Interviews / Personal Trainers

Balancing the Grind With Kyle Arsenault, Strength & Conditioning Coach

This week for our interview series, we have Kyle Arsenault, a strength and conditioning coach and human performance specialist, author and former intern of the renown Cressey Performance.

After spending four years as the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach with Momentum Physical Therapy, Kyle now works with TOP Fitness in Nashua, NH. Kyle specialises in combining principles of physical therapy with strength and conditioning to create programs that enhance overall athleticism and performance.

In addition to training his clients, Kyle is also the author of The Other 23 Hours, a book describing everything people can do outside of training including nutrition, recovery and more in order to obtain the body, performance and life they want.

We had the pleasure of speaking to Kyle about what got him into the fitness industry, biggest milestones of his career, push-pull training, and plenty more. Enjoy the interview!

1) What was it about the health/fitness industry that attracted you to it in the first place?

Like many performance enhancement coaches, I grew up loving sports. Basketball was my first love and I spent 10 out of 12 months playing for my school and AAU team.

Around the age of 13 my father, who had been into lifting and body building when I was a youth, sparked my interest in physical enhancement when he took me through my first training session. This was the typical bench press, dumbbell curl and tricep extension session, which we know isn’t the best for athletes but it was a start.

I began to experience the positive results of training and my passion grew from there.

I was recruited to play for my college team but once I realized how much time I was going to need to dedicate to my studies and all of the labs involved I decided to focus on my academics and forgo playing basketball during my college years. Without basketball as my focus I put all of my effort towards understanding how to build a more efficient and athletic body.

Now I enjoy helping both competitive athletes and general population athletes (yes they are still athletes) achieve higher performance as well as a body they are confident and happy with.

2) Ever since you started working with athletes to improve their performance, what have been some of your biggest milestones as well as lessons learnt?

Most coaches that stay in the game long enough with eventually have an athlete that goes to a great D1 program, the pros and even the olympics. We will also have general population athletes who completely change their life and as a result of the training and lifestyle habits we help instill in them, are allowed to truly enjoy life.

Whenever this happens I always consider those a milestone…that is why I am in the industry after all!

But besides that, I would have to say that the biggest milestone for me personally came from the biggest road block.

As a youth I knew that training hard would help progress further along my path to enhanced performance, but I didn’t realize that movement and not just hard work is king.

I unfortunately experienced some pretty extensive injuries and actually have had both hips worked on. Because of the pain I was experiencing along with the rehab I had to undergo, I lost everything I had worked for and everything I was. I essentially lost my identity, and mentally this was extremely difficult.

Because of this I was placed in a situation where I was able to learn from some of the best movement experts, and this is what I have spent the last 5 years working on.

My goal now is to help individuals progress, but progress in a way that will set them up for long term results, not simply acute results that may end up leaving them broken down in the future.

3) In addition to coaching and training clients, you’ve already written extensively for T Nation. Have there been any past articles that stirred up heated debates on the internet?

I don’t think the articles that I have had published with T-Nation and other publications have really stirred up any heated debates. I tend not to write about controversial topics, but more I focus on how to improve the methods and principles by which we have been using to help individuals enhance performance.

The toughest thing from my perspective and philosophy is writing article that are about “boring” concepts such as proper movement and stress management and making them entertaining enough for individuals to read…but I enjoy the challenge.

4) One of your more recent articles – Push-Pull Training: The Next Generation – discussed how this method enables lifters to take advantage of higher frequency and volume. Can you talk more about Push-Pull Training?

I’ll start this off by saying that I have tried pretty much every approach to training, and the classic push-pull split was one of them.

The push-pull split was actually one of the best splits I ever used, but I always ran into a problem, I realized that some of my lifts were lagging behind others.

With the highly grip intensive natural of the classic pull day (deadlifts, rows, pull up variations, etc.) it was usually my grip and posterior chain as a whole that would fatigue quicker than the local musculature that I was trying to target.

When it came to the push day (squats, bench press, shoulder press, etc.) I found that my shoulders and anterior chain would fatigue.

So I switched things up a bit and started performing my lower pull with my upper push, and my lower push with my upper pull. This allowed me to continue to put forth a high output because the fatigue was reduced by switching between an anterior and posterior emphasis.

Not only will this switch help to maintain a high output, but it also targets the body in a more total approach will helps to enhance hormonal responses to the training that are responsible for improving strength, size and overall progress.

5) What does your current training program look like right now?

My training still follows the principles in the push-pull training article, but I have started to “cut the fat” a bit more.

Like most of us in the industry I find that I enjoy dedicating more time to other areas in my career and life other than just training myself, but don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy getting after it.

Now I just get after it with more quality and a little less quantity. And as many of us have experienced when doing this, my strength is going up, my size continues to progress and my overall body composition continues to improve.

This is the result of a more strategic focus, more dedication to lower intensity conditioning methods and greater emphasis on recovery. It is all about the ability to recover especially as you get older (I am turning 29 this month so one more year before I’m over the hill).

6) If you could go back in time and give young Kyle three training-related tips, what would they be?

I would let myself know that I may have looked good and been pretty athletic, but underneath I was moving like crap.

I would plead with myself to change this and fix the underlying movement as it would help save me 4 tough years.

But then again, it was this experience that has truly shaped my philosophy on training, nonetheless it still sucked so I would advise myself to address this and dedicate myself to understanding human movement without going through the downside of ignoring it!

7) What are some of the most common training or nutrition mistakes you see people make?

When it comes to training some of the most common mistakes I see include:

  1. Not understanding where neutral hip and spine actually is, and then being able to dissociate hip movement from lumbar spine movement. With that, many of us work through an anteriorly titled pelvis and hyperextended lumbar spine which inevitably leads to a cascade of negative effects.
  2. Performing exercise variations because you “should.” Many of us do better with certain lifts and are not well suited for others, but because certain exercises are the “gold standard” we force ourselves to perform them anyway. This could be a straight bar deadlift vs a trap bar deadlift, or a back squat vs a front squat. If it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it or at the very least lighten the load and work on making the movement feel right!
  3. Too much high intensity conditioning. HIIT is great but when that is all you perform for your conditioning you are missing out on all of the benefits of lower intensity conditioning. Plus you are likely compromising your ability to recover and continue to put forth a high effort with you main training days.
  4. Lastly, completing high amounts of volume on a consistent basis. Although you will need to up the volume every once in a while to prevent stagnation, always crushing high amounts of volume will lead you to reduce recovery and results. Quality over quantity is the name of the game 90% of the time.

When it comes to nutrition:

  1. Worrying about the minute details before you hone in the basic principles. Too many of my athletes ask about supplements, meal timing, intermittent fasting, carb loading, superfoods, etc. but haven’t yet mastered the basics. Focus on drinking lots of water, eating lean protein sources, lots of veggies and fruits and stay away from ingredients you can’t pronounce. Once you get that dialed in 90% of the time then start worrying about the other stuff.
  2. Fearing carbs. While I will be the first to admit that I talk a lot about reducing the carbohydrates that my athletes are consuming, I am speaking about the high amounts of processed carbs. Fruit, veggies, potatoes, rice, etc. are not bad for you, so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
  3. Lack of preparation. Every Sunday I cook all of my meals for the week. While this takes 2-3 hours it saves me a ton of time and headache during the week. Not to mention it saves my physique. When you don’t prepare your upcoming meals, or at least plan them out, you will eventually fall victim to ordering out and other quick options that are typically not that conducive to your goals.

8) In between coaching clients, writing, training and everything else in life, how do you manage to find balance in your life?

This has probably been the biggest shift for me over the last 4-5 years. I used to be the kid that would go to work, coach all day, write programs between sessions, read anything and everything I could get my hands on about training, nutrition, business, etc. and then forgo weekend events to do the same.

I will admit that it was when I met my wife that this changed. If not for her who knows what would have happened. But now, when I get home, I am home! I put my bag down and leave everything in it to continue the next day.

On the weekends we plan out what we are going to do with each other and when, and sometimes if I have some extra downtime I will get some writing or reading done or watch some continuing ed, but this is because I want to, not because I feel I have to.

And I would say that I am ok doing this now because I am pretty good with prioritizing my time and knowing what I need to get done, when I need to do it and how much time I have, so planning my work days has been huge!

9) If you had to choose one exercise to do for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?

This is always a tough one, and one that I have answered differently a few times.

But right now I would have to say heavy trap bar carries. I know that is cheating a little because in order to carry the trap bar you first have to deadlift it, but that is why it is so great.

And when it comes to building brute strength, conditioning and carry over to daily activities, picking up and carrying heavy addresses all of these components pretty well.

Sorry it is nothing more exciting, but again basics and quality beat out a lot of jazzy stuff any day of the week.

About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.