Michael Szerszen first came to Tennessee in time for the 2013 football season after helping lead the Cincinnati Bearcats to two Big East championships alongside Butch Jones.
Szerszen took over for former boss Dave Lawson in leading the strength and conditioning of the Volunteers last winter. Tennessee outscored its first eight foes of 2016 by a combined 97-49.
From getting advice for parents wanting to get their children involved in weight lifting to the importance of squatting for football, Szerszen answers it all in an exclusive interview with InsideTennessee.
InsideTennessee: The squat. How important is it to what you do training these kids?
Michael Szerszen: The squat is enormous. The one thing about the squat, everybody asks, ‘Why do you squat?’ Hip mobility, hip flexibility. That movement…hip flexion is the largest lower-body movement in that range of motion in the hips. Any athlete, if they’re tight in the hips, it’s going to minimize their potential out on the field. So, you’ve got to stay mobile in the hips — mobile and flexible.
IT: To what do you attribute the shoulder injuries in college football players? There’s been a lot of labrum tears with kids while here, before they got here like Kyle Phillips and Jalen Reeves-Maybin.
Szerszen: Kids are stronger, kids are more explosive, the collisions are harder, more forceful and you get caught in a weird, awkward position.
IT: At what age do you feel comfortable with a kid — whether he’s your son or whatever — starting to use weights and work out?
Szerszen: You know I think every kid is different. Once you start, you start them out doing bodyweight movements, developing a good base. I always talk about strength training, it’s like building a house. When you build a house, you want a very solid foundation. With the body, a solid foundation are your tendons and ligaments. Really start them out with the bodyweight movements with the push-ups, the chin-ups, bodyweight squats, bodyweight lunges and teaching proper movement patterns. The technique is the foundation throughout, it’s still the foundation now. Technique is everything and keeping those quality movement patterns. It’s like you talked about the squat. The squat is an unbelievable movement, but you’ve got to maintain that great movement pattern throughout.
IT: Who’s the most impressive kid you’ve ever seen here at Tennessee when you got him Day 1 in terms of the combination of flexibility, overall health, strength levels, all that sort of thing.
Szerszen (laughing): That’s a tough question right there.
IT: It’s probably a different answer for each one.
Szerszen: Yeah, I mean every component it’d be a different answer.
IT: Well, what about strength levels? Who’s the strongest kid you’ve gotten? Like, ‘Wow! That guy has grown-man strength.’ Kahlil (McKenzie) or somebody?
Szerszen (laughing): I tell you what, Kahlil was very strong when he came in. Kahlil was extremely strong. (Jonathan) Kongbo was very strong as well coming in.
IT: What about pure explosion? I don’t know how you measure their quick twitch other than sprints and whatnot, but when he showed up you were like, ‘Wow, he doesn’t even need to run 10 sprints to get explosive.’
Szerszen: I mean everybody needs to run, everybody needs to train, but we had one guy that came in that was very explosive on the platform and that’s Tyler Byrd. He had great technique and was coached very well in high school. He had great technique and was definitely very explosive.
IT: Lastly, I know it was kind of an odd spring and odd summer for you but you’re the head guy here now, what’s it mean to you to be in your position at the University of Tennessee?
Szerszen: It’s a tremendous opportunity but everything is about the kids. It’s about the kids. We have unbelievable kids here. It’s an honor to be at this program, but it’s truly an honor to work with these athletes. I mean we’ve got an unbelievable group. These guys have done a tremendous job every single day. I love coming to work every day. It’s for these kids. I’ve got an unbelievable staff, and I can’t say enough about this place. It’s just an honor.