The Savant of Speed — Ryan Flaherty

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“Don’t buy complexity; the simpler you make your training, the better the results become.”
– Ryan Flaherty

Ryan Flaherty (@ryanflaherty1) is the Senior Director of Performance at Nike. Prior to holding that position, Ryan was the Founder and President of Prolific Athletes LLC, a sports performance facility in San Diego, California, where he trained some of the world’s best athletes. His clients include Serena Williams, Russell Wilson, the Arizona Cardinals, Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston, and hundreds of other professional athletes.

While he is well known for dramatically improving his athletes’ speed, more and more athletes (and coaches) seek Ryan out for his training and guidance on injury prevention. Many of Ryan’s clients have made remarkable recoveries from injuries, and several NFL teams and European soccer clubs have sought his methodology to implement into their training programming.

Ryan developed an algorithm called “Force Number” that is based on the hex (or trap) bar deadlift and body weight to predict speed such as the forty-yard dash.

In this discussion, we talk about exercises for reducing injury potential, how Ryan uses the Force Number, what his workouts look like from warmup to finish, how he helped Meb Keflezighi train for his Boston Marathon victory, how to go from sprinting to long distance running, and lots more.

Whether you’re trying to become a better athlete or just less injured from your workouts in any type of training, you’ll want to check out this conversation with Ryan Flaherty, the Savant of Speed!

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Want to hear an episode with Peter Attia (who introduced me to Ryan Flaherty)? — Listen to his first appearance on the podcast. In this episode, we discuss optimizing blood testing, training for ultra-endurance sports, consuming synthetic ketones, using metabolic chambers, extending longevity by avoiding certain types of exercise, and much more (stream below or right-click here to download):


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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

Selected Links from the Episode

  • Connect with Ryan Flaherty:

Instagram | Twitter | Facebook

Show Notes

  • Is speed innate or teachable? [08:37]
  • Experiments at USA Track that helped Ryan coach speed. [11:19]
  • How much attention does Ryan pay to the foot’s impact point when trying to increase the efficiency of a runner’s stride? [14:22]
  • Ryan focuses his research on exercises that produce maximum results within a limited timeframe. [17:14]
  • Ryan explains the purpose of a Force Number and how he happened upon it as a metric for improvement. [18:08]
  • What protocol would Ryan recommend for a former competitive athlete trying to improve strength output? [20:40]
  • How much of his or her own body weight should a healthy adult expect to pull? [23:23]
  • What’s a reasonable lifting goal for someone to achieve over the course of a year? [24:38]
  • After building a hypertrophic base, how many times a week would Ryan have someone do a hex (trap) bar deadlift workout? [25:27]
  • From warmup to end, what would such a workout look like for an elite level athlete? [26:59]
  • In addition to seven-way hips, what glute med exercises are good to mix into a weekly routine? [37:25]
  • Neglecting these areas will likely lead an athlete to injury. [39:46]
  • Improving internal rotation to the femur and ankle flexion. [44:11]
  • How did Ryan suspect that Robert Griffin III (AKA RG3) wouldn’t last long in the NFL? [45:57]
  • How many inches off the floor should the grips of a hex (trap) bar be, and where should hands be in relation to the feet? [48:43]
  • Dropping bar weight vs. lowering quickly. [53:45]
  • After sustaining a knee injury on a recent hike, what rehab work might I do for Ryan to clear me for an upcoming ski trip? [55:47]
  • The injury-producing machine Ryan would remove from gyms and exercises he would recommend against. [1:00:38]
  • Aside from the hex (trap) bar deadlift, the one exercise or stretch Ryan thinks everyone should do. [1:04:29]
  • How Ryan used his sprinting to help Meb Keflezighi win the Boston Marathon. [1:05:50]
  • How does training a sprinter differ from training a marathon runner? [1:06:53]
  • Ryan’s current project at Nike. [1:09:21]
  • What does Ryan hate to see at the gym? [1:10:58]
  • Simplicity is good. Rhabdomyolysis is bad. [1:14:44]
  • Why Ryan hopes The Force Method “is obsolete in two years.” [1:18:24]
  • Trainers and performance coaches who had an influence on Ryan. [1:19:38]
  • What has Ryan borrowed or adapted from Louie Simmons, in particular? [1:22:25]
  • Incorporating weight loss — or gain — into training. [1:24:56]
  • What books has Ryan gifted most to others? [1:28:56]
  • What advice would Ryan give his younger self? [1:32:25]

People Mentioned

Posted on: May 7, 2017.

Please check out Tools of Titans, my new book, which shares the tactics, routines, and habits of billionaires, icons, and world-class performers. It was distilled from more than 10,000 pages of notes, and everything has been vetted and tested in my own life in some fashion. The tips and tricks in Tools of Titans changed my life, and I hope the same for you. Click here for sample chapters, full details, and a Foreword from Arnold Schwarzenegger!

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54 comments on “The Savant of Speed — Ryan Flaherty

  1. It was a great episode with tons of great info however because she was speaking too fast I ended up stopping after 30 mins as my head was beginning to spin from having to rewind to replay what she said.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. My #1 takeaway from Ryan Flaherty: teaching your children how to run can help them with almost any sport in which they participate. Because of this podcast I am going to learn how to teach my two kids to run faster. One again Tim, my mind is blown. What a simple idea and one that has such a huge scope!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah. There is a cool, tangential movement called MoveNat (move naturally) that runs with the concept that there are optimal ways to run, walk, jog, jump, carry objects etc… and that people should be trained to do this like a sport. Such a simple concept that people have taken for grated forever.

      Like

  3. Hi Tim, have you experimented with bare foot running or using vibram finger shoes for walking / movement? There’s a lot of debate on the topic about it being the natural and superior way to move and lots of people have said they no longer suffer from frequent runner’s knees and injuries. Christopher McDougall is a good source on youtube – I’ve been doing it for a few years now and am in love – would love to know your thoughts.

    Like

    • May be a bit dated, but Tim did a post in 2009 titled ‘Vibram Five Fingers Shoes: The Barefoot Alternative’ that you could check out.

      Like

      • Thanks Jules – awesome link and article, actually still pretty relevant, I think everything I’ve seen since pretty much supports the case for barefoot walking / running. Onwards I march with my goofy looking feet! Thanks again

        Like

  4. Actually Nike’s “Break2” event just happened 2 days ago.
    Eliud Kipchoge came very close to breaking the 2-hour-barrier, but missed it by 24 seconds.

    Like

  5. Really ate this episode up.
    Any help or feedback targeted to master athletes looking to optimize fast twitch high impact sports (short sprints, basketball, tennis…).
    Thanks

    Like

  6. hi! my name is ryan; i’m a 28 year old female. i’ve been listening to the tim ferris show for about 6 months now and have bought and read tools of titans. i have applied many recommendations from his show to my own life with positive and lasting results. lately, however, i’ve been feeling like his content is marketed toward a male audience, and i’ve been struggling to relate to the episodes. this particularly episode is a good example of my frustration because i am a long-time, long-distance runner myself and have done work with nike. when i read the promo for the interview i was pretty psyched. it sounded like there would be so many areas to explore and gems of insight to glean! but then i started listening, and the whole conversation pretty much centered in great depth on weight training. i felt similarly about the interview with murray carter — i greatly appreciated him and his story, but there was a missed connection for me because the angle of the story felt so masculine. i am one in millions, so it’s very possible that my opinion is in the minority, in which case c’est la vie! and part of what makes this podcast so great is that tim is passionate about the topics he talks about, so i wonder if i am being unfair and oxymoronic. but i always appreciate another’s perspective and feel that tim does, too, so felt compelled to share. have a great week 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. You can tell someone is an expert and a badass when they reveal their secrets. It’s completely selfless and serves to raise everyone’s game. Ryan has made me an instant fan.

    I am a pretty experienced data scientist. I would love to dig into Ryan’s dataset. Chances are that you don’t actually need deeper analysis or machine learning, but I might be able to generate some ideas for different features to capture. Please reach out if you open to the idea!

    Liked by 5 people

  8. Great conversation…

    Interesting that the greatest wide receiver to play the game ran a 4.7 40, slower than some of the defensive line men of today.

    Jerry Rice…

    p.s. I was completely ignorant that you could increase your power while maintaining your body weight and body fat, in the manner Ryan shared. It’s still a bit perplexing, that you can gain strength as such. Enlightening conversation and Tim, great questions.

    Like

  9. Seated single leg box jump is the bomb! That thing will make you humble. Loved this talk, Tim. Thaks to get Ryan to give us a crash course on kinesiology. Strength-to-weight ratio and the trap bar deadlift would probably go in the revised ver of ‘The 4 Hour Body’ 😉

    Time to go train my VMO. Cheers!
    -Ankur

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Tim, you are on a roll. Dorian Yates, Rhonda Patrick now Tim Flaherty

    Best trio of podcasts in the history of your podcasts. Love ALL the longevity, fitness and nutrition podcasts. Keep them coming please!

    Like

  11. The video on the seven way hip stretch–was it incomplete? I think I counted 4 different directions, not seven. Is there a different link to learn how to do the 7 way hip stretch?

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Great episode! As a weekend warrior 5K runner I plan to implement so much of what was discussed as injury prevention is always my #1 concern for my 44 year body. I was wondering if he could provide any specific resources for my 10 and 12 year old boys. I don’t have delusions of grandeur related to their sports achievement but both struggle in the speed department and I would love to help them perform better. The running mechanics is the same guidance for children as adults, but the weight training aspect I would need to modify

    Like

    • Check out Eric Orton (he was the coach that helped Christopher McDougall in Born to Run) and has written a book called ‘The Cool Impossible’ that breaks down how to run. He also has some videos on his site (http://www.runningwitheric.com/) and Youtube. He’s big on foot strength and mobility for injury prevention. For running he echoes Ryan about making sure your foot strikes the ground under you body rather than out in front. The way he recommends making sure that happens is focusing on lifting your knees rather than high back kick which lots of runners seem to do.

      Like

  13. I thank God, whom i serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day i constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, i long to see you, so that i may be filled with joy. i have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived n your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, i am persuaded, now lives in you also. For this reason i remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline (even though you don’t like the latter, lol) ( source: BIBLE).

    Now, what you can do is spreading ur love for pono as wide as possible!
    ‘trumpet’s mistress finalist cumin forward-seikseikseik-5777′ (source:Youtube)

    I expect to see progress before this Friday, otherwise no Sabbath day chillin red wine for you!!
    Meggie might wanna phuc around, but the Lord ain’t playin. Just obey cuz judgement day’ l about to cum. Amen to that!!!

    Like

  14. I really want to start practicing 7-way hips, but the video(s) shared don’t cover the whole series. Are there any more detailed resources on this, please?

    Like

  15. Hi I’m interested to understand why Ryan dislikes seated leg extension so much. He never really explained it in the podcast, why it was so bad for people/athletes.

    Like

  16. You’re on the money right now Timbo, keep em coming. Thank you & congratulations on recent & future success.

    Now we just need Elon Musk, Warren Buffett, Jay-Z & Beyonce (separately or together), Pharrell, Oprah, Killer Mike, Kobe, & Lebron.

    Like

  17. Would love to see some recommendations for training kids on how to run properly. Don’t want to piss off Ryan if he sees my kids playing basketball/football! Thanks!

    Like

  18. Absolute FAVOURITE podcast so far (probably due to the fact that I’m a sprinter). Thank you so much for featuring Ryan! While I’ve been sort of fast all my life (competitive national sprinter in Canada in high school, then competed in University with little success due to injuries), I focused a lot on my career in my 20s… now freshly into my 30s, I’m getting back into it in a serious way. I 100% agree there’s a combination of technique and work ethic for speed improvement… there were so many gems in this one, I’m going to need to listen to it 3-4 more times to get everything.
    Thanks again Tim for doing a spectacular job on the podcast, as always! The diversity of guests is fantastic.

    Like

  19. Thanks for having Ryan on. Great episode.

    I am curious though if Ryan’s training protocol would translate to a sport like cycling? All of the sports mentioned in the interview involved running in some way. He discussed increasing stride length quite a bit, but in cycling that’s not possible. In cycling you can only generate more watts (power) by pedaling faster or harder. Although just as with marathon runners, cyclists are endurance athletes and also would prefer to increase speed but not increase body weight.

    Would I be right in saying that his protocol would work for cyclists because it would allow them to push harder on the pedals?

    Like

  20. Curious as to why Mr. Flaherty is anti-leg extension. I typically use this machine for slow eccentric fatiguing but now I am not sure if I should continue using it. Thanks for any insight.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I concur. The sad part was I was waiting for a typical “why?” response from Tim, and it didn’t come. Interesting that Art DeVany actually mentioned doing the leg extension also, and in particular, 2 legs up, 1 leg down for promoting stem cell proliferation. Of course, this isn’t the first time we start hearing conflicting data from two different guests.

      Like

  21. Hi Tim,
    Long time listener to the podcast and I’ve been really excited to see the variety and complexity you’ve been adding to the podcast. I love what you are doing and wanted to suggest an interview with Ross Enamait. He’s the reason I began working out and is just about the most well rounded athlete I’ve ever seen. I’d love for him to share his training philosophy and story with the podcast listeners. I’d be willing to contact him if that would help facilitate the interview.

    Thanks!

    Like

  22. The 7 Way Hips seems incomplete, It seems like it was cut off in the middle. DO you think you could post a better video please? I really struggle with hip strength and flexibility so it would be great to have a good understanding of this exercise. THANK YOU!!

    Like

  23. Hi Tim,

    Great episode, I was wondering if Ryan has ever worked with any ice hockey players and if he thinks his approach would work for ice skating? My son is 9 and a hockey and soccer player and would like to progress his speed in both, additionally I am an older former hockey player trying to hold on to some speed of my youth. Thanks

    Like

  24. Tim, the recommended book “The Slight Edge” brings to mind a phase you use often ” we over estimate what we can do in a day and under estimate what we can do in a year”.

    Like

  25. Ryan has been flooded with questions about why he hates the leg-extension machine. Here’s his explanation:

    “I hate the leg extension machine for many reasons but here are a few: First, the leg extension is an open chain exercise (foot is NOT in contact with the ground). When is the quad ever used in an open chain capacity in life? NEVER! There are several close chain exercises that I prefer… Several, off the top of my head, would be: wall sit, single leg tempo squat (use squat rack to support and use a tempo of 6 seconds down and 6 seconds up), DB Step ups. The only reasonable argument one could make in favor of leg extension machine is from 90 degrees to about 60. The only time I would ever even consider that is if I have someone who simply cannot fire their quad whatsoever. The evidence doesn’t support that it strengthens, nor improves, any performance. It just wears out the patellofemoral joint. Also, anterior shear of tib on femur. Think of your ACL people! It’s just bad.
    Thank you,
    Ryan Flaherty”

    Like

    • Thank you for an amazing show! I was very interested to hear why Ryan disliked the leg extension. He gives good explanations in this reply. There is however one thing: the quad is used in some open chain athletic movements e.g in taekwondo, karate, gymnastics, ballet act.

      Like

    • What would be a viable vmo isolation exercise alternative for bodybuilding? would be an excellent tie in to the Dorian Yates episode where leg extension is the first exercise in his leg days. loving the content, cheers

      Like

      • From a physio’s perspective, fear of open chain one extension is probably overstated. The real problem with most knee extension machines is in execution, not concept. Many machines just have crappy resistance profiles that peak at knee extension, which is a mistake. Well designed machines use caming or leverage to reduce force at lockout, greatly minimizing evil sheer. Previous commenter is correct though – soccer involves massive anterior sheer when people kick the ball in open chain, but no one blows their acl kicking. They blow it cutting (valgus+tibial ER)

        Like

  26. I’d like to talk about motor unit recruitment as it relates to a number of things that have been touched on in the podcast and in the comments. The motor unit is the functional component of a muscle fiber. A chemical and mechanical reaction occurs that then activates ALL the muscle fibers attached to the motor unit. Therefore if a muscle is “not firing” then that is a neuromuscular condition that would need to be addressed with surgery. An example would be someone with a winged scapula. You can’t “train” it in a way that would make it look normal. There is much misinformation in the training world and things “not firing” is one of them. Especially the glutes. If you can stand up and walk then you’re glutes are automatically “firing.” You don’t need to do any special exercises to get them to work. You just need to get stronger.

    This leads into another topic of the VMO. There is absolutely no evidence that the VMO even exists(some will say it is the oblique portion of the Vastus Medialis), and even if it did exist, there would be no way to selectively activate it, since all of the quadriceps(Vastus Lateralis, Rectus Femoris, Vastus Intermedius and Vastus Medialis) are ALL activated by the femoral nerve. So basing any type of training or rehab based on the VMO makes no sense. Mr. Flaherty said the only reason to have someone do a leg extension would be if their quad was “not firing at all.” If that were the case that person would be in the hospital, not in the gym with you.

    Again, with all the misinformation in this industry, its helpful to be pedantic.

    Tim thanks for all you do, your podcast is excellent!

    Ryan

    Like

    • Ryan,

      I lean in your direction, and yet I’ve seen post knee surgery patients who can straighten their knee, but even at max effort they only get so.much visible contraction. Slap some estim on and the quad visibly contracts quite a bit more. However, in this case we might be dealing with protective inhibition. Still, as much as I want to agree, sometimes things aren’t so simple.

      Like

  27. Amazing podcast! I really appreciate the links for more information. Ryan Flaherty is a wealth of information on speed. Biggest takeaway is to keep things simple and stay efficient, ie use hex bar!

    Like

  28. I know I’m late to the party. But how do we calculate the “force number?” I did a google search but couldn’t find it. Is Flaherty’s algorithm how he makes the big bucks?

    Like

  29. Hi Tim, have you found any other tools for improving femur rotation? It seems the link above is not currently working. Great topic, as always!

    Like