you’ve taken some PT-focused courses doesn’t make you a physical therapist. Todd is not interested in trying to rehab someone from a shoulder surgery or fix someone’s health issues. He points out that there is a scope of practice appropriate for a strength coach.


[25:39] A Desire to Become a Better Coach


Grant has met a lot of athletes and coaches over the course of this podcast. And he noticed they always have a backstory of why they got into such sport. But what amazes him is just like Heavey, Todd did all of things because of his desire to know why and to be a better coach.


Agreeably, Todd finds discomfort in an area he doesn’t know about. So he seeks answers to his questions and it’s a matter of connecting dots. This is the main reason he gravitated towards it.


Both Todd and Heavey are engineers by the way. Not because they’re nerds but there’s probably something about that education that makes them seek out that discomfort, be attracted to it, and feel they have to eliminate it or do their best to reduce it.


Heavey admits having this innate need to find these areas that baffle him with his clients so he tries to uncover what is happening. Whereas other people get scared when they see something confusing or that doesn’t align with their current way of thinking.


Todd agrees a lot of people are scared or uncomfortable to put themselves in a situation where they’re under-educated relative to other people in the room. They’re scared they’re going to say something stupid or that they don’t get it. Todd, on the other hand, seeks that discomfort and he gets excited when he finds something like that.


[27:48] The Chicken and Egg Analogy


Grant raises a valid question of which came first – the client that had a question you didn’t know the answer to so you went to take the class or did you look up courses being offered, decide to learn it, and then a client comes up later?


Heavey says the coaching thing was all about seeing a person and wondering how they can go from point A to point B. And everything he has done since has just been a roadblock that came up from that person getting from point A to point B and him just diving down the rabbit hole. For him, it was a natural thing based on the roadblocks he saw in his clients.


Todd has a different answer to this. He thinks of this as bouncing ideas off of reality. He became a crossfit coach not because he wanted to become one, but more so because through himself doing crossfit and researching and trying to figure out what was going on. So educated himself to a level enough that he knew more than other people that they would ask him questions and he was able to help them. In other words, he actively tries to seek out information to build this framework of concepts and then he gets to test it against reality.


[31:08] The Hardest Part of Being a Coach


Heavey says the hardest part of being a coach is reconciling the fact that people don’t think the same way as you. Their minds work differently. They’re motivated differently. They’re influenced by other things differently. And finding a way to map his thinking to something that works for them is his biggest challenge.


Todd empathizes with Brandon. But the thing that frustrates him the most is people generally missing the point. For example, people are so obsessed with the minutia of tactics and they’re very literal with the application of things. But they just completely missed the point on the actual application of why they’re even doing it.


Another thing is that people tend to be too tactical. They focus very specifically on something they’re already good at. For instance, you make sure you get all the training in but you sleep for only fours a night. Todd suggests that you sleep instead of going to the gym in the morning and you will get your results faster. But people are obsessed with training and don’t understand that’s not the highest leveraged activity for them.


There are a myriad ways to miss the point. And Todd finds this frustrating and quite challenging in terms of explaining it to people so that this resonates with them.


[33:40] Tactics Leading to Hacks


Heavey explains the concept of being tactical is what leads to this whole concept of hacks. People try out different hacks without even thinking about their underlying principles. And that everything they can achieve in life is just one hack or tactic rather than doing one hack after another that only gets away from achieving what they want.


[34:32] Massive Blind Spots and Toothbrushing


Basically, it boils down to eating right and sleeping right. But why is this so hard for people to do? Todd says people just miss the point. Also, people have massive blind spots.


Todd’s girlfriend recently went to the dentist and she needs to go back and get deep cleaning. Todd consistently brushes his teeth once a day and floss once a day. And his girlfriend thinks he’s disgusting for having terrible oral hygiene. He explains you actually don’t have to brush your teeth twice a day. And it’s just these toothpaste companies advertising such. So they had this mild argument about this for a while. Now she goes to the dentist and she hasn’t been flossing for years.


So there is this massive blind spot where you extensively care about your dental hygiene and you’re adamant about brushing your teeth twice a day. You evangelize the virtues of brushing your teeth twice a day to those around you. But you don’t floss.


This is practically the same with that person training all day but doesn’t sleep or eats like an idiot. Then they wonder they’re not getting the results they should have.


[37:03] What is Myokinematic Restoration?


Todd explains that Myokinetic Restoration – Postural Restoration Institute has something to do with restoring proper breathing mechanics to the abdomen and the pelvis in order to improve motor control and get people in a more neutral position. He describes it as dense, biomechanical-heavy stuff yet fascinating and esoteric.


[40:00] Todd’s Biggest Takeaway in the Crossfit and Rehab Realm


Todd underlines the importance of the nervous system and motor control in movement dysfunction. Within the crossfit sphere, people have this rigid sense of what it means to be mobile and what it means to be stiff that they need to foam roll, smash, and stretch themselves into flexibility. There’s application and use for foam rolling and smashing, and stretching but most of the time, someone’s issue is more on due to the strategies that their brain and their nervous system is using to find stability based on the patterns they find helpful.


That said, you will probably have better results from understanding how your breathing affects the way you stabilize, and by understanding how to properly move your scapula through a range of motion, and by working with someone who understands those things, rather than just relentlessly stretching to try to lower your squat.


[41:40] Getting Help with Breathing


Todd acknowledges the presence knocked down information on understanding proper breathing and getting good control of the diaphragm. He sees people coming in who kind of get it but they miss the point to a certain degree. Find information about this stuff by looking up Functional Movement Systems (FMS), Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization (DNS), and the Postural Restoration Institute (PRI).


Although good yoga and pilates teachers and even people with singing background often get taught proper breathing mechanics, Todd thinks your best bet is to find someone who is a rehab type of person that works regularly with athletes and have continuing education in that sphere. They actually understand how to apply it for an athletic population.


The tricky part here is people think about learning to breathe with their diaphragm as like a hack. It’s not like you figure out breathing and you get all these massive performance gains. But your rate of adaptation over time can change based upon how you adapt to the stress of training and based upon your ability to handle that stress of which breathing is a part of it.


[43:50] The Creatine Analogy


Like taking creatine, you get a significant improvement over several months if you learn how to breathe properly. But that’s not going to translate into something that since you’ve figured it out, now you’re a freak punching through walls.


Lastly, to those in the Chicago area, check out South Loop Strength & Conditioning. Todd also has a podcast which you can check out on



State and Liberty

I Doped Like Maria Sharapova and It Was Actually Pretty Great

Functional Movement Systems (FMS)

Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization (DNS)

Postural Restoration Institute (PRI).

South Loop Strength & Conditioning





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