Saturday, November 20, 2010

Patrick Diver - interview with an intelligent, strong, paleo cyclist!

I first came across Patrick Diver via the Body By Science Blog where he was commenting regularly and posting some videos of his training.  I was intrigued at a high level endurance athlete training with  short HIT style sessions.  That led to this interview.  I hope you enjoy it and get as much from it as I have.  There is some great material in here!

Patrick, normally in these interviews I start off by asking a little about your background: how you got into training and how you developed your particular approach.  Who are you?
Pushing Hard on the bike

Hi Chris, my name is Patrick Diver and I’ve had a personal training business, Greyhound
Fitness, for nearly 9 years now in Orlando, Florida. I also have a couple other websites including and 

The latter, funny URL and all, has a new weblog I just started (also to be found at  

As far as philosophy is concerned, first and foremost, I’m an advocate of strength training. 

I know I will be labeled a “HIT guy," but I got my start in strength training a decade or so before I had ever heard of Arthur Jones or high intensity training.  My father was a math teacher and coach at my high school, so the football coaches more or less took me under their wing and taught me how to strength train.  

Although, I didn't play football, I was allowed to strength train with the team.   Because I was scrawny, I knew that if I was going to fit it, I would have to train pretty hard.   I adopted a high intensity  approach -- going to muscular failure from the start.

Our facility was a hardcore, makeshift gym under the stairs of the football stadium.  We used free weights, some universal machines, for pull downs and rows, and had a couple chain driven Nautilus leg machines.  Not to over-romanticize the environment, but it was dark and damp and everything someone like Keith Norris would love; super hot during the summer months, with only big metal fans offering a smidgen of respite from the heat, and icy cold during the winter months.  I’m from the Midwest -- St. Louis -- so we dealt with both temperature extremes.

Toward the tail end of high school, I started road racing bicycles; my interest in strength training really blossomed out of my desire to improve my strength during the winter off season months.

Your website notes that you are certified in SuperSlow, Nautilus, have a BS in Sports Medicine and Athletic Training and have been a highly competitive cyclist.  Can you tell me how you discovered this style of training – lets call it "HIT"?

When I was looking at getting into personal training as a business I sought advice.  I learned one of the top cyclists in our area, Gary Anger, ran a highly successful personal training business.  At the time, I had just resumed bicycle racing after taking a number of years off. When I learned Gary ran a personal training business, I asked if we could meet. 
Gary was really the one who introduced me to the concept of high intensity training.  The first time we got together he brought me through a workout.  To this day, at least in my mind, it remains the hardest workout I have ever done.  I was no stranger to intensity – especially when you consider that bicycle racing is all about intensity -- but the purity of effort required for his workout was really shocking.  Following that workout, it took me a good 10 minutes to get off the floor.  

So from there on, I was completely intrigued.  I spent the next few months reading anything I could get my hands on from experts like Darden, Hutchins, McGuff, and others.  As important, though, was my own (n = 1) experience.  I began incorporating HIT workouts within the framework of my training for cycling.  About seven months from that first HIT workout I accomplished the goal I had set for myself: winning the Florida Pro I/II criterium championship.  To date, my win is one of 44 state titles on which Gary has his imprint.
In addition to HIT, Gary taught me the business of personal training.  For those who know him, Gary is every bit as influential in the HIT community as the other big names like Mentzer, Jones, and McGuff  – he just keeps a lower profile.

Did you find Superslow / Nautilus / HIT consistent with the principles you were taught at university?
No, most of what I was taught in school revolved around “functional” exercises and therapeutic modalities.  The modalities have a role in the reduction of pain and inflammation, but the use of “functional” exercises instead of progressive strength based protocols is a therapeutic 'misstep' in my opinion.
The fact that I didn’t learn about Arthur Jones or his contributions to the strength and rehabilitation communities through his work with Nautilus Sports/Medical and MedX, speaks volumes.  Even a HIT cynic would have a hard time completely dismissing his body of work, especially with regard to low back rehabilitation.

At the very least, I think Nautilus Bulletin #1 and #2, as well as Ken’s SuperSlow Technical Manual should be required reading. When I was in school (graduated in 1995), strength training was barely covered, while the use of isokinetic machines, wobble boards, total gyms (!), and slide boards was the norm. And I went to a school (Southwest Missouri State, now just Missouri State) with very good instructors and a highly respected sports medicine and athletic training program. But we all know how it goes: instructors simply pass down what they have been taught themselves; most probably had no clue who Arthur Jones was either.

In my mind, physical rehab comes down to two things: reducing pain/inflammation and improving strength.  So for strength training not to be given due diligence is another  therapeutic ‘misstep.’ Furthermore, for it not to be the focus  of exercise physiology classes is somewhat mind blowing.  What is more important than maintaining strength and muscle mass as a person grows older?

Do you still ride the bike competitively?
Killer Triceps!

I have an on-again/off-again affair with the bicycle.  After I won the state championship I raced another half season and then took the next 7 years off.  This past May, I purchased a new bike and started training again -- well, if you can call it that -- my first group ride was a race I entered an hour after picking up my bike from the shop.  The amazing thing is right away I felt like I had never stopped; I was completely comfortable.  Unfortunately that feeling lasted about 60 seconds before reality sunk in and I was given a beat down.  Although my leg strength was high, in HIT vernacular, my skill conditioning was non-existent.  

What are the key factors of importance in training athletes? 


When it comes to building strength and metabolic fitness, I would say the most important thing is to motivate athletes to train hard.  It may seem obvious, but many athletes don’t train that hard. 

They are so skilled at their sport that they have never really put forth maximum effort in the gym.  Of course, they all think they are working hard, but I’m talking about really putting forth 100% effort. A good trainer can differentiate between someone giving maximum effort and someone huffing and puffing and creating all this commotion; but not really getting it done.  I’ve found that the stopwatch and workout card don’t lie -- if you’re 30 seconds down from your previous effort something is wrong: it could be recovery or it could be lack of  focus/effort.  

If you’ve read some of my previous interviews you might have noticed that an area that I am particularly interested in is the idea of “functional or so called sport specific training.  Do I take it that you agree with Doug McGuff, John Little and Luke Carlson who explained in their interviews that such an approach is, at best, misguided?  You need to strengthen the muscles in the most appropriate effective and efficient way…..and then learn the skills to apply that strength.
I completely agree with them.  Some athletes may put forth lackluster gym efforts (as mentioned above) partially because their energy resources are overtaxed.  When their strength and conditioning coach and head coach want to do conditioning drills, it may be too much.  The athlete may be constantly running at 80% or predisposed to injuries.  The coaches are then left scratching their heads wondering why their team lacked punch in the 4th quarter or why so many key players are out with injuries. 
In my opinion, a superior approach is to separate the two completely. A focused high intensity strength training protocol can produce similar or better strength gains while not monopolizing time or recovery resources better used practicing or resting.
It’s really pretty simple!

How would this apply to endurance activities such as cycling, where the mainstream trainers focus so much on so-called cardio – developing VO2 max etc?
The strength training is just an adjunct to all of the work being done on the bike.  The key is to balance the two so the strength work doesn’t interfere with the gains being made on the bike.  Good record keeping and listening to the athlete will help determine this balance. For most, a single strength training session lasting about 10 minutes every week or so is probably ideal.  Of course, this may need to be adjusted based on the athlete’s particular schedule.
Can HIT prepare you for competing in endurance sport?

Strengthening an athlete will only help their sports performance and buffer their resistance to injury.  HIT is great for this, but it does not replace sport specific endurance training. In fact, the overwhelming majority of clock time for the endurance athlete will be spent doing intervals and other sport specific training routines.
As an example, most cycling training manuals advocate strength training during the off-season. My call for once weekly HIT sessions should result in higher strength levels to be enjoyed season long, not just in the off-season.

Furthermore, I think coaches would be wise to look at all aspects of their traditional training programs and possibly cut back or weed out things that may be unnecessary, redundant, or done simply because "it's always been done that way." 

When I resumed cycling this past year, I didn't bother laying down a bunch of "base miles," even though every training manual would call for it -- especially after such a long layoff.  Instead, knowing my races (Pro I/II criteriums) generally last between 1-1.5 hours I concentrated on intervals, short and fast group rides, and training races.  The result?  Within 6 weeks I had finished a Pro I/II race in the pack, and by season end I was back at the front contesting race finishes.

A typical week would look like this:

  • Monday:   Off
  • Tuesday:  Intervals on bike + short HIT session
  • Wednesday:  Training Race
  • Thursday: Off
  • Friday: Off
  • Saturday:  Race
  • Sunday:  2.5 hour fast group ride

Total weekly hours: 5-7

Should it?  Are endurance sports healthy?
Probably not -- although Dr.Kurt Harris reached this conclusion from a technical perspective, I have always had a hard time believing there was anything particularly healthy about blasting my heart rate for an hour and a half during one of my races.  

Of course, that says nothing of the potential long-term joint risk runners face...or in the case of cyclists, the very real possibility of being sideswiped by a car or truck.    

So no, I can’t imagine endurance sports are healthy.  That said, I wouldn’t necessarily discourage anyone from competing.  I race bicycles because a) I like to compete and b) my phenotype is somewhat designed to do well pedaling a bicycle (I say somewhat, because I am not in the same leagues as a professional like Andy Schleck or Phillipe Gilbert).  
If I was as big as Orlando’s Dwight Howard, I would be playing basketball.

At the end of the day, I think people should be aware of the inherent risks and then make up their own mind.  

I strongly disagree when a well meaning doctor or co-worker suggests someone take up an endurance sport to get in better shape.  I believe strength training is a much safer and beneficial choice.

Where do you stand with respect to diet?
I have had the most client success generally working within the paleo/ancestral dietary framework.  Clients eager to make changes adapt to it pretty well and the recidivism is generally pretty low.  Of course, not everybody is ready to make the necessary changes, but I keep spoon feeding clients articles, blog posts, podcasts, and books to educate them as much as possible.

I’m a fan of Mark Sisson’s The Primal Blueprint, as well as Nora Gedgaudas’s Primal Body, Primal Mind book (and podcasts).  Robb Wolf’s The Paleo Solution is perhaps my favorite book to introduce the paleo/ancestral nutritional concepts.  I also recommend his podcasts (seriously, any podcast able to work in commentary on the movie, Rad, receives an automatic thumbs up from me).     
Working with clients and food is quite challenging.  It many ways it resembles trying to put together a puzzle that may or may not be missing pieces.  The client really has to be committed and open to the idea that it may not be a quick fix.  For example, if there are thyroid/adrenal issues, sleep/recovery issues, or anxiety/depression issues it may take awhile to uncover potential weight loss road blocks.

I am also open to new ideas as well as opposing views.  Recently, I’ve been experimenting with Martin Berkhan's Lean Gains approach and find it very interesting. From my observation, many naturally lean people tend to naturally swing to an IF approach.

From an athletic viewpoint, I maintained a relativel low carb, mid protein, and high fat diet this past cycling season.  Since I had been eating that way prior to getting back into cycling, I really didn't notice much difference -- although I did up my carb intake a little bit, usually in the form of white rice.  I would say my experience echoed what Jamie Scott wrote about in his excellent High Fat Diet for Cyclists series.

Do you think those of us with an interest in training – even or especially HIT type people – spend too much time obsessing over their training, reading the blogs and forums, analysing the details not the principles?

Some do perhaps.  Personally, I am intrigued by the details but know none of it matters without possessing a solid exercise foundation.  In my mind that foundation consists of two things: exercise intensity and consistency. 

I still think sometimes that I am looking for the magic routine!  I noticed that when John Little introduced his Max Pyramid Protocol – we all jumped on it like it was the secret to success for a while.

Of course, that is only natural -- especially for enthusiasts or those engaged in their own n = 1 experimentation.  To expand on what I said above, however, my personal n =1 includes:

  1. Have trained once, twice, and three times a week.
  2. Have used free weights, Nautilus (3 or 4 versions including retro-fitted SS cams), Superslow Systems (including the Linear Spine), MedX, Cybex, and many others.
  3. Have used many protocols including traditional Superslow, 5/5, 3/3, on-counting, single sets, multiple sets, supersets, rest pause, pyramids, time static contractions and deep inroad techniques. 

    Personally, none of this stuff made much of a difference with me.  Record keeping shows I achieved the same results training once a week as three times a week.  Records also show whether I used free weights, machines, or fancy in-roading techniques, the results were the same.  If I have a preference for machines it comes from a practicality and safety standpoint. 

    Again, the most important factors still come down to the desire and ability to train with great intensity and consistency.  In fact, since high school, there has not been a period longer than 3 months where I have not worked out on a regular basis. 

    So as Fred Fornicola mentioned in his interview each of these protocols represent additional "tools in the toolbox," but none of them will make up for poor or inconsistent effort.

    In my opinion, if you keep to the basics of exercise intensity and consistency and place your remaining focus on getting your diet and sleep schedule nailed, you will see your best results. 

    Why is there so much hate directed towards High Intensity Training?  After I posted my interviews of Doug McGuff and John Little I saw my blog get described on one forum as “HIT cock sucking”….

    It reminds me of the famous quote from Bill Cosby, "I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everyone all the time."

    There are some people that are just not ever going to be on board with HIT.  I'm perfectly okay with their choice.  The reality is for many people physical training represents something much greater than improving their physical condition.  The gym, particularly for people in their 20's, can be a home away from home, a social club, or a simply a place to hang out.  So if someone comes along and challenges their perception of exercise and says, "Hey, there is no reason to hang out in the gym all day," it is understood that they might get defensive.

    There is no doubt the tone of some of the more prominent HIT authors like Jones and Hutchins turns some people off. Someone like McGuff represents the antithetical approach, but even he gets attacked.

    Like I said, I'm not really interested in converting any of these anonymous internet types.  Nor am I going to argue with a power lifter at the gym.  I have over 10 years of experience working out in those environments, know firsthand what it is like, and can even appreciate
    it for what it is.

    For now though, there are enough people that need and appreciate my brand of strength training for me to focus on.   

    One thing that I notice with HIT style training is that is all seems very serious! This catches me a little.  Those into “functional training” look like they are having fun  (e.g. the MovNat guy)!  Movement, skill based movement, is often just joyous!  Jumping rolling, fighting, climbing.  How do we balance the need for proper training with the fact that movement is fun and exciting! 

    HIT purists, especially those waving the Superslow flag, would argue that exercise is not supposed to be fun, and that everything under the "functional training" umbrella is better classified as "recreation." To really understand this argument it helps to have a read the chapter on Exercise versus Recreation in the Superslow technical manual.   

    To summarize:  many activities that are commonly  labelled "exercise," say cycling, for example, do not provide the stimulation needed to result in an enhancement of total body conditioning. 

    Of course, arguments like those end up pissing off a lot of cyclists or whoever that say, "How dare you say I am not exercising!"

    My take on it goes like this:  do a HIT session once a week to cover your bases, and then go jump, roll, fight, climb, cycle or whatever else that seems like fun to you. 

    Do you see a role for prehab  / rehab exercises?  For example If you read the blogs of some trainers they make much of shoulder work (YWLT moves, face pulls, external rotation work, stretching  etc.)  Others go into detail on joint mobility as a panacea for all sorts of problems.   Is this just a diversion or is there a point to it?

    It all depends on if these trainers are getting results. 

    Even then it's difficult to determine if the improvement in mobility or pain relief is resultant of the exercises, a reduction in activity, or some other factor.   

    A cyclist's tan

    I am constantly working with clients with shoulder, knee, or other joint issues so I am open to learning new techniques and strategies, but believe an appreciation of the basics -- knowing when to back off or reduce workload -- is sometimes just as important. 

    Much of my training is often done at home – commercial gyms are not convenient and it is often difficult  to get a decent session in with people hogging  machines or chatting.  All I really have at home are dumbbells.   What scope is there for training productively with only callisthenics and dumbbells? (Recently I’ve been experimenting with static contractions)

    With Moment Arm Exercise by Bill DeSimone and Fred Fornicola's book, Dumbbell Training for Strength and Fitness, amongst others, there is no shortage of great resources available to home workout enthusiasts.

    That said, information is often not the limiting factor -- but a lack of commitment and consistency.  I am all for people doing what works best for them as long as it represents something they can do with long term consistency. 
    For some people that means working out by themselves at home, whereas others simply won't do it unless they have a personal trainer standing over them.  

    The key is to figure out which category you fall under!

    Finally, I know that there are a lot of people who read this blog who are not particularly gifted athletes – just average guys with jobs, worries and family responsibilities.  What are the key things that they need to know as they try to integrate some training into their busy lives?

    The majority of my clients fall under this category -- just average men or women with stressful jobs, worries, and family responsibilities.  The time advantage of HIT is generally what attracts them. I have clients that have been with me 6-8 years because they know they can come in once or twice a week, blast out a workout, and be on with their lives.  

    For years I have been trumpeting the benefits of this exercise approach because most people cite 'lack of time' as their biggest reason for not being in shape.  Well here you go; problem solved.  What is surprising to me is why some of the big box gyms don't offer HIT programs alongside their menu of programs like spin classes, kickboxing, and regular personal training.  The market is there, it just needs to be cultivated.

    In summary, though, the key for most people is to figure out a program that can fit in their schedule -- even if it's just once a week -- and  make the mental  commitment to stick with it. 

    From there it is simply a matter of one thing, which coincidentally just happens to be the title of my first blog post: Do it.  

    There is no other way.

    Patrick - thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview and for putting so much time into drafting some very full responses to my questions.  There is some excellent material in here.  All the best for your future training and business.


    Asclepius said...

    Another fine interview. Worth reading for that Cosby quote alone!

    Chris said...

    cheers. Some of Patrick's ideas reming me of your approach to hillrunning training.

    Bill DeSimone said...

    Patrick pretty much makes the bits and bytes of internet arguing go away with his "take on it: do a HIT session once/week to cover bases, then go..."
    Met him in person at the 21 Convention, one of the more reasonable guys out there in personaltrainerworld.

    praguestepchild said...

    Lot's of great stuff here

    "I’ve found that the stopwatch and workout card don’t lie -- if you’re 30 seconds down from your previous effort something is wrong: it could be recovery or it could be lack of focus/effort."

    "I strongly disagree when a well meaning doctor or co-worker suggests someone take up an endurance sport to get in better shape. I believe strength training is a much safer and beneficial choice."

    Incidentally Chris, I've also been experimenting with bodyweight static contractions at home since I saw John Little's 'new' protocol way back when.

    Anonymous said...

    Awesome interview... thanks for the mention too! Quite unexpected!

    I did do another post on strength training for cyclists...

    My experiences very much echo Patricks. Whilst I do not race as much these days, my performance continues to break new ground as I apply strength/HIT/paleo to what has traditionally been a sport dominated by riding long.

    Chris said...


    Thanks for stopping by. Hope the book is coming on well. I agree with you on the way Patrick cuts to the chase - train hard then go play!


    Chris said...

    Thanks for the comment Jamie -great links!

    Anonymous said...

    Nice interview, Chris and Patrick -- and spot-on in content. I think Patrick is absolutely correct in his assertion that intensity trumps program design and /or methodology. In fact, I'd say that we could compare intensity and methodology in an SAT-like word association with caloric *content* and caloric *total*. Does total caloric intake matter? Absolutely...but its influence on fat storage is a distant second to that of its affect on the individual's hormonal environment. Does methodology matter? You bet. It's influence, though, takes a backseat to that of intensity.

    Where there is no intensity, there is no progress.

    Again, great interview, guys. And thanks for the shout-out. I *do* have a soft spot for the darkest and dankest of workout dungeons...and I think it has everything to do with creating the proper stage for the unleashing of raging intensity :)

    John said...

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    They may be intelligent and educated, but they are different from us in many ways.

    Doug McGuff, MD said...

    Patrick is an amazing athlete who is at the top tier of one of the toughest sports on the planet. He is also an incredible trainer. I got to work out under his supervision at Greyhound fitness and it was a great experience. I also got to meet one of his clients, and the thing that really came out is that he truly knows how to get results for his clients. Being able to get yourself in great shape is an outstanding accomplishment; being able to inspire others to do it is even better.

    Sigurður Ólafsson said...

    Excellent interview. I have been doing HIT style workouts for a few years now. Got into it mainly because of time constraints. I totally agree with Patrick. Do PROPER exercise once a week, then play and have fun as much as you can. Based on my experience, I can maintain my physical condition by exercising bi-weekly. If I do it weekly though, I'm consistently gain strenght.

    BTW: I also roughly follow an IF scheme, and try to avoid to eat stuff inappropriate for Homo Sapiens.

    I find these approaches really complement each other and allow me to stay in pretty good shape without spending a lot of time in the gym or constantly worrying about what I'm eating.

    One interesting thing about using these methods is the reaction I get from people when I tell them what I'm doing. They tend to stare at me blankly and then ask if I might be a few nuts short of a snickers :-) Ironically, many of these people are out of shape, hypertensive and overweight. But they still swallow the mainstream bulls..., sink, line and hooker.

    Rock on Chris and thanks for a fantastic blog!