We have a special guest today, strength coach Brijesh Patel from Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. Brijesh was an early PUSH user - he joined our PUSH Labs beta program at the beginning of 2014. As an experienced strength & conditioning coach, his feedback was invaluable. Keep reading today to learn from a seasoned collegiate coach - someone that has worked in the field for many years.
Brijesh, we want to thank you for taking the time to join us here today - overseeing the strength & conditioning for an NCAA program must be demanding, so we do appreciate it. Ok let’s get right into it - I’m always curious to hear the various journeys of strength coaches, can you share with us your journey?
First of all, thank you for having me and thinking enough of me to be interviewed. I started out in this field as a student volunteer at the University of Connecticut (UCONN) and was given more and more responsibility during my undergraduate career. This worked out into receiving a Graduate Assistant position at UCONN. After grad school, I moved onto becoming the assistant strength and conditioning coach at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. This was a great opportunity that arrived because I was fortunate enough to intern with Jeff Oliver and Mike Boyle during my undergraduate summers. Working with Jeff and Mike paved the way to where I currently am, which is the head strength and conditioning coach at Quinnipiac University, located in Hamden, CT. It’s a small mid-major school where I was named the first full-time strength and conditioning coach in the schools’ history and I have the unique opportunity to build the program from the ground up. I’ve been here for the past 6 years and look forward to continuing to build the program into one of the best in the country
I’ve been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to work with many great coaches from all over the place, specifically:
1. Jerry Martin (UCONN)
2. Shawn Windle (Indiana Pacers, NBA)
3. Mike Boyle (Boston University and Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning)
4. Andrea Hudy (University of Kansas)
5. Walter Norton (Institute of Performance and Fitness)
6. Pat Dixon (Loyola Marymount)
7. Chris West (UCONN)
8. Jeff Oliver (Holy Cross)
9. Moe Butler (UCONN)
10. Teena Murray (University of Louisville)
Wow, those are some big names. Ok, so as a collegiate strength coach, what are some of the challenges that you face?
There are many unique challenges in the collegiate setting but ones that I see as positive ones. The challenge of working with a number of different athletes, coaches and personalities is a juggling act in itself. You have to be able to manage all of these variables in a setting that is going to be restricted by your current facilities and NCAA time restrictions. You have to figure out how to organize training times, training schedules with different teams and communicate with a number of different individuals about how you as a strength and conditioning professional can add value to their experience as a student-athlete and to their programs. It all comes down to getting people to do what you want them to do. You, as a coach, have to prove yourself and show these people (coaches, athletes, administrators, trainers, teachers, etc.) how you are there to add value to the institution as a whole.
It's definitely tough to get buy in from coaches and administrators but what about athletes? I’ve worked with some young athletes in the past that were afraid to touch a weight because of fear it would make them bulky or slow - have you ever had this issue with some of your freshmen? Perhaps your female athletes?
I think every strength and conditioning coach has experienced this at some point in their careers. A critical part of being a successful strength coach is to be able to communicate how the program that they are going to be performing is going to help them improve their sport performance. Most athletes could care less about strength training – they want to play their sport. Education is a big part of the process, because athletes want to know why they are doing something. Getting athletes to buy in is all about teaching them how and why what they are doing is going to lead to benefits that will improve their performance. I’ve used handouts, presentations, talks, as well as pictures and images displayed on our monitors to help create this buy-in.
Not to mention that the life of a college athlete can be hectic. It wasn’t too long ago that I was a student-athlete and between practices, games, training sessions, classes and studying, I didn’t have much time left for anything else. Do you have any suggestions on how college athletes can have a balanced lifestyle?
The time demands placed on student-athletes is very intense. They are asked to do a lot of things, and be at a lot places – much more than the regular college student. They are learning time management and organizational skills that will benefit them as professionals. I think student-athletes need to be extremely task oriented and be present in each and everything that they do to get the most out of what they are doing. These will carryover into other demands that are placed upon them and lead them to get a grasp of all that they have to do. They also need to be regular college students when afforded the opportunity on days off and the off-season when the time demands are not as great as they are in-season.
It sure helps they have a strength coach that understands their needs.
Ok coach, I’m really interested to hear about the way you structure training programs, especially considering the volume of athletes that must go through your weight room. Do you have a process when developing specialized programs? And how do you individualize programs for different athletes?
I teach this to my interns but when designing programs you have to create programs that fit your experiences, and training facility. If you have never performed the power-lifts, why would you program them for others? You have to be willing to try out different systems, programs, exercises and schools of thought to get a better appreciation of them so you as a coach can understand how to fit them into an athletes training program. Training yourself is a great way to learn about how to incorporate many schools of thoughts, and techniques into a training program. You shouldn’t have your athletes perform something that you yourself cannot do. You also have to design programs based on your current facility so that there is flow and athletes can get the best use out of their town. I don’t like a ton of standing around in my weight room and want athletes constantly moving therefore we may do things in triple sets of groupings of 5 exercises based on how large our groups are. The majority of individuals on a team will perform the same training program so that there is a flow to our weight room and we move efficiently through the room. We will make modifications and individualize programs for those who are unable to perform the prescribed exercises for injury, limitations found via FMS, or if they need to be regressed if they are not ready for the current level of the progression for that movement.
I strongly agree with you - coaches should know how to perform a variety of movements and techniques themselves before implementing them with their athletes. Now can you briefly compare what a typical in-season vs. off-season training program for a team sport would look like?
My in-season philosophy is to perform the opposite of what the sport does. Most sports are typically high volume, low load and low amplitude (range of motion); so in training we make sure we perform movements with low volume, high loads and higher amplitudes. We have to keep volume low so we aren’t tapping too much of their energy so they can still perform on the court, ice or field of play. We want to keep loads high so we can continue to drive motor unit recruitment, particularly the higher threshold motor units. This will lead to improved force production, which leads to increased speed and power – which are qualities that we don’t want to diminish over the course of the year. Amplitude is important because range of motion is typically lost over the course of the season if it’s not worked at. If you don’t use your range of motion, you will lose it. And once range of motion is lost, the chance of movement compensations occurring increases – which may lead to movement dysfunction and potential injuries.
To read more about In-Season Training check this post out.
Volume is much higher during the off-season as our goal is to prepare for the demands of the season. We will fluctuate intensities and volumes throughout the off-season to increase or decrease the stress that is placed on the athlete. This stress is where we can develop positive adaptations as well as a greater overall work capacity.
I wish I had of known this information when I was an athlete.
As I've said before, our vision at PUSH is for coaches to have access to cutting edge tech and metrics so they can better monitor and plan an athlete’s training. How do you see technology’s role in the NCAA weight room in the future?
Technology is going to play a huge role in the college weight room. Some schools around the country are already ahead of the curve and measuring a number of metrics from velocity, loads, heart rates, etc. Metrics give you more information as a coach to make better decisions in the preparation process. Technology is also becoming more affordable which means that it will show up in more and more weight rooms.
Do you currently use any other forms of technology (like HRV, HR, GPS etc) with your athletes? What about data collection from RPE or questionnaires? Do these forms of athlete monitoring hold value?
We use the Polar team system to collect heart rates. We also use RPE questionnaires (Figure 1) on a daily basis along with daily assessments. We are currently seeing how these metrics play a role in our overall athlete management system.
Interesting to hear the direction of the field. Ok Brijesh, last question - as an experienced strength coach, in your opinion, where should young strength coaches focus their learning efforts in this rapidly growing field?
The following 5 things are things that I recommend to anybody who wants to join this field.
Seek Knowledge - To become the best athlete/coach/trainer/person you have to go out and seek to learn from the best. This knowledge can come from self-help books, business books, college classes, seminars, videos, the Internet, you name it. Just go out and learn.
Listen to People - This is a huge problem for all people. We all judge people and shut them and their ideas out based on what we think we know about them. When we actually take the time to listen to what somebody has to say, then and only then should we really judge. If it works for somebody else and not for you find out why it works for them…don’t be quick to judge.
Train – I already discussed this above.
Balance - Balance is a general word that refers to how we should do everything in life. If we do too much of any one thing, something else is going to suffer. For example, if we spend too much time at work our family and social life are going to suffer. If we train our internal rotators too much with excessive volume our external rotators are going to suffer and leave us more susceptible to shoulder injuries. If we eat too many carbohydrates, our insulin sensitivity is going to decrease and increase our chances of having type 2 diabetes. We need to have balance in everything we do in our lives: work, family, social life, training, and nutrition.
Coach People, not Athletes - The more experienced I get in this field, the more I realize that I not only coach athletes, but coach people. As coaches and trainers, we can have a profound influence on the people with whom we work. We need to realize that we are not only helping an athlete achieve their goals, but also helping them to become better people. We are teaching them what they can do mentally and physically, how to focus their mind, how to stay positive, how to make changes in their lifestyle, how to reduce stress, and how to lead a healthier lifestyle.
Many of the mistakes I’ve made in my career so far are things that I didn’t do above.