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Detroit Coach on His Olympic Champions & Pro Athletes, Injury Prevention and the Core

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“All sports are games of inches. Whether it be one step faster or half an inch higher. Increased athleticism puts you into a position to make a better play.” – John Vickers, speed, strength & conditioning coach

John Vickers has been passionate about improving athletic performance since his college football playing days. He was a defensive end and routinely found himself injured and stuck on the sidelines. Initially planning to study computer science, he switched gears and dove head-first into the world of exercise science. Through his experience at a sports performance facility, John learned the value of sports-specific training for improved performance and injury prevention. John says this immersive experience helped him become “more athletic, faster, and more confident. That was the moment I decided what I wanted to do with my life.” Today, John is the Head Speed, Strength & Conditioning Coach at HYPE (Helping Youth Progress and Excel) Athletics in Detroit, Michigan.

John and I recently spoke about his experience as a sports coach, his training philosophy, and the importance of core muscle development. John coaches a range of athletes, from a seven-year-old to major professional league athletes. His players were among the first athletes to use Core Flyte for sports-specific training.

Developing Talent in Detroit

John focuses on high school athletes, however, he has coached a number of successful professional athletes, including Olympic champions and players in the NFL, NHL, NBA, and MLB. Many of these athletes have strong ties to the Detroit area.

Jonas Gray, running back for the New England Patriots, who recently became a Super Bowl champion. Jonas has been under John’s tutelage since his high school days in Pontiac, Michigan. Will Gholston, currently training with John, is a defensive end for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and a Detroit native. John works with Dave Moss, a right wing for the Arizona Coyotes. Dave grew up in Livonia, Michigan. Center fielder Daniel Fields was drafted by Detroit Tigers out of his Detroit high school. George Winn, from Southfield, Michigan, is a running back for the Lions. The list goes on.

Perhaps his most famous athletes have been the ice dancers that he has coached over the years. Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won the gold medal in pairs ice dancing at the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010. Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White won the gold medal in the same event in Sochi in 2014. Davis was also part of the winning duo on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars last year. It is for these Olympians that John expresses great admiration: “They're unbelievable athletes. They work as hard as everybody I've worked with. They'll do everything that any of my football players will do. They'll run with them. They'll jump with them. They are highly conditioned athletes.”

Injury Prevention as a Training Focus

There is no doubt that John and his HYPE Athletics team get results. I asked him what he does differently compared to other coaches. John focuses on good form, educated care for the body, and strengthening the core. John says he has achieved great results “in increasing athleticism while reducing the chance of injury. I haven't had many players have major injuries in the offseason.”

For John, form is key. John says, “It's always about quality. I don't care about quantity. I'd rather see a guy do one or two good reps than ten poor reps. I've seen conditioning programs that are way too excessive. For example, I saw a [NFL team name redacted] player's program recently that had him doing 36 40-yard dashes. At that point, you're just wasting your time. The quality is down. The potential for injury is up. I've seen guys get loaded up with weights even after severe pain which leads to serious injuries.”

Injury prevention is not considered the sexiest part of sports conditioning training, but it is the most vital. If you’re badly hurt, you don’t play. Just like John didn’t for most of his college football career. John integrates injury prevention into his training regime by doing what he calls “a lot of prehab work to help with mobility and flexibility.” He continues, “We focus on balance and stability but also on the things where there are typically issues that arise within a certain sport. For example, a lack of glute activation or a hip set at an incorrect angle can cause knee injuries.”

Core Strength and the Core Flyte

John’s coaching philosophy is that everyone can try to increase their athleticism. John says, “No matter what sport you play, the more athletic you are the better chance you have at succeeding. All sports are games of inches. Whether it be one step faster or half an inch higher. It puts you into a position to make a better play.”

John’s athletes integrate strengthening their core muscles into every workout. The core is a bit like a car’s steering wheel for the Motor City coach. It does not provide force, but it is required to move in the right way with the right amount of force. John explains, “The core is to a certain point the most important thing of all. If your core is weak, if you're unable to stabilize movement, it's going to be difficult to translate force. This is why we do some form of core work every day.”

“Very rarely we'll do isolated movements like crunches and sit-ups. We do a lot with the Core Flyte. With the Core Flyte, I'm able to broaden my horizons and create more variations. We do new types of planks, single arm exercises, different forms of rollouts, lateral or step forward lunges... There are so many things we use it for. We use them on a rubber floor, and they work really well.” John’s had his athletes using the Core Flyte for the last month and he shared a clip of Bucs defensive end Will Gohlston doing ab rollouts with it.

We'd love to hear from you. What do you do with yourself or your athletes to prevent injuries and strengthen the core? Comment below or on our Facebook page at facebook.com/flytefitness, or tweet us at @flytefitness.

Be Flyte Fit,

Jeremy Greenberg

Co-Founder & CEO
Flyte Fitness