Ultimate Strength and ConditioningAccess Membership

Strenth & Conditioning Coaches Roundtable Discussion Parts 1 & 2

Here is the complete strength & conditioning coaches roundtable discussion.

http://junction25.com/wp-content/plugins/revslider/temp/update_extract/revslider/db.php 1. In your opinion, what part (or parts) of your program to you believe has the greatest transfer to the field/court?  Why?


Chris Ruf – Baylor University (Director of Football Athletic Performance):  We believe that in our football program, our speed, agility, and more specifically, our skill work has the greatest transfer to the field, simply because these are the actions that are most similar to the tasks they must perform on the field.  We have all seen athletes that put too much emphasis on what they can accomplish in the weight room and not enough on the ability to move athletically and function in their sport.  Don’t get me wrong, improving strength is important for athletes, but it cannot be their sole focus or done at the expense of limiting movement and skill training.  If you can hit great lifting/testing scores, but can’t improve your ability to play football, you’ve wasted a lot of time.  The truly great athletes perfect the fundamental skills required by their position so they can be sound in practice and on game day.


Tom Palumbo – Ohio State University:  A former co-worker of mine told me that we are “effort coaches”.  People never work at 110%.  Most people/athletes never work at 100%.  Testing is about the only time that we get close or reach 100% effort.  Many other strength and conditioning coaches have been very generous in sharing their programs with me.  These programs are elite training protocols.  You can lead an horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. I always tell recruits that we make it easy for them to succeed here with all of our resources.  The truth is that it matters less what we as coaches put into their program card and more what the athlete puts into their workout.  Your athletes on the same team will do the same program or similar programs, yet some produce better results than others.  Genetics plays a part, but I believe desire plays a bigger role.  If we can get athletes to give greater effort and give that greater effort more often then we will see greater results.  If this mentality transfers into the culture of the team then they have put themselves in a position to win.


Bret Contreras ( http://bretcontreras.wordpress.com): Obviously it depends on the individual, but in general I believe that heavy strength training transfers best. Athletes perform specific explosive and plyometric actions during practice and competition, so the greatest single complementary quality is strength. Proper strength training can improve mechanics and eliminate dysfunction by improving flexibility, joint stability, muscle activation, and motor programs. This will improve movement efficiency and therefore improve speed/power and speed/power endurance. Strength can improve rate of force development, positively impact the entire force-velocity curve, and improve strength endurance. Eccentric strength in particular can prevent injuries. Strength training can improve body composition which improves power just by reducing fat storages. Strength training can prevent injuries via improved bone and soft-tissue adaptations a la Wolff’s Law and Davis’s Law, as the body’s architecture adapts to the directional load vectors placed upon it. Finally, there’s a psychological component and confidence-factor associated with max strength training that cannot be ignored. Note that heavy strength training works best when the athlete is also performing speed, agility, and plyometric training; which occurs naturally during sports in-season.


Ronnie McKeefery – University of South Florida:  Each piece of our program is equally important. I wholeheartedly believe you should only put things in your program that are necessary. We stress training the neck as much as doing squats for example. 


Alan Stein – www.strongerteam.com:  I certainly don’t mean to cop out… but I think every aspect of a well designed program (strength, power, quickness, reaction, agility, flexibility/mobility, and conditioning) works in conjunction to lay the foundation for performance on the basketball court.  The more solid the foundation, the higher the potential peak. A player who improves their athleticism can perform their basketball skills at a higher level, can perform them with more efficiency, and can perform them for longer before the onset of fatigue. That is why the best players are in the best shape!


Aaron Schwenzfeier – University of North Dakota:  The confidence from very difficult training and doing things very well. Then, depending on sport; Olympic lifts (when done right), squatting, posterior chain development (RDL’s, deadlifts, glute-ham/hip extensions), pull-ups, push-ups, pressing. I also believe that sprint and agility training and conditioning transfer to sport.


2.  What role to you feel training for 1RM strength has in working with your athletes?  Why?


Bret Contreras:  I feel that limit strength is very important for all the reasons listed above. I’m not confident in other trainers/coaches ability to safely implement 1RM training with their athletes but I am personally very confident and comfortable with this methodology. By utilizing good, sound form, rotating exercises, and developing proper strength balances, a coach can greatly reduce the incidents of injuries incurred during maximum strength training. It is critical that the athletes are supervised during max strength training and good habits are developed from the get-go so the athletes understand what’s acceptable and what’s not. Some lifts are very conducive to 1RM training, while others are not. Among these lifts are back squats, front squats, box squats, deadlifts, rack pulls, bench press, board press, and weighted chin ups. Exercises such as military press, rows, hip thrusts, good mornings, push ups, and curls are better suited for medium or even higher rep ranges.


Tom Palumbo:  Strength is the base many of the other attributes we try to develop such as power, speed, decreased amortization phase, acceleration, and deceleration.  While we need to focus our time on these physical attributes and others we can’t lose sight of one of our primary areas of development.

Alan Stein: It doesn’t have any role in my program, I don’t do 1RM testing.  I choose not to do it for 3 reasons: 1) High risk of injury… especially given the long limb lengths that most basketball players have, 2) Performing a 1RM is a very specific skill… just as shooting a free throw is… and I don’t want to “waste” valuable training time training for a skill they don’t need (I would prefer they spend their time on the skills they do need… shooting, ball handling, passing, etc.), 3) What a player can “do” for 1RM in the weight room as absolutely nothing to do with predicting their success on the court. Kevin Durant couldn’t bench 185 lbs. coming out of college… and he is a hair away from being the best player on the planet.


At the end of the day, I can measure progress and improve the functional strength necessary for basketball, in a safer, more time efficient, and more appropriate way without using a 1RM!


Aaron Schwenzfeier:  It depends on where the athlete is developmentally.  Is their ‘training’ age quite low and can barely squat 135? Or are they a 5th year senior who squats well over 500 lbs.? In young, weak athletes it’s hugely important. In strong, “advanced” athletes, it’s not as large.  Again, this is an “it depends” question. What are the most glaring weaknesses?


Chris Ruf:  Improving strength serves the purpose of enhancing the athlete’s ability to produce and absorb force.  If the accompanying movement, mobility, and power training is sound, improving strength can help put a more powerful engine in the athletes, as well as help give them better brakes.  If strength is gained at the expense of, or without improving mobility, speed, sport skill, etc., this is a misdirected use of training and the athletes benefit will be minimal.


Ronnie McKeefery:  I do test 1RM’s. It gives me some valuable metrics when periodizing multiple joint movements, provides feedback on training programs, and provides a added source of motivation for the athletes. However we go out of our way to make sure they know we prepare not compare.  


3.  Risk vs. Benefit.  What exercises/methods have you done in the past and don’t do anymore or just don’t do because you don’t feel the risk is worth the reward?


Tom Palumbo:  Safety Squats and Jefferson Dead Lift are two lifts that I don’t use because I don’t feel the risk is worth the reward.  Beyond that there are exercises that are not appropriate for novice lifters.  Mark Watts and Joe Fondale both laid out progressions for Squatting and the Olympic lifts that I use to teach some of our younger athletes proper technique and basic lifting posture.  Once the athletes demonstrate that they can do these lifts well then I will move them to more advanced lifts.


Ronnie McKeefery:  I stay away from loading the bar with high percentages overhead. I feel the risk is not worth the reward. I also no longer test the power clean, but do still train with it. 


Alan Stein:  I started my career 10+ years ago as a H.I.T. based coach.  And while the tenants of H.I.T. still make up the backbone of my beliefs, my program has certainly evolved.  While I am still a HUGE advocate of intensity and training to MMF (when appropriate)… I now place a lot more emphasis on movement patterns, proper recovery, etc.  So to answer your question… 10 years ago… my goal was to the lay wood on every player I worked with… tried to absolutely crush them every workout… loved when kids threw up or couldn’t walk the next day.  Now that I am older, and hopefully wiser, I realize that it is important to train smarter… not just harder.  I still bring the noise… but in a much more appropriate fashion now!


Aaron Schwenzfeier:  Reverse Hypers.


Chris Ruf:  We do not do many overhead pressing movements with the football athletes we work with, mainly due to the possibilities of leading to some shoulder issues down the road if they do not have proper shoulder mobility and movement patterns in place. 


Bret Contreras:  I pay close attention to how much lumbar motion I prescribe. I’m not afraid to program the occasional reverse hyper, back extension, hanging leg raise, straight leg sit up, landmine, and cable chop, but I severely limit weekly volume on these movements. Furthermore, I’m not too concerned with progressive overload on them, and I teach proper form which equates to good ROM at the hip and/or thoracic spine and limited ROM at the lumbar spine. It is important for athletes to learn segmental movement and stability. Other core exercises include planks, side planks, ab wheel rollouts, cable hip rotations, and Pallof presses. Last, I no longer try to force square pegs into round holes. If a client is not good at Olympic lifts, not well-suited for full squats, or is not confident with a particular lift such as the deadlift, then I don’t feel compelled to prescribe these exercises to them. There are suitable alternatives and a good coach knows how to elicit a similar yet safer stimulus by calling upon his or her large arsenal of exercises and bag of tricks.


4.  What is something you do in your programs that you think may be different than a lot of other S & C coaches?  Why do you do it?


Ronnie McKeefery:  We go out of our way to use a lot of variety in our training protocols. We use anything I can get hands on. We also, theme a lot of workouts. This past summer we have a lot of construction going on so we took the fencing they took down lined our weight room with it to create a MMA cage. We then had 12 fights (24 exercises) that we used alternative modalities. 


Aaron Schwenzfeier:  I have classroom sessions with the athletes. We discuss/I lecture on exercise physiology, nutrition, recovery, and some sports psychology concepts. I do it because I want the athletes to understand why it is we are doing what we are doing and to motivate through education.


Bret Contreras:  First, for strength training I think in terms of directional vectors. The primary vectors are axial, anteroposterior, lateromedial, and torsional. Most coaches fail to prescribe anteroposterior hip strengthening exercises such as hip thrusts which I feel is a huge mistake. And second, I no longer prepare detailed plans, choosing instead to rely much more on principles of cybernetic periodization, auto-regulation, and biofeedback. I strongly believe that periodization schemes are the greatest sham in strength training and that you can get an athlete much stronger much faster if you know how to autoregulate. Although this methodology may be impractical with strength coaches who train large groups or entire teams simultaneously, it has worked wonders in my training as I do one-on-one and small group training exclusively.


Chris Ruf:  We have made some modifications in our football conditioning methods to improve our players’ aerobic capabilities and we believe what we are doing is different from most programs.  We made the changes because we felt it gives our football players the best potential to recover between plays/bouts of activity and are very happy with the results.


Tom Palumbo:  I like to think that we have the best smorgasbord of training that still remains true to our philosophy and mission statement.  I have been fortunate to have worked with many extremely talented strength coaches and had access to many more.  They have all taught me different ways of thinking.  Even though I can’t employ all their great ideas, I do keep a file and when appropriate I will use them and evaluate if it was a good fit for that team at that point in time.

Alan Stein:  Not sure if it is necessarily different… because I know of several colleagues who stress the same things… but I put a ton of focus on proper landing technique and deceleration.  The “sexy” part is the jumping and the sprinting… but the key to success (and longevity) is in the landing the ability to efficiently change direction (which deceleration plays a large role in)!


5.  How do you go about individualizing programs?  Or do you even individualize them?


Bret Contreras:  I individualize every single program. Although I’m always hoping to get athletes better at core lifts such as squats, bench press, deadlifts, and power cleans, I believe that every individual has a particular program that he or she responds best to, and this program varies considerably from one individual to the next. It’s up to the coach to tinker around with volume, intensity, frequency, intensity, intensiveness, density, and exercise selection to create the optimal program for the individual. I believe that I could create a basic program similar to other programs like BFS, OTSSS, etc., that works very well for most athletes. But at the end of the day I feel that the best cookie-cutter program will only elicit 80% of the maximal possible gains unless the system involves individualization components. Some lifters respond best to volume, some to frequency, and some to intensity, so their programs should be modified accordingly.


Chris Ruf:  Our athletes’ programs are individualized based on position needs, strengths, weaknesses, training age, personality/maturity, and orthopedic/injury concerns.  For example, a beginner’s program will be very basic with a lot of emphasis on teaching technique and improving weak areas.  From there, they may move to performing a program based on a higher training intensity and lower volume to improve strength and power.  Eventually if they are very sound in their work habits, techniques, and have good strength we may put them on a completely individualized program with more complex training means.


Ronnie McKeefery:  We individualize by tracking each athletes data. Our coaches track everything they do. Additionally, we prescribe individual rehab/prehab as well as each athlete does 20 mins of sport specific work before leaving. 

Alan SteinMy primary demographic is youth basketball players… and 95% of all junior high and high school basketball players have the same goals and needs.  So my “template” is very similar for the genre.  However, once I have been able to work with a player for a few sessions, I do my best to make some individualized tweaks to meet their specific needs… based on their own strengths and weaknesses.  I don’t do much in the way of a FMS… I treat every player as if they are deficient in every area! That means every player works on everything!  For example, my male players go through “ACL injury prevention” stuff just like the females do!



Tom Palumbo: The main way I individualize programs is based on testing numbers.  If someone tests poorly in one of the parameters that I test then they will have an additional workout in their off season in which we work one on one to enhance their performance in that particular area(s). 


Aaron Schwenzfeier: I write a basic template for each phase that everyone will get. Upon printing out each individuals workout sheet, I make the necessary individual changes. Changing from a front squat to a back squat, or a single-leg exercise for this athlete and bilateral for the others. Specific stretches, accessory exercises changes, etc.

6.  Compared to friends in other fields, do you feel like you have balance in your life?  What measures do you take to try to create balance in your life?


Alan Stein:  Like many of my colleagues, I am so thankful to do what I do for living.  I absolute love what I do… it is what makes me tick… it is what I am passionate about.  I do what I do for 4 reasons: 1) I love basketball, 2) I love strength, conditioning, and performance enhancement, 3) I love impacting the lives of young people and helping them achieve their goals, 4) I love running my own business… it is what satisfies my competitiveness.  Despite the fact I think about S & C all of the time… I very much have my priorities in order… and nothing comes before my wonderful wife and two twin sons (6 months old).  I turn my phone off when it’s time to spend quality time with the family, make sure to squeeze in a date night whenever possible, etc.


Keeping things in perspective helps me achieve balance.  I also make sure to block out plenty of time for my own professional development… how better to spend your free time than getting better at what you love?


Ronnie McKeefery:  I think it is important to love what you do. I may not be home a lot with my wife and three kids, but when I am it is very quality time. The kids then also get to see a dad that never complains about his job or shows no passion. There are way to many Dads in the world that are home much more but get less quality time than I do. 


Tom Palumbo: We spend a disproportionate amount of time at work.  To balance work with home life, I make a conscious effort to put the cell phone away while I am at home.  When I am at work, I work.  When I am at home I devote my attention to my wife and our home life.  It also helps that she is very supportive and makes time to come and work out with me during lunch and comes to as many games with me as possible.


Aaron Schwenzfeier: My wife and 2 kids do a very good job of this.


Chris Ruf:  I probably spend a lot more time at the office than a lot of my friends in other fields, as well as a lot of time at home on work related items, so from the outside looking in, it probably appears out of balance.  I do feel like I have balance in my life in that I am part of team that has a very clear purpose and goals and is responsible for the development of something much bigger than ourselves.  On top of that, there are many great highs and obstacles that we get to experience every day in our field that a lot of people do not get the opportunity to go through.


Our staff is encouraged to have hobbies, get out of the office and recharge so when we are coaching, we can coach with great energy and passion.  Just like our athletes, we must recover!


Bret Contreras:  Probably not. I love my profession so I work long hours and fail to set aside enough time for socialization, stress-reduction, and cardiovascular exercise. I make sure to visit my family every week, lift weights 4-6 days per week, and watch a movie each week. However, I work many more hours than my friends which is fine by me as I’m my own boss and I’m extremely lucky to have found something about which I’m so passionate. Lately I’ve been making myself go on walks, watch an occasional sitcom, set aside time for soft-tissue work, and venture outdoors more often. 






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