Does B.S. Hold True for Exercise Science?

TAGS: Ryan Wiliams, in the trenches, exercise science degree,, 5/3/1, strength and conditioning

My Experience as an Exercise Science Student

When I was coming out of high school and trying to decide what I wanted to do with my life (seriously, what does that even mean?), I knew I wanted to do something that allowed me to do the following:

  1. Stay involved with sports
  2. Solve complex problems
  3. Find fulfillment

For whatever reason, I decided that continuing my education by pursuing an exercise science degree would allow me to achieve these goals. Let me back up a bit here…

It was the end of 2007, probably late November, and I decided (again for whatever subliminal reason) that I needed to start lifting weights. My high school had done the infamous "Bigger, Faster, Stronger" program with success for the past ten years or more, but there was something telling me that it wasn't the best program available. So, like any 17-year-old, I turned to the internet (instead of books, people, or any other wealth of information) for my answers.

Fortunately, I stumbled upon one great resource of information that allowed me access to an unbelievable amount of free articles, programs, training logs, and interactions with leaders in the strength world via question and answer. That website was

OK, let’s bring this back around…had I not found this website back in November 2007, it makes me cringe to think about what I would have learned (or rather not learned) or been able to criticize during my time as an exercise science student. The amount of worthless “filler” and crap that is put into assignments, projects, lectures, textbooks, courses, and programs is unreal. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are some great professors, programs, and individuals in the exercise science and related fields, but this is my experience. In all honesty, it isn't their fault. It’s the fault of those who approve or disapprove academic courses at individual institutions and the long standing status quo for research and practical applications.

Most likely, you will get a solid background in the hard sciences—biology, chemistry, anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology. But you probably won’t get anything worthwhile in terms of writing training programs or working with athletes (or really anything practical). I had one class titled “Essentials of Strength and Conditioning,” and it offered very limited amounts of practical information. Honestly, after graduating over six months ago now (yeah, I know… bring in the clichés that I’m young…), I’ve had time to reflect and realize that if I didn’t read, listen, watch, or do anything else outside the classroom, I would have literally learned nothing (or a very small amount) that is worth passing on.

Anyway, I was lucky enough to still play sports in college and did so throughout my entire four years of school. This amplified my thirst for knowledge. I wanted to make sure that what I was doing from a training standpoint would make me the best athlete possible.

My Advice

So what’s the point of this article? Simple. I want to share what I did to make sure that I wasn’t incompetent once I graduated with an exercise science degree.

1.  Get online:

What I mean by this is start reading the tons of free articles offered by elitefts™ and other fitness websites. Ask the experts on forums questions and read training logs. Pinpoint a few people who you find to be the most interesting and pertinent in regards to whom you want to work with. For me, this was James Smith, Landon Evans, Buddy Morris, Tom Myslinski, and Joe DeFranco. They all worked with athletes (mainly football players), so not only did I get great advice for coaching in the future, but I was also able to apply some things to my own training during my collegiate career.

Buddy Morris and Tom Myslinski

Watch YouTube videos. I subscribe to over one hundred different YouTube channels ranging from powerlifting and Olympic lifting to coaching, sports teams, fitness websites, and many others. This is such an easy way to get a ton of unfiltered (well, usually) information straight from the people who are out there in the trenches testing their means and methods.

2.  Read:

By this, I mean read books, not just the online stuff. That will only get you so far. There isn't any doubt in my mind that you still need to have a strong theoretical background to be successful and fully understand “training” and everything that is encompassed by that (which is extremely broad and multifaceted).

Here is the list of books that I've read:

I have tons (probably more than thirty) of books sitting on my desk and on my computer that I plan to read. If there is one consistent thing that I’ve noticed among the most successful and sought after coaches/trainers is that they read…a lot.

Note: The most influential books for me were (in order):

  1. Key Concepts Elite Edition by Charlie Francis
  2. The Charlie Francis Training System by Charlie Francis
  3. Block Periodization (second edition) by Vladimir Issurin
  4. Special Strength Training Practical Manual for Coaches (second edition) by Yuri Verkhoshansky
  5. Science of Sports Training by Thomas Kurz

3.  Interact with those who are doing what you want to do as much as possible:

For me, I did this first by using the Q&A sectionon and asking probably well over a hundred questions over the past five years. I also emailed, called, and even drove to the gyms of those I wanted more information from to see what they were doing. If you do this correctly, you might even be able to make a professional contact and build a network out of it.

The amount of genuine people I have met through doing this is staggering. It’s amazing how awesome most people in this industry have been to me. I really appreciate all of them for everything they have helped me with.

4.  Experiment with your own training:

This should go without saying. If you're going to get into a business that is results orientated, which the world of fitness definitely is, you need to have a pretty decent level of fitness. Not everybody will be able to break world records or have the physique of Vernon Davis, but you should practice what you preach. Show that you’ve been in the trenches, have designed programs, have tried out exercises that you’ve never done, and are constantly tweaking your philosophy (this especially holds true, in my mind, if you aren't actively competing or training for any specific sport).


I believe that humans are axiomatic, which means that we are guided by our own experience. That should explain why I believe that your own training and what you’ve observed from the people you’ve worked with should always be your guide. Don’t try and implement something that throws the baby out with the bath water. Slowly sprinkle in small amounts of the new method or means into your entire training program or the program of your athletes/clients. Record the results and reaction, analyze them, and then make an assessment as to whether or not it’s worthwhile.


Learning is a lifelong process that isn't in any way linear. Everybody comes to understand different concepts, paradigms, models, and theories at a different pace. Some things you might pick up faster while others will take more time. There isn't any clear, cut and dry timetable to becoming competent.

I personally have been fortunate to be exposed to a ton of information from many different outlets that have allowed me to be ahead of the normal learning curve and timetable. If there is anything that I learned from studying exercise science, it is to be critical of the information put in front of you. This has been the most invaluable tool and lesson for me to develop my own philosophies and understanding of anything related to “training,” “fitness,” and this field.

Hopefully, this advice proves to be useful for those who want to get into the fitness, strength and conditioning, coaching, physical preparation, personal training, or whatever the hell you want to call "what people who work with athletes and clients do" industry.

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