Interview With T-Nation Writer Dean Somerset

Interview With T-Nation Writer Dean Somerset

RK : Hey Dean thanks for taking the time to do this interview. I have been reading your blog for a long time now and the information is fantastic. Maybe you can give me and my readers a quick run down on who Dean Somerset is and what is is you do.

DS : Likewise, Rob, I’ve been reading some of the work you’ve been putting out for a while and found your dedication and passion inspiring to say the least. Your Ripped in 42 members are lucky to have you in their corner!! Okay, now back to me.

So is this the part where I talk about how awesome I am and include the shirtless pics of me bicep curling a Sherman tank while grating cheese on my abs and trying to not have the Victoria’s Secret models rip all my clothes off?

Aside from cuddling puppies and saving damsels from railway tracks on a semi-daily basis, I work as a kinesiologist in Edmonton, Alberta Canada out of a commercial facility called World Health Club, where I run the company-wide medical advisory board. My location is the executive location, so we get a lot of office workers with poor posture and high stress lifestyles coming through the door needing to be fixed up enough to stay hunkered over their keyboards.

I’ve built up a specialization in injury post-rehabilitation and work with a lot of physios, chiropractors and physicians to try to extend the current system of care beyond the rehabilitation mindset and into more of a total welness model. Pretty much all of my clientele come from medical referrals, and I’ve even had some clients recieve insurance coverage for their training sessions as a result. Most of my clients are in a one-on-one model, with only a few group and large group sessions each week as a lot of the clients need specific coaching and cueing to make sure they don’t get hurt any more than they already are.

I teach a lot of courses to other trainers on everything ranging from post-rehabilitation to cancer recovery to assessment components to make clients think you’re a ninja, so I try to keep up with the current state of research out there. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel and speak at a few conferences across North America and consult with a couple organizations around the world. Plus I write the odd article and a pretty kick-ass blog.

RK : Dean because of my lower back issues from too many years of being a hero in the gym and lifting too much too hard all the time my back is ruined. For years I could barely train at all because of my injuries. However since I started reading a lot of your information and watching your videos I have learned a TON and my training has improved big time. Often when people have a “Bad back” their back sometimes isn’t the problem. What do you generally see as the biggest issues that cause people to have lower back pain/issues?

DS : For most of the back injuries I see, the major issue is not knowing what the root cause was or what the actual problem is. Someone will say that their back feels really tight, so they start stretching it. Is the back tight because the structure has been compromised in some way and therefore needs more muscular support? And if that’s the case, wouldn’t stretching the tight muscles make the system more unstable and lead to more issues? Further, is it muscle-related, discogenic, ligamental sprain, or endplate fracture of the vertebral body? Maybe it’s stenosis and a degenerative change? Each one will mean different things in the rehab process, so not knowing what the issue is becomes a big issue. Unfortunately back pain is still something we as a community are trying to figure out, and since everyone will present differently with different symptoms and causes and things that make it feel better, using the same tools to fix the back won’t work for very long. I’ve had some clients where all we did was isometric contractions of specific muscles in sequence for the entire session, and others where I blended a few different techniques, based on what they responded best to. Others still required nothing more than nutritional guidance and technical correction to make their pain go away forever, but these are in the vast minority. If something hurts whatsoever, during or after the workout, we skip it until there is an improvement in function elsewhere. For some reason a lot of trainers don’t listen to the complaints of their clients and change their workouts up on the flye. You made it, you can change it!! Another big issue comes from not understanding the biomechanics of the exercises the person is doing. Let’s say someone wants to build bigger legs but they have some low back issues. Putting them on a leg press machine where they sit in full flexion, have the propensity to go through spinal flexion during the eccentric phase, and have a shear force imparted on their vertebrae and discs as a result of the direction of loading is pretty much a recipe for shooting a disc across the room. Likewise, back squats, while great, force the spine into a slight flexion that increases the torque placed on the low back, especially if the person tries to not let their knees go past their toes. Who ever came up with that idea of not letting the knees come past the toes should be beaten with an olympic bar for causing more knee and back injuries than they’ve ever prevented!! Instead of back squats, front squats are better as it allows the spine to sit more vertically, lets the core work harder to stabilize, and forces the thoracic spine to work ot pull the body into extension instead of flexion. That’s a trifecta of awesomeness right there!!

RK : Along the same lines of lower back pain my philosophy is always to “prevent” before something can go wrong. For most guys who like to lift big and are not doing anything now to prevent injuries what advice would you give in preventing lower back issues & problems?

DS: You and I can both attest to the fact that back injuries, or injuries of any area, truly do suck. If you want to take your training seriously you have to use every trick in the book. If it means you spend 10 minutes each workout foam rolling everything you can find, do it. If it means getting to bed on time and eating enough vegetables and taking your vitamins, do it. Work with a qualified coach who can tell you if you’re developing a spinal hinge on your deadlifts or that you’re scapular rhythm isn’t ideal for your overhead presses or that your jump pattern puts you into a valgus stress when you land which will eventually demolish your knees. Otherwise you’re playing Russian Roulette against your body, and eventually it’s going to win.

RK : Let’s back up and go personal, how did you get your back injury? And what kind of training have you been doing now to get strong again? I saw you smash a 405 lb deadlift on your blog, thats a HUGE accomplishment after an injury. I used to deadlift 405 for sets of 12, and now 405 would cause my vertebra to explode out of my back and fly out like a frag grenade. Give me a brief overview of what you are doing in the gym.

DS: I may need some tissues here to go into such a personal story. I may have to give you a topic to talk amongst yourselves kind of like the Coffee Talk lady, but here goes. I initially hurt my back playing football. I got tackled awkwardly, managed to dislocate my SI joint, bulge three lumbar discs and partially tear my quadratus lumborum all at the same time. It took me about 6 months to walk normally without an aid or a limp, and another 2 or three years to feel “strong” again. The downside was I was still a dumb egocentric kid who wanted to lift heavy things that I probably shouldn’t have lifted, and wound up redamaging the discs and going through chronic SI joint issues for the better part of a decade. I tried everything under the sun, physio, chiro, massage, active rest, you name it, nothing worked. All the time I was researching and trying to figure out ways to get my own spine into good shape and make my clients get some great results as well.

About a year and a half ago I re-tweaked it when I was at a conference in Las Vegas, and decided I was tired of it and would do everything in my powers to get it back in shape. I started video taping my own workouts to check my spinal positioning and worked really hard at mentally contracting specific muscles around the spine and through the core. One of the interesting things that happens when there is damage to the spine is the muscles around that specific segment will down-regulate their activity, sort of like a dimmer switch. Without getting those muscles firing again at their fullest potential, the body develops compensation patterns to allow for movement without pain or problems, but these compensation patterns eventually overload and wear out, leading to more problems. I wanted to learn how to contract each muscle specifically to make sure they were firing the way they needed to. Once I got to a point where I could contract the specific muscles on cue, I started integrating my movements with core activation, and began to train the tissues with loads.

I always had to be consious of how much soreness I had after the workout for a few days, as I would always feel great during but wouldn’t know if I overdid it until the following morning when I needed help putting on my socks. I started to put my energies into technical analysis of my lifts, video taping them from pretty much every angle I could think of and watching my spine over and over again to see what was going on, then adjusting my technique as needed. Essentially, I was coaching myself!!

Last year I set a goal of deadlifting 405 because at one point I couldn’t even bend forward to touch my knees, so a goal like this would prove to myself that I could control the injury instead of vice versa. I started lifting heavy again after almost a decade off in September 2010, and managed to pull 275 and couldn’t walk for the rest of the week without looking like I was trying to not go to the bathroom right then and there. By March 2011 I managed 405. I took a break for a few months then last week I managed 425 without having done any heavy lifts in 5 months! To say I was happy would have been an understatement. One of the other unknown issues with back injuries is the propensity to go through depression and subsequent weight gain. I had all the above, and even managed to get up to 245 pounds at my heaviest this past January.

Since then, I’ve dropped 20 pounds, am eyeing another 20 pounds, plus I’m hoping to get to a 500 deadlift sometime in 2012.

Dean thanks so much for all your information and help man, I owe you personally for a lot of great info and I am sure my readers will love this. Give me some information like your blog and any upcoming seminars etc.

DS: Hey thanks for the opportunity to share some info on really great questions. Your readers can check out my blog at, and also the current release of Muscle Imbalances Revealed: Upper Body, where I drop knowledge bombs on fascial training and advanced core conditioning, along with presentations from smart guys like Rick Kaselj, Tony Gentilcore, and Jeff Cubos. I’m also planning a new product for the end of Novemeber called Post Rehab Essentials.

It’s a 3-day workshop I recorded and have condensed into 12 hours of on-line videos you can download and watch on your iPods or iPads or whatever the kids are into these days, and goes through injury concepts for personal trainers plus step by step guides on how to work with the most common injuries, from rotator cuff tears to total knee replacements and everything in between. Thank you Dean for this awesome interview!

BTW Be sure to Check out Dean’s new product at Post Rehab Essentials.

For a another fantastic program I strongly suggest you check out Muscle Imbalances Revealed 2.0.


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