Interview with Scott Umberger: Part 1

I have to admit, I've been a bit spoiled the last several months. As a sports science geek, I've had the opportunity to meet with some of the leaders in the field and absorb as much as possible. My meeting with Scott Umberger a couple weeks back was no different. Scott is the owner of Umberger Performance and, he's seen it all. He's worked with athletes at every level and we couldn't be more thrilled to have Scott on board out PUSH Labs beta program.

Let's meet Scott and hear his thoughts on the World of sports performance...

Scott, thanks for taking the time to join us today! Could you start by telling us a little bit about yourself? Where you’re from, what your childhood looked like? Etc. 

I’m going to keep this stuff brief since no one cares about my life story including my mother. 

I grew up in Pittsburgh, PA.  I played football, baseball, and ran track in high school.  I carried my football and track talent with me and competed in both at Robert Morris University.   I spent my summers working for my dad in his construction company, umpiring baseball, and training for my athletics.   Probably the biggest sports performance influence in making me “me” was the intervention of Waddie Freeman.  Waddie took me under his wing and taught me about speed.  Over the winter of my senior year of high school, he helped take my time from a 4.6 to a 4.4 in the 40 yard dash.  This lead to me running track and earning a scholarship at RMU.  We trained at 5:00 am so that I could still play baseball in the afternoons during my senior year of high school. It was then that I learned about speed training and track speed.

We've spoken a few times now and I've done a bit of homework on you and your facility but for people who don’t know you, can you tell us about Umberger Performance?

We officially opened at our current location a little over 4 years ago.  My partner is my cousin who is a 9 year NHL vet. We essentially grew up as brothers since our families are very close and neither of us has brothers.  I have learned a lot from him through his journey of making it into the NHL, and also despite playing on some very bad teams, he's been able to average .55 points/game in his career...a testament to his commitment and work ethic.

We wanted to give Pittsburgh something that other cities had, which is World class athlete and performance training in a world class facility.  Obviously, almost every athlete’s goal is to get paid to play their sport.  We’ve trained two 1st round NHL picks, however, our true goal at Umberger Performance is to help as many athletes as possible earn athletic scholarships and provide them the opportunity to “get into” a university that is “above their academic pay grade”.   Why not get a world class education that cost upwards of $45-65k a year for a huge discount by playing a sport or two?

Amazing! As a former college athlete, I can appreciate the sacrifice coaches like yourself make to help athletes with their goals and aspirations. How did you get into the sports performance field?

For as long as I can remember, I always wanted more.  I wanted the edge.  The desire to improve sports performance is what fascinated me and drove me to constantly “find a better way”.  A teammate of mine in college knew Joe Collins at the University of Pittsburgh, who was also one of the Olympic Sports Strength Coaches.   I ended up interning at Pitt which lead me to work under Buddy Morris.  That was my introduction to Olympic Weightlifting, Buddy Morris, and Westside Barbell.  I helped some of my track teammates out at RMU because we didn’t have a strength coach at the time.  That training, as spartan as it was, led the group of us (6 or so) to all hit PR’s at the conference meet.  That was the icing on the cake for me.  I was hooked.

You touched on a few 'pioneers' in our field. Any others in the field that had a big influence on you?

Charlie Francis has had the most influence on me.  He was such a complete coach and practitioner with a very unique mix of coaching AND science.   Top to bottom he is one of the best to have ever lived.  It’s a shame that he had the drug cloud hanging over his legacy, especially due to his honesty at a time where drugs were a “part of the game” to put it VERY mildly.

Stuart McGill changed the way that I train all of my clients.  He’s a groundbreaking researcher as well as one hell of a presenter.

Dr.Yuri Verhoshansky, Mel Siff, Dr. Yesis,  Dr. Zatsiorsky, Dr. Anatoly Bondarchuk have provided much of my sports science background. George Brooks is groundbreaking when I can grasp his brilliance.   Dan Pfaff and Ralf Mann have recently influenced me in their presentations and writings Henk Kraaijenhof  is simply brilliant and isn’t as appreciated here in the US as much as he should be.  Joel Jamieson’s book was great and was a game changer for me in regards to the proper training of the bioenergetic system.

It's a pity how some of these guys don't get the recognition they deserve. I know this may be hard to summarize in one or two paragraphs but what would you say is your personal philosophy when it comes to training athletes?

I can sum it up in a one sentence.  Give them what they need.  This holds true, from the 8 year old that I train to the 37 year old NHL vet with 2 Stanley Cup rings.

Here are quotes from two very smart guys that I try to model my methodology around;

“Train optimally, not maximally". - Henk

“The goal is to improve performance which by default means to reduce the risk and probability of injury.”  - Fergus Connley

I have a hard time explaining exactly what I do.  At it’s highest level, I use a raw version of Charlie Francis’s high/low methodology 95% of the time for all of my athletes.  I will mix in 5% Block Training for some very unique situations with some elite athletes but their schedules are challenging and typically don’t allow enough time to use the Block Training Methodology.  Personally, I blend Block Training and the Westside methodology for my powerlifting programming.

I typically run my athletes on a 5-6 day high low program.  I've pretty much stuck with 3 days of main training or “core” movements.  (Not “core” in regards to abs, which is a total garbage word used to sell fitness products.  “Core” here is essentially feet to hands since the body works systematically as one unit.)  I've been pleased with the results of 3 intense training days (with varying intensities from low, medium, high) in the off-season versus 2 used by many “high/low practitioners”.   I will bump over to 2 days per week as the off-season progresses for my more advanced athletes.  That will allow me to adjust the intensity and use more advanced means like shock jumps, higher volume of sprint work, and more advanced jumps and combined jump/med ball throws.  It also allows me to back off depending on their team training or sport skill training-GPP to SPP.

Let’s dive into this a little more, give me the bare bones here, can athletes get any better these days? What training methods have you found to be most effective?

I feel in the US that it’s easy to have a big impact immediately through strength training because learning strength is easy and our athletes are so over “gamed”.  Sport coaches aren't educated and control too much of our athletes lives so there isn't a realization or demand for something better.  Look at the rash of injuries in professional sports.  I don’t “buy” the athletes are bigger, stronger, and faster as the sole reason.  Sure that’s part of it, but the demand on them is insane.  I’m pretty sure the NFL guys get 2-3 weeks of an off-season.  It’s the most physically demanding sport in the US and these guys don’t get much time off.

My main focus is to improve athletic ability in the 95% of my athletes.  The best answer that I can offer is to “give them what they need”.  In the US, development levels are so damn random that it would take a weekend seminar to break that one down due to the over competition and underdevelopment of each athlete and their sport.

I have spent the last year focusing on getting the majority of my athletes “looser”. A major part of their problem is “tight hips”.  That’s a whole myriad of scenarios in itself, but since pulling out squatting for the first 4-6 weeks of their off season (GPP and on) I've had much better results in improving their movement.  Hell, they can’t hit good squat depth (parallel) without anterior pelvic tilt, so how important is a squat anyway?  I’m doing a lot of other prehab and corrective/strengthening movements so it may be the unilateral work or it may be everything.  I honestly don’t know. My main strength work early on is performed using a trap bar with the higher handles. They can still move some heavy weights and it won’t add to their back/hip issues.   In reality, it really boils down to how much I can see them during their season and how beat up that they are from the season.

Tune in next week for part 2 with Scott!