One Part of the Whole

"Summer workouts" have become identified as the key to offseason strength and conditioning across the collegiate landscape, but West Virginia University Director of Strength and Conditioning Mike Joseph notes that it's just one part of a year-round program for the Mountaineer football team in this exclusive interview with

While Joseph, who's entering his fourth year in his current position at WVU, isn't going to say that one section of workouts is more important than the other, he hints that winter might be the most difficult of the offseason sessions, but also points out that each season's work is built to achieve different goals. Starting right on the heels of the football season, West Virginia goes through a winter session that is probably the most physically demanding of all the offseason sessions. Then comes the spring, which encompasses spring practice, and the aforementioned summer, which gets the most attention from the public at large.

Joseph, who's charged with putting together and executing the year-round plan, views each of those sessions as contributing to the whole. He broke down each time period and some of the goals of each as WVU moved into the initial stages of the summer period.

"I think of the offseason from January to August. You have different sections, like winter conditioning and summer conditioning, but ours is a year round program. A lot of the summer program is established and built off the spring and winter programs. Winter is a very difficult time. For the younger guys and the freshmen, it's their first true offseason. It' the best time to develop their basic level of strength and work on technique, or with any issues they have in terms of injury or imbalance coming from the season. It's the time we get a great base started. During that time we work on getting stronger, we work on our speed mechanics and agility to get ready to take them into spring ball.

"In spring ball you get a real good measure for the coaches of where the guys stand. If a guy's not fast enough, if his hips are tight, if he's slow, not in great condition, whatever the evaluation may be, we're going to continue working on that. At the end of spring ball the coaches will give a quick evaluation of the kids and tell them where they stand, so the kids have a good idea of where their starting point is. At that time, I'll also set down the goals for each individual athlete. It might be four goals, or three, or one or whatever, but each kid knows what they need to work on, whether it's speed, flexibility, core, shoulder mobility, shoulder health, strength, power – all of that is put into the equation. Each individual has his own specific needs.

Summer is a voluntary workout. It's a choice for them to be here. But if they really want to be successful, start on the field and be an elite player and help us win, they have to put that time in. Going into the summer we can see where they are in terms of the numbers strengthwise, or if they have bad technique, or if they can't do a clean or a certain movement, and we work on those and fix them so they can do everything we ask of them."

A popular view of offseason workouts also holds that the drills are the same – seven months of the same monotonous activity which are as much to be endured as anything. However, the former WVIAC player of the year (he still holds Fairmont State's all-time scoring record with 58 touchdowns) explains that each session of the offseason is designed to build to a peak by the time preseason camp begins in August.

"It's kind of an analogy to football," Joseph explained. "In camp, each week, they install more, install more, install more, and by the season you have the whole offense and defense in. You install over time. In terms of our strength program, we divide up our lifting positions by linemen, combo guys (linebackers, fullbacks, and tight ends) and skill athletes. Then the quarterbacks and specialists have their own workouts too. Everyone has some subtle differences in what they do during winter, but the nuts and bolts are the same. Then in spring ball, through August, it gets more specific by position in terms of lifting and their needs and what their position demands of them. For example, the linemen might spend more time lifting compared to a skill athlete who might spend more time running.

"They have to be in their best condition and most explosive [by the end of summer], because August camp is the most demanding on their body – those 2-3 weeks of camp, with the amount of stress on the body, the heat, the anxiousness to get out there. If they can get through that, they usually can stay injury free through the season. That's why I want them to be injury-free through camp. If you have issues during camp, a lot of time they keep nagging through the whole year."

A couple of years before Joseph arrived, the Mountaineer program was hit with a number of hamstring injuries. Whether that was coincidence or attributable to one factor is difficult to say, but Joseph strives to craft a program that addresses injury prevention. (It should be noted that he is very quick to point out that he's not blaming predecessors for any injuries – something that he did multiple times during the interview.)

"We haven't had any injuries in terms of significance like the hamstring issues and the shoulder issues from when I first got here, and the numbers have dramatically dropped in terms of injury rates," he said. "But that (previous high injury rates) could get back to the kids coming in with preexisting injuries or imbalances. Football is a violent sport.

"[To address] A lot of the soft tissue injuries, like the hamstring pull or the groin, the biggest thing is to make sure they are strong and flexible, and that the range of motion is increased. I don't think we'll ever be injury proof. That's part of the game of football. I just want to make sure that when they do get injured, they can get back in the shortest amount of time possible. I haven't changed anything to account for any injuries this offseason. We always work on base levels of strength and power development."

While Joseph strives to give his players the best chance possible to withstand injuries, he notes that sometimes it's just bad luck that determines who gets hurt and who doesn't. A roll up on a lineman's knee, a wrong plant while taking a hit, and injuries can occur no matter how strong or well-prepared a player is.

"Jeff Braun was one of my strongest guys. He benches over 500 pounds. On his shoulder injury, he just got in a bad position. It's football."

Still, the Fairmont native is always on guard, watching for potential problems that could be addressed.

"We will always evaluate [injuries] with the athletic training staff," he noted. "If we had issues with knees or hamstrings or shoulders, if there were a drastic amount number wise, we have to look at it and say, 'What's the problem? Are we doing something wrong here?'. Is there something wrong in practice or are the kids not eating right or hydrating or resting? If they aren't taking care of their bodies, they can break down over the year. We're always in self-evaluation."

Up next, more with Joseph, including building a trusting relationship with the players, crafting individual plans for each player, and what makes the Law School Hill so challenging.

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