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Strength and Conditioning Coach Ryan Reynolds

One of the top strength and conditioning coaches, Ryan Reynolds is currently an assistant with UCLA Football. After years spent at Iowa and Arizona State University, Ryan headed west to work with UCLA Football. His expertise is a comprehensive understanding of modern and applied training methods and is very teaching oriented. Coach Reynolds invested countless energy and time into professional development, spending time traveling to the best coaches to learn key principals in training.

Carl’s Note: During February I traveled from Boston to Los Angeles to spend three days observing UCLA Football and to be honest, it left me inspired. I was allowed to come and learn as I wanted to find out first hand what was behind some of the great things I heard from others. Taking a flight six hours was not my cup of tea, but to see a program administered both in design and execution was frankly more like watching a SWAT team or Navy SEALs in action.

Every morning before dawn all of the assistants met before the morning session, standing in a small circle. Coach Alosi he explained what was expected. Everything was set up like a military operation and the training was like clockwork. The coaching was effective, efficient, and the training was extremely cerebral. I am not able to travel much, but if you are to learn and get better, it’s worth a visit once a year to grow as a coach.

UCLA Football has all of the technology and education that most programs have, but their applied methods of training is very sophisticated but doesn’t loose the aggressive blue collar mindset. It’s rare to find a coach like Ryan Reynolds who can apply unpublished materials from a conference in Finland while keeping modern day college athletes motivated and accountable.

Olympic Lifting for Softball Hitting Power

Freelap USA — During the World Series Championship run (college Women’s SB), the athletes had a statistical rise in hitting power and you were implementing Olympic lifting with that group. Many strength coaches and performance specialists are a little hesitant to include ballistic lifts or bilateral lifts now, what are your thoughts on the value of conventional training methods in the modern era? Besides power and mass, what are some nuances of the Olympic lifts that can carryover to athletes?

Coach Reynolds — Training for a strength and power sport was always general and the sport was always specific in our training. In college when limited by time in every way the Olympic lifts and large compound bilateral lifts are must haves. Take the time to teach and execute them well to set yourself up for a very productive training stimulus for the rest of their career. Yes, you can throw med balls and do plyos for explosive power but at some point over your four year career your options become very limited and progressions become difficult for loading across a large spectrum. The old adage of what effects one place on the force-velocity curve effects everywhere, yes agreed but….to an extent. Prue Cormie had about three or four papers a few years back that showed this pretty clearly.

The value placed on conventional training methods in the modern era cannot be stated enough. Doing the basics and doing them really well goes a lot further than doing a lot of things average. A very wise strength coach once told me “inch wide, mile deep.” Too many people get caught in the kiddie pool. We always focused on doing the basics really well and loading across a large spectrum so there was no confusion to the body as to what the signal we were sending.

The better the bar path is in the clean and snatch the more the movement transfers onto the field of play. If the bar path is poor from the knee to the hip pocket or power position as it is sometimes called the less transfer of power, you will get. With a straight bar path and an extension of the knees and hips right from the knee, you are demonstrating the strength of your low back. In essence, you are using you back to lift the weight rather than using your legs if the bar would be pulled to the hips on the way up. Getting the athletes to raise their chests and shift their knees under the bar to get the bar to interact with the hip pocket with the end result being a vertical propulsion of the bar is the holy grail and is where you will make your money. It has been my experience that a hang position below the knee at about the patella tendon allows some athletes to better achieve this. Some don’t need the extra time to pull to get into proper position, but some seem to get it if allow the hang to be at patella tendon instead of the classic above knee position. Block below the knee cleans, our bread and butter in the program, and the women moved some impressive weight in relation to their body weight. Watching how the foot interacts on the platform and where the weight distribution is can help to see what is going on.

Foot Pressure versus Bar Velocity

Figure 1: Liu and Chen in their study on the snatch and foot pressure saw the relationship between foot pressure, knee bend, and barbell velocity. Some athletes are taught a swinging motion that engages the lower back versus the hips, creating a poor application of force transfer and risk of spinal injuries.

One aspect not talked about much is a concept I learned from Rob Panariello called Co-Activation Index. In strength movements, the index is 1:1 with agonist and antagonist working as hard as the other system creates the stability. In high speed movement, this index becomes < 1:1. You want the agonist to propel and the antagonist to be quiet. Think sprinting and the constant contraction and relaxation happening at high speeds. The same thing happens in Olympic lifting with a proper bar path. Sport is high speed movement; you want strength when foot hits ground (joint stability), muscle stiffness so the tendon stretches and you get an elastic response but you need the antagonist to be quiet to allow agonist to do its job. “When evaluating the neural changes induced by strength training using EMG recording, antagonist EMG activity should always be measured and evaluated.”Neural Adaptations to Resistive Exercise

Olympic lifting is a fantastic high-speed movement to produce a large force into the ground. Sport and the execution of its most essential moment are limited by time. The ability to express force at a very high rate and generate as much force in that critical time period will separate athletes. Sprinting and Olympic lifting with proper technique combined with good quality strength movements are the basis of a very solid program.

Carl’s Take — The dilution of coaches trying to be rehabilitation specialists created what I call the “limbo generation.” Coaches don’t know enough of the training or rehab to be effective in either area, but know enough to be dangerous and to be hired by teams. A great write up on this syndrome of coaches who will read about breathing reeducation but don’t know how to teach core lifts or write an effective training program can be found here.

With regards to the Olympic lifts, coaches will start looking at the connection between pressure profiles of the foot interacting with specific muscle groups of the body. I have done this since 2010 and can say that verbally instructing an athlete to apply pressure through the foot is helpful, but nothing beats a smart platform.

Lower Body Development of Taller Athletes

Freelap USA — Basketball development of the lower body is important for durability and some of your former athletes made it to the NBA. When teaching taller athletes to get deep and heavy, how long does this take when many coaches are rushing to get a training stimulus? Are teaching and training incompatible at first or is it symbiotic?

Coach Reynolds — As a strength coach you are a teacher first and foremost as well as hopefully a mentor to these young men. Teaching and training are coexisting right from the start. As with all good answers in strength and conditioning the best answer is it depends. Tall athletes can squat and squat deep and eventually heavy. Some take longer than others but it is definitely not an urban myth of 6’10” or 6’8″ players squatting deep and heavy as I have witnessed it many of times. It can take a full season or a player’s first year to get them deep and comfortable depending on different factors. Some guys get there much much sooner than others. Pulls, presses, and Olympic variation along with your speed work will provide sufficient stimulus until they can handle decent loads. Clean Pull Lift offs provide the thoracic extension and strength to control their long spines, a product that helps tremendously with squatting. You can gain your loading with lift offs, from blocks if need be, clean pulls from blocks above knee, front foot elevated splits squats, overhead presses, back extensions, etc. The more time invested in the beginning to get things right the better off you are two and three years down the road.

“In coaching you are either coaching it or allowing it to happen. Be consistent, be demanding, and get great results.”

Carl’s Take — The best presentation I have seen on lifting and basketball was done by Brendon Ziegler a few years ago in Boston, who is at Bakersfield doing a wonderful job with his athletes. Lift right, lift heavy, and don’t make excuses. If guys that are near seven feet can lift heavy and deep, don’t claim that a 6’4” guy has long femurs. Squatting is the ultimate form of health, and when squatting becomes a problem, remember work around options like loading up single leg exercises are for those that hide or mask the problems and they will come back. While Stu McGill is not perfect, his breakdown of single leg training and spine health was spot on, so don’t reduce loading to dumbbell or barbell loads, as the body is more complicated than a few digits.

Speed Development of Football Players

Freelap USA — Speed development with football players is a holy grail for some and you have an understanding of how to load training while teaching mechanics. Without revealing too much can you talk about errors you see with different programs and why some of the methods are questionable? Obviously many bad decisions are out there; can you share some areas you avoid?

Coach Reynolds — You can’t have 5 programs period. I’ve seen a lifting program, a conditioning program, a speed program, a corrective program, and an extra workout program. You can only have “a program,” write the speed first then go from there, understand volume and intensity of running and plan your lifting accordingly. It all has to go together and work together, it can’t be 4 or 5 separate entities trying to operate and compete with each other. That’s one problem seen, not having a plan where everything works together. Another problem seen a lot is lots of what some would call medium intensity running. Not fast enough to get faster and too hard to recovery before your next day. The whole mindset of run them hard make them puke or the harder it is the better shape they will be in doesn’t make a whole lot of sense from a performance standpoint. The main problem is conditioning at the expense of true speed work with full recoveries. Applying a solid speed training program sets programs part, a lot comes out of exposing athletes to true speed work with proper recoveries. Whether it is the energy demands, the muscular and tendon demands, the neural demands or the endocrine response the benefits to exposing athletes to speed are tremendous. The little things matter and teaching and coaching great mechanics through various drills and keeping the right muscles loose and flexible go along way in speed development. Not being keen to correcting certain mechanics WITHOUT over coaching and the lack of emphasis on flexibility in certain muscle groups is an error that is often made .

Areas to avoid would be writing multiple programs as opposed to a single plan that encompasses all elements, incomplete rest and conditioning at the expense of true speed work, and over coaching athletes to the point where they are thinking so much that they screw up even more.

Carl’s Take — The weakest many coaches have are creating a real integrated program with sprinting, jumping, lifting, and conditioning. Without timing how do we know the countless details are working? As for the speed and agility development, the program seems to show some interesting loading patterns and integration with plyometric exercises. Based on observing the workouts and results, it seems that the periodization system does have some special sequences and combinations that separate UCLA from a good program to one that should be visited consistently.

Bilateral Movement

Freelap USA — Going back to bilateral movements you have talked about bilateral facilitation and how this helps athletes with performance. Obviously you do both single and double support lifts but bilateral lifts are getting some momentum now that we are starting to understand pelvic anatomy and spinal health more. What are your thoughts on why you see bilateral lifts so important in preparing for sport?

Coach Reynolds — Years ago when I was a young strength coach the whole debate of SL vs. Bilateral lifts was all the rage and many arguments from both sides came out. Overall organism stimulus, 80% of your time in sport spent on one leg, Bilateral Deficit, etc. were the arguments being thrown out at the time. The first two seemed obvious to me as to the answers and in a way that only CF seemed to make things simple. For the Bilateral deficit I went straight to the horses mouth so to speak, the argument and textbook (Strength and Power In Sport) used as evidence, I acquired and contacted the author/researcher who was more than glad to help clear up any confusion. Dr. Mike Stone has also pretty clearly presented the evidence as well. Beginners have it, people who lift weights bilaterally erase it rather quickly, and athletes who train in a classic manner express bilateral facilitation! So if you train it goes away and you are actually better on two. If you’re a novice or a coach potato you will have the deficit and if you continue to train unilaterally you will still express it. Pretty basic stuff.

In conclusion, the present study shows that in bilateral exertion neural drive can be reduced to such an extent that it will limit performance in maximum intensity activities. It is, however, clear from the literature that this bilateral deficit is not “hard-wired” and that it can be obviated by specific training.1

In preparing for sport you want to provide a stimulus to get the athlete to adapt in a way that will improve their expression of physical qualities. Training bilateral movements provide a large stimulus for that adaptation. The more the strength, power, and speed reserves can increase the better off you will be. Applying a large stimulus with your feet on the ground to express as much strength and power as possible in that particular training environment is hard to accomplish with unilateral training alone. Our training was and never will be about doing something that will limit our expression of strength and power it will always be to express these qualities and stress these qualities as much as possible in training. Take into consideration what we now know about loading this unilateral movements and a better understanding of pelvic anatomy and spinal health and it easy to see where your efforts need to be. Sport is high-speed movement; forces applied rapidly and forcefully, if you’re not preparing for the forces and stress of sport you are just prescribing activity. Don’t confuse activity for purpose.

Carl’s Take — No matter how great the data team in the back room, the medical technology used, or the ahead of print research the strength coach reads, application trumps the white board flow chart every time. We can’t talk about EMS and Russian Block training when athletes are squatting shallow (and have the ability in the pelvis to do so) and doing loads that are not challenging the body. We are at a point in sport when the next big thing is pushing the tried and true areas and it’s not working.


Freelap USA — Periodization and program design is a lost art, could you get into great resources or books that can help guide young coaches? Anything that isn’t commercial and a little more cutting edge?

Coach Reynolds — Young coaches should really look into basic Mike Stone stuff, the guy has been preaching the basics and how to control volume loads for years. With the internet age watering down information some of the good stuff gets lost in the mix. Phoenix and Raven Codex are great resources for those who have access and they help you ask the right questions about what you are doing in your program. Learn from track coaches on how to apply and manage stress. Charlie and Dan Pfaff are good places to start. Look at some Aussie stuff with rugby and Aussie Rules. Dan Baker always had great things as he was a coach on the front lines. What’s old is new again. Nothing beats talking and learning from a coach in the field who coaches day in and day out for a living. In college, Sal Alosi, Chris Doyle, James Dobson, and Erik Helland are hard to beat.

Carl’s Take — Don’t just read, visit, attend, or bring in expertise to yourself- become an expert. Too many coaches simply don’t know their own programs what is frightening is the pandemonium for expertise and knowledge but nobody is looking in the mirror and asking the tough questions. The strength and conditioning community can learn a valuable lesson by attending the ASCA world clinic (not to be confused with Australian Strength and Conditioning Association) and see how one should present and discuss training.

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1. VAN DIEE ̈N, J. H., F. OGITA, and A. DE HAAN. Reduced Neural Drive in Bilateral Exertions: A Performance-Limiting Factor? Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 35, No. 1, pp. 111–118, 2003.

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