The conversation about BYU’s strength and conditioning program holds a much more positive outlook. The reason is simple. Frank Wintrich has joined the staff and brought a forward thinking philosophy that has changed the way BYU’s athletes are developed.
“Traditional Olympic lifts place a very high level of orthopedic stress on athletes,” said Wintrich. “They are very hard on the shoulders and very hard on the back, especially the snatches and cleans so we want to avoid those things. Football is a very stressful sport in and of itself, so we want to get away from those things and do things that are easy for the guys to learn and easy for us to teach.”
“We do a lot of injury prevention stuff with our shoulders, ankles, hips, knees, and those kind of things,” said BYU linebacker Fred Warner, who as a highly touted freshman suffered from a back injury. “I feel like it’s going to help us in the season with injury prevention and injury prevention in the weight room also.”
For players like Warner, the new approach to physical development is a welcome relief and excitingly new approach that he believes will extend his playing career.
“I feel like taking away things like power cleans that really reduces a lot of stress on my back, and the trainers do a good job of making sure that I don’t do something that’s going to hurt me again rather than help me,” said Warner. “I’m already on the path heading upwards with the injuries, so with the new preventive injury workouts that’s really helped me a lot. It means that I’ll be able to play longer and injury-free.”
Coach Wintrich believes that an athlete can develop just as much, if not more, strength and physical development through other forms of exercise than traditional Olympic lifts the Cougars were accustomed to in the past.
“Someone once told me that I was on the cutting edge when really we’re not,” Wintrich said. “We are taking old science that was done 50 years ago in the Eastern Bloc, and we’re taking those principles and applying them to our guys. People say, ‘Why don’t you power clean?’ I’ll flip the scrip on them and say, ‘Well, why do you want to power clean?’ They’ll say, ‘Well, it makes you explosive.’ Okay, I’ll give you that. But a vertical jump makes you explosive, a broad jump makes you explosive, and a med ball makes you explosive. [Those are] easier for you to execute and it has much less orthopedic stress. So, bang for your buck, we’re getting a lot more out of something much simpler and we’re not getting hurt from it.”
Wintrich brings a warrior’s attitude to the approach of weight lifting and strength development. Like a contagion, it’s a new cultural shift he’s establishing that has caught fire and has spread among the football ranks.
“I think our new strength and conditioning program is really good for us,” said Warner. “Coach Wintrich comes every day with a high intensity mindset. We do a meeting right before workouts and he loves what he’s doing. That rubs off on me because I love being out there with the guys. I didn’t get that spring ball and winter training that everybody else got, so I treat every day like it’s my last. I just have to keep building upon each of these workouts leading into fall camp.
“I think it’s a big cultural difference and approach to how we do things. He wants us to define ourselves and not let anyone else do that for us. We don’t want Nebraska to define who we are or UCLA define who we are. We want to do that and we want to be a relentless defense, so we have to be relentless every day in our workouts. You know, we’re always yelling and helping each other out with our training at a high level pace.”
The warrior mentality approach to weight lifting isn’t a singular approach. Rather, Wintrich looks at the individual roles each warrior plays on the battle field and devises his strength and conditioning program to suit their needs based on what is being performed out on the football field.
“It’s about intensive, aggression, and we want to kill everything that we’re going up against,” said Wintrich. “That’s kind of the mindset we want our guys to go in to training with. I think we get too married to movements and exercises. You get people saying, ‘Oh, well, we’re an Olympic based program, or we’re a power based program, or we’re a high intensity program.’ We don’t do that in our program. We look at all those things as being tools in a tool box. You don’t go up to a carpenter who says, ‘I’m just a tool guy’ and ask him to build you a table. If he told you, “All we’re going to build this table with is a saw’ you would run from a guy like that. So, why would we approach physical preparation any differently? You want to have many tools to work with to get the best results, so we want to look at what produces the best results for a BYU football player that we can create. Then use those methods to develop that type of athlete.”
Wintrich's approach is simple yet appears complex. It’s a manner of developing various athletes to perform various tasks all within a single sport. He then monitors the individual athlete’s physical development to ensure that the athlete is capable of performing his specific task at a much higher physical level.
“Absolutely,” said Wintrich. “For example, if you were to just look at a wide receiver. Let’s say we showed football to someone who has never seen the sport and just asked him to just watch the wide receiver play the game. All they do is just watch him run routes. Then we take that same person and have him watch the defensive line. Then we ask him to watch the linebackers what would they say? They would probably say this isn’t the same sport. Sure, they are all wearing helmets and shoulder pads and running around chasing that brown thing. But, the way they move and what they do is completely different. The way they play the game bio-mechanically, and bio-energetically, it’s completely different. So, why would I train a defensive lineman the same as I would train a wide receiver?”
Football is a multi-faceted sport that requires athletes to perform different physical jobs with varying physical levels, so to train each athlete the same simply doesn’t make sense to Wintrich.
“Because they play different positions they’re almost playing completely different sports with what they have to endure and what’s going on out there,” Wintrich said. “Football really is four or five different sports within a single sport. You look at the quarterback position and see how the game of football is played in a much different way than say a cornerback or a running back. There are different demands and actions that are needed, and so the athlete has to develop the skills to meet those demands. What we like to do is hone in on the specific needs of each of those positions bio-mechanically and bio-energetically.
“What does bio-mechanically mean? It means the way the athlete moves when he’s out on the field. Then-bio energetically is for how long or how intense they have to perform their job for. Then we build our program around those individual needs by working with or position coaches. Each member of my staff has a position they’re responsible for. Then we meet with our position coaches and say, ‘What are those things we need those guys to do when they step out onto the football field?’ We find those things out and then we train them. Some times that means creating special exercises and breaking things down.”
Wintrich gives an example of how he applies his strength and conditioning program to meet the specific performance needs of an athlete on a specific play.
“For example, Coach Poppinga has a specific drop that he needs the outside linebackers to perform in a game on a specific play,” Wintrich said. “Some guys don’t do it as well or aren’t able to do it, so we developed some special movements that help teach and train them physically to be able to get into that position. We just do things specific related, so we break things down to its simplest form and work backwards to better develop the athlete and maximize his physical development to be better able to perform his task as a football player. It’s just that simple.”