Strength and Conditioning
Interview with Bobby Fisk
Bobby Fisk is head of strength and conditioning and D1 New Jersey Institute of Technology. Previously he was assistant in the same role at D1 Xavier University. Bobby has a Master’s Degree in Exercise Science, Performance Enhancement & Injury Prevention. As an athlete he played D1 basketball in Baltimore then went on to coach the sport at the college level. Bobby holds multiple certifications and professional memberships.
The NCAA puts pretty heavy restrictions on training amounts and contact time for Division 1 college players. What does your calendar look like for preparing players for the seasons?
We are currently in our off-season where we have eight hours per week with the guys. Three of those are spent in the weight room, then they have a conditioning session with me also, making four hours with me each week. They have about two hours of playing also, so we’re not even using the full eight that NCAA allows. This is week four of the off-season program. We have three more until Spring Break. After that we go in to our non-competitive season, which is the same number of hours as the competitive season – 20 per week. They will do that for the rest of the spring until a week before exams. We have five scheduled scrimmages during that time. After that they go home, but the local players can come in during the summer to see us. They have a strength and conditioning packet that they run until the middle of August. When they come back they have pre-season, then three months of competitive season.
So you’re not using all of the allotted hours at the moment. Do you feel like the NCAA restrictions are too much or too little for the players?
I think right now we have a good balance. We want them fresh and recovered every day and this is not a time to crush them with volume. The guys are responding well to what we are doing too. For what NCAA give us, I think it is doable. One of our issues is that we have 17 teams, two strength coaches, and a 1200 square foot weight room. If I could spend more time with the players I would but logistically it isn’t possible.
High school soccer here has a surprising amount of strength training compared to other countries. Is that the same at college? What is the reasoning behind it?
When you look at the characteristics of a good soccer player you are really looking at a good athlete. We don’t make good players, our job is to make a better athlete for the soccer coaches. Strength training helps with speed development, jumping power and so many other things that are important for the game. Additionally, a stronger muscle that can move through a full range of motion unimpeded is less likely to be injured. The step from high school to college is huge – the speed of the game is very different, the physicality is different too.
How much interaction do you have with the coaches of the teams?
I see them every day. They come to all of our sessions and they have been very supportive of what we are doing. This is my first year, so we talk constantly about how they are doing and what they want from it. The coaches have let us run with the program and trust what we are doing. Certainly they want stronger, faster athletes who are more resilient from injuries and that is what we are making for them.
Can you take us through a typical warm up routine that you would do for soccer teams?
Prior to our speed and agility sessions we do a pretty typical dynamic warm up. Our goal is to increase heart rate and range of motion. We’ll start with lunges, side lunges and other movements for about 15-20 yards. We’ll do squatting as we walk, knee hugs, quad walks, hamstring grabs – all easing into that range of motion. We will do a few skipping drills to continue to wake up the central nervous system. From there we will go into high knees, sideways skips, carioca (low and high). After ten minutes of that we will do some explosive skips and a few three step sprints, five step sprints and a few accelerations, starting from jog and trying to hit maximum speed then slow down again. After that they are good to go. During the session itself we are currently doing acceleration work so I need them to be ready when we get to that point.
Do the coaches run their warm ups during their practices?
That’s up to the coaches – because of our schedule we can’t be there. If I was involved we would do a similar dynamic warm up at the beginning and any speed agility work would have to be at the start while they are fresh. It doesn’t have to be long, but it will have maximum effort from the players. We spend about ten minutes doing that before they get fatigued.
How about strength movements? Do you target specific areas for soccer vs other sports?
Right now we are doing a very general program because this is our first year as a staff – we are treating everyone like freshmen. The main movements you will see will involve a squat pattern, a deadlift or hinge pattern, some single leg movements, an upper body push and an upper body pull. As we get closer to the competitive season we will start to narrow down our exercise, but we know that a squat pattern will increase power output as far as speed on the field goes. Our speed agility training is much more specialized than the weights program.
Speed/Agility/Quickness training has become very popular over the last few years. Do you prioritize it in your program?
We feel we need to continue to do maximum effort speed work on a regular basis. If we get to a certain point in strength we can hold on to it for thirty days, but power and speed has a much shorter residual. It doesn’t take much volume to maintain, but we want to make sure we are doing maximum effort work for that short period of time, throughout the entire year. Agility work is all about technique – running from one cone to another you can break down their movement and see if they are top heavy, if they are not getting low enough and so on. I can see it and have a conversation with them about their mechanics. If we drill it all enough and their strength is there to perform the movements correctly, then it will transfer on to the field. Then we can get into more reactive training – instead of those closed chain drills where you are running more cone to cone.
How much training time are players seeing with your various components vs the time they have in soccer technical/tactical training?
If you look at the two seasons they are practicing two to three hours per day, five to six days per week. I get them for maybe 3 hours and I will back off from the agility training during the season. So in total I am taking under 20% of their time. As the competitive season progresses, it will be less and less.
Are there other factors other than time that cause issues? What about access to equipment and competing for space with other sports?
One of our bigger issues is that we are a technical and engineering school and the class schedule isn’t the same as what you might see at other schools. Getting everyone in can be difficult throughout the day. We are lucky right now that the team are going in the morning three days per week. Not everyone wants to wake up at 5:30am but they have been doing a great job of it. Inside the weight room it is just a matter of being creative: we have all the equipment we need – barbells, plates, squat racks, bands, dumbbell, medicine balls etc.. With experience comes making sure everyone isn’t trying to use the same thing at the same time. We move them around and that is a priority of our programming. That way they stay engaged too and get plenty of work done within the time we have.
As a new student athlete coming in to the program, how much of a shock is the program compared to what they have seen at club and high school?
Certainly with soccer where they are thrown right into it without the summer training with me it is more than they have ever done before. It takes some getting used to, but they have done a great job this year. You are the low guy on the totem pole when you come in, and it is a lot of strain on your mind and body going through the program. It’s a mixture of both volume and intensity increasing for them. Even guys who come from great high school programs – 18 year olds playing against 22 year olds makes a big difference. In the weight room even players with a strength training background might now need new terminology, new coaching and different movements. All of that is a lot to take in for them.
You have only been at NJIT for a short time. How do you build a staff and culture within the weight room?
I think it is a couple of things. Firstly we wanted to set guidelines and that they were known. We can’t expect them to come in wearing the right gear with their shoes tied unless we have told them to do that. Guidelines are set and then we hold them to it. Letting things slide would be easy, but it will only get worse from there. Secondly, showing that you are is going to go a long way. It could be little things like showing up at a game, having a conversation with guys after the first week or two of pre-season so they can see that you care helps. We’ve been lucky that on all of our training logs we asked how much sleep they got the night before and what their readiness level is – between 5-1 and our athletes have been good about tracking those and being honest about it. If someone is getting less sleep for a few nights we can talk to them to find out what is going on and show that we care.
It seems like this is an area with a lot of scientific development and progress. How do you keep up with new research and methodology?
I continue to read some of the classic books – Tudor Bompa, Vladimir Zatsiorsky, Yuri Verkhoshansky etc.. I’m reading a book from Bompa right now and I am learning that a lot of what is on the internet right now came from that but they’re calling it something different. I think the basics have been around for a long time and as a staff we stick to those. We might get some new variations or a new tool that gets the kids excited about training, but for the most part we hammer the basics and make sure their technique is perfect. It’s very easy to follow enough people on twitter to get new, good information on a regular basis. A couple of websites I check on a regular basis is elitefts.com and jtsstrength.com. I go to an NSCA Pennsylvania clinic at Juniata College which has been very good. There’s another one in Richmond, VA – the Central Virginia Sports Performance Seminar that I like. NSCA and CSCCa do great jobs with their national conferences although it can be difficult to fit them in with my scheduling and the distances we have to travel to them. There are always plenty of local clinics to go to though, and one thing that people miss out on is visiting other universities and talking shop with their staff to find out what they are doing. Team coaches might not share play ideas between schools, but the strength and conditioning community is very open and inclusive, which I like about the industry.
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