Joel Reinhardt is the Assistant Director of Sports Performance at the University of Massachusetts, working with football and women’s lacrosse. He has previously served as an assistant at Nicholls State University, and as a GA at Springfield College.
Freelap USA: What are some key facets of how you manage data to assist coaches in practice planning?
Joel Reinhardt: The #1 factor is whether or not the ultimate decision-maker for physical loading in the program actually cares about conclusions drawn from the data. You have to have your head coach on board. That doesn’t mean every single recommendation you make gets implemented, but there has to be an understanding and relationship of collaboration in that realm.
Next would be to identify which metrics are truly impactful for your sport and even different positions within the sport. If a metric will not factor into your decision-making, then tracking it will just add noise to the system. For example, Catapult tracks several hundred metrics, but we only utilize five of them for our football team. Staying focused with the data allows us to be more targeted and not get lost in the weeds.
Third, as the performance staff, you must understand the game enough to bring detailed, actionable recommendations to the coaching staff. Instead of simply suggesting that today be a low-speed, high-force practice and stopping there, give a menu of drills or scenarios that the coaches regularly use that would fall into those specific categories. These types of recommendations will change based on whether the sport is more discrete (American football) or free-flowing (soccer, lacrosse).
Freelap USA: Based on the distribution of efforts in sprinting in team sports, how does this influence your speed training program? How do you best fill the “buckets” that are not addressed in practice, and how does this change as you move closer from the off-season to in-season?
Joel Reinhardt: I’ll start this with the disclaimer that any physical quality that can be built through practicing the sport should be built through practicing the sport. Any added skill development time is crucial. In scenarios where physical qualities cannot be built through practice, that’s where targeted supplementation can come in handy.
Team sports in the college setting have evolved enough with NCAA legislation that most teams essentially play year-round, with maybe some down time in the summer depending on the sport. As the performance team, it’s our job to identify the physical qualities that are being touched on in the sport, whether that be full team practice, individual sessions, or even informal open gyms, and build the supportive qualities around the sport that are important to performance but may not be truly stimulated during sport activity.
Specifically with lacrosse, the team had some sort of sport practice (captain’s practice, individual sessions, full team practice) for all but two weeks of the fall training block. With a lot of the fall being small-sided type of work, we supplemented true linear sprint training two times per week during the warm-up prior to practice. We also supplemented some extensive tempo volume two times per week because Coach preferred to use all of her time for small-sided skill development during the eight-hour weeks in the fall. If you simply looked at our performance plan on paper, you’d say that we don’t train any change of direction, but lacrosse is a game that naturally lends itself to having a high volume of change of direction, and so that bucket was being filled through practice and various plyometrics.
As the calendar shifts closer to the season, it’s important to still include the high-intensity outputs, but with adjusted volumes and densities. With lacrosse, larger sided games were utilized more frequently in practice, and the added stressors of the games were introduced (1-2 a week). Supplementary sprint workouts dropped to once a week to account for the added load from games, and all supplementary extensive tempo volume was cut out as we managed the balance of being as prepared as possible with being as fresh as possible. Overall, view whatever you implement as the performance staff through a global lens to ensure that you don’t overdo certain buckets and potentially ignore others.
Freelap USA: What’s your take on improving motor patterns that transfer into a game environment?
Joel Reinhardt: In order for a motor pattern to transfer over from the training environment to the sporting environment, it must be unconscious, hind-brain movement. If an athlete’s movement improves in training only because they are actively thinking about the positions they are falling into, those changes will not transfer over to the game when their thinking shifts to other aspects of the sport and unique environmental constraints are presented.
I view high-speed movements in a sporting environment through the lens that your body will put you in the most efficient positions that your current strength, elasticity, ranges of motion, and postural abilities will allow. These movements happen too fast for much, if any, of the movement to take place at a conscious level. If an athlete possesses the requisite strength, elasticity, ranges of motion, and postural abilities to perform the movement with “good technique,” then they will, and vice versa. Viewing movement through this lens, we try to use constraints whenever possible to enhance learning environments.
In sprinting, if you’ve identified that some part of the movement needs tweaking, it is crucial to identify what is truly the key limiter. Start with Newton’s third law of motion when deciding what is going wrong with someone’s sprint shapes. If you coach a reaction without addressing the underlying causal action, the changes made will be through conscious thought and will not carry over as well, if at all, to a competitive setting. In field sport athletes, this means being careful not to bring active, limb-based solutions to posture or force production-based problems.
For example, excessive backside mechanics stemming from an out-of-control pelvis might look prettier in isolation from “driving your knees up,” but you could potentially be slower in those prettier shapes because of what you are taking away from force production. And if you don’t address the underlying pelvic issue, the athlete will revert back once they are in a competitive environment and don’t actively focus on it.
Movement will be slightly different in-game based on the environment being presented to the athlete (e.g., a running back staying slightly lower-hipped than usual in anticipation of contact). Targeting the underlying qualities that inhibit good shapes ensures that the improved biomechanical positions come from unconscious self-organization and not conscious thought. This allows the shapes to be morphed and carry over into varying environments, ranging from a field hockey player needing to run a little more hunched over in anticipation of receiving a pass to a running back who has nothing but green grass in front of him for 80 yards and who falls into picture-perfect shapes.
Freelap USA: What are some important factors to you in the process of hamstring injury reduction?
Joel Reinhardt: With field sports, I’d argue that the ground contact incurred during locomotion is the most utilized skill in the sport. It might not be the most impactful in terms of who wins and who loses—that is most certainly the specific sporting skills (shooting a basketball, etc.)— but it is definitely the skill performed in the highest volumes. While most of that volume occurs at very low speeds, over thousands of contacts, any sort of inefficiencies can quickly start gathering micro-traumas that add up over time. And when the high-speed moments do come along, the tissues need to be prepared for those forces and speeds. That being said, I’d rank biomechanically efficient sprinting, quality of foot interaction with the ground, and regular exposure to high-speed sprinting as the most important factors for hamstring injury reduction.
Ultimately, injuring a tissue will come down to the load, or rate of loading, being incurred by that tissue. I can have theoretically perfect sprint mechanics, but if I’m never exposed to high speeds, then the tissues will still give if they are exposed to a load that they cannot handle. However, being an efficient mover allows for frequent exposures to the highest speeds that will be incurred during the games. Knowing how to properly introduce the highest speeds of sprinting while still reinforcing proper movement is tremendously important.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb has a great section in Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder where he says avoiding small mistakes will only make the big ones larger. A specific example is if humans do too much in an area to prevent forest fires, then when one inevitably happens, it is massive because so much of the kindling that would have been managed during small fires has now built up.
When exposing athletes to new intensities and postures in training, even in a progressively scaled manner, you might have some minor soft tissue issues pop up (small forest fires). It is easy in these situations to peel back training too much. I am obviously not saying that we hope for minor tweaks, but in situations where you expose athletes to appropriate intense loading but don’t control every aspect of their nutrition and recovery, things might pop up. This provides you with an opportunity to identify and intervene with the underlying cause of the issue that might not have been shown at lower intensities.
Whether the decision is conscious or unconscious, avoiding the loading situations where small forest fires might happen on our watch (a training session) simply bumps the occurrence of the massive forest fire to happen under someone else’s watch (during the sport), where it is easier to explain away and avoid responsibility. Because of this, it’s important to first introduce this type of work early in an off-season and reinforce it year-round.
Supportive work in the weight room is valuable, but a 500N NordBord output won’t save Johnny if he’s heel-striking his way down the field for 90 minutes a day at practice.
Freelap USA: How do you approach tempo in working in the weight room? What elements have influenced how you utilize various tempos, and how do they change throughout the year?
Joel Reinhardt: Using tempo during lifts in the weight room ultimately allows us to more intricately control total time under tension (TUT). Early in the off-season we utilize a lot of tempos to help reinforce our go-to movement patterns in the weight room that maybe haven’t been touched on in several weeks over a winter break or to help emphasize specific positions within the lift (pauses at different angles). We get great bang for our buck from the tempos because not only are we able to reinforce positions, but the increased TUT works well early in the off-season when absolute intensities won’t necessarily be sky-high.
As the off-season progresses, our usage of tempos decreases, as we seek to drive up the intensity of training whether through increased load on the bar or increased speed of movement. With skill players, eccentric/isometric loading is a key element of their training year-round; we just cycle where the majority of that stimulus comes from throughout the calendar. In the winter, when our jumps are more extensive and sprint volumes are lower, the weight room work has a higher percentage of tempo. As we move toward the season, plyometrics intensify and sprint volumes climb, so our overall volume of weight room work diminishes, but even more specifically, we remove any sort of slow tempo work almost entirely leading up to the competitive season.
We make sure to keep a close eye on the balance between utilizing tempo and pushing the absolute intensities. For our logistical situation, we don’t necessarily feel comfortable implementing true supramaximal isometrics or eccentrics. Knowing that, we closely monitor the amount of TUT in each individual set to ensure that we stay in the zone that we want from the standpoint of loading on the tissues. Some exercises may be progressed by intensifying load at the same TUT, while others will be progressed by dropping TUT and raising load on the bar at a steeper rate.
Lastly, an underrated aspect of utilizing tempo in the weight room is ensuring that your athletes actually perform the work for the amount of time that you prescribe. Have a clock in the weight room that training partners can look at and count off of. The detail of execution is really what matters in order to achieve the desired physiological outcome.