We are thrilled to have Dr Duncan French on the PFCA Expert Panel. Duncan is currently Vice President of Performance for the new UFC Performance Institute, which is located in Las Vegas and he brings more than 20 years of experience coaching athletes on the amateur, collegiate, professional and Olympic levels.
A native of Newcastle upon Tyne in the United Kingdom, Duncan earned both his Bachelor’s (1997) and Master’s (1999) degrees in Sport & Exercise Science from Northumbria University. He then obtained his Doctoral degree (PhD) in Exercise Physiology from the University of Connecticut in 2004. During his time in Storrs, he served as a volunteer Strength & Conditioning Coach for the women’s basketball team that captured three consecutive NCAA Championships (2002-04) and the men’s squad that won the 2004 NCAA title. He and his wife, Katie, currently reside in Las Vegas.
In this, the first of many Q&A’s with members of our expert panel, we ask Duncan a couple of questions to give everyone an insight into his background.
Q: How did you first get into strength and conditioning? Give us an idea of what teams and athletes you’ve worked with.
I was always intrigued by biology, physiology and how the human body worked. I was a keen sportsman myself and I was trying to understand a bit about science and biology to help myself – I was always a bit undersized for the sports that I played and I was trying to get an advantage so I could be competitive. I wanted to understand how science and biology could help performance.
When my sporting career ended, as lots do, I still had that competitive drive inside me and I had the same ambitions as athletes and people who were trying to get in shape and workout; to succeed and achieve different levels of performance, change my body and compete to win where it was appropriate. So, that was my initial motivation and I then wanted to help people achieve those ambitions themselves, whatever that success might look like for different people. Coaching was a mechanism to allow me to help people achieve their own individual successes, and is also what drives me internally – trying to achieve the pinnacle.
So, that took my career into the strength and conditioning and fitness world. I think that fitness and strength and conditioning is a people industry. It’s not a physiology or a training industry, it’s a people industry. I love to work with people, I love being around people and coaching. Training was a real mechanism where I felt like I could support, help and be around people, and enjoy that process and that’s why I got into it.
I’ve been a strength and conditioning coach now for 20-odd years. I’ve worked with some pretty great athletes and teams throughout the years but also worked with Joe Blow on the streets. That’s what keeps it real – you’ve got to be able to adapt what you do.
I worked with the English Institute of Sport for nine years in different roles working with Team GB athletes. I was the Head of GB Basketball for six years in the lead up to London Olympic games. I’ve since worked with GB Taekwondo up to and in between Rio and London. I’ve also worked with Newcastle United in the English Premier League for four seasons together with a variety of different athletes in and around that sphere as well.
Q: You’ve also worked with members of the general population and within recreational gyms as well. Can you give us an idea of what your training philosophy is, in a nutshell?
That’s a really great question. What your philosophy is and what your values are plays a big part in what makes you tick.
My philosophy is broken down into certain parts. At the foremost end of it is that we have to embrace the journey. Physical development, training for sport, for fitness or to change your body is a longitudinal process, it’s a learning process, it’s a development process and it’s an enlightening process. We all have to engage that journey and the process whether you’re the athlete or the client, whether you’re the trainer or the coach. We’ve all got to get on the same bus and embrace that journey. That’s fundamental to me in terms of my philosophies.
A phrase I use a lot is ‘robust and ready’. I want my athletes to be able to tolerate the rigours of performance and training. We’ve got to support them in that process and, with respect to sport in particular, they need to be ready to perform at any moment. Being robust and ready encapsulates periodisation and longer-term planning and also training adaptation.
It’s also about innovation. I’m a big believer in being creative. It’s about seeing what everyone else is seeing and then thinking differently to what everyone else thinks. In this day and age of accelerated processes, people copying and the information overload out there (all the best things are copied, reinvented and redesigned), innovation and creativity is a real premium. I try to be authentic and that’s certainly a value to me.
Fundamental to what I do, based on my background as an Exercise Physiologist and a PhD in Exercise Physiology is about how do we gain insight and objectivity? How do we make an impact based on what is a scientific process? If you are working with someone on a health and weight loss programme, or if you’re working with the most elite athletes, what we’re trying to do is change biology and change physiology. There’s a scientific process to do that and we need an awareness around it. So, in a nutshell, we’ve got to embrace the journey, we’ve got to be unique and we’ve got to be authentic through the process.