Jan 29, 2015
Shaping a Philosophy

By Chris Carlisle Chris Carlisle, BSE, MA, CSCC, is beginning his seventh season as Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at the University of Southern California. Questions for Carlisle can be directed to USCRipsIt.com Online Media Director Ben Malcolmson at: [email protected].

I’ve been coaching for 23 years. During that time I’ve coached at the high school level, the junior college level, and the NCAA Division I level. I’ve been fortunate to be associated with teams that have won 14 national championships in seven different sports. I’ve worked with Olympic gold medalists, Heisman trophy winners, and numerous All-Americans. Yet, after all of this time I have found that I am just scratching the surface of finding the best way to train young men and women to be at the top of their athletic ability.

Though I’ve always had my hand in strength training since my dad bought my brothers and I our first weight set from Sears, the profession of strength and conditioning has been constantly changing. New ideas, new research, and a hundred other things have brought about the opportunity for change. I’ve never been one to be caught up in training fads, “get strong quick” elixirs or gimmick devices that are supposed to make you better in a very short time. I’ve always been taught that anything worth having comes through hard work. There is no short cut in becoming the best–you’ve got to pay your dues and do the work, which isn’t always pleasant but is essential to obtaining your goals. When I joined Coach Pete Carroll’s staff in the winter of 2001, I brought in knowledge and information that I had gleaned from over 17 years of coaching and 13 years of playing. I thought that I had most of the answers. Little did I know that when I joined Coach Carroll’s staff, many of the things that I held as concrete fact were little more then letters in the sand. Don’t misunderstand this point, I was not taught wrong. I was weaned on what had been tried and true in the profession of athletic performance. The change was that things could be done better. One of Coach Carroll’s greatest gifts is that he can paint, in words and actions, an amazingly clear vision of how he feels the team needs to look and act to accomplish its goals. He challenges you to do things “better then they’ve ever been done before.” Not different, mind you, but better. With this line being drawn, I re-examined what I had taken for granted for so long and what had proven to be successful (national championships at Trinity Valley Community College and the University of Tennessee). During my first year-and-a-half at USC, I started finding holes my training methods that didn’t the way I now perceive necessary for helping athletes achieve their greatest heights. The plan

My ideas about maximal lifts (lifting just to see how much an athlete can lift), linear conditioning (straight-ahead running for endurance training), and core development (developing the stability and strength of the low back and abdominal area) were shaken to their foundations. Out of the rubble came new dynamic ways of organizing training protocols that blended into not only football, but athletic performance in all sports. Workouts that earlier in my career comprised of running and stretching for about 15 minutes and then spending one hour, 45 minutes in the weight room were things of the past. We were now training our movement and explosive power drills (speed, agility, plyometrics, and medicine ball work) and our core work (abs and lower back) for over an hour and only 30 to 45 minutes in the weight room. After lifting, we then put on the cleats and go outside, spending 20 to 30 minutes working on football-specific endurance drills. The weightroom stopped being an end, instead becoming a means to an end. The weightroom was now a major factor in facilitating movement. Of course this didn’t happen overnight. I don’t like sudden change because you can’t track the effects of a large amount of drill changes on the body. But with each training period (winter/spring, summer, and fall) we were adding something here and there and taking things out that we didn’t think were necessary. If there was a good response we evaluated why it had happened. If we didn’t get the response we expected, we would examine why it didn’t succeed at the level that Coach Carroll wanted it to. Before trying anything with the athletes, I would put my staff through the workout for six months to a year to see if there were any dangerous effects. If they responded the way we wanted them to, then we would work it slowly into our daily workouts. The positive side of doing the testing ourselves is that we knew what training effect the athlete would go through during the process. In the end, we have developed a system that is producing better strength gains with our athletes, while at the same time, the players’ athletic ability has increased to levels that many find very hard to believe. Because of the hard work of the athletes during the “hidden months” (January through March and June and July) we have the pleasure and privilege to watch some of the best football found anywhere in the country.

For more information on the USC football strength training program, visit the team’s Web site at USCripsit.com.

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