This philosophy of training has developed over my past 48 years as an athlete and a coach. I’m what some folks (including myself) would refer to as “old school.” I believe training and movement is best learned through basic movements repeated over and over until they’re as close to perfect as possible. I believe less is often better, as in doing a few exercises and performing them with excellence as opposed to doing a multitude of exercises and performing them with average technique and efficiency.
This philosophy of strength training began with my first strength training mentor, Coach Jon Cole. Coach Cole was an early pioneer in strength and conditioning. His background as a world-class track and field athlete, Olympic weightlifter and powerlifter made him a resource for athletes and coaches alike during the late 1960s and the early 1970s. I began training at Jon Cole Systems at age 12 and trained there for five years. When I was 17, unable to consistently train at Cole’s facility due to the distance from my home, I began training in a garage gym at our house. I took the knowledge I had gained from my time at Cole’s, and combined with reading anything and everything about strength training I could get my hands on (which was almost nothing during the late 1970s), I began writing and experimenting with my own programs, as well as writing programs for my teammates. I followed this course for about three years.
In the winter off-season of 1981, I began training at a new gym under the guidance of Jim Maher, a protégé of Jon Cole. For the next four years, Jim would train me when I was home from college, and my college strength coach, Bill Montgomery, would be training me at school. Both coaches would impact my coaching dramatically, though in different ways. Jim taught me how to get strong and the importance of immaculate exercise technique; from Coach Montgomery, I learned about the logistics of training in a group setting, and he indirectly introduced me to the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), of which I’ve been a member since November 1984.
Upon graduating from college and starting a career as a high school and then junior college football coach, I was also responsible for being the strength coach for our athletes. They were full-time jobs with part-time pay. To supplement my income, I did multiple “side jobs,” one of which was as a Muscle Rehabilitation Specialist at the Center for Sports Medicine and Orthopedics for Jim Maher’s company, Strength Training Inc. At STI, we were on the ground floor of a totally new concept in rehabilitation, taking the rehab a step further than the isokinetic machines and base modalities used by the physical therapists of the time and improving them with “scientific strength training,” which was later called “functional training.” At the time, there were no protocols for what we were doing. Everything was first-time “extended rehabilitation” programs working in conjunction with PTs, orthopedic surgeons and athletic trainers. We developed many of the protocols that have been used and built upon in rehabilitation for the past 30+ years (i.e. closed chain movement in place of open chain movement in ACL rehab). These rehabilitation techniques, combined with the variety of athletes and first responders (NBA, NFL, MLB, LPGA, Olympic, collegiate, high school, fire fighters, law enforcement, etc.) I was able to rehab and strength train, solidified my foundation of knowledge and application.
It was from my introduction to strength training at age 12 through my time coaching and working for STI that the foundation of my philosophy was developed. Each experience was like a puzzle piece to my philosophy: the early training at Cole’s gym, which focused on practicing basic movements and learning to perform them correctly, followed by those years of self-training between Cole and Maher. These years were heavily influenced by bodybuilding because, during the 1970s and 80s, there were almost no books on strength training in publication. Pretty much the only things available were Muscle & Fitness and Powerlifting USA magazines and a couple of bodybuilding books by Franco Columbu and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Once I was back training with Jim Maher, my workouts became more powerlifting based, as Jim was a national-level powerlifter. When I was in college, I was first introduced to power cleans, and although it would be 15 years until I learned how to properly execute or teach them, they would become a staple of my programming.
The piece of the puzzle that would tie everything in my philosophy together came from July 1986 through July 1990. During this time, I worked at STI and coached football, handling each team’s strength and conditioning training. In my coaching, I was writing individual programs for every player on the team. The “Communist Wall” was coming down in Eastern Europe, and more information on Soviet and Eastern Bloc training methods was becoming available. I was constantly reading everything I could lay my hands on and always picking Jim’s brain. At STI, every day was something new and cutting edge, and we were working with everyone from a junior high athlete to an Olympic gold medalist. My base philosophy was complete and has continued to evolve over the entirety of my coaching career.
In 1995, I left college coaching for what I thought was a temporary hiatus at the high school level. Due to some unforeseen changes in my personal life, the “temporary” departure from the college level became a permanent status, and a new chapter coaching athletes from the junior high to the high school level began. It is during this time that the final piece to my philosophy was added to the puzzle, completing the picture. I began developing a multileveled program to develop the young athlete from junior high through high school. This program would later be presented at multiple strength clinics and teacher in-services over the years and titled Junior High to College: Developing the Young Athlete in the Team Setting. My journey continues today as I’m on a constant search to refine my program.
In my next blog, we will take a look at how you can develop your own training philosophy so you can get your journey started.