Inside WSU strength and conditioning

THERE ARE NO listings, no boards displaying records in Washington State's weight room. A big number on the bar, without on-field results behind it, is useless when it comes to football. For the Cougars, the strength and conditioning program is focused primarily on two things.

Acceleration and Movement Efficiency.

"Most successful programs, it's about technique, it's not about weight on the bar," Jason Loscalzo told "We don't want our guys chasing numbers on a wall. We want our guys chasing wins.

"The strength and conditioning field as a whole has been moving towards movement efficiency. Teaching guys to move better is what sets programs apart."

Loscalzo, WSU's Director of Football Strength and Conditioning, says the golden ticket is acceleration -- everything the Cougs do is geared towards increasing it.

"Everyone talks about speed, speed, speed and that's what football is about. But football speed isn't about your 40 time. Football speed is about how fast you can get to top speed… You can be the guy who lifts the most on this football team but if you can't apply that strength quickly, it's useless. It's all about being able to apply the strength you have as fast as you possibly can – and that's acceleration.

"We're all about being explosive off the ball, explosive off your cuts, explosive in your change of direction."

MUCH HAS BEEN made this spring about how much bigger and more agile the Cougs look. But trying to get Loscalzo to take some credit for that is about as likely as getting Mike Leach to start issuing injury reports.

"Our players and the coaches deserve the credit for what's been done here and for working to turn this thing around," said Loscalzo. "The commitment that.. Bill Moos and his staff have put towards the nutrition part of what we do, from supplementation to training table to us educating our kids -- and having the resources to educate our players on how to eat right. That's the stuff that's really made the difference. That's been the biggest key for us, having the resources."

Loscalzo noted that Lindsay Brown is WSU's Director of Sports Nutrition for the department. Marco Candido, one of Loscalzo's assistants, handles nutrition for football and the amount of information going back and forth, the constant texting, well, there's a ton of it, says Loscalzo.

THERE WILL ALWAYS be changes in the way programs across the country run their strength and conditioning programs, and the press that goes along with something new. And WSU incorporates kettle bells, foam rollers, stretch bands -- there will be Tendo units in the new Football Operations Building. But Loscalzo remains far more focused on technique than he will ever be about chasing the latest bells and whistles.

"We want them working to win a Pac-12 championship and we want their focus to be on becoming a better football player, not a better squatter," said Loscalzo. "Any little thing we can do to help that process along, we're going to do. But there are techniques that have been around for years and years and years. Really, nothing in this field is ‘new.' A lot of the stuff has been around for a long time, people have just found a better way to do it or a better way to use it.

"The big wave now is the Catapult with the GPS tracking system. We've been researching that a little bit and if we feel that can help our program move forward, we're going to do it. But we want to make sure we research it and it fits into the philosophy of what we do."

AS FOR WHAT the next few months' workouts will entail for the Cougs?

"When we start our summer program… we run, we lift, spend time with them, communicate with them, we also have to be counselors and support… We'll talk nutrition with them," said Loscalzo.

And a second-year Cougar player will know a ton more about nutrition than when he first arrived in Pullman.

"I do this all the time so it's (commonplace) for me," said Loscalzo. "But by the second year they've learned meal frequency -- when to eat, better foods to eat, better meal choices, how to supplement correctly, post-workout supplementation, pre-workout supplementation, hydration.

"By the second year they should have the whole spectrum of nutrition handled and after that we start to specialize a little bit here and there with the weight gain, weight loss.

"I think if they're willing to learn and they want to learn, they'll come in by Year 2 -- and their eating habits and what they know about nutrition and how to fuel their body -- will be night and day from when they walked in the door. The amount of information that they'll receive in the first year of the program, it's almost astronomical how much we give them."

LONG AGO, media and fans began tying in 40-times and bench press numbers to football performance. They weren't all that relevant a metric then, and even less now.

"A lot of people don't understand what football speed really is – you're looking at 4-5-6-7 changes of direction in 10 seconds of football," said Loscalzo. "The 40 time doesn't really have any indication on that.

"The cornerstone of what we do is Olympic lifting and squatting… we want to be experts on what we do, rather than be average at everything and that's explosive speed. You've got to be strong down low: you have to have a strong core, you have to have strong glutes, strong hamstrings. Those are the things that make you a better football player."

Still, people hear strength and conditioning and they automatically think: Weight room. They're lifting weights.

"That's a portion of what we do… Everything is geared towards becoming better football players – and better football players are better football players because they move better than the other guy. They have to still be strong, powerful, big, explosive, but it's more about getting those bodies to move better than they did before," said Loscalzo.

The sand pit is one of many examples, says Loscalzo. It strengthens ankles, knees, hips and helps to prevent injuries. Some injuries are simply unavoidable. It's football. But technique, Loscalzo says, is ultra-important when it comes to injury prevention.

"Working with them on their center of gravity, where their help placement is when they're changing directions, where their foot placement is when they're running – all of those things can help in the prevention of soft tissue injuries, like hamstring pulls for instance. Learning to run correctly can prevent most hamstring injuries. Sometimes hamstrings just go. But most come from either dehydration or technique issues," said Loscalzo.

BEYOND THE WORKOUTS, Loscalzo says communication and knowing how to reach people is the key component that most people miss when looking at a strength and conditioning program's effectiveness. The best designed program in the world won't amount to much if the players don't buy in. And the buy-in level at WSU these days?

"I think it's excellent, (as evidenced) by this last winter," said Loscalzo. "The biggest improvement I've seen is the level of maturity our guys have when they come in and work out. We're a young football team and we started with a young football team but the guys are taking it a lot more serious than when I first got here… there's always room for improvement... but our guys have done a great job of buying in."

There may not be any visible record around of who holds the top clean-and-jerk or squat, but there is a sign on the wall that has one of Leach's favorite sayings: You're either coaching it, or allowing it happen.

"And I take that to heart. When fall camp rolls around I want these players to be proud of what they did, I want the coaches to feel like they're getting a great product they can win with," said Loscalzo.

Loscalzo on working for Leach: "For a strength coach, it's a dream. You won't find a better coach to work for as a strength and conditioning coach. I'm not just saying that. He wants you to do your job and he's going to give you the space and the freedom to do your job. He wants results… he tells you this is the result I want to see, how you get there is why I hired you. He's always there along the way to help. And I have a great staff that works very hard and helps us get the job done."

2012 - Present - Washington State Director of Football Strength and Conditioning
2007 - 2012 - Boston College Director of Strength and Conditioning
2003 - 2007 - Auburn Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach
2001 - 2003 - Marshall Head Strength and Conditioning Coach Olympic Sports / Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach Football
1999 - 2001 - Nevada - Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach

B.S. Kinesiology - Humboldt State
M.A. Administration - Nevada
Certification - CSCS, SCCC, SPN and USAW Level I.

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