Getting to Know Jarrad Matthews
We’re excited to introduce, Jarrad Matthews, a new member of the G4 team. We recently sat down with him and discussed bit of his history and his thoughts on G4’s 4 absolutes.
G4: Thanks for taking the time to chat, Jarrad. Could you tell us a little about who you are and what your story is?
Jarrad Matthews: I’m Jarrad Matthews. I’m a physical therapist. I grew up in Texas on a ranch. I went to Texas A&M; I was a track & field athlete. In high school, I was introduced to the medical world I broke my back twice.
G4: Was that a sports injury?
Jarrad Matthews: Yes. I broke my back twice during football — Freshman and Senior season. I was a quarterback. It was a bad hit in game.
The second time, it took me three months to get back. I played my last game of my senior year, then I said, “That’s enough football.”
I went on to do track & field at the college level without any serious back pain. I was taking care of my body and learning how to engage my core, learning how to think about how I’m moving, learning how to fill when things are not moving right, and address that immediately versus just waiting until it starts to rear its ugly head.
G4: What events did you do in track & field?
Jarrad Matthews: I did javelin and I was a pole vaulter.
G4: Did you do track & field in high school as well?
Jarrad Matthews: I did pole vault in high school. They don’t have javelin in high school in Texas so I started that in college. I came in as a decathlete. I’m not a very good runner. I’m not a jogger; I’m not a distance runner. So I did the throws and the jumps. I excelled with the javelin and that’s why I made the decision to focus on the javelin rather than the pole vault. I was a Big 12 champion, 2-time regional champion, an Olympic trials qualifier.
With javelin, I learned how to use my body most efficiently with less pain and without injury. Exploding without pain — that’s a tough one because when you explode a lot in our sports, we can have pain in the back or in the knees.
G4: How would you define exploding?
Jarrad Matthews: In the javelin, you run as fast as you can and you stop in one step and then you throw a spear. You look at what we do for training, we do Olympic lifting; we do power cleans; we do snatches; we do box jumps; we are running daily. That was where the key was: balancing your training to be as explosive as I can in the weight room but also have finesse like a dancer on the track. If you don’t have both of those, you don’t throw far. You can be strong and explosive and you can throw the javelin 10 feet. You can be a dancer and the most finesse person ever and you can throw the same. The key is putting those two together and that’s the balance you have to have — explosiveness but also controlling it.
That was always one of the tricky parts in competition. I would wait for the explosion and as the competition grows, you try to get stronger and throw harder, which you have to learn how to not throw it harder when you are in competition and let your hands take over. That was one of the things I struggled with.
G4: You mentioned your back issues in high school. Did you have any injuries in college?
Jarrad Matthews: I never had a back issue. I had a hernia, which I had repaired in my senior year. That’s when I won the Big 12. It set me back but I overcame it. I had some overuse shoulder injuries since I’m a thrower. That was a normal thing. No back pain though
G4: What was the recovery process for the back issues in high school?
Jarrad Matthews: The back issue took me 2 to 3 months in high school. I got hurt my first game and I was able to finish the last 2 games.
G4: Was it difficult to stay on track when you are out that long?
Jarrad Matthews: It’s difficult to stay connected with your team; it’s difficult to stay motivated. It’s difficult to be on the sidelines when all of your buddies are having fun and running and you’re sitting there being a water boy, being more of the motivator, talking through things with your teammates. I had a younger quarterback I was mentoring. I had to bring him over to the sideline every time and talk about what he was seeing and telling him what I saw from the sideline.
G4: Did that help you feel connected?
Jarrad Matthews: That helped me feel more connected.
G4: Do you think that contributed to your recovery?
Jarrad Matthews: I’d say it helped with my mental ability to go back. Some people have these injuries and they say, “OK, I’m done. I’m not going to try hard. I’m going to stop going to the weight room. I’m going to stop focusing on the plays.”
Being connected and plugged in helped me keep that team feel. I let my teammates push me versus me just sitting at home thinking about how I’m not able to play. It was a hard one but I was motivated because I had other sports I was trying to pursue in college.
G4: Football is such a team-oriented sport and track & field is more individual. You had some recovery time in both scenarios. Was it more difficult to go through recovery when you were doing an individual sport?
Jarrad Matthews: The difference there is when you are an individual, you’re in the spotlight. If you’re going 80% — which you can do sometimes in team sports, and I’m not suggesting that’s something you should do — you can back off a little bit, not run the route if it’s not going your way.
But as an individual, if you don’t perform at the top level, then people will see you. You will feel like you’ve put your full effort into there and you’re not going to win or you’re not going to progress. Also, you don’t have that team motivation and strategy to help push you and make sure you are not sliding, when you’re a little depressed or when you’re not feeling good or you don’t want to work out.
My coach was really good. He would push me because I had a bout with my hernia surgery in college. I was there with the team, watching them, talking through things, helping them lift weights and he came over and said, “Hey, this is not how you treat your body. You need to start working out more.” I was thinking it would give me enough time but he was saying I needed to start doing other things. I needed to work my arms and work my legs.
G4: How long was that recovery time?
Jarrad Matthews: That was 4 weeks. It was a tricky one because you have to trust your body after injuries and surgery. The hardest part was trusting the body to have explosive motion.
G4: How long did it take to trust your body?
Jarrad Matthews: It took all year. The very last 1 or 2 meets, nationals, conference — it was still tricky. You had to trick your mind to trust yourself. You have the I-don’t-want-to-get-hurt-again mentality. That’s where a lot of repetitions in practice make it lighter, a little bit more reps and just thinking about needing to feel relaxed and feel my body’s control versus staying on guard the whole time.
Life After College
G4: So what about after college? What led you to this field?
Jarrad Matthews: After college, I moved up to Seattle. I started doing personal training. I had a mentor that was really big into functional fitness. Really big on listening to your body. He was the strength trainer for the Seattle Mariners. He was very explosive and finesse-oriented. Just like I was. He was also a track & field athlete so we had that camaraderie.
He taught me how to listen to your body. How to train your body. I had the traditional mindset in college that if you train hard, you win. Train hard every day, always pushing everything. He taught me how to back off, to train hard once a day versus 5 times a week. He taught me about balance. He taught me how to listen to what your body is doing.
G4: Quickly, what do you mean when you say that you should train hard once a day versus 5 times a week. Most people will say, “Isn’t that the same thing?”
Jarrad Matthews: Traditionally, we would train 3 days in the weight room at full intensity — you’re going 85-90%. You’re working as hard as you can. And then we would do 2 days on the track doing the same thing — you run as hard as you can, jump as far as you can, and throw as far as you can. What I’ve learned is that you can get the same results and feel better every day if 2 days a week I go 50% intensity instead of going hard every day.
That’s the big change you are seeing in today’s athletics. We can still get the performance without feeling tired and sick everyday. When you train hard, you get the sniffles because your body is trying to recover. So getting up and not being sore everywhere was a little bit eye opening. And I still was able to jump as far. I PR’d in my power cleans after I got out of college, not training very hard but working on form and function. Working on the small things versus trying to add more weight every time I went to the gym. It was eye opening.
G4: This mentor got you into functional fitness. How did this lead to physical therapy?
Jarrad Matthews: I took a step back and asked where my life was going. Am I going to be a trainer? Is that my purpose in life? How am I going to help people with that? I thought I needed to be more educated. I need to find out why things are happening in the body versus looking at movement. Movement is important but I needed to find the underlying components of why the movement is happening. That led me to physical therapy. It led me to thinking that I could work with active individuals.
I remember how trainers and therapists helped me and how they empowered me to do things that I wanted to do in life, versus being held back by some people who would say, “You’re hurt. Stop playing.” I was told that after my back injury. That I needed to pick another hobby, that I should stop playing sports. And that was one of the things that motivated me for rehab. My mind said, “Don’t tell me what to do.” It takes hard work and I’ll find a way to make it happen.
I felt like I had a good base to build on, to provide care, and to guide and educate young athletes. Telling them you can do this. You get injured, but we can help you learn why you are injured. We can help you learn how to get back to where you want to go.
G4: You mentioned this concept of wanting to learn, which led you to school. Where did you go?
Jarrad Matthews: I went to the University of Washington in the Department of Physical Therapy.
G4: Did you get involved at UW?
Jarrad Matthews: I started a program called DRISO, an interdisciplinary student organization. One of the key things that they were talking about at the University was the collaboration between each discipline. Between physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech and language, between physicians and therapists, between personal trainers and therapists. We were seeing that there was not a lot of collaboration.
My goal was to create an organization where we talk together; we learn the same things; we get together and provide all of our sources so we can help more people.
Within that organization — we set it up with the three disciplines of rehab. We had seminars based on how we can help people in underdeveloped countries, like providing wheelchairs to people in South America. We talked about what we think and how we’re communicating with each other. What’s the best way? We talked about doing more things together so we have colleagues we can count on if we have an issue. Say, if I needed some occupational therapy information that I could have people where we’ve done some things together. How can we address this? It was using those relationships that we built to help people that we’re surrounded with.
G4: What does functional fitness mean to you?
Jarrad Matthews: Functional fitness is important because I’m recently a new dad. Parenting changes every day. The things I am doing now, I need to be prepared for. If I need to lift my son, while I’m kneeling down, if I need to hold him for 20 minutes, functional fitness concerns those actions just as much as needing to run a 100-meter dash in under 10 seconds. Those are different. They are both functional but we train for them a little differently.
In my career I’ve been learning that if we are as specific as possible in the activities that we are providing, we progress them adequately — put a little stress on them, and we keep up consistency with the movements, we are going to get better performance in whatever we are training for.
Traditionally, we would say, “I need to get stronger at lifting things.” So what would we do? We would do a back squat. We would do a power clean. We would do dumbbell presses. Those are great. They are very traditional. But how does that transfer over to a lunge picking up my son that’s wiggling and crying and then I have to hold him for 20 minutes?
So we want to think about any movements that are very similar to that in fundamentals and we can train to help whoever is doing that at home. To do it better with no pain. And they can enjoy it, versus having to struggle through it.
I would try to break down the movements that I think they would be performing, break them down and perfect them and integrate them back in to the function.
G4: How personalized does this get? A pitcher performs different movements than a 2nd baseman. A 2nd baseman performs different movements to a goalie in hockey. That goalie performs different movements than a long snapper on the football field. Are there long snapping exercises?
Jarrad Matthews: I think that is where the personalization kicks in. Sometimes with team sports we see that we get a generalized program — here’s your sheet at the beginning of the year. That’s general fitness; that’s great, but then if you’re a 2nd baseman or a pitcher, 2nd basemen will do something totally different than a pitcher. So I would say, “Let’s walk through the function; show me what you are doing.” If not, I’ll go research it or do it myself so I can feel what’s working. And then find out how those muscles are going to correctly work the best.
The key is looking at how we are doing the motion. I like to think about it as an efficiency thing, an efficiency gain. If you’re getting a groundball that’s going to first and you’re a second baseman, if you perform a backhand and it’s 50% efficient, then you’ve lost 50% of your energy because you weren’t efficient when throwing the ball. Now later in the game — the 9th inning — and you’re trying to hit, you’ve had that energy loss. If I can keep that backhand motion at 90-95% efficiency, you’ll have energy to last throughout the game. That’s better. Now I can perform throughout the game. Now I can perform throughout the season. And you can perform longer through the years.
G4: Are there movements that don’t fit within the definition of functional fitness? Or are all movements on the table?
Jarrad Matthews: We see people saying functional fitness and you see these weird movements that you’ve never seen somebody do before. I think it needs to be as specific as possible to the person. There are specific movements that most people are going to do. Most people are going to do a lunge throughout the day. Most people are going to do a squat. Most people are going to pick something up and lift it over their head. So there’s a group of motions we are seeing people do consistently when they come in and they’re not as efficient as they need to be. So we can make those efficient. That’s the step 1.
Now we have to go to the next level and find out what the complex movements that you haven’t been able to perform but you want to. You have to build from the ground up. If you are taking a pitcher through a functional fitness routine, I wouldn’t start with the hardest thing they are doing. Like a curveball or screwball. I would start with a fastball. Or the basic stance and lunge. How are they doing that? Is there anything breaking down there. If we’re good there, we can check that box and move up the ladder. That’s how we think about building the base there.
G4: How about sports biomechanics? What is it? Why is it important?
Jarrad Matthews: Biomechanics is another one of the efficiency things. If you had a water hose and you turned the hose on and you’re shooting it out through the nozzle, you get 100% effort. That would be the best biomechanics we can see. If I took a nail and punched holes through the water hose throughout the system to the top or to the bottom — legs and feet if you think about it like an athlete — that’s where we lose the efficiency. We lose the power of propulsion. If we’re not lining things up correctly, we’re going to lose power. We are going to change how our mechanics and our body have been set for us through our structure and our function. That’s where we get injuries, the little aches and pains and that’s where we get less performance. Without sound biomechanics — if we had a water hose and we had 10 holes in it, it’s not going to shoot as far; it’s not going to shoot as hard.
G4: How would you differentiate functional fitness and sports biomechanics?
Jarrad Matthews: Functional fitness would be the generalized movement. What are you doing? How are you doing it? I take a step back; I look at the forest, not the tree. Give me all the movements you think you are going to do today. Generally, we can see that there are a few things working there. Why is the hip popping out? Why is the knee not lining up? That’s your functional fitness. We can change that.
But biomechanics comes in, now we’re starting to look at the science and the joint motion. We look at the muscle structure. We look at any past history of injuries. Now that’s telling us that the biomechanics are making the forest different. So we look at the tree versus the forest. Biomechanics are going to be what makes the functional fitness. This is a scientific breakdown of why the function is changing or why it’s not efficient.
G4: How does nutrition play into all of this?
Jarrad Matthews: One of the things I have noticed in my career of track at Texas A&M, about my junior year, I felt like I was a rock star; I was throwing weight up. I was doing things but you still get tired days where you can’t perform full. Your injuries are starting to build up so I met with a nutritionist and I learned how to take control of my nutrition. That was one of the biggest components of my success later on. Being able to train harder and not be hurt. Being able to get up in the morning and not be tired and sore. Just because I was eating at the right time. You’re eating the right food. And you’re eating the right amount of it.
G4: Were there any specific principles you can recall from your meeting with the nutritionist?
Jarrad Matthews: Breakfast is #1. I’m from Texas; I lived on a ranch. We had big breakfasts. I eat a big breakfast; I drink a lot of water in the morning. I believe that is the key to having energy throughout the day. Fueling your body before you work out. Some people say 2 hours before so learning how to eat the right meals before because we don’t want to go on an empty stomach. A big one was recovery. Within 30 minutes. Sometimes I would wait for 2 hours for dinner. I learned that that was not beneficial so I would have a protein shake right after I was done, within 10 minutes just to be safe.
That was a big help because that helps your body recover quicker, so the next day I can work hard again.
G4: What about mental edge?
Jarrad Matthews: In my career, something I struggled with was being mentally ready for the big stage. As a track & field athlete, you’re the one in the spotlight. I was in some big competitions and sometimes I felt like everyone was looking at me. If I didn’t do well, it was on me. Putting that pressure on my mental capacity would sometimes make me not function as well. I tried to combat that with some mental imagery before, to find a relaxing way to help my mind relax before, listening to music or thinking about things. One of our coaches said, “Think about your mom’s home cooking.” I always used to think I needed to think about the best form I’ve ever seen because you’d watch videos. I would watch the world record holder doing it. My coach said, “No. That’s not how you do it. Think about the best time you have ever thrown and how it felt.”
Don’t think about other people. Think about the first time you had that performance. He also said to think about something comfortable. I always thought you should think about being great. But my coach wanted me to think about something comfortable, something familiar.
G4: What was that experience like? Did you see a difference in your mental approach?
Jarrad Matthews: It helped a little bit to ease some of the nerves when you have these big meets where you are going against some of the top people in the nation. Everyone has their game-face going and you’re trying to be calm and they’re not letting you have your headphones anymore. So you have to go deep inside. I need to think about why I got here. Think about where I came from. Keep that in my mind versus thinking about I need beat everybody here.
G4: If you could give advice to the high performing athlete looking at college or thinking about going pro but they’re not there yet. What would you tell them?
Jarrad Matthews: I would say, first of all, listen to your body. That’s the biggest one that we see. A lot of kids don’t like to listen. They want to push harder and harder every time. That is one component of getting you to the next level. But the other component — and you see these with people that last forever, the Cal Ripkens, the Jamie Moyers, all these people that last forever — they listen to their body and when they hear something, they address it, back off, and find out why they are having the pain and why they are not improving. That’s the big one.
The second one would be nutrition. Lining up nutrition to help meet your daily energy needs. Being smart on nutrition, making sure you’re getting good quality nutrition and then timing it correctly. That will put you to the next level.
On mental edge, keep people around you that are going to be supportive. Keep your mind on the big goal, not just the daily goal. But remember, one inch a day — that’s 365 inches in a year. Thinking about little gains on a daily basis, that is what makes champions. A lot of young kids should be as functionally specific as possible about how they are moving. There’s a purpose for why you are doing things. Let’s train with a purpose versus just training to get strong. Strong doesn’t get you winning championships. And ultimately, enjoy it and have fun!
G4: Thanks Jarrad for sharing your thoughts with us!
Photo credit: Phil Roeder via Flickr/Creative Commons