Arianna Luther is currently the Assistant Director of Strength and Conditioning at the University of Nevada, Reno. She works primarily with track and field, cross country, and men’s tennis. Her athletic background includes 16 years of competitive gymnastics and a short transition into Olympic weightlifting. Coach Luther was involved in internships at Lindenwood University—where she received her undergraduate degree in Exercise Science—EXOS, Montana State University, and the University of Central Florida. Coach Luther graduated with a master’s degree in Kinesiology, Sports Psychology from Texas Christian University, where she also served as a graduate assistant in strength and conditioning working with beach volleyball, women’s soccer, and swimming and diving.
Freelap USA: You have a gymnastics background. How does that help you coach athletes in movements such as the Olympics lifts and jumps?
Arianna Luther: Gymnastics is a grueling sport. As difficult as it was mentally and physically, I am so thankful that it prepared, shaped, and stretched me in the many ways that it did for my career in strength and conditioning. Olympic lifts are extremely technically intensive and involve a lot of moving parts. The technical aspect of gymnastics really gave me an advantage for coaching the Olympic-style lifts. In gymnastics, if a skill was performed incorrectly, there was one, maybe two things that needed to be corrected.
Video 1. A good jerk requires good coaching. Investing in barbell training early pays off in the long run when an athlete is traveling or has limited equipment.
In a sport that I will describe as intense when it comes to the coaching, there was not much room for error. This attention to the finest detail has been adopted in my coaching and translates over to teaching the Olympic lifts well, since these kinds of lifts deserve that awareness. Most of us realize that not finishing the pull or the bar getting away from the body can cause an entirely different unwanted outcome to occur. It is vital to teach the details of the movement.
Another advantage is that gymnasts are annoyingly notorious for being able to pick up many different skills with ease because of the natural spatial and kinesthetic awareness. In turn, performing the Olympic lifts myself was a fairly seamless transition and further helped with my coaching.
Freelap USA: Speaking of the Olympic lifts, you were snatching outside at home during the shutdown. How does that change your perception of the value of the exercise when equipment is sparse?
Arianna Luther: There are many different aspects of life that need to be put into perspective during these times of the COVID-19 outbreak, which is showcasing detrimental effects worldwide. In times like these, we see so many people come together to find ways to keep their daily routines and schedules in check as much as possible. My garage just so happens to be occupied, so a coworker and I took our efforts to the streets. We were able to borrow a few items to continue a program we started not too long ago.
Video 2. The great thing about the Olympic lifts is that they provide a way to overload with limited resources, including the absence of a rack. Athletes don’t need a lot of resources to improve—just a good plan, coaching history, and enough equipment.
There is a shift in perspective when we know and understand how incredibly blessed we are to have the equipment we have at UNR (thank you, Sorinex!) and go from utilizing it every day to not knowing how we’ll get our next lift in. We also have to understand that there are people around the world in the same boat and still finding a way to exercise at home to continue to maintain a routine, increase mood/affect, boost energy, promote better sleep, etc.The benefits of exercise are too great, so we must not neglect exercising at home and getting creative with our friends (while also exercising social distancing), says @Arianna_Luther. Click To Tweet
The benefits of exercise are too great, so we must not neglect exercising at home and getting creative with our friends (while also exercising social distancing). In life, we often take for granted what is right in front of us, because it is already ours. Let us not take exercise for granted and let us find creative and fun ways to complete it daily.
Freelap USA: You work with college athletes who come in at sometimes the age of 17, and you are forced to quickly get them up to par. What errors do you see in the high school level that can be reduced by knowing the right information?
Arianna Luther: Since I have not personally been in the high school setting as a strength and conditioning professional, it is difficult to comment on the errors that could potentially be occurring. I know some amazing high school strength and conditioning coaches who are not only high-character people, but who also put out great work.
At every level of development, whether it be youth, high school, collegiate, or professional, mistakes are made all over the board. I am certainly not perfect and try to develop growth from having that self-awareness of where I do fall short. It is an ever-evolving process that I never want to end, because if there is a day where I feel like I have “arrived,” then I am certainly mistaken.
Freelap USA: Many coaches train their athletes in the way they were coached. What do you do similar and differently with teaching and loading?
Arianna Luther: Beginning at the age of 2, the environment that surrounded me was an environment that bred perfection. One small error led to score deductions, which reached further and further away from that perfect score. There is a way to function healthily in that environment, but I know I certainly did not. I began to live in anxiety and fear.
My coach expected excellence from me every single day. He wanted me to keep showing up and giving full effort, even though many days my body told me differently. Similarly, I expect full effort out of our student-athletes every time they enter the weight room to train. As a gymnast, I sometimes felt unheard and unseen.
When I coach now, I never want an athlete to feel the way I did—like a product instead of a real person with hopes and dreams. I desire for them to know that I see them—really see them—and I want to know about their lives, their upbringing, their studies, and their struggles. I want them to know that they have a voice, that they are heard, and that I surely am listening.When I coach now, I never want an athlete to feel the way I did—like a product instead of a real person with hopes and dreams, says @Arianna_Luther. Click To Tweet
In regard to loading, I always trained in a way that was simple to complex and regressed to advanced versions of movements. This is a basic principle that stays consistent over time and continues to produce success in our programs.
Freelap USA: Mental resilience is essential in tough times. How have you helped your athletes become mentally prepared for the unknown?
Arianna Luther: I truly believe we all need this reminder – what you do is simply what you do, but it does not make up who you are. When a tragedy like this occurs, it feels as if the rug has been ripped out from underneath each athlete, especially our seniors. I want to emphasize that their feelings are valid, and that it will take some time to heal these unexpected wounds.
Video 3. Pushing athletes hard in training is valuable outside of the gym. Coaches who have experience knowing just how far to take training will always have an edge over coaches who coddle their athletes.
For a generation that is often paralyzed by anxiety, depression, and fear, the main message I desire to relay to them is that the foundation on which they stand is not their sport, their academics, their job, etc. I try and do this by developing individual relationships with each athlete and really get to know their hearts.
Everything in their life will be temporary as different seasons ebb and flow throughout. Our most difficult trials often lead to the sweetest of places. It is in the most trying times that we see the greatest acts of love and grace poured out. Because of the hardship, our lives often turn out sweeter, richer. I want them to know this kind of love. And in this, the unknown doesn’t seem so scary.
Since you’re here…
…we have a small favor to ask. More people are reading SimpliFaster than ever, and each week we bring you compelling content from coaches, sport scientists, and physiotherapists who are devoted to building better athletes. Please take a moment to share the articles on social media, engage the authors with questions and comments below, and link to articles when appropriate if you have a blog or participate on forums of related topics. — SF