The Tao of Tim Vagen

Last week I was fortunate enough to spend 3 days stuck to the hip of Coach, Tim Vagen. With nearly 30 years of experience as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist, he successfully owns and operates, Unlimited Athlete; a gym in the Greater Seattle Area.  Tim works with youths, seniors, all levels of athletes, as well as post rehabilitation clients.  Tim has extensive experience in Sports Medicine and rehabilitation.  His program design ability spans from elite swimmers all the way to equestrian jockeys.  His athletes have collectively accrued 11 olympic medals!!!

Tim alongside Olympian Margaret Hoelzer

To top it all off, he is a college professor – Lecturing on Program Design and Functional Movement.  Needless to say, It was a great trip as I followed him around his facility, sat in on two classroom lectures, and accompanied him to observe a King Aquatics National Team workout.

Below are just a few of the many pieces of wisdom that I picked up throughout my visit.

Age group development: Focus on skill and movement proficiency; conditioning and strength will follow suit as the body matures. The ability to increase V02 Max of a youth athlete is determined heavily by the stage of physiological development of the heart and lungs (cardiac capacity). Coaches will have a far greater impact on long term development when motor learning is emphasized over excessive conditioning.


Coach within your Competency: If you wouldn’t expect your electrician to do your plumbing work, why would you expect a sport coach to instruct/construct a resistance training program? Know the scope of your coaching abilities and practice within them.

Movement matters: Be less concerned with how much weight someone can move and more concerned with the quality of how they move it. Have the same approach with bodyweight exercise for repetitions. One Hundred and One poorly executed push ups don’t amount to much. How well they are executed does.

Hardware vs Software: Understand the important role that the brain and central nervous system play in controlling muscles and facilitating motor patterns. Without the correct software (brain & CNS) the hardware ( contractile tissue) is less effective. Don’t blame the hardware for a software issue!

Avoid coaching in a vacuum: This pertains to coaching alone, in your own little world. Don’t allow your learning skills and outside influences to run dry.  Seek out the leaders and collaborate. Watch, listen, and learn. You have 2 eyes, 2 ears, and 1 mouth for a reason. Keep an open mind. Everyone has something to offer if you listen.

Mobility (R.O.M.) is relative: With regards to the joint by joint paradigm (mobility vs stability), all joints must move, just some more than others. Although the shoulder-blade to rib cage is considered a stable joint, it is certainly mobile along the thorax in a multitude of directions. However, it’s total range of motion relative to that of the gleno-humeral joint is rather limited – classifying it as a stable joint.

Paralysis by Analysis: Whether it be with a beginner youth, an experienced athlete, or a senior client….Don’t Over Coach.  Excessive coaching can lead to information overload, which often times hinders desired execution. Don’t blame the client or the exercise, blame your coaching and/or poor programming. Be confident with building an exercise foundation slowly with a few key objectives,  and then progress and fine tune overtime.

Plyometrics: For athletes specializing exclusively in swimming, take careful consideration with plyometrics. Swimming is an anti gravity environment, plyometrics tend to create a hyper gravity environment. Use caution when ever going from one extreme to another. From a soft tissue threshold and tendon compliance standpoint, progress plyometrics slowly and accordingly.

Tim has a number of DVDs available on his website