Strength & Conditioning

Training Q & A

Have a question for the Tiger Strength & Conditioning Staff? Submit a question to Josh Medler and check back here for answers.



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Answers To Your Questions

Q: As a college S&C coach, what is the major weakness you see in athlete's coming out of high school?

A: As far as your question, it is a pretty good one and there are probably a few issues I see with incoming freshman. The trendy answer in the strength and conditioning world would be the posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes, and lower back) which to some extent is true. I see a lot of athletes who struggle performing glute ham raises, RDL's, and hyperextensions, even when they possess decent leg strength based on their squat and deadlift numbers. A lot of freshmen tend to squat high. This could be because they were taught this way, they lack hip flexibility, or they just lack glute strength to get out of the hole in a deep squat position and are afraid to break parallel. As far as the upper body goes, I see a big discrepancy with how much kids can bench press relative to how much they can overhead press. I have seen lineman who come in benching right around 350 who probably could not military press 185 lbs. I'm a big fan of overhead pressing, but it seems like it has gone out of style lately. I've always been more impressed with a guy who can military press big weight as opposed to someone who can bench a lot because you can find those guys anywhere. Another reason I like overhead lifts are because they can expose oblique/torso weaknesses in athletes. If athletes lean back excessively, its either due to lack of shoulder or lat flexibility, which should be addressed, or due to weak obliques. I think front squats work wonders for strengthening the torso because you have to keep your back and torso rigid or you will dump the bar.

A movement skill that I have to spend a decent amount of time teaching athletes is how to keep their lower backs tight and rotate at the hip. When performing RDL's, Goodmornings, or even the initial bow that takes place during a hang clean, athletes tend to not understand the difference between rotating at the hip and flexing their spine. Most athletes let their back go soft, and round their lower back out when they should be keeping their lower back tight and rotating at the hip. Until they learn this movement skill, they not only are at risk of injury, but they also may be robbing themselves of quality hamstring training.

If I could choose an ideal incoming freshman to work with it would be one that possessed great flexibility. Flexibility, specifically in the hips, is something that I wish I could spend more time addressing with incoming athletes. Without great flexibility, athletes will never be able to move as well as they could or perform many lifts properly. I believe a lot of hamstring injury injuries stem from inflexible glutes, hip flexors, and spinal erectors. When these areas are tight, which they are on many athletes, restrictive and inefficient movement patterns develop over time, which leads to injury and poor running mechanics. Also, I'm a big fan of deep squats as long as there are no prior knee or hip injuries present. Developing strength in the extreme ranges of motion strengthens the joints and surrounding musculature, and may prepare the athlete for those unfortunate situations on the field or court when their bodies are forced into those acute knee and hip angles. Cleans may be the most important lift we do in the weight room and generally the kids who possess the flexibility in the shoulder, elbow, and wrist to rack the bar properly clean better than those who cannot. Flexibility in those areas may not mean much on the field, but if athletes never come close to reaching their cleaning potential due to their inability to rack the weight then they may not be maximizing their athletic potential. Sometimes athletes may clean properly with a bad rack, but more times than not the bar swings out away from the body like a reverse curl. Many athletes also lean back when receiving the weight when their upper body flexibility is limited. Division 1 athletes are on a 5 year plan in many sports, so we have an adequate amount of time to get them big and strong. If they enter college with a lack of flexibility, that prevents them from doing the lifts that will get them big and strong, then they are losing quality training time that their competition is most likely utilizing.

Hope this Helps,

Jason Hartman
U of M Strength & Conditioning

Q: I am a sophomore in high school and by my senior year I want to be able to "jump out of the gym." I would like to know what would be good workouts to become more explosive with my jumping? A: When it comes to jumping ability there tends to be two types of jumpers. There are jumpers who have tremendous leg strength, who can seemingly power their way to a high vertical jump, and on the other hand, there are jumpers who cannot squat their bodyweight, yet can seemingly spring high off the ground with relative ease. Each type of jumper possesses a greater degree of certain athletic qualities, and by training their respective weaknesses they can improve upon their jumping ability.

There are two things that every athlete needing to improve their vertical jump should be doing. They must increase their leg strength, hip strength, and power through weight training, and they also must jump. Depending upon which type of jumper you most closely resemble will determine how much priority is given to each of these two training tools.

The first type of jumper is one who has already built a good strength base and will be better served emphasizing jumping/plyometric drills to improve his/her jumping skill. The ability to jump high is more than just a display of athleticism, it is also a skill that can be learned and improved upon through practice. Jumping requires a great deal of intermuscular and intramuscular coordination, so the more times your body jumps, the more efficient your body gets at jumping. Prioritizing jumping drills will allow this type of jumper's body to learn how to utilize every bit of the hip and leg strength that it possesses in a shorter amount of time, leading to a higher vertical jump.

The second type of jumper lacks strength, but is gifted with a nervous system that allows them to draw upon what strength they do have and apply it at a fast rate. Their nervous system is very efficient at coordinating all the muscle actions that go in to a jump, which allows them to jump adequately. Having an efficient nervous system is in large part genetic, but training can lead to some improvements in efficiency. This type of jumper would benefit from raising their strength levels through weight training. Increasing hip and leg strength will give their nervous system more force potential to draw upon, which will lead to an increased vertical jump.

The best exercises to improve hip and leg strength are the squat and deadlift. Each exercise has several variations, such as the front squat, single-leg squat, partial deadlift, and the hex bar deadlift. All these variations are very effective at increasing strength, but for the general population, sticking to the basic back squat and conventional deadlift for their main exercises will provide the best results. In addition to these strength builders, Olympic weightlifting movements such as the clean and snatch are to power development what the squat and deadlift are to strength development.

In terms of jumping exercises, there are two classes. The first class of jumps has the objective of jumping as high as possible, or with the most speed as possible. For the sake of this response we will refer to this class of jumps as maximal effort jumps. Examples of maximal effort jumps are the basic vertical jump, broad jump, box jumps (jumping up onto a box placed in front of you), 1-leg split jumps (a jump that begins in a lunge position and legs are alternated in mid flight), and hurdle or barrier jumps (jumping over a series of high hurdles or barriers). The emphasis of this class of jumps is to jump with a maximal effort trying to get as high as possible every time. You do not want fatigue to hinder jumping height during these drills so adequate rest should be taken in between jumps. The second class of jumps will be referred to as reactive jumps. Reactive jumps involve spending as little time as possible on the ground and also jumping as high as possible. Reactive jumps require some type of counter-movement to precede the jump to place all the muscles and tendons in a stretched position so the body can utilize the stretch-shortening cycle. The stretch-shortening cycle is a reflexive mechanism built into your muscle-tendon complex that allows your muscles to absorb external forces (such as your falling bodyweight), stabilize the force, and reflexively react to that force much like a stretched rubber band. Examples of reactive jumps include depth jumps (stepping off a low box and immediately executing a vertical or broad jump), rhythmic squat jumps (descend into a squat and immediately perform a vertical jump out of the squat position, upon landing drop straight into squat position and repeat for multiple repetitions), and multiple broad jumps (perform multiple broad jumps in sequence spending as little time on the ground as possible).

Arranging these exercises into a weekly routine is simple. Most athletes will benefit from two jump training sessions a week. Each workout can consist of a power exercise, a strength exercise, a maximal effort jump exercise, and a reactive jump exercise in this order. For example on a Monday or Tuesday an athlete could perform a clean for power, a back squat for strength, a box jump for a maximal effort jump, and rhythmic squat jumps for reactive ability. On Thursday or Friday a snatch could be performed for power, a deadlift for strength, 1-leg split jumps for maximal effort, and a depth jump for reactive ability. All exercises (power movements, strength movements, both classes of jumps) should be trained in the 3-5 repetition range with three sets of each exercise. Training in this low repetition/low volume range will maximize strength and power gains as well as keep the quality of work performed high by mitigating fatigue.

It should be noted that this routine and exercises should not be performed without proper instruction. If you do not know how to perform these movements, you put yourself at risk for injury, and also may find yourself not making improvements due to improper technique. Seek instruction from a qualified individual so you can make the most of your training efforts. Also, the US Ski Jumping team has a motto that states "The fat don't fly" which means if you're carrying excess body fat you'll never jump as well as you should. By eating clean and getting lean you will increase the likelihood that you increase your vertical jump.

Hope this helps,

Jason Hartman
U of M Strength & Conditioning

Q: I would like to know what path I would need to follow in college in order to become a strength and conditioning coach for a university in the future. What degree would benefit me most? Also, I have heard a little about the CSCS certification. Are there any other certifications that colleges look at when hiring? Thanks for your time.

A: I do not believe there is one particular track an individual must follow to become a strength & conditioning coach at the collegiate level. If you are to read the biographical information on many current strength & conditioning coaches across the country you may see that some have backgrounds in high school sport coaching, personal training, weightlifting, powerlifting, and some were merely successful athletes. However, there are a few prerequisites that an individual can partake in to increase their chances of becoming a full-time collegiate strength & conditioning coach.

  1. Strength & Conditioning coaches are expected to possess a wealth of training knowledge. Becoming knowledgeable about the theory and practice of training athletes should be your first priority. There are many ways to build your knowledge base such as reading books/websites, attending conferences, or participating in internships. It is in my opinion that learning by doing (training yourself) is essential in your development of training knowledge. By performing the weight lifting movements and running routines that you will be prescribing to your athletes, you gain a greater understanding and appreciation of what you have read in the literature. Additionally, you must remember that as a strength coach what you know is relatively unimportant when compared with what you are able to teach to your athletes. Until you perform the exercises yourself you may never truly understand the nuances that every lift has to offer, and may not be able to coach an athlete through their difficulties.

  2. Experience in a collegiate weight room is the most valuable asset you can have on your resume. If you play a collegiate sport it will be unlikely that you have time to volunteer your services in a weight room, but you can still make best friends with your strength & conditioning coach. Every strength & conditioning coach knows another strength & conditioning coach. Work hard for your coach, express interest in the field, and he/she may be able to help you out landing your first internship or graduate assistantship. If you are not participating in a sport and have a strength & conditioning program at your school you have no excuse for not volunteering your time in the weight room. It will be a difficult conversation with a potential employer when you are trying to convince them you want to be work in the strength & conditioning field, but do not have a strength & conditioning coach from your own school as a reference on your resume.

  3. Very few academic programs exist that will completely prepare you for a career in strength & conditioning, however exercise science (i.e. kinesiology, physiology) programs will provide you with useful knowledge of the human body and how it functions. Strength & conditioning coaches are first and foremost coaches, and therefore need people skills. If your academic program requires electives, it may be of some value to sign up for a few basic sociology and psychology courses. Gaining a better understanding of people and how they think will help you manage the many diverse personalities that you will encounter.

  4. Currently there is no certification that is universally recognized and required to obtain employment in the collegiate strength & conditioning field. The Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) offered through the National Strength and Conditioning Association and the Strength and Conditioning Coach Certified (SCCC) offered through the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association are the two prominent certifications that exist. There are four varying opinions that strength & conditioning coaches hold; there are the coaches who believe in the CSCS, the coaches who believe in the SCCC, the coaches who believe in both, and the coaches who believe that just because you hold a certification doesn't mean you have any business training a college athlete. A certification may not get you a job, but it may be a reason that you don't get a job. It is in my opinion that if you have the financial resources and the knowledge, look in to receiving one of these certifications if for no other reason than to give your athletes and fellow coaches a sense of security in your knowledge. The USAW Club Coach certification offered through USA Weightlifting has also become popular in recent years to show competence in the Olympic weightlifting movements, and most colleges require a First Aid/CPR/AED certification.

  5. As mentioned above, there is no stead fast track one must take to become a strength & conditioning coach but there is a logical progression. Your first step should be to seek out an internship opportunity in a collegiate strength & conditioning program. The internship will provide you with first hand knowledge of the operations of a collegiate weight room and a chance to study under an experienced professional in the field. The next step would be to obtain a graduate assistant coaching position. Having an internship and positive reference from a strength & conditioning professional will hopefully give you a good chance of obtaining a graduate assistantship. After the completion of your graduate assistantship your knowledge and resume should be fit to seek full-time employment as a strength & conditioning coach. Former graduate assistants can realistically expect to become assistant strength & conditioning coaches, but some may be fortunate enough to head up a strength & conditioning program of their own.

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