Inside Jay Schroeder's Nervous System Training Program, The Evolution Code

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For more than 40 years, Jay Schroeder has worked with elite athletes across nearly all sports at the professional and Olympic levels through his nervous system training. Created after Schroeder successfully treated the paralysis he suffered after an accident, the Evolution Code system is designed to correct flawed position and movement and thus, increase performance and reduce the risk of injury, by retraining the brain and nervous system. Washington Nationals pitcher and 2019 World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg, WTA player Bethanie Mattek-Sands, New York Islanders centre Mathew Barzal are just a few examples of the dozens of athletes Schroeder (who holds a World Series ring for his role in helping players on the Nationals) has worked over the course of his career. 

Below, Schroeder explains the background and basic fundamentals of the Evolution Code system and shares his tips for how anyone—athlete or non-athlete, in sports, business or any field—can apply his nervous system training principles to move through any aspect of life more efficiently and effectively.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Sports Illustrated: Can you give us a little bit of background on yourself and the Evolution Code system came to be? 

Jay Schroeder: I always wanted to play football and whatever sport to get paid to make a living. It seemed like fun to me. And I wasn't fast enough or strong enough for any of those things. And I did everything that I was always asked to do or told to do through school, you know, junior high and high school.

When I got into college, right after right after my freshman year, I had an unexpected accident and had some extreme, and some less extreme, limitations from that throughout our time, which I still experience to this day, 40-plus years later.

But it's somewhat inspired me to gather information because I had paralysis from waist down for weeks at a time, for days at a time. It would come back. It would leave. There was no specific rhyme or reason. And I was young, afraid. And I had an osteopathic physician who gave me a Soviet training journal. He said we really don't know what to do for you. We don't know what's wrong. And obviously they didn't understand what was really happening, which over the years I discovered that the brain injuries were really the key to the whole thing. And the things that I did to improve myself, I look back upon now and go, well, that makes total sense. 

I would do things like when I couldn't feel my legs, I would look to create pain or discomfort in my head or my neck. That seemed to me where I should start, based on the reading I did in the Soviet Journal, and I could create a feeling in a part of my body that I wasn't. And so I started playing without and manipulating that. And to be honest, I got really good at it. And to this day I still do it.

I changed and became faster, stronger, fitter and all the things that everybody wants to be, as it relates to sport display or participating in games or even just regular life. And I started then working on my speed, my vertical jump, my strength. And the results were at the same level as they were when I was creating the pain could create a feeling somewhere. And I started taking those, putting them together, manipulating them and discovering how everything related and interrelated to each other. And that was the genesis of the system.

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SI: I know you've worked with a lot of different athletes across different sports. So can you kind of take me through your experience and how you started in this field?

JS: Well, it's as varied as you can imagine. I originally started with family—sons, daughters, wife. And then when I saw the results were replicable with them and I started venturing off into friends and friends of friends and that's how I got started.

And the first athlete that I really had to utilize the system was Adam Archuleta. And I met him through an acquaintance. His results speak for themselves as he moved on into the NFL after a great career at Arizona State and great Combine results. And now now he's an announcer.

So, you know, he can speak to what they're really like on the field and what it takes to be on the field. Then I started getting a lot of referrals from athletes, from universities around the country, mainly football and or track and field. And then I found that I enjoyed working with hockey and baseball athletes much more. So things gravitated that direction.

But I've worked with everything from Olympic sprinters, hurdlers, decathletes, to soccer teams in Europe, swim team in Europe, consulting with many different coaches and things throughout the years.

I consider anything any human does as an athletic endeavor, such as writing poetry, creating music. The exact same qualities that going into running fast, jumping high, possessing endurance, velocity—those same qualities, where they originate from or the same qualities necessary to do things that we may call the arts. And so we ventured into that. And obviously still to this day, if you came to my facility, you'd see from two years old to 90 years old. The EVO Code system looks at everyone as an athlete and everything we do as an athletic endeavor. And that the capabilities are inside all of us to achieve these things. We don't always understand the code that we need to input. And that's how EVO Code got its name, by the way. The code to input to get the right response and to continue facilitating the adaptations and the desired responses as we move through our life or our careers.

SI: Can you give us a basic breakdown of the Evolution Code system? What are the efficient movements that you're trying to get your athletes to do to help eliminate some of those compensations that might be detrimental to an athlete during training?

JS: First of all, everyone needs to understand that the nervous systems are responsible for every part of us. You and I speaking to each other, you and I listening to each other, our posture, how we move in our chair—our nervous systems are responsible for every single thing we do.

Then next, we need to realize that we're all born with the same muscles that do exactly the same job, the same energy systems that fuel those muscles and the same highway of nerves that allow the information to get to the muscles to be able to do things we want. We have the same reflex patterns.

We're supposed to rotate through those as we enter life in the world and mature past them and get to a higher level and then create reflex arcs so that we don't have to go through every step, every time we want to do something. And whether it's an athletic activity on the field or simply getting in and out of a chair.

User interface assessment

SI: How would I apply this system in my own life? Are there specific things I can look for that may be impacting or making my movements inefficient?

JS: The basic tenants of this system are: breathe, sit, stand and walk. Without appropriate breathing, we can't have any of the other things. Sitting, standing and walking are the basis for everything else we do, whether it's on an athletic field or just in our daily lives—getting in and out of a car, lying down and waking up in the morning.

Humans are meant to be typically right angles and straight lines. And if we get away from that, then we we tend to create problems. So if we were to think for a moment how each one of us typically gets into a chair from a standing position—you tend to bend forward, then lean back and not fall to the chair, but not pull yourself to the chair. And they use a hand to typically guide you if necessary. And then when we get up, we bend forward again and we move our upper bodies to create a little momentum, our knees go forward, lower legs angle forward and typically our foot comes off of the ground. It's not in complete contact with the floor. And we stand up. Sometimes as we get older, we need to put our hands on our legs or hands on the chair in order to assist ourselves.

Those compensatory actions, what I describe right there, will keep you from jumping high, running fast, possessing endurance, having whatever explosive movement to you want to come up with.

The proper way to sit to a chair from a standing position is to extend the hips to the rear, keeping the upper torso perpendicular to the ground and using your hamstrings to those other muscles involved, too. But for the simplicity of this conversation, to bring yourself down to the chair. So you're going to pull yourself into position on the chair. Lower legs will remain perpendicular, feet will remain flat on the ground, upper torso will remain erect. That's also the position you should be in when you when you're sitting there, whether it's you and me talking to each other or you're in a classroom or you're in a business meeting or you're on an airplane and you know your legs fall asleep, your back begins to hurt, your neck hurts.

If you were to simply sit in this position at these right angles and straight lines and your brain can receive information from all of these areas very clearly and allow you to keep doing that. And it's a funny thing about compensatory actions. We can never eliminate them. Even if we know all of them, we're going to make the same mistakes. We're going to have compensatory action from moment to moment. So the EVO code system—and again, that word code is really important because it's a messaging of information to the brain allowing you to get there in an efficient manner, faster than other information that tells it to do something wrong. And your brain will understand that you're executing a compensatory action because the information is inappropriate based on what you've been doing with it, what you've taught it.

So the EVO code system is simply have your brain recognize when you're in an inefficient position and get you back to what an efficient position is before it can wreak havoc. Strains, sprains, energetic fatigue. You know, all of the things that everybody experiences on a regular basis, they can be avoided simply by being in a proper position, breathing appropriately so that the nervous system can function in an efficient manner, so the information gets there very fast. Then the brain can return the response and then start the whole process again based on feedback that comes back from it. So it's breathe, sit, stand and walk—those form the basis of every single program and I have not yet met, in 40 years, anyone who has those mastered before they've come into the system.

And it doesn't matter if we all have to start simply by sitting there and learning how to exhale through your nose to an eight count, pause one count. If you want to remain alive, repeat.

And when you do that, just that simple act of mastering breathing, you go out and ride your bike and you can average a couple miles an hour faster or you'll go four hundred meters, thousand meters further in the same amount of time. You won't experience the same level of fatigue or the same level of discomfort that you might feel two or three days later.

Just the simple act of breathing. Now, if if you get the brain, then to learn how to react to one muscle working and what the other muscles should be doing well. Now you've got it whipped. Now you become whatever it is you want to become. And that's ego code. It isn't about playing football, playing soccer or playing baseball, climbing mountains, dancing. It's about the mastery over your own humanity. I call it PIPES: physiology, intellect, psychology, emotion and spirit. And when you do that, then you can apply it to anything you want to do. So literally it is for every single person. Now, will everyone want to do it? No, because it's very challenging. It's challenging to participate intellectually and emotionally at the exact same time that you're challenging yourself physiologically.

And that's where a healthy nervous system comes in and breathing appropriately.

That deep breath does something for us. It resets our nervous system or at least gets us started on that reset process. If we can do that, then we can eliminate compensatory action and or allow our brains to understand more clearly, more efficiently at a greater rate of speed. When those are going to occur, then we don't experience the wrath of all the negativity from those.

User interface workout

SI: In working in this program, an athlete will eventually get to the exercises, the actual training portion. What does that look like? Is it isometric training?

JS: Not isometric at all. People think it's isometrics, but it's iso-extreme. Let me tell you the difference. An isometric is when you hold a position, you remain in one position for whatever the amount of time may be. Iso-extremes and extreme slows are wear we are moving very, very, very, very, very slowly. The difference between iso-extreme and extreme slow is that the iso- extreme, you begin in whatever the extreme position is that you can get into. So let's say you're going to be at a wall squat and you can only get down to parallel. That's your extreme position. From there, you continue to pull yourself towards the floor while maintaining the upright position, lower legs perpendicular, feet flat on the floor and arms at your side.

In the extreme slow, you're just starting from the opposite end. So we would start from the top of the wall squat rather than the extreme position. But we are constantly moving. For people that are experienced, we have people that do it for 20 or 30 minutes. I know that can seem ridiculous.

And when Adam's first came to see what he did and he walked in the gym and said, Hey, I want to see this, Adam actually held a 400-pound bench press on his chest without sinking for three minutes. And then upon the agent's command, pressed it to the top. Then it was OK for him to train with me because he wanted him to train somewhere else.

But we are constantly moving.

There's two ways to reach a point of high velocity and people that are going to read this need to understand that every system in the world that I read about, that I looked into (and I looked into many, many, many because I had many, many, many hours were all I could do was move my upper body laying in bed) they failed at high load, high volume and high velocity. Every system—didn't matter what level you were trying to get to or you were beginning from—they all failed at the same point. And what does everybody do at that point? Well, then they go from EVO code to to John Doe's system to Jane Doe's system, because they think, well, I can't get any more out of this. All it was is they didn't prepare to be able to do that again. Breathe, sit, stand and walk or PIPES—physiology, intellect, psychology, emotion and spirit. All of those things come into play in order to do this. So our beginning system and our assessment is to look at how long can you do this for, how long can you focus for, how long can you intellectually participate? How long can you emotionally participate when the pressure is on?

In the beginning, we look at these things, I assess every single one and make my notes and get a score. We have a specific assessment schedule. We look at those again and we look at the areas that are improving, areas that aren't changing, or the area that may have gotten worse.

And from that, through my experience in creating this system, I can very accurately tell you what you have been doing, which you haven't been doing and what's not right in the way you walk, the way you stand, the way you're thinking, the way you're breathing, the way you're eating and all those other things.

Because humans are very predictable. We are miracles by birth. And as such, we are very predictable. And if we input the information—again, the name EVO code, we're inputting this code—and this code is nothing more than a movement or as you know now, there's no isometrics, there's iso-extremes and extreme slows. They input specific information to the brain and the brain then does not have time to react to other information because this information gets there so fast.

And it says, I need to react based on this and I need to react based on this and I need to do this and this, and it reverts back to when we were a young child. And we begin then a whole process of growing up again.

We don't look to make people fast or strong or fit or more muscular. We look to master the ability to send and receive information, respond to it, interpret what's happening, and then to do the whole process all over again. In reality, we're preparing for what we're going to do, not just trying to do something.

Therefore, then it's long lasting and can translate to anything that you and I or anyone else wants to do.