Coach's Corner: Tommy Moffitt

Tommy Moffitt has been the Director of Strength & Conditioning at LSU for 20+ years. A Tennessee-native, he spent the early part of his career coaching high school athletes, and spent six years in the collegiate setting at University of Tennessee and University of Miami before settling in at LSU. He has helped LSU Football to three National Titles, the latest coming during the 2019 - 2020 College Football season.

Moreover, Coach Moffitt has a robust coaching tree that spans the best conferences in the nation. He and his wife, Jill, live in Baton Rouge and have raised three boys together.

Coach Moffitt and the LSU staff incorporated Perch into their weight room in 2019 and have been using the data collected along with other pieces of technology to train their athletes with increased precision throughout their season. We are thrilled to welcome him to the blog and hope you enjoy our conversation below!

TELL US ABOUT HOW YOU GOT TO WHERE YOU ARE TODAY?

Tommy Moffitt: As a young kid, I had brothers that introduced me to weight training. We had a garage gym in the 1970s, I don’t ever remember a day in my life where we didn’t have a barbell and some dumbbells in our garage. My dad - who was a machinist - made me an Arnold Schwarzenegger curl bar in his shop and also turned me a barbell on a metal lathe. I grew up training with weights and had great coaches that motivated me to be a strength coach. This is all I’ve ever wanted to do, and I often say I have no other skills, and I’m serious, except for some crude mechanical skills, I know how-to pick-up hay, I can put a roof on a house, I’m really good at fencing. I honestly have no other skills except for strength & conditioning, and this is what I need to continue doing for the rest of my life.

My coaching journey began in college, I finished my eligibility and started the winter after my senior season and spent a semester coaching football and strength & conditioning at my university. I needed to get a full-time job, so I left to become a high school strength and conditioning coach at John Curtis Christian School in New Orleans. To this day I believe that that was probably the best job I’ve ever had. Not that I don’t love this job or the other jobs, but it allowed me to experiment and I was able to take my time and learn coaching skills across a lot of different sports. Coaching in high school helped me be a better coach and a better communicator. A lot of young coaches now are eager to get into the Power 5, and I don’t necessarily believe that is the best path because other settings will allow you to be a better coach with different training ages and different sports.

Coaching in high school helped me be a better coach and a better communicator. A lot of young coaches now are eager to get into the Power 5, and I don’t necessarily believe that is the best path because other settings will allow you to be a better coach with different training ages and different sports.

Tommy Moffitt

Then my wife and I got married and wanted to start a family, and we realized what I was making at the high school wouldn’t really allow us to afford to get a house and start a family. I started really trying to get a college job. I applied for a graduate assistantship at the University of Tennessee, and in the interview for that position I was offered a full-time job, which was a major step for me. I was at the University of Tennessee for four years, and I worked with football and track and field. That was a great experience because I was working with much better athletes, and there was more pressure to succeed and put a good product on the field.

While in Miami for the Orange Bowl, I met one of the coaches in the lobby and had the opportunity to interview for a position with the University of Miami. I took that job and was there for two years. We had a small staff and by then I had been a strength coach for 12 years, and still was given the opportunity to work with a lot of different sports and different types of athletes. By doing that, it gave me some unique experiences.

And then roughly 21 years ago, I received an offer to come here [to LSU] and coach. And since I’ve been here I’ve only coached football. It’s been a great journey and we’ve been able to hire young coaches and instill education and continue to grow. We’re constantly looking for new and better things. Our primary goal is to put a good product on the field, and I’ve been given that opportunity here because of our resources. And that’s how we stumbled upon Perch too.

HOW HAS BEING IN ONE SPOT THE LAST 20 YEARS ALLOWED YOU TO GROW YOUR COACHING TREE?

TM: Starting back at the University of Tennessee, we really started recruiting interns and young coaches to help us out in the weight room. And that has been huge for us, and it continues to be huge in a lot of ways. I really mean this: I have learned more from every intern that we’ve ever had here at LSU than they have learned from me. They have given far more to our program and our success here than I’ve ever been able to give back to them. There are so many really good strength coaches out there.

I really mean this: I have learned more from every intern that we’ve ever had here at LSU than they have learned from me.

Tommy Moffitt

When I was a young coach, I can remember purchasing these books from the IWF, and they were the proceedings from the previous coaching symposiums that were held in all these different locales in the world. The only way to get those was to fill out an order form, place a check in an envelope, and mail it to Budapest, Hungary. Once the check cleared, they would put your book in the mail to you. Every day I would come home from work and ask my wife “did anything come for me in the mail?” And that’s how hard it was to get information on periodization and training. But nowadays that’s available just through entering some search words on google.

Every semester, we try to bring in 2 or 3 different interns from all walks of life. It’s really been beneficial to us in terms of programming and what we’re able to give our athletes. The more people we have, the different the opinions, the better. I am a traditionalist, I know how important change is, but I really struggle sometimes changing up our programs. I really like to stick to the fundamentals, and I think that’s really important for the head coach to stick to his guns and not change just for the sake of change. You have to filter through the information and make some tough decisions when you weigh the cost/benefit ratio of doing something different.

WHAT IS YOUR PERSONAL PROGRAMMING AND PERIODIZATION PHILOSOPHY?

TM: I am of the belief that every team and every athlete and every scenario calls for a different form of periodization in some way or another. And within a macrocycle or wherever, you can use different forms of periodization as well. Our most classic is a vertical integration scheme, but we’ve used block, conjugate, basic linear, nonlinear. I’ve done a classic linear periodization and thrown in some old school high intensity training, so I can’t necessarily say that I believe that one form of periodization is better than another, because every group that you work with and every athlete that you work with requires some different type of stimulus at times.

Triphasic training I think is really good as a form of periodization, but I might not give them that exclusively. I might throw some in a larger training cycle for certain position groups based on what we might see on the force platform. I think there are opportunities within the annual plan to use multiple forms of periodization.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE SPORT SPECIFICITY CONVERSATION?

TM: This is a hot topic these days. I can remember we talked about sport specificity and positional specificity in a staff meeting when I was a young coach at the University of Tennessee. My boss asked me what I thought and i said “well coach, really, in its simplest form, everything that we do in this weight room is general preparation” and he gave me this look and asked me to explain it and I said “unless you have a football helmet on, and shoulder pads, and you’re performing the sport in its purest form. Unless you’re playing the game, it’s still general preparation.”

However, there are a few exercises such as the ground based jammer, or any type of motion where you have weight in your hand and you’re striking something, that is really the closest thing you can get to it outside of running plays and competing in the sport. There’s not a lot that we can do in the weight room that is truly sport specific.

There’s not a lot that we can do in the weight room that is truly sport specific.

Tommy Moffitt

WHEN WERE YOU FIRST INTRODUCED TO VELOCITY BASED TRAINING?

TM: When I was a young coach in the early ‘80s, there was a guy that sold Eleiko weights, Bud Charniga, and he was a competitive weightlifter and coach, businessman and was at every conference. And he had these textbooks from the Soviet Union that were written in English. It was called the Sportivny Press and Bud probably had 15 or so of these texts that he personally translated from Russian to English. In reading those, they talked about the velocities of the different phases of the pulls and the execution of snatch and clean and jerk.

When I got to the University of Tennessee, that was the first time that I used a Tendo Sports Analyzer. We used them a lot with the track team and specifically Aaron Ausmus. I didn’t know exactly what I was doing then, we were just experimenting with it and you could always tell that the snatches and cleans and jerks were much faster and produced more watts than what squat and bench press did. The more I used it the more I was able to figure out how to implement them in training.

I could easily tell that your more experienced shot putters were faster with a heavy weight than your young shot putters were. I knew that better linemen were better or faster with certain weights than the inexperienced ones. So that was the earliest influence it had on me as a coach.

HOW HAS THAT FUELED YOUR PHILOSOPHY AROUND VBT?

TM: Here’s the thing that’s probably fueled it more than anything: No matter how much stronger Aaron Ausmus got, the shot put would not go farther. Although he was a national champion, in my quest to help him throw the shot farther, I knew that his body had to move faster. After I left Tennessee, my search was fueled by his inability to continue to improve the distance of his throws. And that was what fueled my enthusiasm for velocity-based training.

Although he was a national champion, in my quest to help him throw the shot farther, I knew that his body had to move faster...And that was what fueled my enthusiasm for velocity-based training.

Tommy Moffitt

With Aaron at Tennessee, my answer to his speed deficiency was plyos and med ball throws. Every time that I look at the Russian texts and read anything by Verkoshansky, the answer for more speed-strength was more plyometric training. True plyos in conjunction with different strength training regimens at different percentages, etc. But Aaron was 270 lbs, so as soon as we started with more plyos, his ankles would start bothering him, his heels, his knees, his shins. And we were still using way below the recommended dosage for plyos! Whereas we had hurdlers, sprinters, jumpers, and javelin throwers that could handle the plyos at that volume. I knew that if we were going to make any significant changes we were going to have to do it through exercise prescription on the platforms. We started off with really light snatches and hang cleans and jerks. And Aaron, when throwing for meets, would even warm up in the weight room. I’m sure some of it was a placebo effect, but he would come in and warm up and do some light explosive lifts almost as a potentiation effect.

I knew that if we were going to make any significant changes we were going to have to do it through exercise prescription on the platforms.

Tommy Moffitt

HOW DO YOU CATEGORIZE YOUR WEIGHT ROOM EXERCISES?

TM: What I started doing as a coach at LSU, I started categorizing our exercises as either:

  1. Force Developers
  2. Rate of Force Developers

And then you had your auxiliary exercises. Early on, I knew for me, especially with football, that the closer we got to the season, I had to program more rate of force developers instead of exercises for force production. When we got the force platform, it all started making more sense. We were able to then look at the raw data files and really get a better picture of the type of person that you were working with and what he or she needed to improve.

Not until I got to LSU and really not until we started using a force plate in conjunction with the VBT, did we actually see improvements in some of these qualities. With these, you can see by manipulating the different velocities on the weight room floor, you can see changes in people’s raw data files and different aspects of their jump. Whether it be the RSI modified, or concentric rate of development etc. I would look at the raw data and think that I had found something significant, and I would call one of my mentors and he would say “oh, I really don’t know what that means.” You see some of this stuff in research and sometimes it doesn’t hold a lot of weight in athletic performance. But it’s simple, really: If you want to improve a person’s concentric rate of force development, you have to lift submaximal weights at a very high velocity. The only way to really gauge that is by isolating that velocity, look at what you’re trying to train, and know precisely what velocity that weight is moving. And then you need to jump them again [on the force plate] to see if they’re changing for the better. If a particular velocity isn’t changing the jump profile, then it won’t carry over to the sport. So the only way to truly judge is to make sure that the jump changes.

But it’s simple, really: If you want to improve a person’s concentric rate of force development, you have to lift submaximal weights at a very high velocity.

Tommy Moffitt

If you use VBT enough, you can watch athletes and see how they manipulate the velocity they see, especially the better lifters. Sometimes they can bounce the bar off their shoulders or add a jump in. But if the jump profile isn’t changing in conjunction with that velocity, we know we need to address it, so by having them work together we know what we’re getting. There’s a lot that goes into it, and we’re still learning every day.

WHAT HAS THE DATA BEEN SAYING FOR YOU THIS FOOTBALL SEASON?

TM: We trained primarily at 60% of 1RM this season in squats. And when you do that, you have to try really hard to get the players to move the load as fast as humanly possible. And then if you look at the percentages when we’re training max strength on deadlift, so 90% plus, we’re hitting more reps in those ranges than we’re supposed to. I’d tell them to stay at 0.5m/s on a day we wanted to train for strength, and all the sudden we’re hitting our 1RM’s for doubles, and we are well above absolute strength velocity! And it’s all because of the velocities that we’re training at on the speed-strength days. So as we increased our work with rate of force development, we were still influencing our absolute strength.

As we increased our work with rate of force development, we were still influencing our absolute strength.

Tommy Moffitt

We hit our max in cleans 250 times during the season and some of them were doubles! This is one of the things that I really like about the Perch. It’s very easy to see where your strengths and your weaknesses are after every training session. Before the season we discussed not beating our guys up with a lot of heavy squats. As the season progressed we noticed that we were losing some eccentric strength from jumping on the force plate. So instead of squatting heavier we just had our guys lower the deadlifts to the floor and in a matter of 2 weeks our eccentric strength started to rise again. It’s little subtle changes that help our guys to continue to improve without doing too much. It’s really easy to see and manipulate because we have such accurate and consistent data from the Perch system.

HOW HAS PERCH CHANGED THE WAY YOU TRAIN YOUR GUYS OR HOW YOU PROGRAM?

TM: The thing that I’ve noticed more than anything is how much healthier our guys are by using velocity-based training. You’re able to select the optimal weight and the optimal rep range for the particular muscle quality that you’re trying to train. Now we know what those velocities and percent ranges are for each training goal and each player. Programming is so much easier now because at the end of the day you have evidence of what everyone was able to accomplish and how they respond to certain loads. If used properly, it takes all the guesswork out of programming.

The thing that I’ve noticed more than anything is how much healthier our guys are by using velocity-based training.

Tommy Moffitt

IS VBT SOMETHING YOU THINK EVERYONE SHOULD BE IMPLEMENTING?

TM: If they have the means, absolutely! Regardless of whatever training philosophy you adhere to, the goal should be to do no harm. We pride ourselves at LSU with our athletes not getting hurt in the weight room, but as cautious as we are, things can still happen. In many instances you never know what an athlete did the night before, or if he just finished playing three hours of basketball at the rec center. If a certain group had a hard on-field workout the day before and we’re squatting, we know we have to adjust those loads to maintain the velocities that we’re looking for. By using Perch, you can tell as soon as you start putting the weight on the bar how well the session is going to go.

You can’t prescribe a blanket percentage to every position group, because everyone responds differently. And that’s what Perch allows us to do.

Programming is so much easier now because at the end of the day you have evidence of what everyone was able to accomplish and how they respond to certain loads.

Tommy Moffitt

DO YOU THINK THIS TECHNOLOGY WAS PIVOTAL IN KEEPING YOUR GUYS HEALTHY AND THOSE STARTERS ON THE FIELD FOR THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP?

TM: Absolutely. We were stronger and more explosive for that game than we were all season. We know this based on the weights and velocities that we were hitting on the workout floor and our force plate data. We wanted to put the strongest and most dynamic team on the field for the National Championship game and we matched up well with them. We were able to do this because of the accuracy and the precision of the data that we received.

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