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One-on-One with Iowa State Director of Strength and Conditioning Rudy Wade

AllCyclones.com goes one-on-one with Iowa State Director of Strength and Conditioning Rudy Wade in the midst of his first winter workouts. He talks players, his philosophy and more.

When you got here to Iowa State, what were some of the first steps you took to begin to figure out what they had been doing and then begin to implement your philosophies? 

Rudy Wade: I wasn’t really concerned with what they did before. I still don’t really have a great grasp on that because I don’t think it’s relevant. I think you have to assume that they’re all novice strength trainers and you have to start really basic and it’s really all from square one. I think you have to come in and teach guys how to work to the standard that you want them to work. I think the biggest thing is you have to define and set those standards early on and really indefinitely this program is going to be more about how we do things rather than what we do. Guys have to learn to come in here and train with a high level of effort, energy and intensity on a regular basis.

 

In these initial couple of months, is there anything that has stood out to you about what you have to work with as a group?

RW: Initially what stood out is, by my indicators — and every strength staff is going to have different indicators whether it be different lifts or different drills to measure your success — by my indicators, I don’t think we’re very strong. That was one of those things that I really noticed right away. I just don’t think we’re very strong and I don’t think we were great at pushing through things when they got really hard.

Now, it’s definitely more of a positive outlook. You really see guys turning a corner, really understanding what needs to be done, what kind of effort needs to be brought, what kind of teammate you need to be in here. I definitely think where we’re at right now is night and day. It hasn’t been [two months], I started [Jan. 2] and we started team workouts [Jan. 11]. So it’s only been a little over a month and I think it’s a big difference between then and now.

 

Is there something that sticks out as the biggest difference?

RW: When we got in, we had to make it extremely hard right away. There was no breaking in period. We had to establish who we were going to be right away. It’s not great timing because we’re starting after they’ve had 3-4 weeks off. Even if they do what they’re supposed to do over break, even if they train, it’s still going to be a rude awakening. I think their overall fitness level and work capacity, just the ability to do a large volume of work, is a lot better than it was 45 days ago.

 

How have winter workouts gone so far, and what type of things do you try to accomplish with workouts before you get to spring ball in March?

RW: What we term winter workouts is really the whole month of February. Really this year it started a week into February and it’ll run a week into March. So it’s four weeks and the coaches help us a little bit with some fieldwork. That’s as intense as any four-week period that they’re going to see all year long, more so this year than even down the road.

We have to prepare them for a very physical five-week spring practice period and really as much as anything, we want to teach them to compete at a high level. They have to learn to be competitive. You can’t take someone that’s not competitive and make them competitive. These guys, they’re competitive. They just haven’t had to be competitive in this environment, so it’s all new to them. I thought for Week 1 it was very positive for something they’ve never seen before. I thought guys competed well. Our thing now, you’ve got to compete no matter what. There’s no letting up. Every rep is scored. We track every single rep that we do on that field. There’s a winner, there’s a loser for everything. Maybe there’s a rep that you’re going to lose — you have to compete anyway. You may not win at the line of scrimmage, but if you continue to compete, maybe you win 30 yards down the field on a football play. It’s just a process.

The guys, they’ve really responded well and it helps to just have a staff all on the same page. Everyone knows that every little detail is extremely important right now.

 

It’s probably tough to compare, but where do you feel these players are at from a strength standpoint versus where you guys started at Toledo? 

RW: I don’t love to compare, but I’d say very similar to the beginning there. Now, you’ve got to understand, [Matt Campbell] was there from the first year Tim Beckman was the head coach and I was not. We went through this at Bowling Green when I was a graduate assistant there. [We were] 3-8 and then ended up 8-3. It’s the exact same thing. It’s déjà vu.

There are always good players everywhere on a bad team who underachieve as individuals. They need help, so you have to get everybody to their highest level and it’s got to be a team thing.

 

Is there an area at this early point where you see the need for the most improvement or is it just push themselves farther as you mentioned?

RW: Understanding how to work and accepting the standards that we set, those are like Day 1 and then those have to carry on. We just have to get a lot stronger. We’re not strong enough. When I say strong enough I’m talking basic things like bench and squat. We’re not very strong. I don’t know if that was a focus in the past, maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t, but where we’re at now, we have to be exponentially better by the time August 3 hits.

 

Do you feel confident with what you’ve seen in these first few weeks that you guys can make the progress that you want to by fall camp?

RW: If there were any doubt in our minds — mine, Matt’s, everybody that came here — we wouldn’t be here. We’re not coming here to accept getting our teeth kicked in for a couple of years. We definitely think that we have the tools and the potential to be a better team right now. So yes, definitely. We have to be better and we’re going to be.

 

What are some of your influences with this program or the program you built at Toledo and kind of your general philosophy when you try to sum up your strength program?

RW: I think it’s tough to pigeonhole my philosophy. We’re not an Olympic program or a high-intensity program per se. I’m going to take from a lot of different areas and find ways to make things fit my program. I think there’s useful movement and modalities from all kinds of different philosophies and I try to mesh several of them together. I think doing your Olympic movements or your power movements are very important. I think benching and squatting are very important and then we’ll do a couple of variations of each. Other than that, I think variety is very important.

I’m not necessarily trying to make a guy better at his position. That’s skill development. That happens on the field. I’m trying to give them the tools to reach their genetic potential and therefore become better at those skills on the field. We want them to be strong, we want them to be able to bend well, change directions, accelerate, maintain speed [and] be fast. So there are a lot of different things that go into it.

I don’t really look at any one thing and say, ‘Hey, we have to be really good at that.’ We have to be pretty darn good at everything. Nothing in our program is more or less important in my mind. Everything we do is important. I tell the guys, there is nothing on that dry erase board, nothing you’re told to do on a given day, that we’re using as time-filler. You’ve got to bust your butt on everything we’re doing because I feel it is important enough to put in the workout and therefore we’re going to do it really hard.

 

When you got here, what did you notice initially about what you have to work with here, and is there anything that over time, given the budget, you’d like to continue to build?

RW: The facility is unbelievable. The first thing that catches your eye when you come in is those racks. Those are state-of-the-art, just unbelievable. Then they have all the bells and whistles on them. Really, any tool that you would need, is here. Now, I’ll say this: Anymore it’s an arms race and there are tons of vendors and companies out there developing new products and you definitely have to stay on that. Especially when you have a competitive budget, you have to look at things that are on the cutting edge and try and decipher if they make a product that’s going to fit into your program and if they do you have to find a way to get that piece of equipment in here.

You don’t want the other Big 12 [schools] out there to have something and you’re the only school that doesn’t, so it’s something you constantly have to stay attuned to.

 

One specific piece of equipment I know the old staff talked about some and there are different philosophies, is the treadmills [for bursts]. What is your philosophy on those treadmills and how much you want to use them?

RW: They had five of them, now we only have two. To me, football is not played in a straight line, so with the indoor [facility] right outside the weight room, we can do the straight-line running that we need to without having 300 square feet taken up by treadmills. They’re definitely a nice piece of equipment, but as far as how much they’re used… If you have a 20,000 square foot weight room, you keep five treadmills and you don’t have to use them all the time, you can use them occasionally. With what we have in here and what we were lacking, really all the equipment on the back wall is new. So we had to get some stuff out. 

We didn’t really have anything to accommodate injured athletes. You can prevent it all you want, but dudes are going to get injured. We had to add a bunch of pieces in the back. If a guy is banged up and they can’t work out at the racks, we had to have more options for them as far as that goes. With that, you’ve got to lose some stuff and we decided to take a few of those [treadmills] out.

Here’s the thing about speed. Everybody wants to mess around with training and developing top-end speed, but that’s one of the least trainable things that we do. Would you rather have a guy that’s really fast for one play or a guy that’s as fast on play 50 or play 60 as he was play one? We’re trying to kind of combine our conditioning and our speed work to make our guys repetitively fast. I really don’t care what their 40-time is. I want them to be fast at the end of the game like they were on the first play. So really our recruiting philosophy is, recruit fast guys, we’ll make them a little faster just like everybody else who wastes a bunch of time trying to squeeze out another five-hundredths of a second. I can make them as fast as that guy but I can also spend less time and I can make them more conditioned to be able to play at that speed the whole game.

 

What new equipment did you add? 

RW: If you think about common football injuries you’ll see a lot of finger and hand injuries that will at least for a limited amount of time prohibit a guy from holding a bar. So we needed no-hands pieces [and] got some for the upper and lower body where, say a guy breaks his hand, before in here if a guy breaks his hand you wouldn’t be able to train that side of his body. We got a couple pieces where you can train that side of his body without holding weight in your hand.

Then we got a squat machine. If a guy has a hand or elbow injury he can still do a ground-based squat in a machine. We added some no-knees and no-ankle pieces, so you have hands, shoulders, knees, ankles, and we got some pieces that will not load through the ankles, we got one that won’t load through the knees.

 

It’s football, so you can’t prevent injuries, but Iowa State for sure recently has dealt with ACL injuries for linemen. Are there certain things you can do to help prevent injuries as much as it's possible to prevent an injury?

RW: That goes back to one of our foundational philosophies. As far as being a strength coach, the performance-enhancement part goes without saying but really I think our No. 1 goal is injury reduction. ACLs, I tell you what, when I was the head strength coach at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and we didn’t have football, we didn’t get very many ACLs, like almost none. I was like, ‘Man, I’m a darn good strength coach.’ Well, in those sports you also don’t have 300-pound dudes rolling into the side of your knee while your foot is planted in the ground.

A lot of [ACL injuries] you see it on film and you’re like, ‘Man, there’s nothing we could do.’ Those ones where the guy is running in space by himself and cuts on it, those are the ones you don’t want to see on film. I have no idea how any of the injuries happened here before, but I think you’ve got to drastically reduce that number of non-contact ACLs and then there’s definitely times too when you see a play happen and you’ll be like, ‘Man, he’s not getting up’ and a lot of times guys will. So a big part of our training, it’s not an ACL prevention program per se, but it’s just good old-fashioned strength training. 

When we squat we have to get to parallel or below. Otherwise it’s not a big bang for your buck movement anyway. We want to activate our glutes, our hamstring, our groin, by getting at or below parallel. Then we want to sprinkle in other movements for the posterior chain.

 

I’ve heard some stuff about Saw music and maybe a theme during workouts. Is there anything you're do there? 

RW: Fridays, it’s a lower-body training day, they know we’re going to get after them when they come and we want to mess with them a little bit. I think probably in the beginning they were probably a little scared and it’s kind of more now, a few weeks in, maybe they get more of a kick out of it. In the beginning I wanted them to be scared but I want the end product to be scary. I want a bunch of sick dudes that like stuff like that.

When we played the Saw theme song we put the jigsaw face up on all the TVs. We did the Halloween theme song. We played a storm siren on repeat for four and a half hours one morning. We had some kind of horror thing on last Friday. Like it was starting to mess with me. During the last group I said, ‘As soon as we’re done with the group, we have to turn this off, man.’ They know it’s going to be a good go on Friday and we’re having fun with it. We just try to pick a Friday theme that maybe only our type of guys here would understand and appreciate.

You get two full days to recover [on Friday]. We put the workout up on the board and I noticed last Friday in that first group if there were 35 guys in it we probably had 30 guys come in and check the board before the workout started. They know it’s coming on Fridays.

 

Lastly, how have you seen the players maybe change their mentality and react here in the first few weeks?

RW: I look at a guy’s eyes when they come in and I know everything I need to know right away. Your eyes tell the whole story. When these guys come in, first thing is do they make eye contact with you? These guys are starting to enjoy and embrace it a little more than they did when they started. It was very timid early on. They’re good with it now and I think they’re starting to enjoy it. Enjoyment and fun are two different things. It’s not meant to be fun. Really the only thing that’s fun in football is Saturdays. Everything else is hard work and I think when you understand that and you’re OK with it, you can enjoy it and when you’re done you know I worked really hard today and I got better.


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