The Top Training and Fitness Secrets from an Elite Lacrosse Coach

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Lacrosse is a weird sport.

You get to whack other players with metal poles, you run constantly without any breaks, and you use a small rubber ball that’s basically like an airborne hockey puck. You have to have great speed, endurance, strength, and coordination.

If you’re goal is to be generally fit, you can learn a lot by looking at the training practices of lacrosse players.

In today’s show, you’re going to learn how one lacrosse coach is taking his sport to a new level. You’ll learn how doctor and elite level lacrosse coach Joe Lightfoot is using strength and conditioning exercises, recovery tactics, and a slightly different coaching philosophy to help his players reach the highest level of their sport.

You’ll also learn Joe’s best tips for coaching that you can use for own training. If you’re a coach or trainer you can also use these tips when working with your athletes.

You’ll find that Joe uses the same general strategy that we use here on imprüvism — he believes in using small, consistent changes to master the basics first, and then and only then, focusing on the smaller details of whatever it is you’re trying to achieve.

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### Transcript

**Armi Legge:** Lacrosse is a weird sport. You get to whack other players with metal poles. You run constantly without any breaks. And you use a small rubber ball that’s basically like an airborne hockey puck. You also have to have great speed, endurance, strength, and coordination.

Lacrosse is a tough sport that involves a wide range of abilities. If your goal is to be generally fit, you can learn a lot by looking at the training practices of lacrosse players.

In today’s show, you’re going to learn how one lacrosse coach is taking his sport to a new level. You’ll also learn his best tips for coaching that you can use for your own training. If you’re a coach or trainer, you can also use these tips when you’re working with your athletes.

You might be expecting Joe to list a bunch of technical, sciency tactics that are giving his players that last percentage point of performance. In fact, the opposite is true. Joe focuses on the fundamentals before all else. He uses the same general philosophy that we use here on Impruvism. He believes in small, consistent changes to master the basics first and then, and only then, focusing on the smaller details of whatever it is you’re trying to achieve.

You’ll also learn some great tips on strength and conditioning movements, why it’s important to focus on movement quality before all else, and much more.

My name is Armi Legge and you are listening to Impruvism Radio, the podcast that gives you simple, science-based tips to improve your health, fitness, and productivity.

Today, I have a quick announcement for you. For over a year now, a friend of mine and I have been building an application called Impruvr. It’s designed to help athletes and coaches track their workouts with as little effort as possible. Our goal is to make tracking your fitness as simple and effective as it can possibly be so you can spend more time training and less time logging your workouts.

We also obsessed over the appearance of the app so you can actually enjoy using it. If you’re tired of writing all your workouts in a spreadsheet or a paper journal or you’re not currently tracking your workouts because of the hassle, you should check it out.

Impruvr is almost ready, so if you’re interested in getting updates, please go to and enter your email address there.

Oh, yeah. It’s also free for regular users. And there’s going to be a paid plan for coaches that allows you to create workouts for your clients and track their progress from one beautiful interface. Check it out at

Joe, thank you for coming on the show today. Would you tell our listeners who you are and what you do for a living?

**Joe Lightfoot:** Okay. Yeah. I’m a coach, researcher, and a health campaigner from England. I’m based in Manchester, England at the moment, where I went to medical school. I graduated medical school last summer in 2012. Unlike my colleagues, I declined my doctor job post-medical school to pursue my passion, which is coaching and researching elite sport.

Also, the work that I do for my campaign, which is called Move Eat Treat, which is campaigning for a proactive healthcare system. And that was based off my experiences throughout medical school where I essentially didn’t get any advice or guidance on how to talk to patients about a healthy lifestyle.

And through my work as a coach during my medical school, I saw how important it was what people did for exercise and how they ate and all the other lifestyle factors impacted their health. That was the underlying reason I left medical school and that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing today.

**Armi Legge:** Great. We’re going to talk about all of that, but first I’d like to talk about your experience working with elite athletes. What sports do you generally coach athletes in?

**Joe Lightfoot:** OK. I somehow managed to land on lacrosse as a performance niche and I started doing some strength and conditioning coaching in what would have been my 3rd year of medical school. That was my part time while I was finishing up that. I got the opportunity to be the strength and conditioning coach for the England U-19 lacrosse team. We got through to the World Championships in Finland last year. That was my first real taste of being a strength and conditioning coach for an elite team.

From that, I’ve gone on to work with the Scotland lacrosse team. I’m still working with their senior team right now. We’re currently just starting our campaign through to the Denver world championships next year.

That’s been my experience. I suppose I started out as a strength and conditioning coach. Now I’ve transitioned to a head of performance role, where I oversee other individuals as well as the strength and conditioning. I manage the medical staff and the sports psychologists. And although we’re essentially an unfunded sport, we treat it as if we are an elite and funded sport. We also have a research and development and a marginal gains team which essentially we’re just trying every little piece of performance improvement we can.

And even though we don’t have very much money to spend, in the end there are a lot of things you can go out and find answer to questions without having any money. That’s where I am right now, I suppose.

**Armi Legge:** What are a few examples of things you have done that are very low cost and low hassle that have produced large results for your athletes in terms of performance?

**Joe Lightfoot:** The biggest thing we generally try to implement first is a culture change. And speaking to a lot of other coaches, performance directors, the one thing that all successful teams seem to have is a great performance culture, which essentially costs nothing. It’s all down to the attitudes of the coaches and the support staff and the players and how they perceive the situation they’re in and how willing they are to put the work in to achieve what they want to achieve.

To start with, that’s where we always start. It doesn’t cost anything to sit down and talk to the athletes and have them set themselves goals and set goals as a team and make sure that the coaches are on the same page with what they expect and from the different teams I’ve worked with, the biggest thing I’ve seen is that coaching consistency in terms of attitude and philosophy seems to get the best results.

I think as a coach you have your own personal style. You can be a nice guy who doesn’t curse or shout at your players, or I’ve seen coaches who are real hard asses and give their guys a hard time all the time. That doesn’t seem to be an issue. What is an issue is where you have an inconsistency with style where one minute, you’re Mr. Nice Guy and the other, you’re shouting at the players because they’ve done something wrong.

One thing I try to do especially is infiltrate a culture of performance and get the guys to buy in what you’re trying to do and give them a reason and tell them why you’re wanting to implement certain things. It just makes the bind so much better. When you do end up having to spend some money or you’re spending some of your precious coaching time on a certain thing, they know why they’re working towards it. I think that would probably be the first thing I do that essentially costs nothing.

**Armi Legge:** What are some tips you can give our listeners for how to set effective goals for reaching their own fitness goals? How do you go about helping an athlete craft an effective goal that’s right for them?

**Joe Lightfoot:** I think it depends, really. It depends on the athlete you’re working with. If you just spend a little bit of time talking to them and listening really, I suppose it’s less talking and more listening. You start to get an idea for how the athlete works, how they think, how confident they are.

I think sometimes athletes can set unrealistic goals and sometimes it’s your job to help them set more realistic goals or more manageable goals for that point in time. Then other times, you have athletes who have set themselves goals you know they can achieve and you want them to strive for more.

The way I always approach it is how I approach it when I do some career advice for students as well, and planning what their life wants to be. It’s the same for athletes if they’re working toward a goal. You always start with that end vision in mind.

For the Denver world championships, we asked the athletes what our end vision was at the Denver world championships. You get them to think about this vision. It’s not just to place at the world championships. You get them to really think about the whole experience and what it means to them.

Form that, you work back. To achieve this vision, what is it you need to be able to do? You can split that down into their strength and conditioning goals.

So to play at that level, are there certain strength standards you need to hit? Do you need to be able to deadlift a certain amount or do you need to be able to jump a certain height or do you need to be able to run a certain distance in a certain time?

You can open it to behaviors as well and say, well, to play at that level, do you need to be in a certain way to achieve it? Do you need a certain body composition to play at the level? Do you need to take care of yourself with your soft tissue and mobility work? From that vision, you can go back and piece these goals into place and build a map of everything you need to do.

Then, once you’ve got all that, it can be quite daunting. Some of your listeners might be thinking, “Well, my vision isn’t to play at Denver world championships.” It might be to compete in a marathon or some other challenge or just to think or feel a certain way. You can get daunted by these things you have to do to achieve that.

Once you have these things in place, you’ve kind of got your blueprint. The key is not to be daunted by it. Go, “Right, I’m going to focus on this one thing” and then you can just focus on that, deal with that, and that’s when you can go away and do some research and see how you can achieve that small goal and then slowly but surely pick away at this big blueprint and before you know it, you’ve managed to get through half of it and you’re on the home strait.

Obviously with time pressure like the Denver world championships, you have to keep an eye on the clock and make sure you’re getting through it at a certain rate. But that’s how I generally try to approach it and get athletes I work with to approach it.

**Armi Legge:** So you break things down and define exactly what you need to do to reach your objective, in this case the World Championships, but it could be anything. Then you prioritize those athletes, so you focus on things with the biggest return on investment. And then you just chip away at them. Is that pretty much your process?

**Joe Lightfoot:** Yeah. I think the important thing that I’ve seen from elite performance is there is always more you can put into your plan. You can sit down and say “I’ve missed that bit” or “Perhaps that wasn’t as good as it could be,” but if you keep doing that, a month’s gone by and you say, “I really haven’t achieved anything yet,” I think it’s really important, while having this big plan in place, that you get started and ask what you can do today or tomorrow to take a step towards what you’re trying to achieve.

So I think you’re right. You’ve got to prioritize the things that you’re going to get the biggest return on investment for. That’s a great phrase. The whole thing about people majoring in the minors all the time is so true.

One of the things I’ve learned and I’ve tried to apply with the Scotland team this time around is, rather than worrying about the minor things, you just focus on the big things that need to be done. I think the players are probably getting a little bored of me repeating the same messages, but until all the guys are lifting some weights and doing some good compound lifts and doing some good compound lifts and running some hill sprints and eating some more vegetables, I’m not going to make it any more complicated, and for a lot of people it doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that. But once you do get that foundation in, you can start chasing after the other things and cover that whole blueprint.

**Armi Legge:** So after you master the fundamentals, then you can start focusing on the little things that are still maybe important but just not going to give you as much bang for your buck. But until you get those vital few done, you’re really wasting your time on other stuff.

**Joe Lightfoot:** Yeah, and I also think it’s great for the athlete or the individual you’re trying to help that they see a return on their investment quickly. I always try to talk about what is the thing they I can get and then seeing the first result has to be sure as possible, otherwise they don’t buy what you’re trying to do. There are some things that you might want to implement that are really important, but they’re not actually going to see any benefit or feel any benefit of this, but maybe a couple of months.

One of the great things we just implemented with Scotland was I got all the players a warmup pack, which got a foam roller and a lacrosse ball, a tennis ball for soft tissue work. We all sat down at the start of practice one day and everyone did a bit of soft tissue work and that to me was like a culture statement. “This is how much we care about you looking after yourselves.” At the time, players got up straight away and were like, “I already feel a lot looser.” It’s only a minor thing but you certainly have got buy-in from players, who are going to listen to you when you want them to do other things.

That’s why it’s important to pick things they’re going to see a return on early because you see results, you see progressions. It motivates you to carry on, especially if you’re not in a team environment and you’re just an individual. For example, if you train on your own, it’s nice to see that progression.

**Armi Legge:** So you mainly work with mixed sport athletes– in this case, lacrosse players. Mixed sports are extremely popular both in England and in the US with basketball, football, soccer, all sorts of other stuff. What are the things you have found to be most effective with your lacrosse players in terms of strength and conditioning? What are the things in strength and conditioning that have given your players the largest advantage that perhaps other mixed sports athletes could also use?

**Joe Lightfoot:** That’s a tough one. The first thing I suppose is just some general physical literacy. Some of the athletes I work with have kind of not been coached properly before. Just getting them doing basic movements has had a massive impact for how they move on the pitch. I like to think it’s having an impact on injury reduction as well.

First thing we generally do is implement a quiet or substantial workout at the start of every training day and doing a whole host of movements, so simply things like high knees and butt kicks, things like that. Just getting these guys to do 30 minutes of general movement stuff. You see people like Carrie Sturrock now. Ttheir work is really popular because they’re just getting people back to doing a lot of more movement-based stuff more frequently. That has been a massive thing.

Specific on the strength and conditioning side, one of my mentors and one of the people I spent a lot of time with when I was in the US was Dan John. I’ve kind of stolen a lot of his ideas and implemented them with my athletes. What works particularly is the loaded carries. The lacrosse players I’ve seen who can manage a lot of weight or move very well and quickly under load and have gone on to be very successful on the field. I’d like to implement a lot of farmer’s walks and bottoms-up kettlebell carries, suitcase carries and weighted walks with the lacrosse players.

Not only does it build a lot of strength, it builds a lot of shoulder stability and obviously lacrosse is essentially an overhead throwing sport. They need a lot of shoulder stability because it can be end ranges of motion with high velocities and obviously it’s a contact sport as well. There are collisions and I think the loaded carry seemed to teach these athletes to be able to withstand a lot of load and stabilize under that load. I think that’s a huge one. I know speaking to a lot of coaches out there and those who teach rugby and football athletes have seen a massive impact in carries with their athletes as well.

After that, really, just keeping it basic. I classify lacrosse as a push sport. You spend a lot of time pushing any opposition away from you, so we like to see a lot of the guys do well with press-up variations and have both pressing strength and pressing endurance as well. Press-ups are great for that as well.

**Armi Legge:** Unfortunately, lacrosse is not as popular here as it is in other places, and that’s coming from a former lacrosse player. I actually used to be a center-middie in middle school. I love it.

It seems like a lot of the stuff you’re talking about still is very applicable to people who even don’t do any sports. Some of the exercises you just mentioned could be used really to improve strength and conditioning in pretty much anything. For our listeners hearing this, this is not exclusive to lacrosse. This could be used by anybody.

**Joe Lightfoot:** Oh, no. I use loaded carries with all my non-sport clients as well. They’re great exercises to teach people good posture and good spinal alignment whilst under load. You can regress them right down to using light weights initially. I had one of my female clients doing them yesterday. They really enjoy it. It’s something different. When you explain to them, “We’re teaching you to have good posture under load.” For guys looking to put on upper body size and things like that, the amount of time under tension generated by heavy farmer’s carries is incredible.

It’s fun as well. A lot of the people we coach really, really enjoy it. I think it’s a massive area which I think sometimes we can overlook because we’re so focused on the results and doing the thing that gets results when a lot of the time, it’s good to have people enjoy their training, especially if they’re not competitive athletes. They want to enjoy what they’re doing as well. People seem to really enjoy loaded carries.

**Armi Legge:** You just talked about how you learned a lot from Dan John and he’s kind of an iconic figure when it comes to fitness and conditioning. What are some of the other things you learned from him that you’ve used with your athletes?

**Joe Lightfoot:** The biggest thing I learned from Dan was because when he was over in San Francisco, he used to put on a free weekly session and people literally just met up and he would coach everyone and it was free and he just did it to keep his coaching skills sharp I think. Just the style of coaching. Very simple, using the right cues at the right time to get the results.

And he wouldn’t overcue as well. I look back to how I was coaching before and I think I was always trying to tell people too much information while they were training and he kind of had this philosophy where he guided people and let them figure out for themselves and just did enough reps until suddenly they went, “Oh, I get it now.” It was great to speak to him and get coached by him as well. You learn so much from that. The experience you got over a multitude of sports– it was fantastic to pick at his brain.

**Armi Legge:** You just talked about how he used a simple approach. For our listeners, how can they simplify their own fitness and workout programs to make it so it’s less complicated but they’re still getting just as many results or more results from what they’re putting in?

Obviously, you can’t speak to every individual about this, but what are some general best practice tips for cutting down on the fluff when you’re making a workout program?

**Joe Lightfoot:** OK. It’s a great term. I heard it via medicine but I think Tim Ferris has popularized it within the fitness world, which is this concept of “minimal effective dose,” which is the minimum amount you need to do vs. how much you can do.

A lot of discussions I’ll have with other discussions is we’ll pick a scenario, a case study, an athlete or specific sport and say, “If we can only pick three exercises to train this athlete, what would they be?” Of course, you’d never be limited to just three, but it sharpens your mind and you really start asking yourself, “Why is that exercise in?” and, “Why is that exercise not in?” It really starts making you think about what things are important to you.

If you try to do 10 exercises, you’re just throwing in things for the sake of it, whereas if you say, “Right, I’ve only got three” and then you work out, it makes you think about what your priorities. Then I use that information and you go, “Well, maybe you can have six exercises.” Suddenly six exercises seems like a lot when really it isn’t. I try to get a lot of people to simplify that program and really think about, “If I could only pick three, what would they be?”

From that, you get your priority. You get what your focus needs to be. And you can look at your current training program and go, “Am I anywhere near close to these main three I kind of identified?” If you’re not, perhaps you’re a long way away from where you need to be.

**Armi Legge:** Joe, thank you so much for talking to us today. Before we finish up, I have two more questions. The first one is what is your number one tip for people who just generally want to be fit and healthy with the least amount of work? What is your number one tip for them that you have not covered already?

**Joe Lightfoot:** I always focus on movement quality over quantity. I think the more I coach, the more I strip away the unnecessary and just focus on quality movement. That can be strength quality as well. In my early days, I would focus on numbers and all the rest of it, but when you see athletes perform bigger numbers but it doesn’t look as well as the lower number worked, you realize that quality is king. I think if people were just looking to simplify their training and get the most out of it, I would really focus on quality.

**Armi Legge:** Excellent tip. Now my real last question: Would you tell our listeners a little bit more about the movement you’re putting together in England and where they can learn more about you and your work?

**Joe Lightfoot:** Yeah, so Move Eat Treat was the campaign I co-founded with a friend from medical school about three years ago now. We both had a real passion for health and fitness and we were athletes ourselves. And we realized that during our medical school time, we never had any teaching on lifestyle or exercise or anything really that could be thought of as proactive healthcare. I sum up medical school as I learned about disease but I didn’t learn about health. We went to medical school and we said, “Look, can you put an electron on nutrition?” And they essentially turned us down for a whole host of reasons. We kind of went, “If we had a campaign with 1,000+ signatures then they wouldn’t ignore us.” We set this campaign to raise awareness about the fact medical professionals now are not being taught about what’s important from a health point of view, so exercise, nutrition, stress, sleep, all these other lifestyle factors.

We’re now getting to the state where we’re partnering with big universities to create e-learning products and delivering teaching sessions to medical students and newly qualified doctors so they’re able to better talk to their patients about lifestyle, or if they don’t have time to do it, they’re able to point them in the direction of good resources so the patients can learn themselves how to live a happier and healthier life.

Our website for that is and it has all the information for our problem and what we’re trying to do with our goals. My personal site is and that’s undergoing a bit of a change at the moment but it’s essentially becoming my home for my longer articles on curating performance and other educational things. I’ve got a couple books on there which I’m giving away for free. One of them is my experiences from being in the US for 10 weeks with all my notes from my trip there. It’s free and available.

**Armi Legge:** Excellent. Joe, thank you again for coming on the show. It was a pleasure talking to you.

**Joe Lightfoot:** Thank you for having me. It’s been really fun. Thank you.

**Armi Legge:** The biggest take away from joe’s coaching philosophy in that interview is probably to focus on the fundamentals first. Master the basics and then move to the finer details later. If you enjoyed this podcast, the best way to show your appreciation is to leave a positive review and ranking on iTunes. To do so, navigate to and you will be redirected to where you can leave your comments. You can also search Google for “Impruvism Radio” and find the same page.

Thanks for listening and I will see you next week.


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