Science of Sports Performance

Interview with Gene Mirra of University of Pacific

[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]Gene Mirra is the Head basketball strength & Conditioning coach at University of Pacific.  He has extensive experience in both training athletes using different modalities and tools, so we asked him about his training protocols and use of the force plate in the weight room.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]SO: Tell us about your training background, where you started and how you found yourself at University of Pacific.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]

GM:  I started my career out as a GA at San Jose State under Coach Jeff Pitman in ‘98. I was there as undergraduate and started as a GA for one year. Jeff took the Head job at Boise St, and SJSU decided to bring in Kim Sword. Let’s just say Kim and I didn’t exactly hit it off. Now, before Jeff left for Boise, Cal had called him to see if he had anyone that would be interested in a position and he gave Todd Rice my name. Long story short, Cal needed a new GA and I couldn’t wait to get out of my position at SJSU, so I moved on to Cal with Todd Rice in ‘99. I finished the year as a GA, then moved on to become a full-time Asst at Cal for another couple years. In 2003, Saint Mary’s College called Todd to see if I was interested in their position and I eventually took the job and became the school’s first S&C coach they ever had. I was at SMC for 11+ years until I decided to take this current position at Univ of Pacific. I also worked with the San Francisco 49ers in ’04 for Off-Season training and Training Camp.[/vc_column_text][TS-VCSC-Divider divider_type=”ts-divider-border” divider_text_position=”center” divider_text_border=”#eeeeee” divider_image_position=”center” divider_image_border=”#eeeeee” divider_icon_position=”center” divider_icon_color=”#cccccc” divider_icon_border=”#eeeeee” divider_border_type=”outset” divider_border_thick=”1″ divider_border_color=”#eeeeee” margin_top=”20″ margin_bottom=”20″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

GM:  Lets get straight to it, you have a force plate you get to use daily in your training, tell us about it.

[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]GM: Yes, very fortunate to get to work with a force plate at my convenience! We are using a Kistler plate and Sparta Trac software. This specific software gives us more usable values than your standard force plate reading. This allows us to do some really cool stuff with team/athlete programming as well as help make recommendations to coaches regarding readiness of team/individuals.

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SO: What have you found in experimenting and using the force plate with different athletes? 

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GM: This is a tough question to answer because it’s really dependent on each individual and their situation, but in general, the force plate is the great reference point for how the athlete/team is functioning at any given time.  What I like about force plate testing is that it takes out any bias the test may have. Just using FMS as an example, there’s a degree of inter-rater reliability that any of the tests have whereas the force plate doesn’t have those issues.

There are certain characteristics that athletes have from each sport that makes them unique from the others. For example, Baseball players tend to load well eccentrically and concentrically and not as much isometrically. Basketball players tend to produce eccentrically and isometrically, but not so good concentrically. Long field sports tend to have better concentric production with lower isometric and eccentric production, but again, all these are just generalizations.[/vc_column_text][TS-VCSC-Divider divider_type=”ts-divider-border” divider_text_position=”center” divider_text_border=”#eeeeee” divider_image_position=”center” divider_image_border=”#eeeeee” divider_icon_position=”center” divider_icon_color=”#cccccc” divider_icon_border=”#eeeeee” divider_border_type=”outset” divider_border_thick=”1″ divider_border_color=”#eeeeee” margin_top=”20″ margin_bottom=”20″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

SO: How has the force plate changed your training philosophy and protocols compared to before having it?

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GM: I wouldn’t say the force plate has changed the way I view my own personal philosophy, in fact, I would say it’s likely connected the dots on what I felt was the case all along. In my case, I would see things with my eyes but couldn’t necessarily quantify with a number if I needed to go to a sport coach with an issue…now I have that metric.[/vc_column_text][TS-VCSC-Divider divider_type=”ts-divider-border” divider_text_position=”center” divider_text_border=”#eeeeee” divider_image_position=”center” divider_image_border=”#eeeeee” divider_icon_position=”center” divider_icon_color=”#cccccc” divider_icon_border=”#eeeeee” divider_border_type=”outset” divider_border_thick=”1″ divider_border_color=”#eeeeee” margin_top=”20″ margin_bottom=”20″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

SO: Have you used it for measuring the activity of the nervous system in an athlete, to find out what level of readiness they are at?

[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]GM: Yes, absolutely, in fact, I’d say that this is one of the great uses of our set-up. While there are maybe other alternatives that are much less expensive at assessing readiness, it’s tough to dispute the amount of force an athlete is producing from one date to another.

During the Off-Season, we generally jump every 3 weeks, at the end of each block. This gives us some feedback on how the block went and how the athlete is adapting. In-Season, we jump once a week to assess recovery and fatigue levels. That said, I generally won’t test right after road trips because they generally are more fatiguing on the body than being at home.[/vc_column_text][TS-VCSC-Divider divider_type=”ts-divider-border” divider_text_position=”center” divider_text_border=”#eeeeee” divider_image_position=”center” divider_image_border=”#eeeeee” divider_icon_position=”center” divider_icon_color=”#cccccc” divider_icon_border=”#eeeeee” divider_border_type=”outset” divider_border_thick=”1″ divider_border_color=”#eeeeee” margin_top=”20″ margin_bottom=”20″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]SO: What have you learned from using the force plate that coaches without one could implement?[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]

GM: I would say to pay attention to how your athlete performs their vertical jump test…it can tell you a lot! When I say pay attention, I mean pay attention to the details like how they eccentrically load, do the collapse when they transition from eccentric to concentric, how long is their eccentric phase, etc. These all correlate to what they do on the field.

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SO: What training philosophies and protocols have most influenced how you train your athletes today?

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GM:  I have to say I’ve been very fortunate to be around some very high-level coaches and training systems that most will never be able to experience. I started out as a typical meathead lifter who learned from Flex, Muscle Media, and PLing USA magazines. I then got to a point when I was 20 or 21 and I started lifting with the PLers and Weightlifters at my Gold’s Gym. I learned a lot from those guys just on the basics. When I got to Cal, Todd Rice really pushed my Weightlifting and sprinting knowledge. This was where I was first introduced the to infamous Russian Texts. He had us read them and he taught us how they programmed. While this was over-the-top learning, it really made things click for me as far as volume and percentages. Years later, I was invited out to train with a group of elite level PLers at a place called Diablo Barbell. This is where I trained and learned the Conjugate System inside and out. I believe at one time, we had the most amounts of classified Elite lifters outside of Westside. Again, I really learned a lot from this experience, and a lot of what I do now was a result of this experience. At some point during my Diablo years, I was told that the famous/infamous Ivan Abadjiev was in town and was working with a group of lifters and even brought some Bulgarians with him. I was one of the few outsiders that was able to come in and watch the training there. So, all these experiences shape what my current philosophy is today. I would also say working with the Sparta Trac software and force plate has also

The biggest thing that stuck with me from from PLing days and seeing the Bulgarians train was that the body can take a lot of stress, and you will adapt as long as you give your body the tools to recover. In fact, to hit big numbers, you need to stress the body. I like to use the Conan the Barbarian example when a young Conan was pushing the Wheel of Pain….over time, he went from a skinny kid to being the only one left pushing the wheel and being a jacked Conan![/vc_column_text][TS-VCSC-Divider divider_type=”ts-divider-border” divider_text_position=”center” divider_text_border=”#eeeeee” divider_image_position=”center” divider_image_border=”#eeeeee” divider_icon_position=”center” divider_icon_color=”#cccccc” divider_icon_border=”#eeeeee” divider_border_type=”outset” divider_border_thick=”1″ divider_border_color=”#eeeeee” margin_top=”20″ margin_bottom=”20″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

SO: With so many athletes, how are you able to separate the training from your underdeveloped athletes to your advanced athletes within the same teams?

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GM: While I work through progressions on the big lifts, one thing that stuck with me when watching the Bulgarians train was the fact that everyone did pretty much the same workout. I literally saw a 14 year old who was just learning how to lift weights essentially doing the exact workout that Donnie Shankle and Martin Pashov were doing. So while I think it’s wise to gradually build into whatever lifts philosophically a coach believes in, you also don’t need to over-complicate things and just teach athletes the lifts and let them go with it.

SO: Does the fact that they are training for a specific lift as opposed to your athletes developing sport readiness change this? (address that, a lot of coaches will ask the same thing)

GM: I don’t want to come off like I just throw everyone out in the middle of the ocean when they’re learning to swim. The truth is we have a progression system that we won’t advance an athlete through until they’re ready, but my point is that I won’t hold someone back just because they are young in training. As an example, we have a transfer who’s about as low on the progression system that I’ve ever seen and been around, and to counter that, I have a freshman right now who’s done very little weight room work before coming here, who’s advanced to train right along with our returning players because he’s demonstrated the ability that he can handle the same training the rest of the team is doing. I guess this is where having a big training background, both with athletes and individually as a lifter, allows me to have a better feel on how to advance each individual. There’s no replacement for being experienced.[/vc_column_text][TS-VCSC-Divider divider_type=”ts-divider-border” divider_text_position=”center” divider_text_border=”#eeeeee” divider_image_position=”center” divider_image_border=”#eeeeee” divider_icon_position=”center” divider_icon_color=”#cccccc” divider_icon_border=”#eeeeee” divider_border_type=”outset” divider_border_thick=”1″ divider_border_color=”#eeeeee” margin_top=”20″ margin_bottom=”20″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

GM: What does your annual training plan usually look like for your basketball team? 

[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]GM:

I set my training up in blocks along with a wave loading system I’ve created. I can pretty much adjust my blocks to whatever I want to focus on through this wave loading system. This is the easiest way I can explain it, not that it’s so complicated, but it allows me the flexibility to train all the intensity zones I want to cover and still keep things in a somewhat linear function with regards to preparation for the upcoming season. It encompasses everything I’ve seen work for an athlete over the years of doing this, so there’s a lot of little tricks and tweeks here and there I’ve found that keep forcing the adaptation process.

I actually start our Off-Season with a 6-week strength block. The reason is because all we do is pretty much lift, a little conditioning, and a bit of basketball individuals. The guys will have an easier time recovering from whatever stress I throw at them at this stage, so we really push the weights hard, and concurrently, we actually keep accessory lifts high volume, so tendon and ligament strength is improving concurrently with strength. After we finish this block, we then move into our mandatory 8-week summer training where the basketball part of training increases a lot more. During this block we start to focus on our speed and agility training, and I actually try and build my repeated efforts in the weight room. The last few weeks of this period we will make another strength push as the team is fairly adapted to the increased basketball and conditioning work. After this phase, the team is on their own for a month and I just want them to try and do some lifting and running a few times a week so that when they return, they won’t totally be out of routine.

Pre-Season usually depends on how experienced our team is with basketball…if it’s an experienced group, we may try and make another push in strength and explosiveness, and if it’s inexperienced, I tend to let the basketball side of things dictate how much we should be doing. This is where our force plate and software is handy because we can do the right amount of stressing without pushing them over the edge. In-Season, I probably do stuff that no other basketball S&C coach does…we train at high intensities but lower volumes. I’ve found this to be the best with maintaining strength throughout the year. This doesn’t mean that we train heavy each time out, but I’m not afraid to push the intensity at all.[/vc_column_text][TS-VCSC-Divider divider_type=”ts-divider-border” divider_text_position=”center” divider_text_border=”#eeeeee” divider_image_position=”center” divider_image_border=”#eeeeee” divider_icon_position=”center” divider_icon_color=”#cccccc” divider_icon_border=”#eeeeee” divider_border_type=”outset” divider_border_thick=”1″ divider_border_color=”#eeeeee” margin_top=”20″ margin_bottom=”20″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

SO: What new training modalities have you introduced in the last few years that have given your athletes the biggest return?

[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]GM: I would say the identification of fatigue has been the thing that interests me the most these days. I can get whatever desired outcome out of any athlete I’m training, but learning when the right time to pull back or add either in the weight room, conditioning, or at practice is the piece that interests me the most. I’ve tried various methods of HRV, Tap Tests, Reaction Tests, and now our Sparta Trac software, they all mean something and have a place in determining the athletes level of preparedness.

I have a theory that a lot of our readiness shows up in our hands, so I’m especially fond of the tap test and hand reaction tests. I remember reading back years ago why at Westside they didn’t do a lot of deadlifting and it had to do with the amount of grip work being CNS fatiguing. This made a lot of sense to me because I’ve always associated feeling good with having great strength in my hands, and when I was tired, I didn’t feel like I had any grip strength nor did I want to handle anything heavy in my hands. So I really think that our hands tell us a lot with how our level of readiness is at any given point. I’ve also found that a readiness questionnaire correlates pretty strongly as well…put it this way, I don’t think you need to spend a ton of money to asses readiness. I think RPE and readiness questionnaires go a long way, and if you want to spend a few bucks, the tap test, reaction test, and HRV apps can be had for a very small price.[/vc_column_text][TS-VCSC-Divider divider_type=”ts-divider-border” divider_text_position=”center” divider_text_border=”#eeeeee” divider_image_position=”center” divider_image_border=”#eeeeee” divider_icon_position=”center” divider_icon_color=”#cccccc” divider_icon_border=”#eeeeee” divider_border_type=”outset” divider_border_thick=”1″ divider_border_color=”#eeeeee” margin_top=”20″ margin_bottom=”20″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]

SO: If you were to recommend three books to coaches, what would they be?

[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]GM:

Just 3 is so hard…I seem to find things meaningful in just about every book I end up reading.

TriPhasic Training was a really great read because it validated some of the theories I had about training.

Louie Simmons Book of Methods was good because it sort of summarized the collection of writings by Louie over the years into a book.

The Last book that I’ve read recently that I liked was Squat Every Day by Matt Perryman. Recently, I’m enjoying most things being written Mike Israeltel, in fact, I literally just started reading his new book today, Scientific Principles of Strength Training.[/vc_column_text][TS-VCSC-Divider divider_type=”ts-divider-border” divider_text_position=”center” divider_text_border=”#eeeeee” divider_image_position=”center” divider_image_border=”#eeeeee” divider_icon_position=”center” divider_icon_color=”#cccccc” divider_icon_border=”#eeeeee” divider_border_type=”outset” divider_border_thick=”1″ divider_border_color=”#eeeeee” margin_top=”20″ margin_bottom=”20″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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Steve Olson

Steve Olson is a sports performance coach with a special interest in program design and periodization. He believes training is planning and tracking, and uses many different but effective methods of training for the short and long term development of athletes. He has trained Athletes from youth, high school, collegiate and professional, and utilizes different periodization models, training systems and modalities for each to maximize the athletic return from that athlete. He is also the owner and founder of Excel Training Designs, and can be reached at steveolson2202@gmail.com

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