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Brandon Golden is an assistant strength & conditioning coach at East Carolina University. He is entering his fourth season working primarily with baseball and women’s soccer. Prior to ECU, Brandon worked at Charleston Southern University, and prior to that he was a GA at St. John’s University in Queens, NY.

Brandon has been educating himself in velocity based training throughout his career via Tendo units and more recently with Perch as well. Brandon has written two guest posts for this blog space and included some helpful VBT resources within them. He currently has a Perch unit at his home gym where he is experimenting with load/velocity profiling for when the team gets back to campus!

PERCH: TELL US ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY SO FAR?

Brandon Golden: I went to undergraduate school here at East Carolina. As far as sports, I played basketball when I was young and then played lacrosse throughout. I actually played club lacrosse here at East Carolina when I was in school and coached some high school lacrosse towards the end of my undergraduate career here. After I finished my undergraduate, I went back home to High Point and interned at High Point University for a year and a half, and that was an awesome opportunity to work with them and learn how strength & conditioning works. I was integrated with some teams and had some of my own teams and groups and was programming. The staff there gave me an amazing opportunity to learn all of those things. And then I went down to Mississippi State and worked with Brian Neal with baseball and got to do some fun things there. That’s where my career started to lean towards baseball and more of the Olympic Sports. Then I went back home and worked with basketball at Wake Forest with Ryan Horn. And then I went up to St. John’s as a GA and worked with everybody and loved it. Went down to Charlestown Southern and worked with everybody and loved it. Then I got the job at ECU. So I’m back down here and this is/would’ve been my fourth season here. Velocity is something I’ve used throughout my career, really since I was a GA at St. John’s. But I have really been able to do some cool stuff lately at East Carolina.

YOU’VE BEEN ALL OVER, HOW HAS THAT SHAPED YOUR COACHING PHILOSOPHY?

BG: The cool thing is that I’ve had a lot of people to bounce ideas off of and learn from. At High Point I got tossed in the fire and it was sink or swim. They did a really great job of teaching me how college athletics work. Even – and this is funny – I had long hair when I was younger and Ryan Billings shaved my head in the weight room! He was like “look dude you’re awesome, we think everything you’re doing in the weight room is awesome. But you’re not in college anymore, you gotta cut your hair.” They taught me everything about college athletics. Being able to see what strength coaches do at the college level day in and day out at these various places has shaped a lot of what I do.

I need to be influencing people for what to do, what not to do, and how to treat people. And that is the biggest piece of my coaching philosophy from an interpersonal standpoint.

Brandon Golden

One of the biggest lessons I got was when I was at St. John’s, there was a coach named Pat Dickson told me “you’ll learn from anybody you come into contact with what to do, what not to do, and how to treat people.” So even if you watch someone do something and think you would never do it that way, you’ve learned from that. You’ve learned how to not handle a situation in this manner or talk to a kid or an administrator in this way. That’s one of the biggest things I’ve taken away from my time at St. John’s that I still use today. I need to be influencing people for what to do, what not to do, and how to treat people. And that is the biggest piece of my coaching philosophy from an interpersonal standpoint. For coaching, my job, as I see it, is to be able to get our student-athletes to perform and be able to do whatever they’re trying to do in their game or their chosen sport. Our soccer girls didn’t come to East Carolina to be weightlifters, and our baseball guys didn’t come here to be weightlifters. They’re all coming to play their sport and be ready to go onto the next level, or graduate and be members of society. So my philosophy is that I’m going to do anything I can methodologies-wise to make sure that gets accomplished.

Velocity Based Training is a huge part of that too because you can meet people where they’re at and whether or not 70% is 70%. I have a bunch of great resources from Perch and people all over the country. And what I can do is plug these zones in and have kids train and they’re getting better and they’re seeing how they’re getting better. They’re not just saying “oh how much weight do you want me to put on the bar? I don’t think I can do that.” But with VBT, I don’t care how much weight is on the bar, I care if we’re in the zone and getting the speeds and qualities we’re trying to train.

TALK TO US ABOUT THE SPORT SPECIFICITY COMPONENT OF THE WEIGHT ROOM?

BG: Sport Specificity is a cool buzzword that everybody likes to talk about, but it is more about energy system specificity. And the ability to focus on the qualities we’re trying to train. Soccer has different qualities than baseball. From a speed-strength standpoint with the baseball guys, I’m able to show them how to produce power at various loads and get strong and be ready to play baseball. And for the soccer girls, this fall we’ll be able to train in season without crushing them. Their demands are different, they have to go out and run and they have different positions and have to compete at that high level of aerobic and anaerobic as opposed to baseball’s needs. So the VBT is much more energy system specific and allows us to train with greater precision.

You talk about someone who is flying across the country and your 70% probably isn’t going to be 70% afterwards. Maybe you fly really well and you’re feeling better after, but maybe you’re stressed and dehydrated and that 70% feels a whole lot harder. For me, I almost feel like I’m cheating when I use VBT. It takes all the guesswork out so I know exactly what quality I’m trying to train, and I’m guaranteeing I’m training that quality if I stay in this zone. For both me and the kids it’s a lot of fun, I explain it to them and they’re fired up because then they’re competing and they’re getting after it in the weight room.

I almost feel like I’m cheating when I use VBT. It takes all the guesswork out so I know exactly what quality I’m trying to train, and I’m guaranteeing I’m training that quality if I stay in this zone.

Brandon Golden

DOES EXPLAINING AND EDUCATING YOUR ATHLETES ON VBT (AND EVERYTHING ELSE) HELP CREATE THAT BUY-IN?

BG: We definitely use VBT for buy-in. I think with different athletes depending on who they are as a person and what their goals are and what they’re trying to accomplish is key. That helps me be able to say what I need to emphasize for them. For my soccer ladies, they want to stay healthy and not injure their knee or back or whatever the case may be. And honestly you just have to talk their lingo. So say something along the lines of “okay if you’re taking a corner kick or trying to beat a girl to the ball and have to turn on a dime, well if you plant that foot and need your leg to accept those forces and they can’t, bad things are going to happen” so you can talk to them about building a force/velocity profile and make sure that they’re strong enough to produce enough force at the right times. Your brain doesn’t know if you’re in a weight room or on a soccer field, it just knows a force is being applied and it has to adapt or it is going to get hurt. Explaining it using their lingo and having them see on the tablet what we’re talking about, it starts to make sense to them.

Your brain doesn’t know if you’re in a weight room or on a soccer field, it just knows a force is being applied and it has to adapt or it is going to get hurt.

Brandon Golden

Sometimes they’ll be in a training session and start feeling really good, or maybe they’re not feeling great, and their velocities will reflect that either way. They can start to draw parallels and realize we’re not asking them to put x amount of weight on their back because it is 80%, we’re asking them to hit velocities and train for desired traits. Sometimes guys and girls love lifting heavy, and that’s great. But others really want to see how you’re training the qualities to get them to where they want to be. That’s not to say I don’t believe in training heavy, I do. The VBT actually allows me to train most of my athletes heavier and get them stronger, because I know what they’re deficient in. That’s one thing I want to make sure we’re clear with for the VBT stuff, a lot of people think that we’re just moving light weights for speed. If it is applicable and that’s what is necessary, then yes! Absolutely we’re moving it fast as hell. But if a girl or a guy needs to get stronger, then we’re going to some of those lower ranges and we’re going to get stronger. It just takes the guesswork out of it and training the zones we’re trying to train.

WHEN WERE YOU FIRST INTRODUCED TO VBT AND WHEN DID IT START MAKING SENSE TO YOU?

BG: I was first introduced to it as a GA at St. John’s. That’s when it started making sense to me. The baseball program there was phenomenal and we would use it with a lot of teams, but one of the other GAs and I would train baseball. St. John’s is in Queens, NY, so for the first third of the season at least we were traveling and flying down south and going every which way. So we had these Tendos and wanted to make sense of the data and what it was revealing. We did some type of jump testing and decided that if they weren’t at 90% or above of their average jumps, we would keep the program as planned. If they were below that, we would alter the program and give them more of a recovery day and make sure to get that strength or speed day back in somewhere once they were recovered. So that was my very first experience with VBT and it definitely helped guide my early philosophy on it.

HOW DID YOU COME ACROSS PERCH ORIGINALLY?

BG: Perch was introduced to us by Vinny Caulluti, our Boston guy and one of the assistants down here at East Carolina. Jacob came down to explain everything about Perch to us and I remember being intrigued initially, and once we went over everything at the computer from the web app to the tablet app side of things, I remember thinking “oh hell yea, this is the real deal.” I was sold, because I knew it would make such a huge difference in what we do with our players here.

The coolest thing for me about Perch is first and foremost the people behind it, you guys are phenomenal. The biggest thing with the technology that I’ve seen so far is the interactive interface on the tablet. I’m also really big on some tempos so the eccentric measures check that box and allow me to do that efficiently. I don’t have to count for guys in the weight room, that pops up on its own. So overall the efficiency of it is phenomenal, I can have the data on the cloud, I can export a CSV file, I can put that data wherever I want it and interpret it. My biggest passion is being around athletes and training them, but I love some of the sports science stuff behind it all and understanding why things work.

WHAT IS YOUR PHILOSOPHY ON VBT SPECIFICALLY?

BG: In the off-season it is really awesome for competition. When I first implemented it with the baseball guys, I would have velocity zones for them I wanted them to be in. But it turned out that I was worried about the zones and the specific qualities I was trying to train, and they were more concerned with who could squat 315 at a faster speed. That was cool and I didn’t expect that to happen. I knew they were competitive guys, they competed at everything. But we would have a bench day or a squat day and guys would start talking junk and one of the coaches walks by and chirps an athlete saying “hey so and so says he can move 315 at .9, what can you do?” and the guy on the next rack is saying “I can move it at .95” and we can call them out and bring the whole team up and use it as a competitive thing.

Then I showed them the path of how we were going to implement it and how it was going to help them individually. And they were hooked. They were bought into me first, so obviously that helps, but once they saw the plan and the numbers they were all in. Our pitchers were saying things like “my arm feels the best it’s ever felt in my life” and hitters are saying “I feel like I can hit the ball over the batter’s eye every time.” But guys felt great all the time and they loved training. Baseball is a game that can beat you down sometimes with so many games and a long season, and where we had been going off of percentages in the past we were able to use velocities and they responded well to it and were all for it.

HAVE YOU BEEN BUILDING LOAD/VELOCITY PROFILES WITH YOUR GUYS?

BG: We have load/velocity profiles, yes! I’m the director of the intern program along with our director, John Williams. And John allowed us to bring somebody in who was doing a work study for school credit and I would have a guy squatting, another guy writing numbers down, and our work study guy popping it into excel. Then I was able to create a load/velocity profile out of it. The original plan was to be able to do it in the beginning of the season, the middle of the season, and the end of the season. Obviously we didn’t get to the last two testings this year. The goal was to be able to get on average a 5% increase in power production across the entire team, which I think we would’ve been absolutely able to smash, but I’ll never know until next year.

WHAT ROLE DO YOU THINK DATA IN THE WEIGHT ROOM PLAYS?

BG: I don’t think data in the weight room is detrimental at all. The world we live in, the student-athletes we’re dealing with and even professional athletes, all of it is on the tablet, phone or computer. All of this is now normal, and as far as coaches thinking it is hard, it isn’t. You tap the tablet to click start and it measures it, the bars come up, you hit save, and you move onto the next guy. Another reason I’ve always used it is because it helps be another coach. We have 25 athletes in here at once and if I’m by myself I’m able to watch the movements, but they also get some of the direct feedback every rep too. If the movement quality is proficient, the velocity device will be there to tell them to go up or down, and I don’t have to babysit every rep, I can say “that looked great” and keep coaching. I don’t think it is a detriment to what we’re doing at all, and I wish people would stop saying that because it isn’t true. VBT can help us as coaches do our jobs even better.

If the movement quality is proficient, the velocity device will be there to tell them to go up or down, and I don’t have to babysit every rep, I can say “that looked great” and keep coaching.

Brandon Golden

I think the hesitation of incorporating technology and maybe VBT specifically is stemming from concern about guys being overly obsessed with the tablets. Coaches don’t want guys hovering around the rack. The first time they see it it’ll be a shiny new object, but a day or two later it just will be part of what we do. Same thing as when we get a new rack or a new bar, people are going to be fired up and excited, but once that fades away, this is just another tool that we use. I think coaches might be somewhat insecure about what the process of bringing a new tool in and establishing it is like.

From a recruiting standpoint, being able to show recruits how we’re going to use this tool is helpful. With Perch, we can show all the graphs and charts on the app and show these guys how we’re going to individualize training for them and help them get to whatever level they want to get to. Everyone wants to hear that and having this tool that can assist with that is helpful for sure.

WHAT DO YOU THINK THE FUTURE OF VBT IS? IS THIS SOMETHING EVERYONE WILL IMPLEMENT?

BG: This is definitely going to be more and more implemented. I’ve been talking to a bunch of people throughout this COVID19 thing and saying the two things I want to learn more about are some Python coding, and I also want to know as much about velocity based training as possible. I think people are going to get a lot more into it, I think folks are starting to dive into some of the velocity loss stuff. Can they understand how to set certain parameters of percentage loss within certain zones and really know when enough is enough and when to move on versus when to keep training and trying to gain whatever quality it is that they’re trying to improve.

HOW ARE YOU PROGRAMMING WITH VBT?

BG: I do a bit of the velocity loss stuff, but I definitely still have sets and reps in there. I have my zones that I want those athletes in, but I foresee in the future being able to say “we’re going to do x amount of sets in this range until there is a 10-15% drop off in velocity and then we’ll move on from there.” That is how I had it planned for the end of the season for our baseball guys. Especially towards the end of their in-season, I wanted to be able to have a single strength movement and with some accessories and basically hit heavy singles or doubles until that percent drop off and then move on.

The cool thing about it is that you can use it in any sport. Its phenomenal. Rate of force development is all what sport is. If you understand how to use VBT and can implement it, you can train any team. If you understand the needs of the sports and can speak that lingo and relate to them as people, no matter the sport the velocity based training will help you.

If you understand how to use VBT and can implement it, you can train any team. If you understand the needs of the sports and can speak that lingo and relate to them as people, no matter the sport the velocity based training will help you.

Brandon Golden

WITH COVID19 AND ATHLETES BEING AWAY, HOW WILL VBT HELP GUIDE THEIR RETURN TO PLAY?

BG: When our athletes get back, we don’t necessarily know what or how they’ve been training for the last few months, we don’t know what kind of shape they’re going to be in. So velocity based training will be important for us, and it is going to do what it always does. It will help guide from an autoregulation standpoint, it will be another coach in the weight room. During the summers we usually have athletes in the weight room lifting and it enables us to teach them and progress them slowly. We won’t really have the opportunity to do that this year, nor will many other schools in the country. So we’ll have our progressions just like we would ordinarily, but I’ll also have our VBT, and be able to have the speed metric dictate the load. I can keep kids with less experience at different speeds for longer to ensure they are proficient at the movement and have a quality base before I progress them and focus on something else. The VBT will help drive the programming and the autoregulation and really help us do what it always does. Our athletes will be able to come back and get back to their baseline and start progressing super efficiently, because we have this cheat code of VBT that is helping guide the process.

We’ll have our progressions just like we would ordinarily, but I’ll also have our VBT, and be able to have the speed metric dictate the load.

Brandon Golden

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Paul Fournier is a New England native and has been in the MLB and minor league affiliates for the last 26 years. He started with the Montreal Expos organization in the mid 90s, and transitioned to the Florida Marlins with whom he has a world series ring from 2003. He has been with the Philadelphia Phillies since 2012 serving as the Major League Strength & Conditioning Coordinator since 2014.

Paul took time out of his schedule to speak with Perch about his career, and implementing Perch units into the Phillies organization from minor league to the majors this year. Enjoy!

PERCH: TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF?

Paul Fournier: I grew up in the northeast in New Hampshire. And I went to Northeastern and majored in athletic training and exercise science. I wanted to be an athletic trainer. I had grown up as an athlete and seemed to always be hurt. So I was researching how I could stay in baseball, knowing that my chances of playing major league baseball was slim to none as far as odds go. I remember I was watching a football game on TV and somebody got hurt and a group of people ran out and it piqued my interest. So I researched it, and ventured over to the library and found a journal for athletic training, at the time I was a sophomore in high school, and I figured out that’s what I wanted. I ended up at Northeastern, and met my girlfriend (who is now my wife) my junior year of college. She happened to be working in West Palm Beach doing event planning for the Montreal Expos and Atlanta Braves. I was able to funnel a resume through her after I graduated to the Rehab Coordinator for the Expos at the time. This was back in ‘95. He ended up calling me a year later, I was working as an athletic trainer at a private school down in Miami. He asked if I was still interested in working in baseball and I said “Hell Yea.”

My first year was ‘95, which was the strike year so I arrived for Spring Training and I didn’t know any different. It was a normal year to me, but looking back it’s actually pretty similar to the Spring Training we had this year due to COVID19. I got into baseball as an athletic trainer, I worked in the minor league system for about 10 years. I was an AT in A-ball for a couple years, and then I became a rehab coordinator for about 7 years with Montreal. Back then there wasn’t a lot of organized strength and conditioning in professional baseball. The Cleveland Indians, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago White Sox were a little more advanced with strength and conditioning. We were behind the times a little bit. So I threw myself into the fire of strength and conditioning as it pertains to professional baseball. In 2001 we ended up switching teams. Our ownership bought the Florida Marlins and took myself and a bunch of the staff to the Marlins, and that was in 2002. I remained the rehab and strength and conditioning coordinator through 2002, and then switched to strength and conditioning coordinator in 2003, which happened to be the year we won the World Series, and it’s been downhill ever since!

I remained the rehab and strength and conditioning coordinator through 2002, and then switched to strength and conditioning coordinator in 2003, which happened to be the year we won the World Series, and it’s been downhill ever since!

Paul Fournier

WHAT HAS MLB STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING BEEN LIKE FOR YOU?

PF: I really enjoyed everything leading up to and now being the strength and conditioning coordinator. After I transitioned from AT, I was in an environment where I felt I could be more myself, it was a positive environment, high energy, the guys wanted to be there. It was a different feel than athletic training. And throughout it all I got to learn from other strength and conditioning coaches throughout the league. Back then we didn’t have standards that we have now. So if I was in Shea Stadium playing the Mets, we would share their weight room. And vice versa. A lot of times the strength and conditioning coaches became friends. I met a lot of players on other teams that would end up signing with us as free agents, we were able to make relationships with players a little earlier than we do now, simply because we saw them and their faces and talked a little bit because we were sharing facilities prior to signing. Now each side has their own facility so we barely see each other.

After I transitioned from AT, I was in an environment where I felt I could be more myself, it was a positive environment, high energy, the guys wanted to be there.

Paul Fournier

I stayed with the Marlins until 2011 when we parted ways and that’s how I ended up with the Phillies. I was hired as the Minor League strength and conditioning coordinator in 2012 and 2013, and then I was promoted to the Major League position in 2014 and I’ve been there since. This is my 26th year in pro ball, and the 16th year at the major league level. Unfortunately we don’t have a season yet, but I’m still making it my 16th year even though we’re not playing yet.

And that’s how I ended up in Major League Baseball Strength and Conditioning. I sort of fell into it, and it fits my personality better so it was a blessing to fall into this profession after going to school for athletic training.

HOW HAS THAT PATH SHAPED YOUR COACHING PHILOSOPHY AND PROGRAMMING?

PF: I’ll tell you how it’s changed: When I first got in, coming from the athletic training side of things with strength and conditioning being relatively new to professional baseball, it was very safe programming back then. Athletic trainers felt the weight room was an extension of the athletic training room, they were always watching out for what was going on in the weight room. There was a lot of apprehension about having strength coaches working with players one on one back then. So being an athletic trainer myself actually really helped out my case for getting the position and then being able to work with some autonomy. I didn’t have someone looking over my shoulder all the time.

There was a lot of apprehension about having strength coaches working with players one on one back then. So being an athletic trainer myself actually really helped out my case for getting the position and then being able to work with some autonomy.

Paul Fournier

Early on, I was definitely asked questions anytime somebody got hurt, I was the first one they went to to figure out what went wrong. And I never really had the right answer for them, it was either “they’re on the program or not” and if they aren’t, let’s get them on the program and bought in. And if they’re not, let’s get them doing something different. Obviously the profession has grown since then. What I learned throughout was that the body was a lot more resilient than we gave it credit for back then. I went from programming through a TLC mindset, to more of a regular athlete. Rather than treating them gently like “baseball players” I switched to treating them like athletes. I’m not even concerned about the position they play for the most part. We have a general weight training program, and we individualize it through “correctives” or auxiliary exercises that will address mobility work and some other possible imbalances they may have (because it is baseball).

We have a general weight training program, and we individualize it through “correctives” or auxiliary exercises that will address mobility work and some other possible imbalances they may have (because it is baseball).

Paul Fournier

From a general preparedness standpoint, it is very athletic programming now. There is no bad exercise, there’s only bad form, lack of range of motion, and improper load. So as long as they can go through a full range of motion with proper form and appropriate load, and there’s a goal, there are no bad exercises.

YOUR SEASON IS SO LONG, HOW DO YOU WORK TRAINING AROUND GAMES?

PF: Our in season strength and conditioning program relies a lot on what players do in the offseason. We give our players offseason programs, we use a platform so they have an app, get the program sent to them, and they download it. Some choose not to participate in our program, they’ll do something on their own. Especially with all the private companies out there like Driveline and Cressey’s place. There are facilities where players will go in their offseason, and we try to marry the programs, so we get something out of it as well. As far as the offseason goes, we try to stay in touch and get eyes on them when we can. But once the season starts, I have my goals, and then unfortunately what happens is those players who don’t adhere to the offseason program become a higher maintenance player for me. And that’s just because a lot of negotiation has to happen to get them on our program to meet our expectations.

One good example of that would be conditioning, metabolic conditioning. In the literature there is more sport specific conditioning for baseball players, but there is a place for VO2 Max and being fit in professional baseball. We have a 6 week spring training and 162 game season, and then playoffs. So there is a fitness capacity to that. And metabolic conditioning also lowers resting heart rate, which is helpful for our guys too. My point is, some of these players will not do the programming and will not be up to the same conditioning level as our other players. I usually see that with free agents more so than people within our organization though.

In season, we become recovery specialists instead of strength and conditioning coaches. There is a lot of give and take and a lot of communication. Technology can help with that, but it won’t replace the relationships you have with your players and the ability to communicate and find out where people are.

Paul Fournier

In season, we become recovery specialists instead of strength and conditioning coaches. There is a lot of give and take and a lot of communication. Technology can help with that, but it won’t replace the relationships you have with your players and the ability to communicate and find out where people are. We do try to do an upper/lower body split twice a week for our players, obviously depending on playing schedule, position, the amount of times a reliever has been up in the bullpen, that is all fluid and we have to roll with it. We can do more with our bench guys too. We do always push them to get into the weight room and at the very least, check in with them one way or another. A lot of that is about recovery. I hate to say we focus on maintenance, so I’ll say a lot of what we do is delaying the downward slide at the end of the season of being tired and overtrained or deconditioned by September. It is a long season and we play almost every day, so there is a lot of management that goes along with that.

WHAT IS THE PROCESS OF CREATING BUY-IN FOR SUCH A LARGE ROSTER?

PF: For me it is all about relationship building. It’s not my way or the high way, these players are good at what they do and they are all individuals. So what it is for me is establishing that relationship, and working hand in hand toward a common goal. We’re looking at their health history, and we’re educating them on the program and why it is good for them at this point in their career. I usually use Spring Training to get to know our players and free agents especially. And sometimes even the length of their contract will dictate how quickly I attend to certain things with them as well. But you really do have to develop trust and have a really good relationship with your players. The way to do that, I think, is through transparency. They’re older and grown men at the major league level (it is a little different at the minor league level), so you just have to be honest and transparent with all of that.

So what it is for me is establishing that relationship, and working hand in hand toward a common goal. We’re looking at their health history, and we’re educating them on the program and why it is good for them at this point in their career.

Paul Fournier

WHEN WERE YOU FIRST INTRODUCED TO SPORTS TECHNOLOGY, VBT SPECIFICALLY?

PF: So VBT or velocity based training, we’ve been exploring for several years now. I know it’s been around for awhile. At the time when I first looked at it, our organization wasn’t in a place where we could invest in a lot of technology both financially and man-power as well to take on all the different technologies at once. With the research that’s out there now with tendon stiffness etc, we found it a little bit more beneficial to start exploring it. And now we have the resources too, we have an R&D department that’s pretty large, so now we have these assets that will help us determine what the way to go is.

So for us with the VBT, we are looking to utilize it through management of recovery, testing, and not necessarily seeing how fast a player lifts, but how slow a player lifts.

Paul Fournier

So for us with the VBT, we are looking to utilize it through management of recovery, testing, and not necessarily seeing how fast a player lifts, but how slow a player lifts. In our game, there are several bouts of high intensity movement for a short period of time each game. If you are high velocity all the time, we tend to supplement that with absolute strength development in the weight room. With Perch and VBT, we can manage that a little bit better in season. Especially with the guys who want to get that check mark after a workout, the ones who speed through it and just do it to get it done. We want to be goal oriented with our workouts and actually look at absolute strength development in season if we can to help with tendon stiffness and not losing our strength throughout the year.

We want to be goal oriented with our workouts and actually look at absolute strength development in season if we can to help with tendon stiffness and not losing our strength throughout the year.

Paul Fournier

HOW HAVE YOU BEEN PROGRAMMING VBT FOR YOUR GUYS?

PF: Unfortunately our Spring Training has been cut short, and we really just invested in Perch before spring training. So far we have used it quite a bit in our rehab setting, we have some players that are going through rehab. And one of the considerations for injured players is muscle atrophy, and in order to get some strength back we want to work on a hypertrophic response. In order to get that, we know we need to move at a certain speed. So Perch has been really helping our player rehab with more precision.

And I’m really looking forward to using it in season with these guys. We started to test out our minor league players prior to the shut down, and we were starting to get baselines on guys as far as speeds at certain weights. I think that will be helpful once we get back too.

WITH THE COVID19 PANDEMIC, ARE YOU PLANNING ON USING VELOCITY TO GET GUYS BACK TO THEIR BASELINE?

PF: Everyone is at home right now and some players have in-home facilities while others do not. When we reconvene, these guys are going to be coming in at different levels of conditioning. Who knows when we’ll get back. But through our testing we will be able to see where these guys are. And those who we got numbers on in Spring Training, we can compare those baselines. It’ll be interesting to see where their numbers are across the board. With this type of thing, one of two things are going to happen:

  1. We will have a high injury frequency or prevalence because of the lack of facilities for these guys
  2. Or because of the additional time to prepare, there are going to be some performances that are maybe higher than what we’ve seen from our guys.

WHAT IS YOUR GENERAL PHILOSOPHY SURROUNDING VBT FROM A BASEBALL STANDPOINT?

PF: In season is a lot about durability and recovery and really having every opportunity to play. Which is different from the offseason. The offseason is about developing a player to be the best version of themselves prior to camp or the start of the season. So in-season VBT is used to assess and program to the needs of the athlete at that point in time. A starting pitcher will have 30 starts, so his needs will be different than a reliever who may get 7 innings over a longer period of time. Or the bench player that plays 2-3 times per week at a partial game, versus a guy who plays every inning 5 or 6 days a week. So it is going to be useful for both assessment and for prescribing loads specific to them and where they are at that point in time. Velocity Based Training will help us get what we need out of that player, whether it is strength-speed or absolute strength or a little bit of both.

BASEBALL IS SO “DATA-DRIVEN” AT THIS POINT, WHAT DO YOU THINK THE ROLE OF DATA IN THE WEIGHT ROOM WILL PLAY IN THE BASEBALL SETTING THAT HAS ALREADY BOUGHT INTO DATA ANALYTICS?

PF: As far as data in the weight room goes, it comes down to durability In-Season. The data that is going to be used in season will be the data that facilitates conversations about durability. So things like workload management or applying the correct force on a barbell at the right time, or someone who’s acute to chronic workload ratios are inappropriate. Take a guy who went from a bench player to playing every day for two weeks and has been having success so he’s on the bases a lot, his workload just shot through the roof. So now how do we manage him? Data can help us understand that.

Data in the weight room of professional baseball is all about analyzing where the guys are at at a specific time, and making sure they’re ready to perform over and over again at that level.

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Bobby Sirkis is an olympic weightlifting coach just outside of Dallas, TX. He coaches primarily youth athletes at his own subset of Spoon Barbell Weightlifting called Sirkis Freaks. Bobby has been coaching and competing in olympic weightlifting for the last ten years.

Bobby spoke with Perch about implementing velocity based training into his weightlifting setting, and why he prefers to use it to percentage based training for his younger athletes. Sirkis Freaks purchased a Perch unit in September of 2019 and has been implementing it to dictate loads with athletes ever since. Enjoy this unique perspective on VBT in an olympic weightlifting setting!

PERCH: TELL US ABOUT YOUR WEIGHTLIFTING JOURNEY SO FAR?

Bobby Sirkis: My background is I’ve been in weightlifting for about 10 years as an athlete and a coach. Prior to that I was training on my own and found weightlifting through crossfit. I had played football through high school and college, and found the strength & conditioning aspect in college really fun. I got a lot of good benefits out of it, but I didn’t do too much of it when I was in high school. It wasn’t required, there wasn’t as much science and knowledge around it then as there is now. But one of the primary reasons I got into coaching was to give people a way to train and a way to compete, and help push people towards a goal that I didn’t really have when I was growing up. There was encouragement, but nothing big time, so that was why I started coaching: to encourage people to be the best they can be. And that has blossomed into a competitive aspect as well, to really push people to be the best that they can be all around.

TELL US ABOUT SIRKIS FREAKS?

BS: It is a sub-facility. We train in a crossfit gym as a weightlifting club called Spoon Barbell Club and it has been around a very long time, since maybe the 70s. And Sirkis Freaks is another subset of Spoon Barbell. My main focus is developing youth and younger athletes, as opposed to an adult that comes into the gym. That is where my experiences are going to really help people excel is pushing the younger generation towards whatever goals they have athletically.

The lifts we do depend. Most of my time is spent doing olympic weightlifting. My athletes are all different ages at different points in their development. Some come in and see me once a week who are much younger, maybe 9 or 10 years old. I have one athlete who just turned 19 and she coaches with me now too. She’s been training with me since she was 10 or so and has made the junior Pan Am team, junior World team as well. I have a really good mix of beginners to serious athletes that I get to program for on the weightlifting side. And then one of my brothers is a goalie for the Texas A&M club hockey team, and quite a few of his friends come to train with us over the summer. When they train they’re very strength & conditioning focused, not necessarily weightlifting focused.

I have a really good mix of beginners to serious athletes that I get to program for on the weightlifting side.

Bobby Sirkis

HOW ARE YOU CREATING THAT BUY-IN WITH THIS BROAD ATHLETE POPULATION?

BS: That’s a good question and I honestly don’t have to generate the buy-in with the types of athletes that I have. The one athlete who is making junior world teams, that’s her buy in right there: she wants to continue to make these teams. My brother and his hockey playing friends, they want to be on the ice and perform well while they’re on the ice. I don’t necessarily have to create the buy-in, fortunately for me they’re already pre-bought in before they show up.

HOW HAS THAT ALL IMPACTED YOUR PROGRAMMING AND COACHING PHILOSOPHY?

BS: The programming is all competition-based for most of my weightlifters. We figure out what competitions are coming up, how much time we have, and then we work backwards from there. I have a few squat programs that I’ve tweaked here and there to mold to my athletes. Most of it isn’t percentage based, for us it is based on feel, and really we’re just trying to build on what we did last week, whatever that looks like to the individual. The velocity based training is now getting incorporated because there’s not a set number or set percentage in these training scenarios. And that is definitely more for our competitive weightlifting side.

The younger kids who come in we do a lot of running and jumping, we’re focusing on coordination and basic movement patterns. There is no real “strength-training” towards that, it is very technique based. And for athletes who come in for other sports, we’ve got maybe 8 or 9 weeks in the summer to get them stronger, so it is along the same lines as the younger kids with a few modifications.

But the velocity based training system is going to help me with those kids because I’m not necessarily going to have to try and start with their 1RM and beat that at the end of the phase. I never really did that anyway, but now they can just come in and I can see how they’re moving and adjust weights based off of those speeds as well. So we are incorporating it into the overall philosophy.

The velocity based training system is going to help me with those kids because I’m not necessarily going to have to try and start with their 1RM and beat that at the end of the phase.

Bobby Sirkis

HOW DID YOU LEARN ABOUT VBT TO BEGIN WITH?

BS: I’ve known about VBT for a number of years. I’ve read about it and it has always piqued my interest, but the tools that were or have been available just didn’t work for me. One of the reasons I went with the Perch system was because I didn’t want anything connected to the athletes and I didn’t want anything connected to the barbell itself. That is specifically because of the sport that I teach. With weightlifting I just don’t want things touching people or equipment because it could create a safety hazard. Once we start doing lifts, I can’t have a string tied to a barbell with someone doing a snatch or a clean and jerk, it’s just not safe. And I can’t have something attached to a barbell with someone doing a clean that might be in the wrong spot or whatever. There’s too many things that I just don’t like. And that’s why I went with the Perch system. It’s a camera, it’s not touching anything, you just have to make sure that you can get the barbell in the frame of view. And I can move it around pretty easily from platform to platform as well. I’m also developing a little “nest on wheels” so I can just roll it from one platform to another.

I can’t have a string tied to a barbell with someone doing a snatch or a clean and jerk, it’s just not safe. And I can’t have something attached to a barbell with someone doing a clean that might be in the wrong spot or whatever.

Bobby Sirkis

I’ve known about velocity based training for a couple years, I just hadn’t found a good way to implement it until this past summer. The system itself works really well, I get some good data from it too.

HOW PERTINENT IS THE VELOCITY COMPONENT FOR OLYMPIC WEIGHTLIFTING SPECIFICALLY?

BS: A lot of the training that we do is based off of feel, and another reason that I like to use the velocity based training system with the athletes is because I do coach a lot of youth athletes. I don’t want to say my main objective is to keep them from being injured, that is definitely one of the highest priorities. But we do still train hard, and I want to minimize the risk of them injuring themselves, while also pushing them to get better and lift more weights. Because they are youth lifters, their growth and strength curves are always going up. And for them, if you do things based off of “I want you to hit 80% everyday” well, your 80% today is not going to be the same next week. They’re constantly growing and getting stronger. So being able to utilize the system, and figure out weights based off of data-driven insights in that point in time is extremely important to me to make sure that I have the right amount of weight on the bar, and we’re not pushing someone too much or too little. Those are all valuable details for me when I’m coaching these younger athletes.

So being able to utilize the system, and figure out weights based off of data-driven insights in that point in time is extremely important to me to make sure that I have the right amount of weight on the bar, and we’re not pushing someone too much or too little.

Bobby Sirkis

WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ON DATA IN THE WEIGHT ROOM?

BS: At the moment, I think it depends on what exercise we’re doing. I’m not always sharing it with the athlete, most of the time it is for my own consumption to make sure that we are working in the right ranges with whatever it is we want to accomplish. On occasions I will turn on the velocity thresholds so they can see whether or not they’re in the range as well. Ultimately, I do think data in the weight room is important, it is also important for coaches to understand what they are using the data for. There are some folks who take that data and try to estimate 1RM off of it. For me, that’s not necessarily what I’m looking for. I just want to make sure that we’re working within the proper range for that given day to maximize the effort and intensity for a given workout. It is something that helps me and my eye to see whether or not someone is moving as efficiently and quickly as we want. Sometimes we’ll share that data with the athlete to say “that might be too heavy” and to have the insights to back it up, they can get their own visual around it and understand what intensity feels like.

I do think data in the weight room is important, it is also important for coaches to understand what they are using the data for.

Bobby Sirkis

HOW ARE YOU PROGRAMMING VBT FOR YOUR WEIGHTLIFTERS?

BS: As far as athletes taking to the technology, I’ll tell you a story about it: I have this one 13 year old weightlifter and she just made the youth Pan Am team. So I’ll show her these numbers, and she’ll be crushing the range for the day, and tell her that we can go a little heavier. And she tries to tell me the numbers are wrong, but it’s good when I share it because it shows her what she’s doing, how she’s doing it, and maybe gives her a little bit more confidence that she can do a little bit more based on those results. It also shows them that I’m not as crazy as they think I am. It’s a nice piece of objective data that helps prove me right a little bit.

It’s good when I share it because it shows her what she’s doing, how she’s doing it, and maybe gives her a little bit more confidence that she can do a little bit more based on those results.

Bobby Sirkis

In the program, I don’t necessarily say that we need to to x amounts of reps and be within this speed. I’ve experimented with that with the Push Press a little bit. But for the most part, I’m using it just to make sure that we’re pushing these kids and using the right numbers, not too heavy and not too light. It is something that I would like to be able to program in a little bit more directly with different lifts, and we’re getting there.

HOW DO YOU THINK VBT CAN BE MORE ACCESSIBLE IN A WIDER VARIETY OF SETTINGS?

BS: You have to be able to fit it in with your purpose or mission. A lot of people program their strength & conditioning cycles based off of what you’re doing now so you can compare it to what you’re doing later. I hate doing 1 rep maxes. For our sport it doesn’t matter what your 1RMs are for a back squat or a front squat or whatever it is. So testing that isn’t really a good use of our time either. You can use VBT to get a handle on how someone is using a certain weight today, and then how they move that same weight later on. And with that information you can say you definitely got stronger. Obviously there’s an ego associated with being able to say “well I lifted X amount of pounds.” There’s so many factors that go into performance on any given day. You can do the same 1RM at the beginning and end of your cycle and think you didn’t’ get any better, when the reality is there are all of these data points that say you actually did. I want to keep my people actually training more than testing. I don’t want to waste a training day trying to figure out where I’m at, I want to use my training days and use VBT to figure out how I’m feeling and moving and make some estimates based on that.

You can use VBT to get a handle on how someone is using a certain weight today, and then how they move that same weight later on. And with that information you can say you definitely got stronger.

Bobby Sirkis

We train consistently, we don’t push things, we’re not always testing, we can focus on the things that we need to focus on, and dial in the technique. When the competition rolls around, we are very confident in our strength and technique. I think VBT can really be helpful for coaches in weightlifting by helping us find benchmarks so we don’t actually have to test for it in training, but we can open up meets with it and get these big numbers when it counts.

VBT can really be helpful for coaches in weightlifting by helping us find benchmarks so we don’t actually have to test for it in training, but we can open up meets with it and get these big numbers when it counts.

Bobby Sirkis

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Keep checking back for more velocity based training content, tips, tricks, and tools. And don’t forget to follow us on Twitter , Instagram and Linkedin and like us on Facebook .

Mike Young joined us on Coach’s Corner this week. Mike is the owner and founder of Athletic Lab in North Carolina and has spent his career focusing on how to improve performance in athletes. From his exercise physiology degree, to his coaching science masters degree, and his biomechanics PhD, Mike has incorporated data, science, and education throughout his career.

Mike has also worked with professional sports teams, collegiate sports teams, and in the private sector with younger athletes as well. Mike has a unique perspective as both a coach and sports scientist and we were thrilled to speak with him, enjoy!

PERCH: TELL US YOUR STORY AND HOW YOU GOT TO WHERE YOU ARE TODAY?

Mike Young: I’m from western New York originally, and I was an athlete growing up, mostly in track and field. From a pretty young age, I geeked out on things, I remember asking for sport science journals and coaching journals for christmas as early as 12 years old. I didn’t realize until later that it was a failed athletic career that set me up to coach. Coaching was my passion. And I went into bio pre med thinking I’d be a medical doctor. I realized that wasn’t what I wanted to do so I switched gears into exercise physiology. Got a masters degree in coaching science. And then a PhD in biomechanics. All the while I was coaching, so I went through the whole GA and volunteer assistant route in both track and field and strength & conditioning.

I remember asking for sport science journals and coaching journals for christmas as early as 12 years old.

Mike Young

Professionally, I’ve worked with four Division-I track and field teams, and won 6 national championships when I was on staff at LSU. I’ve worked with four professional soccer clubs, most notably the Carolina Courage, that was my little detour into team sports and I’ve been there for quite awhile. I’ve also worked collegiate strength & conditioning in two different Division-I schools. During that entire period I had my own business running Athletic Lab which is a sports performance training facility in North Carolina that has been open 11 years. Sometimes I take on collegiate or pro jobs at the same time and wear two hats. The private sector is obviously different, you have people who are coming to you instead of you being given athletes. And along that whole route, I’ve done quite a bit of coaching, consulting, coaching education, sports science work etc in a lot of different sports ranging from speed skating, rugby, football, soccer, track & field, you name it. I’ve bounced around a lot living in quite a few different places working in different sports and different capacities as a sports scientist, educator, and coach, but absolutely love all of it. Can’t wait to get back to it more fully after this pandemic too.

YOU’VE WORKED WITH SUCH A WIDE VARIETY OF SPORTS, WHAT IS YOUR PHILOSOPHY ON THAT SPORT SPECIFICITY PIECE IN THE WEIGHT ROOM?

MY: That’s an important and hot topic question. I think first and foremost you have to look at the physiological demands, that’s the way I like to look at sport specificity instead of the sport itself. So the first thing I would ask would be what are the commonalities across sports, and anything that is ground-based locomotor (so does it involve running and running fast) the commonalities will be greater than the differences. Think about soccer, lacrosse, field hockey, track and field, people may think you need to do something vastly different but in terms of the physical qualities they differ in scale more than kind. So lower-extremity multi-joint explosive strength, can you create rotational power etc. And then from there you add on nuance. I’d say in my warmups, my plyometrics, my speed training, my strength training, the training across sports is probably about 80-90% similar rather than different. That remaining piece is where any specificity will come into play. Of that specificity, the sport is just a part of it, individualization and injury history also plays a role. The questions you need to ask are things like: what is the physical capacity of that individual? Do you have someone that needs to be better at generating eccentric force? Are they a novice athlete where developing strength is most important over specificity?

I think first and foremost you have to look at the physiological demands, that’s the way I like to look at sport specificity instead of the sport itself.

Mike Young

The periodization will be different among sports that vary in competitions and what a season might look like, but the individual sessions will look relatively similar. The physiology doesn’t change based on the sport. We adapt it a certain way and try to create specific physiological load that will create the adaptations necessary for the athlete.

DOES THE CULTURAL PORTION OF SPECIFIC SPORTS IMPACT THE BUY-IN YOU GAIN FROM ATHLETES?

MY: That is one of the most important factors. In track and field for example you often get athletes that want to do too much. They recognize the physicality of the sport and the necessity to do physical training. And then in other sports you see there’s almost a disconnect. So in men’s soccer in particular, you don’t really see a lot of them connecting the physical training to their performance in a game. There’s many reasons for this, but basically you can succeed at the highest level in men’s soccer without the best physical training in the world, especially if you’re talking about that top teams are buying talent, and you can be technically, tactically, and psychologically very good and not have the greatest physical development. And you can overcome physical deficiencies just by having played the game for years at the highest level. In sports like that, there’s a big disconnect between what they develop and how they perform on the pitch. That said, developing those physical traits is still very important.

In sports like track and field, bobsleigh, you’re really looking to eek out that last 1% of physical capacity and most of the time athletes will recognize that. You get hyper buy-in as a result of that. In other sports you do have to create the culture and educate as much as possible, and earn the respect of players. You have to show how it is important for their performance and injury reduction and that is probably where you start to get the most buy-in. I’ve lucked out in my team sport settings in that I’ve been brought in instead of hired, so I do come in with a big buy-in already. Occasionally, I’ll come in as a consultant and you can see that lack of buy-in is problematic, especially in team sport settings.

In sports like track and field, bobsleigh, you’re really looking to eek out that last 1% of physical capacity and most of the time athletes will recognize that. You get hyper buy-in as a result of that.

Mike Young

CAN YOU ELABORATE ON CREATING THAT CULTURAL PIECE? WHAT ROLE DOES EDUCATION PLAY?

MY: It varies a little per sport, and that is usually due to the need. In between sets, I’m usually explaining. I tend to attract athletes that tend to be a little more cerebral and ask questions and what to know why and that kind of thing. I try to connect dots for them, and try to help them understand why what we’re doing is helping performance. For soccer players, if we can contextualize it as far as being faster means being faster to the ball and getting there first, that’s the kind of thing they will be able to connect to. Nobody wants to be off the field either, so often with team sport athletes pitching the injury-reduction standpoint is the best route by saying “hey, if nothing else, I can keep you healthy. If you want to play, I can help you ensure that you are available and ready to play at all times.” And that is the most compelling argument, especially in team sport settings.

HOW DOES ALL OF THAT LEND ITSELF TO YOUR OVERALL COACHING PHILOSOPHY?

MY: I take things very holistically. In certain sports, the performance coach makes a big difference. In team sports, you are important but not always the executor in a lot of situations. I inform our manager, and sometimes I take the lead, but sometimes I take a back seat on decisions. I look at it as being able to inform and educate people to create that buy-in so they can recognize what you’re doing to create value.

From a programming standpoint, I think a lot of people are shocked when they see our programs and realize how simple it is. Especially for team sport athletes, because they’re typically not as physically developed. So the program is shockingly simple. Our basic template across all athletes is relatively simple. We’ll do some kind of lower body power in the form of an olympic lift which will be stand alone with appropriate load and rest. And then we’ll move into a triset of some kind of lower body unilateral movement paired with an upper body push or pull exercise. And essentially creating rest and being as efficient as possible. And then we’ll finish with some posterior chain type of work, potentially with some loaded core which will vary between simple bracing and anti-rotational depending on the athlete and sport.

And that is pretty much it. A total of five exercises usually with a total of 20-23 sets distributed across them, more heavily toward the front end of that workout and in and out of the gym in about 45-50 minutes. Now with my track and field athletes that I have about 50 weeks of the year, three times a week, we can get very nuanced with things we wouldn’t normally. But this means we have to focus on the things we know work: basic multi-joint exercises using the fundamental movement patterns, loading reasonably heavy and/or moving loads quickly. We don’t have time to waste on fancy, gimmicky exercises. We know we’re going to get high performance by doing the basics savagely well, so that’s where we focus our attention.

YOU MENTION LIFTING WEIGHTS FAST, I’M CURIOUS WHAT ROLE VBT PLAYS IN YOUR PROGRAMMING?

MY: My first experience with VBT was reading some of those journals when I was 16 or 17 years old. This was soviet stuff, very out there and not yet available in the US commercially. And then in the early 2000s I saw a tendo unit and was very intrigued by the thought of being able to track velocity and power. I didn’t start to really use it until maybe 7 years ago or so. I’m very data-driven with a sports science background. And I knew the importance of velocity based training, but until recently there weren’t many options out there commercially that could provide a solution for coaches. In the past couple of years, there have been a couple, of which Perch is one obviously. And it really brings fantastic data and a training tool to the masses. Or at least to people who are really performance oriented.

I’m very data-driven with a sports science background. And I knew the importance of velocity based training, but until recently there weren’t many options out there commercially that could provide a solution for coaches.

Mike Young

We incorporate VBT quite a bit, and there are some limitations. We are private sector so we can bring it to some athletes and our larger groups too, though not to our bigger team setting just yet. It gets used a lot with our track and field groups. And it’s been fantastic, it helps on several different fronts. Much like my training philosophy and exercise selection, I keep it simple. I’ve toyed around with all the VBT uses and really honed in on a couple different ones where we use it on these key points.

WHAT DO YOU THINK THE BIGGEST BENEFITS OF USING VBT ARE?

MY: I think one of the biggest benefits is motivation and driving intent. A lot of people mistakenly think VBT is just moving light weights fast, and that really undersells it. It is just as important to attempt to move heavy weights fast and have a metric on that. So motivation can be a really critical component. I even joked around that I should create an app that is a fake number generator, because it would still have some benefit if an athletes sees a number and thinks he’s moving too slow, obviously I’m not going to do that. People will try to move the bar faster if they think they’re being assessed, and it points to the motivation and the fact that people will try harder if they think they’re being assessed. So we use it a lot both within an individual and between individuals. It allows you to create a competitive atmosphere in the weight room and that is very beneficial. Especially when you’re working with athletes who are trying to eek out the last percentage of their talent, driving intent is very important.

It allows you to create a competitive atmosphere in the weight room and that is very beneficial. Especially when you’re working with athletes who are trying to eek out the last percentage of their talent, driving intent is very important.

Mike Young

We are also using it for velocity loss quite a bit, so restricting the velocity loss in a set. One of the things I’ve been doing for 20 years now is a rep-redistribution strategy. We just published a study on this. But the idea is somewhat perceived as cluster setting, though cluster setting is more of a variation of this. Basically it is just keeping volume and total session duration the same, but instead of doing sets where there are very few reps in reserve, you do more sets with a higher number of reps in reserve left. And what this does is allow you to have a higher quality in terms of technique, quality of movement, and power output remains high across the entire volume. So I used to just prescribe something like 3 sets of 10 at 70% load and hope what I was saying was happening is what happened, but now what we can do is prescribe open ended sets. So each set has a velocity drop of 15% or something, and it keeps the goal the same, it drives intent, and can be very useful. It is basically a form of autoregulation, but we also autoregulate in other ways. What we sometimes will do is say “I want you to lift until the velocity drops out of this speed threshold” so it doesn’t matter what your load on the bar is (some days it’ll be higher, some days it’ll be lower) but we create these bandwidths to operate in. You need to hit a velocity at a certain intent, and I don’t care if they’re under a certain percentage or over a prescribed percentage, as long as they can stay within that velocity bandwidth.

You need to hit a velocity at a certain intent, and I don’t care if they’re under a certain percentage or over a prescribed percentage, as long as they can stay within that velocity bandwidth.

Mike Young

I’ve found velocity based training to be very valuable, we keep it simple and don’t use it on a ton of exercises, but it has been very very valuable to us and our athletes. I call it “very good icing on the cake.” Your exercise selection is probably your cake, but if you can do data driven programming with informed motivation and driving intent, it is going to go a long way I think.

HOW ARE YOUR ATHLETES REACTING TO VBT?

MY: It’s been interesting. Our younger athletes spend half their day on the phone or tablet already, so it is what engages them. We haven’t found anyone who found the technology to be an issue, some of the earlier solutions were glitchy and athletes don’t respond well to that. But now we have it so that it is pretty good. And if you can show an athlete that it will help them, that it doesn’t take long to set up, that it isn’t obtrusive to the training experience, then there is going to be nearly perfect buy-in. If an athlete has to fiddle with a device or worry about a bluetooth connection or plug in data themselves, then you’re going to have problems. So if you can show the value, and a lot of athletes will see that right away, and show them how engaging it is to see that real time data, then you can make it inobtrusive.

My goal with all sports technology (and we have quite a bit at Athletic Lab) is to make it invisible. The athlete should have very little awareness it is being used. We don’t want them to set it up or troubleshoot or what have you. Now it is at the point where, at least the solutions we are using across the board we are checking those boxes. You can run a session and it is seamless, it doesn’t get in the way, and it provides value.

Now it is at the point where, at least the solutions we are using across the board we are checking those boxes. You can run a session and it is seamless, it doesn’t get in the way, and it provides value.

Mike Young

WHAT ROLE DO YOU THINK DATA PLAYS IN THE WEIGHT ROOM AND HOW DO YOU THINK THAT WILL EVOLVE?

MY: I think you’ve got some people who think technology is still a gimmick, these are people who are denying the inevitable. This data is going to become more accessible, more accurate, and more seamless into the platforms. And then what will happen is the people that thrive will be the people that can take advantage of that data and know how to use it. The use of data is what is inevitable, that’s what’s going to happen not just in the weight room but everywhere else. The closer we can get to this information really informing the training process the better. So that data needs to be readily available for coaches and athletes, so the more immediate and real-time the better, and obviously the more accurate the better too. And then if we can get to the point where we have AI or machine learning incorporated, where it can help recognize things that coaches might not be able to see, I think this will help longitudinally.

This data is going to become more accessible, more accurate, and more seamless into the platforms. And then what will happen is the people that thrive will be the people that can take advantage of that data and know how to use it.

Mike Young

For example, athletes who you’ve been training over time and you may not see certain changes based on exercise selection, exercise order, set and rep schemes etc that perhaps machine learning could pinpoint. That is where things will get really interesting. That is the point you turn your strength room into an almost research quality lab. And while training studies take 6-8 weeks and are constrained to upper level research institutions, this type of data can be used for research all the time. There will be mountains of information available. Data is the new money. We can have individual data, team data, this is really where the future is. Right now coaches are still in charge and that will remain for a long time, but it will shift to informed coaches who know what they heck they’re doing with data pretty soon.

WITH THAT IN MIND, DO YOU THINK THE FUTURE ENCOMPASSES BETTER ATHLETES DUE TO MORE PRECISE TRAINING?

MY: With AI coming (if it is not already here), I think we’ll be able to profile more athletes more accurately. Right now we have coaches, including myself, doing force/velocity profiles on athletes, antagonist/agonist profiling and that kind of stuff. Right now it’s not even bronze-age type stuff. This field is going to accelerate so fast, if we can create longitudinal data based off of power and velocities across different athletes, body weights, points in a career alongside their injury history and success.

That is the kind of million dollar research questions that could conceivably be done by AI relatively easily that would take a human being a lifetime to go through that type of thing. So really, the data itself is of limited value unless you have a practitioner to interpret and make sense of it. If you have a practitioner who knows how to make sense of the data, and make it actionable, and change the training intervention based off of the data that is provided, that is when we will see a big breakthrough. Coaches may be willing to do more individualization because they have the hard longitudinal data to back it.

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Daniel Hicker is the Head of Athletic Performance for the San Jose Earthquakes. He has been in and around soccer for the duration of his career and recently sat down with Perch to tell us his story, his philosophy on coaching and the use of technology, and how to create a culture and environment that athletes respond positively to regardless of background

The San Jose Earthquakes have also implemented Perch units in their weight room along with numerous other technologies and we are thrilled to be able to support their mission of continual development of athletic performance

PERCH: TELL US ABOUT YOUR COACHING JOURNEY THUS FAR?

Daniel Hicker: I started out coaching soccer, I thought I wanted to be a sport coach. I began coaching at the youth and junior college level and moved up to the 4-year level for a small college in Washington State. At the same time, that college wanted to start an exercise science program, so I taught a few classes there. Around that same time I was pursuing my coaching licenses, and I met Jerry Smith, who is the head coach at Santa Clara University. We got to talking shop over the phone a few times a month, and half a year later I found myself moving to California and joined Santa Clara to join the staff as a volunteer coach. I thought it would be my springboard into being a head coach for a big college someday. What it turned into was performance enhancement. I was working with a lot of the players to bridge the gap between what was happening on the field and in the weight room and communicate developments with the coaching staff. It helped the players understand what we needed from sessions. How to transfer training qualities what in the weight room onto the field.

And because of the increase emphasis on player development as well as working to get the athletes to buy into the program, we slowly started began integrating GPS, and then later the force plate. Ultimately my role in performance enhancement transitioned me into me becoming the strength & conditioning coach for the program.

I spent about 4 years at Santa Clara, and then moved onto the San Jose Sharks, where I spent approximately 2 years. That was a wonderful experience for me, because I got to see how different the culture can be in a different sport. Those guys came into the gym and wanted to get work done. Because most had a greater training age and exposure to a gym setting, they understood the importance of doing the work to support and improve performance. Having that experience and connecting it to where we were lacking in soccer was a really important identification moment for me.

Around the same time, I joined US soccer as a per diem performance coach. With this experience I further understood where basic principles of strength & conditioning were lacking in soccer. Some things that they just didn’t know because they never had the education and exposure. So the question became: how do we implement this more effectively at this level and with this population? When you’re working with athletes that come from a bunch of different backgrounds in terms of club experiences, coaching staff and mentor methodologies, etc, it can be a challenge to create one cohesive system.

While maintaining my position with US Soccer, I transitioned from the Sharks to a private sector for sports performance in Seattle. It was the same facility that the Seattle Sounders utilized, so I was able to be around the MLS training environment and connect with player and performance staff. About 2 years into that, I made my way back down to San Jose to join the San Jose Earthquakes. I began working approximately 75% Academy, and 25% first team. The following year it turned into being about 5050, and fast forward to today, I’m the Head of Athletic Performance overseeing our clubs physical development.

I essentially believe in the opportunity to bridge a gap between what’s happening with our academy programs, our USL team, and of course our first team. The emphasis being long term athletic development. Just a lot of planning and collaboration in that respect.

IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU’VE BEEN INCORPORATING TECHNOLOGY INTO THE PERFORMANCE MODEL FOR A LONG TIME, HAS THAT BEEN A RUNNING THEME THROUGHOUT YOUR CAREER?

DH: That’s a really good way to look at it. Being around athletes for awhile, you develop a coaching eye and when you get a handle on that, you can really start implementing technologies to back up what you see or to that ultimately smash your initial perspective. Then you’ll have to start rethinking your principles and your application. That’s a massive benefit to technology especially when you can find a way to integrate it effectively and efficiently. We can get wrapped up in technology and it can totally take away the part that coaches love, that artistic part and being able to develop a relationship with the athlete. If you get too wrapped up in the numbers and forget about who the athlete is then it can get a little bit messy and can take you away from the things you enjoy doing.

There’s a massive benefit to technology. Not only does it support the things that we’re trying to accomplish in the short term, and help us pivot if we need to, but you can also show the athlete that they’re improving over a longer period of time. This can be very important when you have athletes in a program for several years. They can be a positive soundboard for culture.

DO YOU THINK THE MORE EFFICIENT TECHNOLOGY BECOMES, WILL IT DETRACT LESS FROM THE WORKOUT AND ENHANCE COACHES ABILITY TO COACH MORE?

DH: I don’t see it as being separate from what we do as coaches. I think that the more we integrate the technology, and the more the technology advances and improves, it will only continue to elevate what we do and help us to help our athletes improve. In our environment right now, everything is integrated. We want the athletes to know that this is part of the culture. The graphs and numbers they may see is their information, and their feedback. It is a measure of their performance and we want to use it all to help them.

A lot of that integration is going to depend on the methodology of the coach. Initially I pushed back a little bit too. For example, I don’t want players on their phones in the gym looking at their information because it may detract from the training environment. You never know if they are sneaking in some texts or Facebook time. But honestly, technology is part of our culture, especially considering our youth. I think that’s where Perch is great, it’s very simple and the information is instantaneous. Athletes aren’t getting wrapped up in having to change around a framework or anything on the phone or tablet. It’s pretty seamless which is something that I enjoy. We now integrate VBT, force plate, and GPS, so the guys know and it is simply part of the culture.

SO ALL THAT SAID, WHAT IS YOUR PERSONAL COACHING PHILOSOPHY?

DH: Keep it simple! If you make it too difficult, you’re going to lose the quality. That’s the realm I am in now. The college level is a bit different. You have your team, your plan and routine. If the athletes aren’t buying in, that’s a quick conversation you can have with the coach if necessary. In the professional environment, you have to find a way to get the athlete to buy in because it’s not just expected. You have athletes with a great background and training age, and then you have some who have never done it and don’t care for it, so you have to help educate them on how it’s going to be beneficial to them. So Sometimes they see that through the technology and they can see the numbers making sense to them, or they feel it on the field and can see the difference there. Regardless, keeping it simple gives a good perspective on how we want to approach things. For me, it always goes back to long term athletic development. It is a cradle to grave approach so it’s not just focusing on certain training variables at certain ages.

Wherever they need attention on the spectrum of long-term athletic development is exactly where you have to train them. The movements that will have the biggest impact on them may not be what everyone else is doing. So I always go back to my long term strategy and just keep it simple, that’s where it comes in for me.

HOW DO YOU IMPLEMENT TECHNOLOGY TO CREATE GREATER BUY IN WITH YOUR ATHLETES?

DH: We want to use the data to educate. And we want them to be able to feel a connection between their outputs and what is going on out on the field. I’ve had athletes come to me and ask me “what if I’m already happy with my body.” And the answer was that we weren’t trying to change their body, we are trying to positively impact their performance. Sometimes that changes bodies a little bit, but we’re not trying to turn them into body builders. We just want them to feel better and perform better. This can be monumental to a athletes career longevity. So it just shows that again, at this level, there’s a huge education component that needs addressing.

I think it is also really important to not hide anything and to keep things clear and visible. So as far as technology goes, there are metrics that are just going to help them understand that link between on field performance. Ultimately we need to keep it simple in the information we give them so as to not overcomplicate things. For our guys and for VBT, we give them peak velocity for any explosive movement, and mean velocity for any strength movement. And that information lends itself to the competition piece as well. So we’re trying to build in the technology where it is helping them to be competitive and understand how it impacts their performance. They’re not necessarily going to know everything, but they’re going to compete with each other and have a higher level of intent with each action.

As far as coaching goes, you have to be a little bit of a historian. You have to know what performances you’ve had in the past and how you’re trying to connect it to the future. We’re trying to help guide athletes in a direction that will benefit performance long-term. So they may not see something now, but now I can not only tell them that they’re better, but I can also provide information that indicates that. The technology helps inform that long term athletic development piece. Athletes can understand the mission and vision values and how we’re moving through the process if we can show them the data.

WHAT IS YOUR HISTORY WITH VBT AND WHEN DID IT MAKE SENSE TO YOU?

DH: When I was with the Sharks, we used the staple Tendo. I wouldn’t say it was something that was integrated, but we used it as necessary just to get some type of feedback. From then, VBT was something that interested me, but when it clicked was when I started to feel like it was something that could be used effectively as part of the training environment. When Perch came into the picture and we saw how seamless it could be, what the feedback was and how effective it was, that’s when it really clicked for me. This was something that could be part of our training environment on a regular basis and us to maneuver through our programming and season in a way that allows us to manage training solutions more effectively.

What I mean by that is: sometimes I’ll have 20 minutes with the team, sometimes I have 45 minutes with the team, sometimes it’s on different days, sometimes guys are getting extra work in on their own. Being able to connect that data with how the guys are feeling etc, allows us to make smarter training decisions. With the information we’re gathering, we can bring things to the attention of the performance staff as needed and make changes.

HAS TECHNOLOGY CHANGED MUCH WITHIN YOUR PROGRAMMING?

DH: Regarding VBT, for right now I’d say we’re simply collecting data. Every time we have a gym session, and we’re integrating it into our training environment, we are educating ourselves and the athletes along the way. We’re starting to look a lot at numbers, percentages of change based on those numbers, and also prescribing based on those numbers. So we’re moving away from prescribing based solely off 1RM. We’re connecting the velocities and 1RM information to find what works for us. If the speeds are low, we know we need to tell them to back off a bit, and if the numbers are high, we know that’s an opportunity we can take for them to develop a little more power. If the water is boiling, keep on cooking! Either way, the feedback is beneficial, and we’ve been clear with them from the beginning on what our protocols are. The technology is seamless.

WHAT DO YOU THINK THE FUTURE OF WEIGHT ROOM TECHNOLOGY IS LOOKING LIKE?

DH: The more we can engineer culture to reflect a means of normalcy, the more we will gain honest feedback from the athlete. This allows for adaptive periodization and programming by the coach. It doesn’t seem realistic to expect the receipt of positive training outcomes without being open to adjustments. Every athlete is different and will respond differently to imposed demands, whether it be prescribed or unforeseen due to life.

It could change drastically, and there’s so many different types of applications. So this is a difficult question because it’s hard to see where things are going due to so many options. What we’re seeing with true integration with the force plate and GPS, going back to that “simple” philosophy, it is less time consuming and just part of the culture There’s a tactical approach to successfully implementing technology in team sport. It’s not always perfect, but ultimately it should make some sense.

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Tony Smith has been coaching strength and conditioning for over 20 years. He has worked in numerous settings from high school to collegiate Division I settings. Smith has worked at Clemson University, Ole Miss, Florida Atlantic University, University of Tennessee, and Duke University working primarily with football and a variety of other sports as well.

Originally from South Carolina, Smith settled back into Gaffney High School to build a program complete with brand new weight room, and be closer to home. He spoke to Perch recently and provided some insight into coaching all over, how it impacted his philosophy, and what he sees the future of weight room technology being. Thanks Tony!

PERCH: TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF

Tony Smith: I started off at North Greenville College [coaching football] which was close to the house and I got involved with some younger coaches and became the D-Line guy. And the coach said for an extra $1000 he needed someone to be the head strength guy. So I volunteered because personally I liked lifting weights and that’s how I started in getting into strength & conditioning. Then of course as you continue to grow you try to gain more knowledge. I was reaching out to people who were a whole lot smarter than I was, so guys like Joey Batson at Clemson, and John Siss who’s now at Georgia State. And finally a GA spot came open at Clemson, so I went there for two years. And that really set the tone as far as my foundation in strength & conditioning.

Then I left and became the head guy at Finley University for about 8 months, and then became an assistant at Ole Miss under Rueben Mendoza (who was an assistant coach at Clemson while I was there). And I worked with basketball and football there for about 5 years. And then I became the head guy at Florida Atlantic for about 3 years. And then I came back to the high school setting here at Gaffney High for 7 years and it was really good!

Somehow an opportunity came at University of Tennessee, so I left and was there for a year before an opportunity popped up at Duke. It was too good to be true to work with people you know and like and work together, so I went to Duke for about 3.5 years. And then this opportunity to come back to Gaffney came up and what really set the tone for that was that they are building a brand new weight room here. That weight room should be finalized in another month or so, and we’re going to be putting the Perch units in there. And the main reason to come back to Gaffney was to be able to put my finger and my blueprint on that while being closer to home and still coaching. I’ve been a few stops, but like I said, I’ve worked with a lot of great people and that’s what it’s all about. I’m still always willing to learn.

I’ve been a few stops, but like I said, I’ve worked with a lot of great people and that’s what it’s all about. I’m still always willing to learn.

Tony Smith

HOW HAS YOUR BACKGROUND SHAPED YOUR PERSONAL COACHING PHILOSOPHY?

TS: My mentor is Joey Batson, he’s the one who set the foundation for a bunch of us. When we were there, he had this powerlifting type of background where we were trying to get these guys as strong as possible. When I went to Ole Miss, I got to see a side from Noel Durfey, that you better be explosive! It’s not just about being strong and big. He really helped us understand the Olympic type of movements. And now I’m a hybrid of both of them together as far as my own philosophy goes.

WHAT ABOUT THE PROGRAMMING PIECE? HOW HAS IT SHIFTED OVER THE YEARS?

TS: The periodization part I had taken the old school approach. As I’ve learned more and more I keep realizing that there are much smarter people out there than me. Personally, I love the triphasic stuff from Cal Dietz, and I met him when I went to Finley University (I had taken his spot there when he left for Minnesota). So I like that stuff, but it all depends.

At this point, everything feels rushed, like it seems like you don’t have a lot of time to get guys strong. Especially at the college level. You’re usually only going to get about 6-7 weeks and all the sudden you’re playing spring ball!

What’s good about the high school level is that you have a lot of time. We lift through the football season starting in the summer. And then when these guys get back in January, we have these strength meets that we prepare for. I spend about 8 weeks trying to get them as strong as possible for these strength meets we have. We have a regional meet and then a state meet, so we’d try to get them strong as possible and qualified. Without spring ball season, we can really focus on getting these guys strong in the second semester.

WHEN DID YOU HEAR ABOUT VBT AND WHEN DID IT START MAKING SENSE TO YOU?

TS: I met Dr. Bryan Mann at Ole Miss and started following him and when he published his VBT book, I started reading it and liking it. When I was at University of Tennessee, we got to playing around with some [VBT systems] and got to see Tendos and GymAwares, but didn’t get really full bore into it until I was at Duke with Noel Durfey.

There, we used velocity every day there in the weight room, no matter what we were doing we were using velocity to measure load. The athletes loved it. It was an easy transition because it created a really competitive environment, it was an easy process for the players. They were competing between racks and really trying to get better.

We used velocity every day there in the weight room, no matter what we were doing we were using velocity to measure load. The athletes loved it. It was an easy transition because it created a really competitive environment, it was an easy process for the players. They were competing between racks and really trying to get better.

Tony Smith

And then I was at a Hammer Strength clinic maybe a year ago and I ran into Jacob from Perch and he showed me what y’all have and I was like “man!” At the time we had been having issues with our Tendos because of the string breaking, and we could never figure out a way to do it wireless obviously. And of course it existed, so I loved Perch from the get-go. Noel was there at the clinic and once I showed him, we got some demo units at Duke. And those kids loved it immediately. I think that is where the future is going, the wireless is key, and that’s how we found out about Perch and started really liking it.

HOW DID YOU BRING VBT TO THE HIGH SCHOOL SETTING?

TS: I talked to Jacob and he sent me a demo unit. Honestly, we couldn’t keep the kids off of it! We hooked it up and they’re better at computers than I am. They would go over, hit their name and get to it. With the demo unit, we only had one and all 25 guys in the weight room at any given moment wanting to be on that one platform. I told them we can’t be doing that! So I’d limit it to 5 guys but it became clear this was something they were really taking to.

Athletes of this generation make the transition to technology really easily. In our school, we give them computers and that’s just how everything is. We’ve been doing zoom stuff with our players lately. And like I said, having Perch in the weight room, the kids loved it and they were using it better than even I did.

Athletes of this generation make the transition to technology really easily. In our school, we give them computers and that’s just how everything is. We’ve been doing zoom stuff with our players lately. And like I said, having Perch in the weight room, the kids loved it and they were using it better than even I did.

Tony Smith

HOW HAVE YOU WOVEN VBT INTO YOUR PROGRAMMING?

TS: Educating these guys and telling them why we are using it has been big. Instead of telling them a percentage, giving them a threshold and they can then see when moving the bar what velocity they need to be lifting at that day. And load will be based on that. If there are reasons they aren’t able to lift at that speed, we can engage in conversations. Ask them what’s going on: did they get enough sleep, did they eat enough, you know? At the high school level that’s different, sometimes the only meals they’re eating is when they’re at school. And right now [with COVID19] they don’t have that opportunity to eat the way they need to.

DOES THE VELOCITY COMPONENT WITH HIGH SCHOOLERS MATTER MORE BECAUSE OF THEIR INCREASED VARIABILITY (FOOD, HORMONES, SLEEP, ETC?)

TS: Definitely. This young generation has a high stress level. Whether it is school, or girlfriend or boyfriend problems, that outside stress still exists. Unless we get to see it by the velocity on the barbell that day, we won’t be able to account for it. So having that allows us to measure and have conversations as needed, but also make sure the kids are training and adapting properly.

This young generation has a high stress level…Unless we get to see it by the velocity on the barbell that day, we won’t be able to account for it. So having that allows us to measure and have conversations as needed, but also make sure the kids are training and adapting properly.

Tony Smith

We use velocity in a warmup set to understand where a kid is at for the day. Say we’re doing 6 sets, the first three will be what I call “getting there” sets. And then when we get to those last few, if they’re not really hitting the velocities that’s when we can take them aside and say “hey, what’s going on with you?” and just check in with them. At the high school level, I hear a lot of “I’m hungry coach” and I’m fortunate to have a good budget here at Gaffney, so I can run in and get them a protein bar and try and fuel them a little bit more.

TS: To me, the data is going to be how you build a profile for every player primarily. And then watching them progress from a freshman up to a senior kid. Once they’re at that training age, they may not be making those big gains anymore, but regardless we’ll always have the parameters as to what they should be lifting. And if we’re hitting those parameters, we know what we’re training for instead of just guessing at it.

Now looking forward, everybody wants the best gear and the best way to train their athletes. We’re just now building this brand new facility and we’re competing with schools who did this ten years ago. Now all this technology is now coming out too, at Gaffney we’re going to be the first to install Perch in our weight room, but as the years go by this is just going to become the norm. Everybody is going to have a Perch in their weight room. And it’s just going to help progress our athletes and do so safely.

At Gaffney we’re going to be the first to install Perch in our weight room, but as the years go by this is just going to become the norm. Everybody is going to have a Perch in their weight room. And it’s just going to help progress our athletes and do so safely.

Tony Smith

ANY LAST THOUGHTS?

TS: Every sport is different, you’re going to train athletes in the weight room a little bit differently. But you’re still not reinventing the wheel. You’ll still have to squat and press and do some kind of olympic movement. You just have to find out what your athletes need and give it to them. If that sport coach is all for the weight room, it’ll make life a whole lot easier. And that sport coach can see the importance of the weight room a lot easier with data points from velocity. So it lends itself to a better training environment across the board, and I hope it’ll help all these kids motivate themselves to get better as athletes.

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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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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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Perch sat down with Noel Durfey and Aaron Getz of Duke University Football Sports Performance Staff. Noel has been in the Head Sports Performance position for Duke football for 13 years, and Aaron has been an assistant on staff for right around 8 years.

The two have helped build the current culture amongst Duke football players and spoke with Perch about being teachers first, giving athletes what they need, and incorporating technology into the weight room for greater precision in training. Most interestingly, the two touched on how they plan to use that technology to meet athletes where they are upon their eventual return to campus following the Coronavirus crisis.

Duke Football also purchased 18 Perch units in October of 2019 and have been incorporating them into their training ever since. Big thanks to Noel and Aaron for their time, enjoy!

PERCH: TELL US YOUR RESPECTIVE STORIES, HOW DID YOU END UP AT DUKE?

AARON GETZ:

I grew up in Northeast Pennsylvania and attended Plymouth State university, played football there. Right when I got done there I did an internship at Dartmouth and met Coach Miller and Coach O’Neill and had a great experience. Then I applied to grad school two days before the deadline and luckily got in over at East Stroudsburg University, so I went from Dartmouth to a year at school and cut that short because I actually met Coach Durfey at Duke and was able to finish grad school from afar during the summer of 2012 while I interned there.

I was lucky enough to get hired on at Duke and have been here around 8 years. I had a short high school stint as well about a year and a half ago for around 6 months in Northeast, PA where my wife and I are originally from. But Coach Durfey called me back and I’ve been at Duke ever since! It’s been football the whole way and being an ex player it was an easy transition for me to go from player to coach. For a bit I did some other sports to broaden my horizons at Duke a little bit, but it’s been mostly 100 percent football, which I’ve really loved.

NOEL DURFEY:

I grew up in southeast Michigan and graduated in 1986 out of high school, at that time we did not have strength & conditioning really, but my high school was more progressive. So we lifted weights in our PE program in high school. I played baseball in high school and wanted to in college and one of our coaches told me if I started lifting weights I may have a better chance. So I started lifting weights in our house with my brothers in the basement. I walked onto the team in a small school in Tennessee called Lincoln Memorial. We did not have a strength coach, so I was lifting weights on my own and after my sophomore year of playing, I was realizing that I was enjoying lifting weights much more than I was enjoying playing baseball! So I quit playing baseball so I could spend more time lifting weights and absolutely just found a passion in doing that.

I was realizing that I was enjoying lifting weights much more than I was enjoying playing baseball! So I quit playing baseball so I could spend more time lifting weights and absolutely just found a passion in doing that.

Noel Durfey

Out of college I was not exactly motivated. I moved down to Knoxville, and I was working at the post office and changing oil in a Firestone gas station for about a year and a half. I had graduated college with a degree in physical education and wanted to put it to use, so I started working part time at a health club as a personal trainer and then come 1995, I got a thing in the mail from the NSCA saying the University of Tennessee wanted some volunteers.

So I went over there and met with Tommy Moffitt who was an assistant at the time and John Stuckey who was the head strength coach. I volunteered for a year and worked my way back into grad school at University of Tennessee and became a paid graduate student. I worked with swimming and diving and helped out with track and field and Aaron Ausmus was on the team at the time so I got to work with him then too. Eventually we would cross paths in Mississippi and work together down there too.

After I graduated in 1998, I had gotten married to my wife, Kelly, and took a job at BYU with Chuck Stiggins. From there we went to James Madison University with Greg Warner for about 15 months, and went down to Ole Miss and was there for a little over 7 years, that was where my daughters were born. And then came to Duke and this is my 13th year at Duke. And I ended up here at Duke because – this business is such a relationship business – when I was at the University of Tennessee as a GA, I ran the morning agility station with Coach Cutcliffe, and I worked with him again in Mississippi, and he was the head of Duke and he called and wondered if I’d be interested in the job. Been here ever since.

PERCH: CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR COLLECTIVE COACHING PHILOSOPHY AND PROGRAMMING FOR DUKE FOOTBALL?

ND:

From a lifting standpoint, we’re going to do a little bit of everything. Working with Coach Moffitt and Coach Stuckey at Tennessee, we were all Olympics based. So at Duke we do variations of cleans, we jerk, we snatch, we pull from the floor. Obviously we’re going to squat. I’m also a big believer in single leg movements, we do a lot of rear leg elevated. Big believe in a lot of upper and lower back, glutes and hamstrings. From a philosophical standpoint, we’re going to do a bit of everything.

What we pride ourselves in most is being teachers. Teaching people how to lift weights and how to move. I was told years ago “don’t do too many things, you won’t get good at them” alright, so we do the things that we do, we’re going to do often, and we’re going to do them really really well. We have a great staff, they’re all young and they love to lift and they love to coach. So it’s up to us every day to show up and coach and teach.

What we pride ourselves in most is being teachers. Teaching people how to lift weights and how to move.

Noel Durfey

Now, with the virus, I think when kids come back, everything is going to go to hell in a handbasket. Who knows when they’re coming back on campus, but whenever that date is, we’re going to start football practice. So from a programming standpoint, what they’re doing at home is huge, figuring out how to re-introduce them to that will be huge.

PERCH: WITH THE CORONAVIRUS IN MIND, WHEN ATHLETES COME BACK, IS YOUR WEIGHT ROOM TECHNOLOGY GOING TO BE IMPORTANT TO UNDERSTAND WHERE THEY ARE PHYSICALLY?

ND:

The technology has to be incorporated to meet people where they’re at. Aaron and I have had this conversation, there has to be some sort of evaluation when they come back on campus because you have to understand what state kids are in. We’ll understand the certain movement patterns and where certain percentages and velocities fall in together. So let’s just say 80% of a squat is .5 m/s. So we can work up to doing a double or a triple at their old 80% and see what that looks like from a velocity standpoint and then re-gauge and re-adjust training weights with that.

The technology has to be incorporated to meet people where they’re at…we’re going to use our Perch units and collaborate with them and figure out where we need to go from a training standpoint to get our guys ready for the season.

Noel Durfey

So we’re going to have to figure out when they’re coming back, what we can do and where we’re starting. We’re going to use our force decks, and we’re going to use our Perch units and collaborate with them and figure out where we need to go from a training standpoint to get our guys ready for the season. Strength, peak power, we will be able to re-gauge all of that using the tools we have when they come back to campus.

PERCH: HAVE YOU BUILT OUT FORCE/VELOCITY PROFILES AS ROADMAPS FOR YOUR ATHLETES?

AG:

We’ve been able to build FV profiles per positional group and per guy to know what it looks like zoomed out. These profiles show us theoretically what guys are going to look like when they come back from a training standpoint. Now all of this going on [with Coronavirus], obviously, is unprecedented and chaotic, but our job is: we need to meet them where they are when they come back.

Now all of this going on [with Coronavirus], obviously, is unprecedented and chaotic, but our job is: we need to meet them where they are when they come back.

Aaron Getz

We’re giving them a program and hoping they execute them as best they can. But who knows. So we are going to use the information and those profiles to match them to them when they return. So we’ll have an idea, and we’ll be able to evaluate them. And then we can push the envelope forward or dial back accordingly. But ultimately, these tools allow us as coaches to dial in exactly where we should be or could be and go from there, whenever that time comes.

These tools allow us as coaches to dial in exactly where we should be or could be and go from there, whenever that time comes.

Aaron Getz

PERCH: WITHOUT YOUR TECHNOLOGY TOOLS, WOULD THAT BE A HARDER JOB TO EXECUTE?

AG:

Without a doubt. Coach Durfey and I really dove into this in recent conversations. But it’s 2020, why would you not want to dive into the technology that’s out there to support your athletes even more? You’re taking a squat or bench or press or whatever periodization model you’re going to follow, you can live in whatever ranges you want to live in to develop the adaptations you’re trying to develop. You’re trying to develop specific adaptations to get them physically to be the best football player they can be. We know these tools help accomplish that and allow us to dial in more.

PERCH: DUKE BEING A BIG RESEARCH SCHOOL, WHAT ROLE DOES DATA PLAY IN YOUR WEIGHT ROOM?

AG:

The biggest thing that I’ve seen is that it creates a whole other layer of buy in. There’s guys who love to lift and guys who don’t, we’re fortunate in that we have a lot of guys who love to lift. We can take whatever movements we want to take, and those data points take that to another level. We can turn right back around to them, give them instant feedback during a session, post session, end of a week and end of a month, and tell them “here’s where we’re training, here’s why, and here’s where we’re going.” And I have not come across an athlete yet who can dispute the why when we can provide that data to them.

Secondly, from a programming standpoint: You know where you want to live to create adaptations, with this data there’s no guesswork. Coach Durfey and I have talked about this depending on time of year or movement, you’re able to pinpoint where you want to live, and then where you need to start. Like anything else, you’re adjusting the meter as you go depending on how your athletes are reacting. But you just have sound data points in your corner.

You know where you want to live to create adaptations, with this data there’s no guesswork.

Aaron Getz

ND:

We’re fortunate that our kids understand the why. We will put slides up before a workout and go through it with our kids as a staff what we’re seeing off of the Perch units, or the force deck. They take that and they understand why we’re doing what we’re doing. They get it. It just creates more of a buy-in on their end as to why they do these things. We teach them how to use the Perch, but a big part of that is the why. We have to be consistent with the data and the loads and the kids are a big part of that because they’re the one interacting with the app. So that educational piece is huge for us.

PERCH: YOU SAID YOU GUYS ARE BIG EDUCATORS, DOES THAT OBJECTIVE EVIDENCE HELP WITH THAT PIECE?

AG:

This being a relationship type of business, if you want to talk about building trust with your athletes and have them buy into what you do as a coach and trust you 100 percent, well you’re going to get everything out of them if they trust you, and then they’ll listen to you if you tell them to pull back or to push the envelope. Having objective data to back up the “why” helps facilitate that trust and helps your athletes listen to you.

PERCH: SO WHEN WERE YOU FIRST INTRODUCED TO VBT?

ND:

About 4 or 5 years ago. I had read a little bit about it, it seemed like a great idea. And then I got into a conversation with Tommy Moffitt on the phone and at that point we had a tendo unit or two. And then I started stockpiling them until we had a full 18 units, one for every rack. For me the “aha’ moment for me came when we had three seniors: Austin Davis, Mike Ramsay, Shaun Wilson.

They had been in our program for three years and we started truly doing velocity based work. What I saw with them was that these kids who were going into their 4th or 5th year all the sudden were making huge gains in strength, vertical jump, and I thought there was something to all this [velocity based training]. They bought into the concept, they focused, and all three of them worked their way into playing professionally at some point. Once they saw physically what was happening to them, things started to click within the program. And as a staff we started to put more emphasis on it and coaching it up.

These kids who were going into their 4th or 5th year all the sudden were making huge gains in strength, vertical jump, and I thought there was something to all this [velocity based training].

Noel Durfey

It helped us direct the culture as far as incorporating technology. There were huge physical differences all of the sudden and improvements. It took the guesswork out, it helped them get better and they really understood why we were doing what we were doing. Not only that, but they were staying healthy while they were continuing to lift weights. I think the VBT helps.

AG:

I was on staff with Coach Durfey when he first started diving into it. For me to see it first hand and see it grow it’s been great. It does all of those things Coach Durfey talked about, but the biggest thing it does is it just gives training another layer. There’s just another element of the way they can compete when they’re training. And that’s been huge on top of all the other physical adaptations. Culture is a daily evolving thing, but for our guys to compete with each other on a daily basis and challenge each other and grow as leaders in that space is huge. The Perch is a great 2020 modality for it too because not only are we getting that immediate feedback, but we’re storing it and tracking it.

Culture is a daily evolving thing, but for our guys to compete with each other on a daily basis and challenge each other and grow as leaders in that space is huge

Aaron Getz

The level of compete and leadership that’s grown in our room is huge both with us and without us. We’re there and we’re present and coaching hard with them, but we’re not out on the field on Saturdays, so they’re going to have to lean on each other and challenge each other and compete. So I think that’s been a big thing for me to see it evolve, this is the way training is going. We’re trying to create the biggest and most dynamic motor possible. And those are the adaptations you’re getting training like that.

ND:

Let me give you an example. So in 2017 we had Catapult units on the field for every player and position. Of that data:

2017: 15% of every unit we used on the field hit 20 mph or better in a game.

2018: 18% of every unit we used was hitting 20 mph or better.

2019: 26% of all the units we used hit 20 mph or better.

So as the years are going by, this is just proving that kids are buying into how we’re training and adapting the way we want them to. Kids are getting faster!

PERCH: WHAT ARE ALL OF YOUR SPORT PERFORMANCE INDICATORS FOR IMPROVEMENT?

ND:

We’re seeing max velocities go up, vertical jumps, broad jumps, training weights, how hard they’re going in certain velocity and percentage zones. So we’re utilizing all of this together and painting a picture of improved performance.

PERCH: WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE INTIMIDATION FACTOR FOR VBT? WHY AREN’T MORE COACHES BUYING IN?

ND:

Part of it might be expense. We had financial resources and backing to do these things. I’m sure part of it is educational as well. It’s different right? But, hey it’s not different. For me, it’s hard to change, some coaches are more resistant to change. What I have found is that velocity is not different from a programming standpoint. The training weights we use are now just guidelines. We tell the kids this too.

What I have found is that velocity is not different from a programming standpoint. The training weights we use are now just guidelines.

Noel Durfey

Everyday we put out the workout, we put velocity ranges out and so they have their guidelines with their training weights. If we’re within that zone we’re going to hold what we’ve got. If we’re above the zone we’re going to load the barbell. If we’re below the zone we’re going to take weights off the barbell. What we tell the kids is that “if you stay within this specific zone, you are not wrong.” It just takes the guesswork out of it.

AG:

This has allowed us to incorporate that extra detailed layer really. On a Sunday, we can pull the data and figure out how they’re going to feel based on how hard they went on the field on Saturday. And from there, that data will keep us in check as to what we need to adapt and how to help them regenerate better too.

We’re trying to use every on field and off field metric we can use to pour into them and their performances. There’s so many variables to this, it’s not just the weight room stuff. It’s everything. How are they living? How are they eating? You’re not going to be able to out train a poor lifestyle. And using all of these metrics to know that opens the door to have a conversation to build that relationship and check in with athletes to build that trust even more.

And using all of these metrics to know that opens the door to have a conversation to build that relationship and check in with athletes to build that trust even more.

Aaron Getz

PERCH: WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE FUTURE OF TECHNOLOGY IN THE SPORTS TRAINING SPACE?

AG:

I think it goes back to the level of detail that’s going to be able to live in these programs. Everyone is doing relatively the same thing. So the detail that you’re going to be able to get on a daily basis with an individual athlete is what will help you excel. And really it’s all about the student-athlete experience, you want your guys to be able to walk away knowing that we have unturned every stone you could unturn and developed them to the best of your ability.

With technology, it’s only going to continue to evolve so who are we to not evolve with it? Build it within your programs, and really it comes down to how you do things. How do you maximize and develop your guys every day and sharpen that sword? Sooner or later everyone will be doing the same thing, so it comes down to how.

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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!

PERCH: HOW DID YOU END UP AT GEORGETOWN? TELL US THE LONG VERSION!

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.

PERCH: WHAT WAS GEORGETOWN LIKE WHEN YOU FIRST ARRIVED? HOW HAS IT CHANGED?

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.

PERCH: WITH YOUR FOCUS ON ONE SPORT, WHAT IS YOUR PHILOSOPHY ON TRAINING SPORT SPECIFICITY WITHIN THE WEIGHT ROOM?

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.

PERCH: HOW DOES THAT IMPACT YOUR PHILOSOPHY ON BASKETBALL PROGRAMMING?

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

  1. Relationships: I’m building relationships with them
  2. Development: I’m developing them as athletes and people
  3. Teaching: I’m teaching them for life

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.

PERCH: YOU MENTION THE AUTOREGULATION PIECE, WHAT DO YOU DO FOR THAT?

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.

PERCH: WITH THAT IN MIND, WHAT ROLE DO YOU THINK DATA AND TECH PLAYS IN WEIGHT ROOM SETTING?

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:

  1. Either zero technology
  2. Tons of technology

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.

PERCH: WHEN WERE YOU FIRST INTRODUCED TO VBT?

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.

PERCH: DO YOUR GUYS BUY IN QUICKER WITH ADDITIONAL DATA?

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.

PERCH: DO YOU TRACK THAT DATA FOR YOUR ATHLETES OVER TIME?

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

PERCH: HOW ARE THEY LEARNING? DO THESE ATHLETES TODAY TAKE TO TECH QUICKER? WHAT ABOUT FOR RECRUITS?

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.

PERCH: WHAT DO YOU THINK WILL BE THE FUTURE OF VBT IN WEIGHT ROOMS?

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.”

PERCH: WITH ALL OF THOSE PIECES FROM VBT TO NUTRITIONAL MAPPING, DO YOU THINK WE’RE CREATING A FUTURE WHERE WE CAN TRULY UNTAP THE POTENTIAL OF ALL ATHLETES AND CREATE MEGA-ATHLETES?

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.

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