Aug 24, 2017
Speed & Stamina

Jeff Connors has been a strength coach for a long time. Currently the Assistant Athletics Director for Strength and Conditioning at East Carolina University, he also served as a strength coach at the University of North Carolina and Bucknell University. He’s recognized as one of the leaders in the profession as evidenced by his selection as the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s College Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year, induction into the USA Strength and Conditioning Hall of Fame, and certification as a Master Strength & Conditioning Coach by the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association.

Despite spending 30 years at the college level, the beliefs and approach Connors revealed during a discussion with can be easy applied at all levels, including by sport coaches of high school teams. While some may stray a little from the beaten path, they’re straight-forward and easy to understand.

Take, for example, his thoughts on speed work. Of course, the main objective is to help his athletes get faster. But Connors says there’s an added benefit to speed training that many coaches overlook.

“We do a ton of speed work because we know that full speed training activates the nervous system and, actually, full speed sprinting has more of an affect on the nervous system sometimes than lifting does,” he told the website. “We know that our nervous system can become more efficient through the work that we do with speed. That’s why we always do speed first. It can actually enhance the lifting part of it. A lot of people don’t realize that.”

But building speed in athletes playing team sports is not the same as training sprinters.

“If you look at the elite sprinters out there, they don’t reach top end speed until 40, 50 meters,” Connors said. “We know that with football players, they reach top end speed maybe at 25 to 40 meters, somewhere in there depending on the position group. We have to put a ton of emphasis on the muscle groups that overcome inertia, particularly with our big guys.”

While most of the attention is paid to strength training, Connors believes conditioning is just as important. He laid out an example of one day from the Pirates summer football workouts, which included nearly 40 minutes of conditioning work on the track. It started with two 300-meter runs around the field followed by two minutes rest. Then 10 30-yard sprints followed by two minutes rest, six 80s followed by two minutes and ten 20s followed by two minutes before finishing with two more 300s.

“The bottom line, which I’ve always believed, is mental toughness is developed through higher levels of conditioning. That can come in a lot of different forms,” he said. “Rather than just get them out there and running, we try to make it position specific as well. Being in a good position, having good posture, being able to execute a number of different drills, either hand-quickness drills or a combination of posture on hand quickness type things.

“If you’re not in shape, you’re going to lose focus and make mistakes,” he added. “I’ve always believed that. So there’s no question about the fact that we’ve got to be in great shape.”

Although Connors has been in the business a long time, he continues to look for new or additional information he can use to help his athletes improve. “There’s a ton of approaches and concepts,” Connors said. “I go the extra mile to stay on top of that.”

For the most part, though, he relies on what’s worked for him so far.

“The nervous system only knows one thing and that’s intensity. You either have to lift fast or you have to lift heavy to basically activate the fast-twitch muscle fiber, the large fast-twitch motor units in the body,” he said. “Your training also has to reflect that objective. You are trying to make people more explosive. The way they become more explosive is that they’ve got to become stronger first. They’ve got to convert the strength to power. They’ve got to convert the power to speed. So when you look at the development of the hips, you’re looking at targeting the hips because it’s very crucial to sprinting, jumping, tackling and blocking. That’s definitely in my approach.”

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