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Samson’s Strength and Conditioning Coaches of the Year

by: David Purdum
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Mark Uyeyama
San Francisco 49ers

If the San Francisco 49ers weren’t the most physical team in the NFL, they were high on the list.

Mark Uyeyama is the main behind that physicality, although the 49ers strength and conditioning coach is way too humble to admit it.

“Take a look at Justin Smith or Ray McDonald, really look at those guys, now,” said Uyeyama, Samson Equipment’s NFL Strength & Conditioning Coach of the Year. “That’s not me, man. We’ve got the right guys in the locker room.”

After a college career that included stops at Arizona State and Utah State, Uyeyama joined the 49ers as an assistant in 2008. He was promoted to head strength coach when Jim Harbaugh was hired last January.

As an assistant, he spent three seasons learning about the individual athletes and gained a firm grasp of how each player responded to different types of training. It helped him develop individualized, extremely detailed workout plans for every player.

“In the NFL, it is very important to get to know the individual athlete, because it cannot be a cookie-cutter program,” Uyeyama explained. “At this level, you have to be very detailed in your approach.  What worked for one may not work for another.”

Uyeyama considers countless factors when tailoring a workout regimen for a specific 49er. “You really have to look at everything, age, past injury or positional needs. You really have to fine-tune and look at each player individually,”  he said. “It’s not only my job to learn about the player, but it’s also my job to educate the player to learn about themselves. Every individual has certain needs and has certain strengths.”

To get a feel for each player’s catalysts, Uyeyama asks questions like, “How does that player best respond to training? What is that player like after a game?” and “How does he respond to certain loading schemes?”

But he’s really only looking for one ultimate answer – “What do I need to do to get the most out of that player?”  Uyeyama said. “That, to me, is extremely important, but it’s even more important that the players understand their own bodies,”  he added. “In the NFL, these guys’  bodies are their business, and you have to take care of them as such. From top to bottom, I think our players have done a phenomenal job of listening to their bodies, taking care of their bodies outside of the weightroom with nutrition, regeneration, protocol or working hand-in-hand with the training staff. Really, it’s a whole integrated approach to making sure we have success on Sundays.”

Uyeyama emphasized the importance of adapting regimens to how each player responds. He says the players’ ability to understand what helped their bodies respond allowed the training staff to fine-tune every detail from nutrition to post-game training.

“I tell you what, our guys got in there and got after it,” said Uyeyama. “We have a very competitive, highly motivated group of guys. I’m so fortunate to work with these guys. It didn’t matter if it was week 16; it didn’t matter if it was training camp. They trust in what we do; they trust in the plan and they trust in the process.” 

Scott Cochran

There is no “maintaining” at Alabama. The Crimson Tide are always getting better. “You never stay the same. You only get better or you get worse. Coach Saban says that all the time,” explained Tide strength coach Scott Cochran. “I feel the same way in the weight room.” Cochran has been the man behind the muscle of each of Nick Saban’s three national championship teams (Alabama, 2009 and 2011 and LSU, 2004).

Two weeks after this year’s title win over LSU, Cochran was back to work. A week later he was already hoarse from leading workouts in Saban’s vaunted fourth-quarter program. It is a blueprint for how to win a national championship.

“Every program has their version,” said Cochran. “What sets ours apart, in my opinion, is, first, Coach Saban’s involvement, and second, our attention to detail, every little detail.” The Crimson Tide players run four days and lift three each week during the off-season. They utilize full-body lifts all three days, starting with an explosive lift followed by a strength lift. The team is divided up by position with running backs lifting next to the defensive and offensive lines. Tight ends and linebackers are next to each other, as well as wide receivers and defensive backs.

“My favorite thing to do after a full week of work is to do heavy legs on a Friday,” said Cochran with a devious chuckle. “Yeah, they hate that. But you have to create adversity in the weight room as much as possible. It doesn’t matter how many squats we do or stadiums we run. I can’t put LSU in front of us in the weight room. But I have to find ways to create adversity. It’ll make us better when we’re faced with it on the field.”

Prepping for LSU, Part II

The week after Alabama lost to LSU in November was productive in the weight room. Saban asked his players to remember the pain of the loss, and Cochran oversaw what was a re-dedicated team.

“When you lose, everybody does everything right,” Cochran said. “It’s amazing. Guys that would normally call and say, ‘Hey, I got stuck behind a train’ … that doesn’t happen after you lose.” He remembered seeing players take ownership of what they could have done better against LSU. There was no finger-pointing and no shortcuts in the weight room.

“Are you running from station to station or are you jogging?” asked Cochran. “When I say to do 60 seconds of bows and toes, are you doing 40 seconds or are you the guy that does it for a minute and a half to prove a point that no one is going to out-work you?”

The anger and intensity increased as the team watched LSU play Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. Cochran’s job was to harness it over the next five weeks in preparation for a rematch with the Tigers in the BCS National Championship Game. “That was the biggest challenge, because we had so much free time,” Cochran remembered. “How do you pinpoint exactly how many workouts to have or how many practices?”

Saban had one goal in mind during the first two weeks – get stronger. “Coach Saban wanted us to push through the bumps and bruises, and the best place to do that is in the weight room.” Cochran said. Alabama lifted for two weeks before stepping back onto the practice field and the plan worked – a 21-0 domination of LSU is proof.

The Beast of Alabama’s Weight Room

In Cochran’s illustrious career, there have only been a few players that compared to former Alabama running back Trent Richardson. In the summer of his sophomore year, Cochran remembers Richardson talking trash to the defensive linemen, specifically picking on nose guard Josh     Chapaman, one of the strongest players in the weight room. “He was always saying, ‘Hey, D-line, you guys don’t even lift weights down there. You all take breaks between sets,” Cochran recalled.

One week during the summer, Richardson got fed up with the defensive linemen talking about how much they were going to back-squat. From then on out, Richardson squatted with the defensive linemen every Friday of his career. And it was Richardson who set the bar, according to Cochran.

“Chapman would do 500 (pounds) and Trent would put on 550 and say, ‘Oh, did I do more? I’m sorry,’” Cochran remembered with a laugh. “It was a constant battle with those guys. But it made a difference.”

Justin Schwind
South Alabama

His fourth off-season at South Alabama will be his most demanding one. Jason Schwind has the opportunity to prep his athletes to take a step up in competition. “Because the level of competition is higher, my expectations for all my athletes are higher,” said Schwind, who is tailoring his strength and conditioning program toward the Jaguars move to the FBS next season. “The bar is set higher.”

Schwind calls Escalating Density Training the “meat and potatoes” of the program. He emphasizes technique and maximum application of force to the bar and to the ground.“ Rate force production is a big product of our success,” he said. “When players learn how to apply that on the field, applying full force to the ground, they’re going to run faster and jump higher.”

Like most programs, USA uses high volume, but Schwind’s emphasis isn’t on the rep scheme. “It’s on the set scheme,” he explained. “We keep the rep scheme lower, emphasizing good quality reps with multiple sets. By doing that, we become more efficient at the movement.”

Schwind became convinced his athletes were ready for the next level in September. The Jaguars lost 35-13 at North Carolina State, but Schwind was pleased with the performance. “It was a loss, but we hit them in the mouth and pushed them back,” said Schwind. “They didn’t beat us by just pounding on us. We did a lot of pounding this season, made some teams lay down with our physicality. That’s fun.”

Division II
Tim Tobin
Kutztown University

When he arrived at Kutztown in 2006, Tim Tobin immediately made the Golden Bears a healthier program. “I asked the trainers how many injuries they had the previous season. They said 220,” Tobin recalled.

Tobin broke down the list of injuries, pinpointing shoulders, hamstrings and quads as issues. Six years later, after some significant tweaks to the program, injuries are down an average of 20 percent, estimates a humble Tobin. “I’m not a big shoulders guy. I’ll do shrugs so there aren’t any stingers. But there’s not a lot of muscle on the shoulder, so I do a lot of rotation stuff and that’s it,” Tobin explained. “I noticed a lot of hamstring pulls, so we started doing more Olympic lifts, full-body lifts, so it would balance out the quads and the hamstrings.”

Tobin believes his dedication to learning more about power lifting made him a better strength coach this year. He recently read The New Power Program: Protocols for Maximum Strength, by Michael Colgan. “It really opened my eyes to how to train a true athlete,” said Tobin. “I learned that the best football exercise lift is the dead lift. We do a lot of dead lifts.

“We’ve slowly gotten away from the bench a little, though,” he added. “I just don’t think it’s as important as some football coaches do. When you’re locking onto a player, you’re using your lats and your back, not your chest.”

Division III
Ty Stenzel
St. Thomas

During his 20-year career at St. Thomas, Ty Stenzel has tailored his strength and conditioning program around the power clean. “For any power athlete, power cleaning is important, especially with first-step quickness,” said Stenzel. “They’ve done research studies where they look at world class weightlifters vs. world class sprinters. The weightlifters can keep up with the world class sprinters out of the box before they fall back.”

In addition to the clean, Stenzel’s program predominantly features the squat, including some single-leg squats. He recently tweaked his program by adding a time clock and dividing up workouts into five-minute periods, much like head coach Glenn Caruso’s practices are run. “Obviously, we may go two periods on an exercise like the clean or the squat, but some of the smaller body part stuff we break down into five-minute periods,” said Stenzel.

Stenzel believes the 2011 Tommies’ strength and conditioning showed the most in their only loss of their 13-1 season. The Tommies faced perennial power Wisconsin-Whitewater in the Division III semifinals and lost 20-0, but the post-game reaction made Stenzel proud.

“The radio analyst, who used to be a former coach here, seemed surprised that we weren’t blown away by Wisconsin-Whitewater’s strength or speed,” Stenzel recalled. “All the way around, we matched-up well. They didn’t just run over us. That was a compliment, to me.”

Shane Moat
Marian University

Movement and balance are the two pillars of Shane Moat’s program over his four-year tenure at Marian. “An athlete is defined by their movement,” Moat, a yoga and pilates instructor, said. “Our program is based on compound full-body movement patterns, which includes strength and speed movements.”

In addition to yoga and pilates, Moat implements plyometrics into his workouts, with the overall goal of producing a balanced athlete. He emphasizes the importance of working entire chains of muscles, like the posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes and back).

“A lot of athletes tend to be quad-dominant, and their chests can often be too dominant in relation to their upper back,” said Moat. “So you get some deficiencies. You want to work on movement and balance, making sure that your program really reinforces that balance.

“You can be really strong and not have real good movement,” Moat added. “In order to appreciate the power we’re generating in the weight room, you have to be able to go through a full range of movements. If you produce a more balanced athlete, you’ll have a more powerful and more physical team with less injuries.”

Moat’s program showed success on the field this season, as the Knights went 12-0, before falling to Saint Xavier in the NAIA semifinals. “We all felt like we were a lot more physical football team this season,” Moat said. “We’re in our fifth year and we really noticed and appreciated in the change in our physical demeanor this season. We were able to physically dominate in some games.”

Joe Forchtner
New Mexico Military Institute

What would you do if you had weight-room access only three days a week for an hour at a time? By the way, you’re also the head coach and strength and conditioning coach.

Welcome to Joe Forchtner’s world at New Mexico Military Institute.

Forchtner tackles the Broncos’ time constraints by mixing in strong-man workouts, complete with tires and chains. In the weight room, workouts are based on the squat, clean and bench. “Every day on a rotating basis, there will be three sections of the workout: dynamic effort, max effort and then a volume section,” said Fortchner. “We try to make the most of the time we have.”

It starts in the off-season, where the first two weeks are designated as mental toughness training. It’s a time when players are asked to do more than they thought they could do. “Every player, both those in shape and out of shape, are asked to do it, and I think that it’s a big team-building thing,” said Forchtner.

Forchtner points to a 25-point comeback win over Eastern Arizona College in October as a prime example of how the team stuck together through adversity. “I think a lot of kids could have quit, but having gone through the mental toughness training together, I think helped keep us focused,” he said.

High School
Chris Whitbourne
Fairfax HS (VA)

Chris Whitbourne played lacrosse at SUNY Brockport where he was diagnosed with Celiac disease during the summer going into his senior year. His weight dropped from 195 to 139 pounds. While recovering, he received a Master’s Degree from California University (PA) in Exercise Science and Performance Enhancement. Whitbourne regained complete health and, although he was unable to play college football, went on to play seven seasons as a strong safety with the semi-pro Monroe County Sting. The Sting won four New York State Titles in his seven years. He has been the strength and conditioning coach at Fairfax High School (VA) since 2008.

Based on his studies in Performance Enhancement, Whitbourne’s philosophy of strength training involves creating a culture and attitude in the weight room based on a strong work ethic. His program is based on core stabilization strength and neuromuscular efficiency. “I believe that if the athletes buy into a program by dominating workouts, they will become bigger, faster, and stronger,” said Whitbourne. “Repetition, resistance training, Olympic lifts, power lifts, plyometric training and strongman camps all contribute to the improvement of the players.”

He also believes in working out with the team. “The players clearly take more notice if they see what you do and not just what you say,” said Whitbourne. It certainly must be working. In the three years before Whitbourne arrived at Fairfax, the football teams had records of 1-9, 1-9 and 2-8. After a 4-6 record in 2008, Fairfax made the Virginia State Playoffs for three consecutive years. Going into the 2012 season, Fairfax will have 12 players squatting over 400 pounds and 8 players bench pressing over 300 pounds.

Coach Whitbourne believes that a perfect strength training exercise for all high school teams is the tractor tire push. “Essentially you have 3-4 tractor tires weighing 250, 315, and 350 pounds. You then spread out the cones 20 yards from each other and have two lines of players opposite each other. You then have the athletes start flipping the tires from one cone to another. You’re using high intensity training and every single muscle group is used and it’s the perfect exercise for football. It’s a combination of triple extensions, dead lifts, hang cleans and bench presses – all of the movements that players must utilize in order to dominate on the field.”

High School
Bill Regan
Morris Knolls High School (NJ)

Bill Regan came to Morris Knolls High School right after his playing career as a quarterback at Rutgers. He became head coach in 1975 and, after 38 years, has amassed more than 200 wins – only the fourth coach in New Jersey history to do so. Regan has four New Jersey State Championships to his credit and his 2005 team went undefeated.

His strength and conditioning program began in the late 60’s when he asked his players to bring to school any weights they have. They were stored in a closet and the team lifted in the hallway after school. Since the 70’s, Morris Knolls has had their own weight room and strength and conditioning has become a year round program.

Regan feels you have to sell your athletes continually that a weight program will make them better football players. “You’re always selling, but teaching the proper lifting techniques is also critical,” said Regan. “You don’t want them to develop bad habits. We lift in different cycles. Each athlete is different because of the experiences they’ve had lifting as well as their maturation level.”

He also believes in using Olympic lifts primarily because it helps an athlete’s explosiveness. “Our cycles may involve chest and legs one day and the shoulders and back the second day,” said Regan. Morris Knolls’ year-round program includes two days of lifting during the season, four during the off-season and three times a week during the summer leading up to fall camp.

Regan firmly believes in two principles – teaching proper techniques and testing the athlete at the end of each cycle. “When the athlete sees his name on a chart at the end of a lifting cycle, he has a personal involvement,” said Regan. “Having the athlete actually see his progress is a great motivator.”


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