By Justin Lovett, director of Football Strength and Conditioning
Western Kentucky University
Versatility of Programming – Over the last decade of working under outstanding sports science-based individuals, I have been fortunate to take bits and pieces about energy system application and multi-direction speed mechanics from Billy Glisan, explosive strength and power development (from one of the best Olympic Lift teachers in college sports) from Kirk Davis at UTEP, layered and re-engineered championship professional football speed-strength and speed-endurance sprint programming from Rich Tuten, old-school sport psychology aimed at increasing an athlete’s external drive from Joe Tereshinski and John Thomas at The University of Georgia, and most recently being exposed to the refreshingly progressive approach to total team mental and physical preparation as lead by Western Kentucky’s Head Football Coach Jeff Brohm.
Coach Brohm has played premier college ball for legendary national championship winning Head Coach Howard Schnellenberger at The University of Louisville and also was coached by some of the brightest minds in the NFL including Tony Dungy and Mike Shanahan, over the course of an 8-year professional career. While some football coaches were not always as engaged with lifting and running as athletes during their playing days as they could have been, Coach Brohm was, and this has allowed him to remain on top of the latest trends in our industry and keep close tabs on our team’s physical evolution with an uncanny and extremely high level of awareness.
Take for example the strength and conditioning model we rolled with at WKU in 2014 as we inherited a roster of young athletes with a solid foundation of training experience and well developed work-ethic. This team liked to lift big weights, and they were very good at it. As a staff we didn’t want to take any of that away but we felt we could still reach solid strength thresholds while working at a much quicker tempo than what our players were used to in order to accommodate Coach Brohm’s intended practice and game-play pacing.
We planted auxiliary exercises for stabilizers and antagonists in between our primary base strength exercises of Squat, and Incline. It is important to note that this type of training system did slow increases in strength initially on the platform. Our gains were more of a slow burn. We allowed our players to rep out the last set to earn a bump in workout maxes, but would not
allow them to plate jump at any time. Lactic acid build up and muscular endurance capacity often put an artificial cap or ceiling on our strength numbers but doing this also gave our staff confidence through data which showed that strength gains were still occurring as late as October and November.
Specifically for the 2014 team, since we were younger and thinner depth-wise in terms of having ready-to-play bodies, we felt that at that particular time, we were reasonably strong enough comparative to our conference opponents in certain areas to focus more on strength endurance, mobility, and injury prevention. Our intent was to give Coach Brohm as many healthy, in-shape, and contributing players available at his dispense from the start of camp on through the completion of any bowl trip we might earn. Was this plan successful? In many respects, yes because the Hilltoppers represented themselves very well in our first season in Conference-USA, earned the program our first win vs. a Top 25-ranked opponent (Marshall) as well as our first post-season bowl win (Bahamas Bowl vs. Central Michigan) in school history, and also ended the season with 5 wins against zero losses. Was this plan perfect? Absolutely not, we had trouble finishing strong in the second half of games to put teams away and experienced significant loss of body mass coming out of training camp. Every plan has its flaws in hindsight and every plan can be improved upon.
Fast forward to the next year as Coach Brohm assessed the areas in most need of improvement. aAter reviewing the physical needs of our 2-deep roster, it became a team-wide goal to spend the winter, spring, and summer dedicated to making dramatic gains in mass, explosiveness, and absolute strength. This meant unstacking circuits around our base exercises and prescribing lower repetition/higher load progressions in an effort to manufacture higher workout maximal numbers we could actually carry on into the season. We also significantly reduced running volume through the spring and summer leading into fall camp.
When we combined these efforts with a renewed and uploaded nutritional focus, the results couldn’t me more different than night and day. This was not a knee jerk reaction by our Head Football Coach or his strength staff. Rather, it was a calculated decision based on the types of athletes that were being recruited, the pressing needs of the talented players who had not yet graduated, and the way Coach Brohm and his coordinators wanted to be able to devise offense and defensive schematics. Implementing programming that differs so drastically from one year to the next is the kind of versatility that is necessary for each and every team year to year. Just because a certain prescribed performance enhancement training program works brilliantly for one particular group, under no circumstances does this guarantee future or similar success. Having the abilities to adapt and maintain the versatility of strength and conditioning programming are arguably the most valuable of strength and conditioning coaching characteristics level to level.
The Bottom Line
Whatever stage or level a strength coach is writing football strength and conditioning programming for, the success of that team’s performance enhancement training is not just dependent on the sets, reps, loads prescribed, or on exercises selected which are based solely off a team or individual player’s most necessary need. The strength coach must also take into consideration the big picture, the long term development of the program, and both the short term and long term effects within the large or small groups of players being impacted. The ability to communicate, teach, and motivate will always serve as a front porch to the facility as well as providing the backbone of production, whether it is at a small high school weight room, in a towering indoor collegiate football training facility in the FBS, or at an all-encompassing professional environment that exists in the NFL.
Workouts and structure of programming should be able to hold up with current, scientifically-sound best practices, always be managed efficiently with varying group sizes, and need little reliance on highly selectorized or multiple drill-limiting equipment. Programming that is versatile enough to accommodate sudden changes including weather, degrading field conditions, equipment failure, or unexpected schedule adjustments that may significantly alter training time availability for the given day (which requires a strength staff to redirect on the fly) is the type of forward-thinking strength and conditioning systems most employed today by winning collegiate programs and professional organizations.
Successful adaptation of programming is rooted in meeting the athlete where they are at; compromises may have to be made to find common ground or an agreed upon starting point. By allowing your strength and conditioning plan to remain both adaptable and versatile doesn’t mean changing to change, it can mean flipping the script from a player’s perspective or subtly altering workouts to still allow the integrity or core values of your programming be adhered to. For me, adaptability and versatility asks our staff to develop programming that keeps to our tenets and principles we hold dear, gives the Head Football Coach the flexibility to make any quick changes he wants, and all the while cultivating a consistent and highly productive training methodology within a fully-integrated team-wide and universal message.
Hometown: Beavercreek, Ohio
Position: Director of Football Strength & Conditioning
Justin Lovett just completed his fourth season as the Director of Football Strength and Conditioning at WKU after coming to The Hill in January of 2014.
Under Lovett’s direction, the Hilltoppers participate in a year-round regiment focused on the individual athlete, using a principle-based strength, speed, and conditioning performance enhancement model to improve mental discipline, physical toughness, and explosive football attributes. Lovett and his strength staff consistently seek to employ the latest in cutting edge technology and best common practices to reduce risk of on-the-field related injuries, including use of fully integrated corrective exercises, movement efficiency training, and functional kinematic program design.