By: Ricky Singh – February 10, 2017
I met Casey Wheel at a Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization (DNS) course in San Diego. After getting to know Casey, I wanted to learn more about how he applies principles of DNS when coaching his athletes. Having only limited experience in applying DNS principles in a clinical setting, I was excited to hear some of Casey’s thoughts and experiences on how he applies these principles in an athletic performance setting.
Ricky Singh (RS) – Tell us about how you got into Strength & Conditioning and the demographic you work with today.
Casey Wheel (CW) – I was introduced to strength and conditioning as a high school athlete when I was too small and skinny. My friend’s dad taught us a legit strength program with cleans, deadlifts, presses, etc and I’ve been hooked ever since. My professional start was as an intern with San Diego State University and the Bishop’s School (high school). I now work with high school athletes at Pacific Ridge School in Carlsbad, CA. We typically have groups of 10-25 athletes come in at once. If the group size is over 15, I have another coach help me by splitting the group in half, where I coach the lifting and they help me with speed, agility, and plyometrics. The weight room can be quite chaotic it terms of activity but always achieve a well-rounded training session.
RS – When were you first introduced to Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization?
CW – Patrick Ward first introduced me to DNS at the Seattle Sounders sports science weekend in 2011. When I returned to San Diego, I looked up if there were any local instructors in the area. Just my luck, Dr. Mike Rintala was only 5 miles from my house and had been practicing DNS methods for 10 years. Even better luck was how welcoming he was and inviting me to swing by and watch him and other practitioners go over techniques and principles. Since then I have been able to attend many of their practice sessions where I get to be a guinea pig for the reflex points and practice the active exercises for the developmental sequence.
RS – With your experience in the field and all the continuing education you have done, where do the DNS principles fit into the work you do with your athletes?
CW – DNS gave me a deeper understanding of sequencing. It felt like we were going back to the roots of movement with the developmental sequence and the integrated spinal stabilization system. I always love to dig deeper into why we move either consciously and subconsciously, and this to me was a big piece of the puzzle. DNS broadens my vision and allows me to see a bigger picture with the way my athletes move. The principles allow me to see the fundamental positions and patterns I can use for any exercise. My coaching cues have catered to finding these positions.
RS – What is the most important utility DNS principles have for the athletic population?
CW – Charlie Weingroff really connected the dots for me in this regard. After learning about DNS for over a year, I went to see Charlie for a 2-day workshop. He spoke a little about DNS but the crowd was filled with coaches who can’t use the exact DNS method. Where Charlie was influential was showing how the DNS principles lie in all movement. How they are in regards to planks, push-ups, deadlifts, bear crawls, etc.
His talk on core pendulum theory/joint centration was a game changer in my opinion. That was the connection for why DNS ties into picking up heavy things and moving fast. The joint centration idea of a balance between tonic and phasic muscle activation around the joint so that one can apply optimal force without energy leaks. I highly suggest any coach to check out his DVD, Training=Rehab, Rehab=Training.
A big take away for all athletes is keeping your breath on point. Taking a minute or two at the beginning of each training session to practice deep breathing in different positions can only help. I see it as a reset for my over-stimulated high school athlete’s brain and body. After foam rolling, we get right down on the floor in different positions based on the developmental sequence and practice deep diaphragmatic breathing. I like to remind them we typically take on average 22,000 breaths/day, you don’t want that to be dysfunctional. I continue to train the breath in every movement, especially when they can use more load in deadlifting, pushing, pulling, and squatting patterns. A solid breath can trigger proper stiffness and centration needed to pick up heavy stuff.
RS – What has been your greatest challenge in applying DNS principles into coaching?
CW – Since I am a coach, my only use of the DNS technique are the active exercises. I have used the active exercises extensively for myself, but have been very hesitant to use them with my classes. I train big size groups of 14-18 year old boys and girls who like flashy things. DNS is the opposite of flashy and very hard to teach without being hands on with coaching cues. It is very detailed and takes time to get the feel. I have started teaching some side lying active exercises to my older group that is more focused, but that’s about all. The movements are not easy to coach and require lots of attention.
RS – How do you explain DNS principles to your athletes? What do they feel the benefit of performing DNS exercises are for their overall performance?
CW – I try not to over explain the concepts. I pick and choose the athletes who really want to hear deeper understanding of why we use certain movements over others. Shocker that not every 15 year old thinks DNS is fascinating like I do…. weird.
I do like to relate side lying positions to rotational athletes and how it can help their sport, and I use the term “energy leaks” a lot with DNS positions. In the end I don’t like to get too deep on them and keep the atmosphere fun. I’m not sure how they feel about it yet; I’ve only started to introduce some active exercises. I think they appreciate more the fact that I’m constantly learning new things so that they can get better. Earning their respect and trust will always prevail over any exercises I choose.
About Coach Casey Wheel
A native Vermonter, Casey grew up in the mountains playing an array of sports, and specifically basketball as he got older. After being sick of New England winters he went on to study Kinesiology at San Diego State University, interning with the strength and conditioning department. He still lives in the San Diego area working as the strength coach for Pacific Ridge School. As the only strength coach he is in charge of off-season athletes, teams, and they even made him tap dance in front of the school. Casey also worked for Brain Highways, which teaches adults and kids how the brain can change. His passion lies with the youth and developing programs that teach long-term athletic development and athletic plasticity. Outside of the weight room, Casey still plays plenty of pick up basketball, surfs, snowboards, and still claims he can dunk.