Tailor Made

West Virginia's off-season workouts and conditioning programs have a "base component" that consists of standard lifts and runs, but those are also tailored to the individual needs of each position and player. In part two of our series with Mike Joseph, the fourth-year Director of Strength and Conditioning discusses the development of that regimen.

"In any year, I go in at the start of the off-season and sit down with the coaches and talk about each player and find out what the coach thinks each player needs," said Joseph. "That's pretty much a standard for any strength coach, whether it's here at West Virginia or anywhere else. We have those on-going conversations throughout the off-season, and I have to work those in because the coaches are often out of town recruiting or at functions or whatever, but I will take the opportunity to pick their brains and find out what needs to be done. What we do on the field will always dictate what we do in the weight room."

With the transition to a new offensive staff, that process has been somewhat limited since spring practice ended, mostly because the coaches don't have a long history of seeing their charges in practice every day. They had 15 on-field sessions to evaluate skills in April, but with much of that time spent installing the new system, there wasn't as much time as usual for individual assessment. The new coaches also don't have the history of watching players over two or three seasons, which provides the necessary perspective to identify long-term goals, so their input this year wasn't as voluminous as it will be in years to come.

Still, there are some areas which are points of emphasis for the offensive staff, and Joseph has been hard at work to help the players meet their requirements.

"With Coach Holgorsen and the pace of his offense, we have to make sure we are well-conditioned and not dropping off because we can't keep up with the pace of play," Joseph said. "I think our guys have done a good job with that so far, but we have to keep going and improving. We do our workouts at a very fast pace to try to challenge the body to respond. At the beginning of the workouts and in the off-season, the pace and the runs we do are much harder, but by the end of summer it should be much easier for them, so when they transition to fall camp, they should be ready to go.

That's one thing we think we have done a good job with since I've been here," Joseph continued. "We've never had an issue with the offense or defense not being able to maintain the pace during practice or games in terms of conditioning. In talking with Coach Holgorsen, that's one thing he was surprised with – the level of our conditioning. But again, is it at the level he wants? Probably not. We need to keep building on that, but I think we have a good start. I think our kids understand what the coaches want for their positions, and they understand that's why I am going to push them as hard as they can go."

That doesn't mean that there aren't any individual goals for players, however. Joseph has received feedback on improvement targets for each of his players, and describes a typical scenario in meeting them.

"Say Coach Bedenbaugh wants a lineman to work on footwork or hips. I will incorporate as much work on that as I can in his summer program. There's only a certain amount you can do in the weight room, because we are limited to what we can do with technique work that's specific to the game of football. But in this instance, we will do footwork, hip work, speed and agility exercises that we hope will transition out to the field, and that will help the player when he does the football-specific drills that the coaches use."

As Joseph pushes each player through the off-season grind, he falls back on one basic tenet as the foundation for getting maximum work – trust. He understands that different motivational techniques work for different players, but at the core is that one factor which allows both he and the players to get the best results.

"Each kid is different, but once they learn to trust me like I trust them, they will give you full effort. That's the most important thing – that relationship we develop. They see us more than they see anyone else on the staff – it's year-round, so we have to have that. If they trust us, it's easy to push them. If they don't, they are going to be a little bit afraid to push themselves, and they won't give the maximum effort they need."

The trust-building process is an on-going one, of course, and doesn't occur in the first few weeks on campus. It develops at different paces over a player's career. Obviously, the sooner the better, but it goes hand-in-hand with Joseph's ability to see what each player can handle and increase his workload.

"Every year the players are able to handle more," he noted. "Guys have been in the system for three or four years, they can do more. There are things that we do now that we call a warm-up that they couldn't handle as a workout three years ago. I know the kids better every year, and I understand what they can and can't do. I know how to push them. Every year you are always going to challenge them. What was hard for them last year will be easy for them this year. Especially during summer, since it's voluntary, you want to make it challenging, because the minute they get complacent or bored, or if it's the same thing every day, they aren't going to work."

As that trust level builds, the players are able to commit to the workout fully, because they know that Joseph isn't going to push them beyond safe bounds. They understand his commitment to injury prevention, and have learned that he has their best interests at the core of his program. That doesn't mean he's not going to push them – far from it, in fact. But when they learn that his routines will give them their best chance to maximize their potential, they'll give that great effort he's looking for.

As the calendar flipped to July, Joseph was ramping up his summer workouts to a peak – a fact confirmed by several players who termed his regime "the toughest ever". Of course, most of those players are veterans, who have advanced with Joseph during their careers, and have been through the process described above.

"For the first several weeks of summer it's very hard, very intense. Then I'll back off for a week to let them recover and get their legs back," Joseph said of this summer's schedule. "We take them right to the edge of what they can do, and it's built-in so they feel like they are almost ready to go off that edge. Then we back off a bit, and then they recover and build up so they can shoot past that edge."

It's a never-ending cycle, but one that Joseph believes leads to steady improvement.

In the concluding article of the series, Joseph discusses the Law School Hill, points out that it's just one part of his wide-ranging program, and identifies the key that he's looking for in every lift, sprint and strength exercise.

Mike Joseph Series - Part One

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