Michael Hill is the Associate AD for Sports Performance at Georgetown University. He has spent 15+ years in Washington, DC initially with every team at Georgetown, and now exclusively with men’s basketball. He grew up in Iowa, spent time in California developing his coaching style and philosophy, and headed east to Georgetown from there.
A highly regarded and unique coach in the world of strength & conditioning, Mike sat down with Perch and talked through his background, coaching philosophy, and use of autoregulation with and without technology in the weight room. Thanks Mike!
Mike Hill: I’m originally from Fort Dodge, Iowa, which is pretty much in the middle of nowhere in the middle of Iowa. I graduated from high school and went to University of Iowa State where I ended up being an art major at first, and then I switched to Sports Industry and Management. Then I ended up transferred to the University of Northern Iowa and switched over to Health Promotion and that’s where I found my passion within the educational piece of this and I got a minor in coaching.
Throughout that whole process, from a young age was training and playing every sport possible, and trying to lift in my basement. I loved that training aspect and learning more about it. It wasn’t a specific goal to be the best player ever, it was more just me being fit and learning and growing. And once I found that gift of what I liked, naturally strength and conditioning and coaching came to fruition and now I can give away that passion.
After I graduated, I moved out to California, and I became a personal trainer. Which if you don’t know if you want to be a S&C coach, or if you want to get in the field, there is nothing wrong with going to a gym and becoming a personal trainer. That is where you learn your people skills and your programming skills, because you’re doing individual programs for such a diverse population that it just organically grows into what type of coach you want to be.
“That is where you learn your people skills and your programming skills, because you’re doing individual programs for such a diverse population that it just organically grows into what type of coach you want to be.”
Then I started peppering every single strength coach across the country with emails and calls. So one morning I got a call from Coach Augie Morelli at Georgetown University and he offered me an internship. So I moved to Washington, DC in 2004, and I’ve pretty much been here at Georgetown ever since.
MH: When I first came in it was just one strength coach and another volunteer, so with 29 sports we worked with all of them. And we had to wear different hats for different teams and treat everyone the same, but different, if that makes sense. The body will still move in a certain way, there are just different demands on the body for different sports. So while I started out working with all teams, eventually it trickled down to just a few, and has since tricked down further into just working with men’s basketball here at Georgetown.
MH: I guess training can be the same yet different. The body still has to work in certain movement patterns, so all of that stuff is the same within the weight room. So my philosophy has grown to incorporate this idea that I don’t know enough about what I don’t know. So I try and program and stay within my realm and not go outside that box too much within those safety parameters. The first thing is safety for those athletes, and then the next thing is promoting and enhancing performance, and then individuality and sport specificity comes into play.
I try to stay away from sport specific, but give enough to the athlete so they can continue to learn more about what we’re doing.
In men’s basketball, if anyone tells you they’re programming out their full year plan, they are definitely not doing that, they are totally lying. It is such an intense schedule. The guys are 365 days a year. There are ups and downs and ebbs and flows. Really in terms of philosophy, sort of Bruce Lee-ish, my philosophy is to not have a philosophy. It’s about autoregulating load and staying within certain parameters, so sticking with a boundary of exercises, and within those exercises what load and intensity to throw at the athletes. Really just giving them enough to keep them wanting and learning more.
At the end of the day, I’m putting them into three buckets
So the whole idea is I’m training them to leave and be able to train themselves. I don’t want to be that coach that they call up for programs or when they graduate after 4 years, or leave to the NBA, they don’t have to be re-taught that stuff. So maybe “teaching a man to fish” type of philosophy over anything.
MH: Watching and seeing [the players] is the artform. You can have all the technology, and that’s great, but putting it in your own head and presenting it to whatever program is on the backend that will inform decisions, I think that’s the artform. The science is there. The artform is me being at practice every day, talking to the athletes, communicating with head coaches, athletic trainers, nutritionists, other staff members. And then watching athlete body language, how they’re carrying themselves. We do a questionnaire every day and that starts some good conversations. You can figure some things out and whether or not you’re going to get some high performance out of your athletes given the answers. We don’t use too much of the high tech AMS or anything like that, it’s more just being present and visual and communicating.
The program that comes out for that day, I’m writing that night or the morning before. I only have 15 guys, it’s pretty easy to figure out who is injured, who’s not feeling well, who may or may not be excelling that day. Once the workout starts, you can go in and dial people back or push people up as needed.
MH: It plays a huge role. Everyone wants the newest and latest technology. It has created many platforms for athletes to learn their own bodies and their own selves and what they’re doing and how to get to their goals. Those measuring tools to get to their goals.
I guess there’s two schools of thought:
People are shifting on that paradigm, which is interesting. A lot of times people with no technology want all the technology and then the people with all the technology are like “what are we doing with all this stuff” so finding a happy medium with both, and what works with your program specifically is what will breed success. For us, we use questionnaires, and we use velocity based training, and heart rate monitors.
MH: The first was a tendo unit in college. And “how fast are you moving?” was the only real question. When I came to Georgetown we had a few units and now we have the Perch unit as well.
The athletes will understand numbers and they’ll understand if they beat somebody else. When you tell them they moved that bar pretty quick, nearly 1m/s, they’ll understand it and think it’s cool. But they really better understand them vs. somebody else. “Did my number beat their number?” is what makes most sense to them. So I don’t necessarily dive too deep into it, but I use it as a teaching tool for the athletes to learn for themselves and to create competition within the weight room. That’s how we primarily program it.
“The athletes will understand numbers and they’ll understand if they beat somebody else…I use it as a teaching tool for the athletes to learn for themselves and to create competition within the weight room.”
VBT is an educational piece for me to show them how to dial down, or maybe add some weight to show them when they’ve been dogging it. We have our heavy days and light days and speedier days, so having numbers helps. But I’m smart enough to know I don’t know enough about VBT just yet, so hitting the surface and educating the athletes about it is primary for me.
MH: For sure! Any metric that they can get is like pulling that switch on the slot machine. Any time they can truly see that they are pulling it faster or get that instant feedback somehow, it opens up another can of focus and attention to different things. So VBT has been a huge learning tool for them.
We do a lot of controlled on command counts as well, so we’ll grab the bar and hit three seconds on the eccentric, a one second pause, and then a fast concentric portion of the movement. I just keep it simple and try not to go too far into the weeds on that. With basketball we’re constantly training and in practice so I don’t want to hit them with overkill in either direction. Metrics are an added value to that, the number validates what the athletes are feeling. I can be the teacher, but when they hear it from an objective device they can truly believe it.
MH: To create more accountability, I actually have them take a pen and paper and write it down. So let’s say we’re doing a position 1 hang clean at 3 reps and after they look at the device, they write down what is their fastest pull and write it on their card. So that’s how we’ve been self-monitoring and creating that knowledge. Storing data is great and I could do all of that stuff. But I want them to see it and feel it and journal it and write it down and get to know it. If I just extract all the data from all the kids and have devices everywhere, they won’t ever learn. But I want them to learn and be part of that process and be able to really get it and be aware of the difference between .2m/s and .9m/s
MH: We are definitely using it as a recruiting tool. You go to other places and there are so many bells and whistles and glamorous things, you have to keep up with where the field is heading. For athletes today, they really understand the technology. You can see the benefits moving into this digital age, and that’s what recruits are looking at; whether or not you have the methods and technology in place to enhance their performance should they come here.
MH: I definitely see just as everyone has a barbell, a kettlebell, bands, chains, turf flooring, all of that is evolving. The next piece is the integration of technology from all aspects. From velocity based training, video analysis, force plate data analysis, heart rate monitors, gps systems, everything from checking yourself in to checking yourself out. Even nutritional modeling and how athletes are ingesting different caloric intakes and how that is differentiated between each team and their needs and whether or not you’re a leaner, gainer, or maintainer. All of that information that leads to a successful athlete. It’s only a matter of time before all that technology is just as prevalent as barbells and chains and kettlebells. And at some level, some people will take the route of “hey we need no technology, we need simple things” and eventually you’ll slide back up that scale of technology. Everything is cyclical, you’ll come around to it, but that cycle is starting to trend more towards technology and it’s not slowing down.
One of my favorite quotes is by Arthur Schopenhauer “Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see.” And that’s velocity based training. That’s genius. How can I compare my 185 bench to this guy compared to this other guy? Okay I’m moving it faster. Or I can manipulate it better and slow it down.
Tendo Units and Gymaware Units still have a little device that hangs onto the barbell. The Perch allows for freedom of movement, it’s just gathering that information from what you’re doing without interrupting what you’re doing. That’s genius too, and until recently it was the target no one else could see.
“The Perch allows for freedom of movement, it’s just gathering that information from what you’re doing without interrupting what you’re doing.”
MH: Yea, if you look at the elite athletes now who are being exposed to all of those various pieces of technology that help enhance their performance. Their improved and individual training is allowing them to adapt to this even better. In the next 10-15 years we’re going to see some crazy athletic kids pop up and we’re going to see that basement line grow even faster. We’re going to see faster and stronger and more talented kids, and a lot of that is exposure and some is genetic remodeling and adaptation to the world around us. The athletes of today would absolutely crush the athletes of the 1960s, even just drinking water during sports didn’t happen then. So now we have hydration specialists who figure out the certain concoction of what athletes need during certain activities. And velocity based training and those other metrics are all helping to push that proverbial envelope further to create athletes of the future.