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  • " Not only is Sean a great nutritionist, but he's an excellent strength coach. I've coached athletes with him on multiple occasions. The most impressive attributes I've seen in him is his integrity, work ethic, ability to work with athletes and desire to be the best coach possible...."

-Luke Richesson. Head NFL Strength & Conditioning Coach for Denver Broncos


Interview with the Expert: Brian McWilliams

Quick Hit Summary

In this “Interview with the Expert” we have the privilege of talking training and sports medicine with Brian McWilliams, MS, LAT, CSCS, CEAS, USAT Level II coach. Topics that we cover include his work as an athletic trainer and/or coach in a variety of settings (Industrial, College Sports, NFL, Olympics, triathlons, youth fitness). In addition Brian shares his experiences preparing for Triathlons as well as his involvement with the Wisconsin chapter of myTEAM TRIUMPH.

About Brian McWilliams

Figure 1. Brian McWilliams MS, LAT, CSCS, CEAS, USAT Level II coach. Image posted with permission.

In this installment of Interview with the Expert we have the privilege of talking with Brian McWilliams, MS, LAT, CSCS, CEAS, USAT Level II coach. I first met Brian in 2010 while rehabbing from hip surgeries. I was extremely impressed and quickly learned why – Brian’s experiences are quite extensive! He earned an undergraduate degree in Kinesiology-Athletic Training at University of Wisconsin-Madison ('96) as well as a master's degree in sports administration from Oklahoma State University ('98) where he also assisted as an athletic trainer.

Since graduating, Brian has worked in a large variety of settings including sports medicine clinics, NFL (Green Bay Packers) and currently he runs his own private business, McWilliams Training, Inc , where he does everything from injury rehabilitation, industrial/ergonomic assessments to performance coaching for endurance based sports (running, triathlons, etc). I should also note that Brian is quite active himself as a athlete himself, competing in these same endurance sports.

In addition to the aforementioned activities, Brian has also spent time at the United States Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Ca. He currently serves as the athletic trainer for Team USA's curling squad which he's been with since 2005. While working with them he has had the opportunity to attend multiple Olympic games ('06 Turin, Italy; '10 Vancouver, Canada; & '14 – Sochi, Russia) as well as world competitions.

Along with being a great overall guy, Brian loves to talk training and, luckily for us here at CP (!), is always willing to share his thoughts and experiences… Thus, without further ado, let’s get straight to the interview!

Brian, I realize your schedule is quite chaotic between your work at McWilliams Training, work with Team USA's curling squad, training yourself for running/triathlon competitions, as well as trying to squeeze in something called a social life. Thus, on behalf of the CasePerformance Community, I want to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to join us today!

First off, tell us a little about your background & current training… How did you get involved with athletics? Were you pretty active in sports growing up or did this passion develop later in life?

I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin (Cuba City) where I just loved sports. I tried to play whatever I could, but was limited to football, basketball, baseball, and running. I was a four sport athlete in high school and would have been 5 if they let me run cross country, during the football season! I was fortunate to have a fair amount of success including a chance to be a conference champion in every sport, an all conference selection on both sides of the ball in football and part of a state championship my senior year in basketball. I had a severe leg fracture my junior year in high school. During the recovery process, I had a great orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Scott Schemmel who piqued my interested in Sports Medicine. I didn’t even know what an athletic trainer was at the time.

Today, at this point in my life I appreciate what sports do for people and the amazing abilities that athletes possess. I enjoy watching and still participating in sports. If it’s watching someone return a 100 mph serve in tennis, running for 150 yards in a football game, winning an Ironman or throwing a draw to the four foot in the 10th end against 3, Sports are just a big part of my life.

Editor's Note – For those of you a bit confused of the "throwing a draw to the four foot in the 10th end against 3" comment, it's just a little curling lingo. Now that you've heard a bit of the lingo, turn in to catch Team USA go for the curling gold in Sochi ;-)!

Now, you mentioned that you grew up playing football, basketball, baseball & running track which is almost on the opposite side of the anaerobic-aerobic spectrum than where you currently find yourself. What motivated you to start training and competing in marathons and triathlons?

I remember watching the Hawaii Ironman on the Wide World of Sports when I was a kid and thinking that it was the coolest thing ever… Seeing some of the Mark Allen and Dave Scott battles, Julie Moss trying to crawl across the finish line and the human interest of people overcoming huge obstacles to participate and finish. Then while at UW-Madison, I took a triathlon class, which furthered my interest in the sport. Swimming was completely new to me so I struggled a bit but completed my first sprint triathlon which consisted of a 750 meter (.465 mi) swim, 20 kilometer (12.5 mi) bike, 5 kilometer (3.1 mi) run.

When I went to grad school I had to sell my bike and took some time off. I decided to do my first marathon once I moved to Green Bay. My Dad was a very good runner, so I always went to races with him as a kid. That year I did a duathlon (run, bike, run) on a bike that was way too big for me. The following year I got a bike of my own and did my first half-ironman distance event.

Figure 2. Brian McWilliams (far left) with members of the GBMS Youth Triathlon team. Image posted with permission.

Since that first half-ironman competition, it’s been a major part of my life as an athlete and for the last 7 years as a triathlon coach. We are starting our 4th year for Green Bay Multisport (GBMS) and also have a youth triathlon team that I coach.

One of the things that has always amazed me with respect to Ironman competitions is the training involved while preparing for one. Speaking in terms of generalities, can you briefly describe what your training loads/volume may look like leading up to an event and how you work it into the schedule of "life"?

When you are training for an Ironman Distance triathlon, there is some significant training hours about 12 weeks out. For some people it is between 20- 30 hours a week. There is a significant investment to not only the person training, but for their family. Some other things in your life will have to be sacrificed such as social life and other activities. I try to minimize the effect on the family by doing a lot of the training early in the am or when the kids are at school.

As for specific workouts it’s usually between 9-12 workouts a week. I like to try and get 3 per discipline, plus a component of strength or flexibility work. This may be dependent on what the focus is on during that mesocycle of training. I ultimately like to have 24 hours period of rest between repeats of the same training discipline to enhance recovery. Recovery is one of the components that I think is often overlooked.

Does resistance training play much of a role at any point during your yearly training cycle?

I try to incorporate strength training year round, but an increase in strength gain in the off-season and base training which is typically Dec through March in the triathlon season in Wisconsin. I’ve always been a person that can put on muscle pretty easy, so I have to be carefully on not lifting too heavy for very long. A lot more of my strength training is more injury prevention, muscle imbalance improvement, and functional activities for triathlon.

To date, what are your proudest accomplishments as an athlete?

Figure 3 Brian jumping, or as it looks in this picture "flying", onto the bike for Part II of an Ironman Competition. Image posted with permission.

I’ve had a pretty good run in triathlon the last 5-6 years. I’ve been an honorable mention all American (Top 10%) or All-American Top 5% in my age group (AG) nationally by the USAT (USA Triathlon). I’ve had the opportunity to have several top 5 finishes overall in many local events which usually results in successful Age group results.

I just finished the IM Florida in 9:26 which was 11th out of 500 plus competitors in my AG, however it still left me a little short of my goal of qualifying for the world championships held in Kona Hawaii each year. This was a 20 minute PR, but was on fairly flat course which makes a huge difference.

Switching gears a bit and focusing on your professional career… As mentioned in the intro, you've worked in a variety of settings. Can you give us a bit more background of your professional career "history"?

I went to college at the University of Wisconsin and was a student athletic trainer for 4 years, where I had an opportunity to work with many great Division I athletes. I then did a summer internship with the Green Bay Packers in the summer of 1996. Once that was completed I was a graduate assistant athletic trainer at Oklahoma State University working with baseball, football, and the cheer and poms squads. Following completion of my graduate studies, I moved back to Wisconsin and worked at a hospital in Portage, WI where I had the opportunity to work with and learn from a great group of athletic trainers (ATC’s) and physical therapists (PT’s) before moving back to the college setting with St. Norbert College in De Pere, WI where I stayed a couple years. I then had the opportunity to help start a new sports medicine program at a hospital where I did performance enhancement, some coverage and physician extender for one of our orthopeadic surgeons. Then about 5 years ago I started McWilliams Training, Inc.

I’ve enjoyed each phase of my professional career, but really enjoy working for myself and I have 2-3 other employees and a couple independent contractors that work for me. I’ve truly been blessed to work with a lot of great practitioners and people throughout my career

You've worked in many settings, be it sports medicine clinics to college settings, NFL locker rooms, private businesses. Out of all these places, do you a favorite one?

I think that is similar to asking a parent which child is their favorite. Each environment is unique and I have learned different skills at all these settings. I have had an opportunity to work with lots of great people and think I've been a positive influence while at each one. I just try to treat everyone fairly and with a ton of respect. Truly I wouldn't treat an industrial worker any differently than one of the Olympians I work with.

Curious, how did you become involved with the Team USA's Curling squad?

Image 4. Team USA Curling Sochi 2014. Brian McWilliams – back row, 3rd from right. Image posted with permission.

I tell people a little bit of skill and a lot of luck! I started the process by spending two weeks at one of the Olympic Training Centers (Chula Vista, CA). You work with whatever athletes are living there or visiting there along with other sports medicine staff. Each step you then get evaluated by the staff. I made it to the next step and worked an event called the Titian Games in Atlanta, GA in 2004, which is a competition for all the combative sports in the Summer games. I specifically worked with wrestling.

In late 2005, I got a letter asking if I was able to work the 2006 Winter games in Torino, Italy. My employer was OK with that, so I said yes. I got placed with Curling. And I have to admit I really knew nothing about the sport. I tried to learn as much as I could before we left and visited the teams a couple times. The men’s team went on to win the Bronze medal, which is the only medal for the US team in the sport of Curling. After the Olympics I was asked to stay on with the team and will be going to my third Olympics and have been to 12 world championships all over the world. I now tell people I know more about curling that anyone who doesn’t curl should know.

Due to the nature of the sport, the average individual probably wouldn't think of curling as a sport that requires an athletic trainer. However, I know you stay quite busy with them. What are your responsibilities with the team? Any common injuries that you treat with this population? What, if any role does non-sport training (ie – resistance, flexibility, etc) have in the preparation of curling athletes?

Since starting with the sport of curling, I've seen overall fitness playing an increasingly significant role in the sport. Back in '06 it wasn’t uncommon to see some overweight people who smoked at the international level. I don’t think that is the case any longer. Many of the competitors in the upcoming Olympics are in great shape and look extremely fit.

The question I usually get asked is what injuries do curlers actually have? When I first started I was quite skeptical of the sport, until I actually tried it. The athletes make it look easy, but it’s quite difficult and requires a significant amount of leg and core strength. I see lots of hip, low back, glute, knee and upper back issues with the US Teams.

When I’m travelling with the teams I will work with the players on mobility, body imbalances, and any acute injuries that may arise. Also, I'm their liaison into other medical professionals. For instance, on a recent trip an athlete from another team had an abscessed tooth, so we helped facilitate getting him to a dentist where he received appropriate care. I also do general pre and post event treatments depending on the specific issues the team may have. I may run some workouts as well, depending on the event. Most of the curling events I travel with the team are a week to 10 days in length, so it’s more of a marathon than a sprint.

Based off your experiences as an athletic trainer and coach, what are some common training mistakes you find with athletes?

I think most athletes are in search of answers of the correct way of doing things to improve. There is a lot of good information out there, but also some very questionable. I don’t believe in any cookie cutter approach to working with athletes. Each athlete is a puzzle in which you have to find out where the pieces fit. There are some general guidelines, but each is very unique. So hopefully I can help them in their journey and educate them on their individual needs.

I know that promoting fitness in youth is one of your big focuses. What are some of the current commitments in this area?

Figure 5. Brian working with a group of youth athletes. Image posted with permission.

I enjoy working with adults, but my passion is really working with kids. I really enjoy seeing them improve within a season and from year to year. My ultimate goal is to teach them lifelong fitness and to make healthier choices.

Too many people treat kids like mini adults. I personally think kids should not run long events such as a 10k. A good rule of thumb is 1k per grade in school, so a 5th grade should only run up to a 5k or 3.1 miles. You wouldn’t run a 10k until you are a sophomore in high school. There are some kids who can tolerate more, but just a general guideline. I think developing good mechanics first and speed is much more important than endurance earlier on. You have your whole life for that, but you have a critical period when you are young to improve speed and muscle fiber development.

Another group that you're active with is the Wisconsin Chapter of myTEAM TRIUMPH. Can you share with us the focus of this organization & your involvement with it?

Figure 6. Brian, 3rd from right from right, with his myTEAM TRIUMPH

One of my areas of concentration at UW-Madison was adapted physical education. We had opportunities to work with people with a variety of disabilities and help them to perform varies physical activities. Now I'm one of the Board Members for myTEAM Triumph. It's in organization that pairs up people with a disability (Captains) with able bodied athletes (Angels) , so they can participate in various athletic endeavors. It gives the Captain in opportunity to cross a finish line, that maybe wasn't possible previously.

In a running event 2-4 Angels will push a Captain in a specially designed stroller, so the latter can feel what's it's like to participate in the given event. It's an amazing organization that does a lot of work in the Green Bay and Fox Valley and has expanded to Milwaukee and Madison areas. I had the privilege to be one of the first elite Angels where I did a sprint triathlon with "Jacob" with no other angel. So I swam while pulling Jacob in a raft, pulled him in a bike stroller on the bike portion and then pushed him in a stroller for the Run. About 100 yards from the Finish I got Jacob out of the stroller and we walked through the Finish line. It was one of the first times that one of the athletes was able to walk across a finish line. It was truly a powerful moment for Jacob, his family and mostly myself. Jacob and I try to do a couple events together each year. This is a phenomenal organization and I'm quite proud to be a board member.

Any final thoughts that you'd like to share with us here at CasePerformance?

Thanks for the opportunity to talk to CasePerformance. Always nice to see another Cuba City-"ite" doing well.

On behalf of the CasePerformance community, I would like to thank you for joining us here today. I realize it takes time to answer these questions and your time is appreciated. Before I let you go though, where can people find you?

Along with the McWilliams Training, Inc website, you can also find us on Facebook.

Click Here to find out "Why we do, what we do."

Written on January 22, 2014 by Sean Casey
Last Updated: February 18, 2014

This information is not intended to take the place of medical advice.Please check with your health care providers prior to starting any new dietary or exercise program. CasePerformance is not responsible for the outcome of any decision made based off the information presented in this article.

About the Author: Sean Casey is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison with degrees in both Nutritional Science-Dietetics and Kinesiology-Exercise Physiology. Sean graduated academically as one of the top students in both the Nutritional Science and Kinesiology departments.
Field Experience: During college, Sean was active with the UW-Badgers Strength and Conditioning Department. He has also spent time as an intern physical preparation coach at the International Performance Institute in Bradenton, FL. He also spent time as an intern and later worked at Athletes Performance in Tempe, AZ. While at these locations he had the opportunity to train football, soccer, baseball, golf and tennis athletes. Sean is also active in the field of sports nutrition where he has consulted with a wide variety of organizations including both elite (NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars) and amateur athletic teams. His nutrition consultation services are avalable by clicking on the Nutrition Consultation tab.