Keith Ferrara has been the head strength and conditioning coach at Adelphi University since 2014. He was the first strength and conditioning coach in school history and is currently in charge of programming for 19 teams at Adelphi. Prior to that, he was a strength and conditioning coach at the United States Tennis Association, where he was responsible for training America’s top tennis players, including two players who represented the United States in the Olympics. He is the founder of Ferrara Fitness, a company designed to help people of all kinds looking to maximize their genetic potential.
Freelap USA: You spend more time doing high-intensity sprinting and movement and less time with a conventional warm-up. Can you share why you found success with this approach with both injuries and athlete development?
Keith Ferrara: I think the biggest thing I’ve seen a change in is athlete engagement and intent. When going through some more traditional methods, I felt the athletes weren’t as engaged and, more times than not, were just going through the motions. We know with any strength and speed program that the most important part is athlete buy-in and doing things to 100% of your ability for that given day. I only have 2-3 hours a week blocked off per team due to the heavy volume of athletes we see daily, so I needed to figure out a way to maximize their time with me.I believe changing the phrase “warm-up” to “Ignition Series” put it in the athletes’ minds that we would be firing out of the gates immediately and not easing into things, says @bigk28. Click To Tweet
I believe changing the phrase “warm-up” to “Ignition Series” put it in their mind that we were going to be firing out of the gates immediately and not easing into things. The outline of Reflexive Performance Reset™ (RPR), sprint mechanics, and timed sprint methods maximizes our time together and achieves the goal of improving performance. Introducing methods presented in both RPR and Be Activated, we immediately reset our bodies to fire the right way and mitigate our compensation patterns, therefore reducing the incidence of injury. We spend so much time in the weight room fixing technique, but we rarely see strength coaches focusing on the technical nuances of sprint mechanics. While the weight room is a huge tool, getting someone to learn to sprint the right way has an even greater carryover to sport.
The goal here is to work on simple aspects of sprint mechanics that will immediately have an impact on sprinting and not worry about turning them into Olympic track athletes. The last piece of the puzzle, timed sprints, is probably the most important aspect in improving performance. When you time sprints, you cannot fake effort.
As a coach, it also allows me to see on any given day how an athlete’s body is primed for the activity ahead. If numbers are slower, it’s time to scale back the volume and work on efficiency in the weight room. After implementing this protocol, we have seen fewer injuries and more improvements in both acceleration and max velocity speed across the entire year, including post-season competitions, when it matters most.
Freelap USA: Your article on starting a strength and conditioning program from scratch was a popular read with the SimpliFaster community. Will you make any recommendations specifically on sports technology, as you have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly?
Keith Ferrara: My first recommendation is don’t go the inexpensive route just to get some type of technology in your sports performance facility. The most important part is buying a quality product that has been validated by others, will give you consistent testing measures, and has great customer service. There is simply no reason to buy something that is of low quality because you will be replacing it down the road (trust me on this one). Carl Valle does a great job of reviewing products on SimpliFaster for coaches to purchase. To me, the staples of technology are timing lasers, VBT devices, and some type of technology that measures jumping ability.Buy a quality sports technology product that has been validated by others, will give you consistent testing measures, and has great customer service, says @bigk28. Click To Tweet
I believe, when it comes to timing sprints, that companies such as Dashr, MuscleLab, and Swift all offer quality products and cover a couple different aspects of assessments. If you are looking for simple linear and COD testing measures, Dashr is the most inexpensive of the three and will give you a couple of different options. I am a big fan of MuscleLab because you can link their lasers with their other products to do even more in-depth assessments with your athletes. Swift, the most expensive of the three, offers a high-quality product and includes such aspects as reaction testing, which will give you the freedom to do more tests that test true agility, as opposed to basic COD testing.
When it comes to VBT, obviously GymAware has proven to be the gold standard, but it may not be feasible for a school on a smaller budget. I have used OpenBarbell (now RepOne) in the past and have had success using VBT with my athletes. If you are looking for an inexpensive linear encoder, I believe that is the way to go. I think a company that really separates itself from others is Vmaxpro. They offer an amazing product with a lot of great tools, including the ability to measure bar path, which, in my opinion, is the future of VBT devices.
When it comes to jumping measurements, gFlight by Exsurgo offers an affordable option for coaches but has its downfalls when you are looking for repeated accuracy. Plus, the company does a poor job when it comes to customer service. To me, the contact grid by MuscleLab is the absolute cream of the crop in terms of jumping assessments, and it gives you the ability to measure both horizontal and vertical power.
Freelap USA: Monitoring is complex with sports like volleyball. Can you tell us how you approach fatigue and overload with such a complex sport?
Keith Ferrara: For certain sports, I believe coaches think there are restrictions on training because of the nature of the sport—I disagree with that assessment. Restrictions should come when looking at the individual and their injury history, but not based on the sport. Our biggest tool for managing overload in-season is consistency. We train three times a week whether we are playing the day of, the day before, or the day after.Training restrictions should be based on the individual and their injury history, not on the sport, says @bigk28. Click To Tweet
My approach with volleyball starts with RPR assessments to see if we have any compensation patterns we want to address before the year begins. This immediately shows us where the athlete is at a higher risk for injury and what activations we need to do to reset the body and reduce that risk. When looking at the RPR program in the weight room, we run an undulated block model; all of our girls start off with high-intensity load, low volume, and developing absolute strength, and then we tailor the program to the athletes as the year goes on. The focus depends on the training age of the athlete, and I base it on what I see on our sprinting assessments.
Our main lifts include squats, SBSS, clean, snatch, push press, and bench. One of the big things we do in-season is jumping, depending on the phase we are in (weighted, unweighted, or assisted). Volleyball players jump more than any other team sport athletes, and this is an area they need to improve. We do high-intensity, low-volume jumps, and in every year that I have worked with the sport, we have seen increases in jump power and, for most of the athletes, peaking around playoff time. We do jump testing to begin each week to see how the athletes’ bodies are responding to the training or to see if there is any significant drop-off from the previous week, which may be a sign of overtraining. We do sprint training 2-3 times a week, following the same Ignition Series I mentioned above.
Some of the biggest tools we have are heart rate monitors when it comes to game play: I calculate TRIMP (training impulse) for each girl to monitor any significant changes in their heart rate load after each practice/game. This year we had zero practices and games missed due to injury. Of course, many factors go into that number being so low, but our training has a big impact on the players’ health.
Freelap USA: Like many high school strength and conditioning coaches, you are responsible for all the teams. How do you manage all of the athletes and communicate with coaches?
Keith Ferrara: The key to being able to manage so many athletes is having assistant coaches who you can trust and delegate work to. I fell into that trap earlier in my career, believing that I had to do everything myself and that no one was capable of what I could do. With this mindset, you will burn out and have a very short career. There are people all over the country looking for experience in all type of settings. Reach out to coaches and network to find people who are looking for any type of hands-on work.The key to being able to manage so many athletes is having assistant coaches who you can trust and delegate work to, says @bigk28. Click To Tweet
Secondly, to train that high volume of athletes, you must have a training system in place. Make sure you go through a period where you educate your new coaches and ensure that all of you are on the same page. On the coaching side, develop relationships as soon as you get into your new position. Talk about the players first and foremost; they are the cornerstones of the program. Always make sure you are a resource for coaches if they have any questions with regard to sports performance, practice plans, nutrition, etc. By making yourself available and showing vulnerability with your answers, you will take steps in the right direction to develop a positive relationship.
Freelap USA: You are no stranger to the Olympic lifts. Now that you have seen the technology available on barbell path, what do you think the future is in the weight room with coaches and athletes?
Keith Ferrara: I am so excited where the future of technology and Olympic lifts is heading. I think companies such as Vmaxpro are doing an incredible job of bringing affordable bar path technology to coaches all around the world. Obviously, there is extreme value in understanding and tracking peak velocity in the Olympic movements, but it is also important for you to include bar path in your training because raw numbers improving on a clean or snatch are not indicative of improvements that will occur in other sports performance-related areas.
Bar path is the future because it is another resource we have as coaches to give feedback to our athletes and get better indication of carryover to sport. Some coaches have an “eye” for Olympic lifting and may be able to see when technique is less ideal. However, instead of banking on something that is subjective, why not have an objective visual that shows you where the bar path on a clean or snatch is trending? There is no replacement for years of experience, but having an extra tool to be able to make changes to technique in the Olympic movements is paramount to improving performance. VBT obviously has done tremendous things in terms of giving concrete metrics for coaches to gauge improvements, but no metrics may be as crucial as bar path moving forward.
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