We continue our conversation with Nick Novak, the Head Weightlifting Coach at WillyB CrossFit Bowery. (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 here) Coach Novak brings a unique perspective to weightlifting. His coaching style is laidback and welcoming, making weightlifting accessible to athletes of all ages and levels.
For the MVMT Physical Therapy 4 Questions series, I just kept picking Nick’s brilliant brain and got a lot more than I was expecting. Dig in!
Question 1 – Training Goals
Mark Lusk, MVMT Physical Therapy: What are your main goals in your programming?
Nick Novak, WillyB CrossFit Bowery: My main goal in programming is to avoid injury. For me, this means building skills so that when athletes get to heavier or higher-risk movements, they have the foundation to handle them. It also means including the “chores” and movement prep that will make you less likely to get injured in the future. Once safety is covered, priority two is to challenge people. It’s very important to me that people are constantly attempting to do things they haven’t done before or don’t think they can do. In Olympic Weightlifting specifically, Fear plays a major role in limiting what a person can do. The only way to break fear, in my experience, is to get right in its face, to do the thing you are afraid of. Even if you aren’t successful, you start to chip away at that barrier. Practicing facing fear in the gym makes it easier to face fear outside of the gym. So challenge is important.
Question 2 – Modern Modalities
Nick: I’ve noticed a surge in popularity in cupping, acupuncture, dry needling, Graston and the like. Which of these do you think are effective?
Mark: These adjunct tools are all great tools, but no one thing is a complete solution by itself, especially if an athlete is working on a specific injury. These are all “passive modalities” and reveal nothing about how the athlete moves – regularly or under a load.
That being said, we’ve seen some great results with “dry needling”, which is using acupuncture needles in muscle trigger points and tendons. Unfortunately, dry needling is not legal for PT’s in NY and NJ. I’ve also seen great results with a combination of cupping with movement, as well as IASTM (instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization) with kinesiology taping, or “scrape & tape”. However, I think many of these modalities are just “shiny new objects”. My favorite, and most effective, tools are still my hands and my brain.
Question 3 – Sounds Oddly Familiar
Mark: How do you work with athletes who are currently injured, or returning from an injury?
Nick: My philosophy here is work around injury, never work through injury and always work. Anything that doesn’t hurt you have to do. I even had an athlete that was relegated to breathing exercises only for a while. It wasn’t glamorous but there was time and space set aside every day to do the work. That’s important. Coming back from injury the name of the game is slowly and process oriented. Do not allow yourself to make the same mistakes that got you injured in the first place. And listen to your PT!
Question 4 – Pain and Gain
Nick: I have individuals with very high pain/discomfort thresholds and those with very low thresholds. How do you handle someone who insists something hurts when it probably doesn’t? Is that even a thing? What about those who insist something is only mildly uncomfortable when it might actually be doing long term damage? What can I look for, as a coach, to help me know when to send an athlete to you.
Mark: This is a tricky one – and probably not one for general consumption. Let’s see if we can shape the question & answer a bit…
For the hypersensitive athlete, I find that some people have a hard time distinguishing between “muscle work” and “pain”. For those folks, try modifying the resistance or load, or modify the excursion of the movement to see if you can find the “pain free” version. Work with that until they’ve accommodated, or gotten used to the movement. From there, see if you can gradually increase the load or range to help them understand the difference between “work” and “pain”.
For the hypo-sensitive athlete, it may come down to a single question: If I have you do this movement 50-75 times, how will you feel tomorrow?
Either way, trust your instincts as a Coach. If something looks “off” and you can’t cue the athlete out of it, have it checked out. If you also notice a sudden change in an athlete’s mobility or recent compensations, refer them to a clinician.
That’s almost it. But not quite. We’ve got one more bonus section coming up! Stay tuned…
If you’ve got questions about an injury, simply call us at (646) 430-5717, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re here to answer your questions and help you move better!
Mark M Lusk, DPT, OCS, CSCS, CF-L1, CFMT
Nick Novak, USAW L1, CrossFit L1