Coach's Corner: Jeremy Jacobs

Jeremy Jacobs is an Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach at Louisiana State University. He specifically oversees and manages the technology used inside the weight room, tracking everything from barbell speeds to force plate analysis. He was part of the national championship football staff in 2019 - 2020.

Before LSU, Jeremy worked at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He also served as an Airborne Ranger in the United States Army, serving multiple tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Jeremy has a Master of Science degree in Pedagogy and Psychological Sciences from LSU. He and his wife, Alyssa Jacobs, have one daughter and live in Baton Rouge, LA.

Perch was thrilled to talk to Jeremy about the nitty gritty data collection piece and how LSU first gravitated towards Perch, installed it, and have been implementing it daily since.

TELL US YOUR STORY, HOW’D YOU END UP AT LSU?

Jeremy Jacobs: I have a little bit of a unique path to this, I don’t follow the traditional athlete to coach. After 9-11 I chose to go into the military after high school, I served in the 2nd Ranger Battalion and then as my time finished up, I never intended to make it a career, I knew I was going to be getting out after my contract, and I had no idea what I wanted to do. I kind of floated around for a few years really. I call them my “lost years” because I had no idea what I wanted to do. I was contracting for the military as a civilian doing background investigations and security clearance stuff. Then I thought I was going to be a firefighter so I went through EMT school and the first time that they called us to attention I realized it was too close to the military and I was out. So then I started playing golf a lot, and I ended up going to a professional golf school in San Diego to be a Club Golf Professional and I did that for a few years before I realized that the golf business is not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

In that whole journey, the one constant that was in there was the gym and training. From playing football in high school through the military, I had always trained and always lifted. And I actually found my way back into Olympic Weightlifting and was doing that while I was playing golf. I found myself gravitating towards lifting weights way more than trying to play golf. At this point I was back in Milwaukee as a golf pro, and the gym I lifted for, called Milwaukee Barbell, offered to pay for my USAW if I started coaching for them. Through that I ended up buying out one of the partners in the company. So all of the sudden I was part owner of the weightlifting company. I had the opportunity to coach some really great athletes, and all of the sudden I was a year and a half into it and now I’m in Poland coaching an athlete on Team USA at Junior Worlds, and I was in the back with all the big Team USA coaches and it was one of those moments where you say “this is crazy how fast this has happened”

“Being so young in my career and being able to win a national championship this past year is above and beyond what I ever thought of when I first got into this field.”

Through that I realized I loved weightlifting, and it is still my favorite of the lifts to teach (clean and jerk and snatch), but I wanted to get back around real athletes as far as sports. Football was my first love of my life. So getting back around to that, weightlifting was my path. So at 29 years old I went back to school for exercise science, and I interned at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee while I was in school. And then I interned at LSU. The only way you can get on staff at LSU is to intern with Coach Moffitt, all of his employees were previous interns. After my internship I asked Coach Moffitt if I could stay on as a GA type of role and he said absolutely, so I ended up going to grad school at LSU. Before I finished my grad degree, Coach Moffitt hired me full time. I started with other sports: women’s volleyball, swim and dive, track and field, really almost everybody, and now I am solely just part of the football staff.

That was a big career goal of mine and to do it at a school like LSU is even better. Being so young in my career and being able to win a national championship this past year is above and beyond what I ever thought of when I first got into this field. It’s cool to stand on some of these stages in front of 100,000 people. I’m like a kid every day I get to go out, that stuff never gets old. It’s been a huge blessing and I’m happy to be here.

HOW DID YOU MOVE INTO THIS EXCLUSIVELY FOOTBALL POSITION?

JJ: There’s a reason Coach Moffitt has been as successful as he’s been, and he’s the reason I came down here. If you want to be a successful strength coach, especially in football, being part of his coaching tree and under his tutelage is huge. He always talks about “be where your feet are” and do a good job where you are currently at, and it will go far beyond trying to be something that you’re not. When I had other sports, I trained them like they were my football team (not necessarily like a football team) but I took care of them like I was the head strength coach of a major college football team. I built relationships with coaches and players and did everything I could to make sure those teams were successful and let my work speak for itself.

And in the whole spirit of “dress for the job you want, not the job you have” there were years where I wasn’t traveling with the team. So I would train the freaky Friday guys (the non-travel squad) and then get in my car and drive to wherever the team was. I’d show up late at night, sleep on the floor of a hotel room and wake up and work the football game. They would get on the plane to come home, and I’d get back in my car and drive the long drive back home. I’m very thankful that my wife has been very understanding through this whole thing. She understood those stepping stones and the sacrifices that I was making time-wise to be there for them. There were a few years where my schedule was pretty loaded, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. It made me a better coach, it makes me appreciate now where I’m at, and I don’t take it for granted. A lot of people would work their entire careers to be in the position I’m currently in, so my goal is to always remember that. I get to wake up every day and put on LSU gear to go to work, and that hasn’t lost its coolness to me.

“A lot of people would work their entire careers to be in the position I’m currently in, so my goal is to always remember that. I get to wake up every day and put on LSU gear to go to work, and that hasn’t lost its coolness to me.”

WHEN WE VISITED AND INSTALLED AT LSU, ONE THING THAT STRUCK ME WAS HOW WELL YOU COMMUNICATE WITH ATHLETES FROM ALL WALKS OF LIFE. WHAT IS YOUR PHILOSOPHY ON CREATING AND MAINTAINING THAT BUY-IN AND TRUST?

JJ: I’m from the North, born and raised in Wisconsin and then I spent 10 years of my life on the west coast with the military and then golf school. So the south is a different animal to me, the type of kid you get is coming from a different culture. Then on top of that you have kids from south Louisiana, which is its own culture within the south. So you get these kids from all over Louisiana and Texas and Mississippi and Florida. And learning this culture and creating buy-in with a group of individuals who were raised totally different than I was and have completely different backgrounds than I do has been the biggest learning curve. It’s been a challenge, but for me, I’m lucky to be comfortable with myself and I really want my athletes to know how much I care. I want them to know that when I’m giving them instruction and guidance, it is for their benefit. Creating trust with these guys is the biggest challenge, and once you can truly show that they can trust you and you have their best interest in mind, they will follow you anywhere.

Coach O talks about this all the time with how he recruits. He goes on all these living room visits and talks about how he’s going to treat all of these players like his sons. His message to the entire staff is that when they walk into this building, we are here for them, they’re not here for us. We are in a service-based industry and we need to make sure we’re doing everything we can to help these kids be as successful as they can be.

“[Coach O’s] message to the entire staff is that when they walk into this building, we are here for them, they’re not here for us…we need to make sure we’re doing everything we can to help these kids be as successful as they can be”

One of the cornerstones of Coach Moffitt’s program is that he wants these kids to be better people for being part of the program. If they can’t go on and be successful, not just in football, but in anything in life: as husbands, as fathers, in business. Whatever they are doing post-college, if they’re not successful in that realm then somewhere along the lines we have failed as coaches. And that is something we preach everyday to these guys, and something Coach Moffitt preaches to us as a staff. So all of that is embedded in us as a staff. How to care for these guys and how to encourage them. The more you get to know them, you learn that you can’t talk to them all the same way, so you learn what everyone needs as you get to know them. If you step back and realize “I’m here for these guys, they’re not here for me” it becomes about what you can do to help them, bringing that heart into this situation makes it much easier to create buy-in with them than if they think you want them to do something for you.

HOW MUCH DO YOU THINK THE VELOCITY COMPONENT OF PERCH HAS HELPED IN FUELING THAT BUY-IN?

JJ: Massive! These guys were semi-familiar with VBT because we had Tendo units, but we didn’t use those nearly as much. Because of the way Perch is set up, we can use it literally on a daily basis. And they’ll ask us “hey are we tracking this today” per exercise, they want to know it before we start. So it’s become part of their culture at this point. And since this generation has grown up with a phone in front of their face, the technology has become so seamless and it is very simple for them.

It definitely creates competition in a really positive way. We don’t sacrifice technique for speed, obviously, and they’re not just chasing a number. They’re using their technique and the number is now just part of the lift, so they’re getting out of it what we want. When you give them a target velocity to hit, rather than just saying “squat as fast as you can,” they train a lot harder when they have that target in their minds.

The workout is on TVs in the weight room, and after they warm up on the turf, they come in and Coach Moffitt will talk about what we’re doing that day. And now some days we put up the slides of the graphs with all of the information that we’ve gotten from Perch, and we show them how we’re progressing, how we’re moving loads, and how it’s affecting their force plate data. So we give them the reasons why we are doing this, and the more they’re seeing the technology and how we’re pairing it all together, the players are getting it and having these aha moments of “ohhhh, you guys might actually know what you’re doing!”

“We put up the slides of the graphs with all of the information that we’ve gotten from Perch, and we show them how we’re progressing, how we’re moving loads, and how it’s affecting their force plate data.”

We had guys hitting PRs in the middle of in-season, just because we were training certain velocities and they were moving such weight at such speeds that all the sudden oops! they pulled a PR on a deadlift or something.

Trying to create the lightbulb moment where they understand the why is what generates that buy-in we talked about earlier. If we can explain why we’re doing something in the weight room and how it helps them on the field, they will do whatever we tell them. If they understand that it helps them play better on Saturdays, they’re in. One thing that made this last year’s team so special was how competitive they were. They competed on every silly game on every bus ride, every workout, every practice, they just competed at everything. And the weight room was no different. They understood that the competition tied into their performance everywhere.

But getting real-time feedback ensured that they didn’t have a bad or sluggish workout. With that additional metric, they had something to chase, and they didn’t just go through the motions. They were always competing either with themselves or each other. Or both. There is a goal to meet for every single rep.

It also helped them realize that LSU is doing everything they can to help them be successful with every bit of technology, and they understand that. It is something that has been a great learning perspective for me watching Coach Moffitt. He has his philosophies, but he is always talking about making sure we don’t leave a stone unturned. He wants to make sure that there’s nothing else out there that we’re missing.

FROM A RECRUITING STANDPOINT, DOES THAT MENTALITY OF “NO STONE LEFT UNTURNED” AND THE ADDITION OF THE VARIOUS TECHNOLOGIES HELP?

JJ: Absolutely. Now with Perch, we were the first school to completely install our weight room with it, that’s a great talking point for us. So we’ll bring recruits in and we will walk them through the whole system of what it looks like to log in, what it looks like on the platform, and we’ll have an intern go through a full demo of exercises. So they see not only the type of exercises we’re going to do, but they see the technology component and how it ties into performance. And then we’ll show them the same charts and graphs we show our guys so they understand why what we’re doing in the weight room helps them on the field. So absolutely, it totally has helped us with getting recruits to understand what we’re doing too.

They see a tablet on every rack and “how do we use that” is the question. A lot of places have bells and whistles, but they don’t use them on a regular basis. But because of the way Perch is seamlessly integrated into our rack, we get to use it every day. There’s no set-up or tear-down every day, it’s not a pain in the butt like other systems.

“But because of the way Perch is seamlessly integrated into our rack, we get to use it every day. There’s no set-up or tear-down every day, it’s not a pain in the butt like other systems.”

And I’ll tell you a story: so this year we had a lot of seniors graduate and juniors decide to leave early. So when we got back, as a coaching staff we wanted to focus more on fundamentals, and we decided we didn’t want to use the Perch system right away. We were trying to focus on technique, and then Coach Moffitt asked me “what do you think those velocities are at?” And I told him I had no idea because we weren’t tracking it. So we literally did one workout without the Perch units on and realized we were blindfolded without it. It’s there, and it’s so easy to use, so why not just use it and gather that data? We weren’t doing true velocity based training, we weren’t dictating load off of the velocities, but we had a lot better understanding of where our guys were at with that load simply because we had the velocity metric. And we use that to make programming decisions week to week on where we want to go based off of what we saw.

And honestly, the bars were looking slow and we were worried, and once we saw the velocities we realized that we were right where we needed to be. It just solidified that we were doing what we wanted to do, and it’s really nice to have those hard numbers every day.

AT THIS POINT DO YOU FEEL THAT REMOVING THE VBT IS LIKE PUTTING A BLINDFOLD ON?

JJ: That’s what I feel like. When you don’t have it on, it just would be nice to know. VBT gives you a concrete answer on the central nervous system, and on strength. It gives you information on whether or not they’re getting better. And how much fatigue are we creating. Velocity doesn’t necessarily answer all of it, but it gives you a much better glimpse into them. Even as far as 1RM predictors. We’ll let them squat heavy singles, without a true testing day planned, and put a minimum threshold on it so we know we’re not killing them. It has definitely changed the way we program and what we can do in the weight room.

“VBT gives you a concrete answer on the central nervous system, and on strength. It gives you information on whether or not they’re getting better. And how much fatigue are we creating.”

BACK IT UP FOR A MINUTE, WHEN DID YOU FIRST LEARN ABOUT VBT?

JJ: If you read a lot of the old Russian texts, they make references to bar speeds. So you can understand that velocity is an important component with all of this stuff. When I was at UW-Milwaukee we had some old ass tendo units, and in order to keep the data we had to write it down because otherwise it would go away. We would use the Tendos in a workout and we could manipulate numbers out of it, but not really to the extent that we can now. When I got down to LSU, it was the same thing. We had like 18-20 Tendo units, and getting them charged and putting them out and keeping the cords in the microcomputer and all of that pain in the ass stuff every day. Strings would break and I’d have to package it up and send it back and wait for it to come back. We liked VBT and wanted to use it, but that was a real pain.

The more research I did, the more we realized that VBT makes too much sense. You can make such better decisions as to where your athletes are at and making sure you are training the right parameters for what you want. Really what the major impetus was when we got our force plates. So we were doing a bunch of research on improving RSI Modified and eccentric braking force and how we could manipulate those numbers in our training, and if we manipulate those numbers whether that can help us on the field. As we started playing around with it, we would put stick jumps on a Tendo and see if we could impact their raw data force plate file and get that graph to shift. The more we started doing that, the more velocities we started tracking, the more realized this was something we had to implement on a larger scale.

“VBT makes too much sense. You can make such better decisions as to where your athletes are at and making sure you are training the right parameters for what you want.”

Out of the blue, we got an email from Jacob [Perch’s CEO] and we started looking at Perch. I was excited about it because I had been doing setup and tear down of Tendo everyday. And the thought of having a cloud-based system where the information is now stored and I can look it up on my computer and use it for future decisions in our program was great. It came at the perfect time for us. And in order to make sure we were making the right decision, we would have a Tendo unit on one end of the barbell, a Gymaware unit on the other end of the barbell, and the Perch unit tracking as well just to see where we were at. We were trying to figure out if it would work for us and create our own anecdotal validity tests and obviously it did and we went with Perch. So now, like you said, we’re so used to having VBT consistently that it feels like we’re blind if we don’t have that data.

WHAT DO YOU SEE THE FUTURE OF DATA COLLECTION IN THE WEIGHT ROOM BEING?

JJ: I think this is how coaches should track stuff now. As a coach you’re constantly trying to collect data to prove that what you’re doing is helping, or creating a path to get to a goal. This is just a tool that takes guesswork out of getting there. And it’s a tool where now I can go back to my actual sport coaches and say “hey look, they’re getting better.” So we can prove that these athletes are learning and creating more power and we have the objective data to prove that. It’s justification for our job [as strength coaches] and what we do, we can go back to the hard numbers and show people that what we’re doing works.

And then from an in-season perspective, it helped us out in managing stress. Football is sometimes easier because the athletes play on the same day every week, so you can plan ahead your programming. And the velocity is now part of managing that load and that stress with them week to week.

My vision of the future would be that this is just normal. I can’t imagine running a program without it now. I can go back and pull the data and export it and compare to previous workouts or different positional groups or individuals and see how everyone compares to each other as well. You can make a lot of different realizations when you see certain patterns emerging.

“It’s justification for our job [as strength coaches] and what we do, we can go back to the hard numbers and show people that what we’re doing works.”

HOW ARE YOU USING VBT TO REGULATE ATHLETES ON THE FLY?

JJ: For younger guys, it’s a great tool as far as creating velocity thresholds that you don’t want to drop under, it might allow you to advance a little faster because you can see that progress and react as you go. On a daily basis the more data you get on athletes, the better and more accurate decisions you can make. Now we’ve been using it long enough that I know what percentages should move at what speeds. And if we’re not meeting that then I know that something is going on. Whether it is in the classroom, on the field, or in their personal lives, something is going on. I might then be able to pull them aside and check in with them. And that might help you from overtraining an athlete and causing an injury. It also helps on the other end when someone is having a great day, you can take advantage of it.

That applies to any level of athlete as well, as long as technique is the foundation of everything. You can really run true thresholds and use those to manage volume. We talk about cluster sets, so you can see if you’re taking enough time to recover, or if you’ve met your threshold and are no longer putting out the same power and therefore are not training for what you’re supposed to be and therefore done with this exercise for today. And then over time you can see how many sets you were able to complete and essentially hit a higher threshold and repeat it for longer and use that as another metric for being in shape for whatever your goals are athletically.

IN YOUR SLOAN SPORTS ANALYTICS CONFERENCE PRESENTATION, YOU USED A COKE CAN ANALOGY, CAN YOU JUST REITERATE THAT FOR US HERE?

JJ: I stole it from Jack Marucci who is our head Athletic Trainer, and he’s been the head AT here for over 20 years, I think he and Coach Moffitt came here at the same time. But in essence: We track so much about these guys, we track their meals, we track their volume, we try to track their sleep, we try to track how much speed training they do, how much weight they’re lifting, their heart rate, all of this stuff. And by the time we get to training camp, we have this beautiful pristine Coke Can, there’s no dings in it, it’s smooth, it’s shiny. And the coaching staff gets that can and they put them through long practices and training camp and they smash the can. And then you spend the rest of the in-season trying to knock the dings out of that can, but it is never as smooth as when you first gave it to the coaching staff.

So Jack’s analogy was followed by the question of “how do we keep the can smoother for longer?” And the answer was really: with the information that we get, we can show the coaches so they can make more educated decisions about their plan. And then we can manage our plan in the weight room week to week to get the guys ready. It’s not just practice, it’s playing college football. Every week these guys go out and basically get in a car wreck, and then we have to take those pieces and put them back together in 7 days so they can go back out there and do it again.

Really it came down to: how do we continue to communicate with the coaching staff to show them the data and minimize the damage where we can? Something we did a really good job of this year was understanding and managing all of the stress that we could. And it showed that we did by metrics like us running the fastest speeds on the field during the week of the National Championship game after a 15 game schedule and basically a 5 month season. That was something that we all looked back at and thought “hmm, we might be onto something here” because those guys were performing well after all of this time, they were ready to play. And there’s so many different factors, it’s not just us. But to say that we played a little part in that was cool.

ANY LAST THOUGHTS ON THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON?

JJ: All these guys wanted to do was play. It didn’t matter who or where we played, we just wanted to go play, and that’s all these guys wanted to do. They wanted to play football, they wanted to be together, they wanted to win. That makes our job so much easier when you have a team like that. It didn’t matter what we asked them to do, they came in every day and they did it, they smashed it, they competed, they talked shit to each other along the way. And it was a blast, it was like that for 15 weeks. And they never blinked. We were down 10 points in the national championship and there was never a doubt on the sideline. It was a privilege on my part to be part of that and to see it, and now going forward you know what it looks like. These guys laid down a blueprint of: if you want to be successful, here it is.

“It was a privilege on my part to be part of that and to see it, and now going forward you know what it looks like. These guys laid down a blueprint of: if you want to be successful, here it is.”

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