Lessons Learned As a Grad Assistant Working With The University of Georgia Football Strength and Conditioning Staff

By Anna Woodring, MTI Strength & Conditioning Coach

The University of Georgia’s football team has become a force to be reckoned with in college football, having clinched two consecutive national championships. As a graduate student at UGA for the past two seasons, I had the privilege of working with this incredible team during their championship seasons. This invaluable experience allowed me to witness firsthand the inner workings of a top-tier program and provided me with the tools to be successful moving forward.

  • Programming at the facility is overseen by the head strength coach, who calls the shots on each phase of training. While the assistant coaches provide input, the final decision rests with the head coach. During the planning stage, the assistants help with exercise selection and make recommendations to the head coach, who ultimately decides what the team will focus on.
  • Programming issued is a relatively simple design. Starting with off-season hypertrophy work, building the “armor” by developing bigger muscles and fibers. Strength progression is next with plyometrics incorporated, which are essential for getting strong and durable, helping prevent ACL tears and other contact-related injuries. Plyometrics work the players through acceleration/deceleration drills, single-leg jumping and landing, change of direction, and more. This is on the front end of the off season strength phase, with a transition from the field to the weight room each day. Next players will move on to the power phase, which they will sit in essentially until and through the season while only adjusting reps/sets. Plyometrics are still utilized in this phase, but not as heavily. The power phase is the longest phase and overlaps with strength during pre-season.
  • UGA Power programming deploys the Perch Fit camera system which tracts barbell velocity. Barbell movements used are power clean, hang clean, trap-bar deadlift, benchpress, and back squat – and the main measure of progression and completion is not barbell load, but barbell velocity. Chains and resistance bands are incorporated as well during certain phases of the season. This system ensures that players are hitting the necessary power (barbell speed) zone for the phase of training they are in. For instance, during the strength speed phase, the velocity of the barbell coming up during a squat should be between 0.75-1 m/s. Velocity charts online typically prescribe 40-60% of one’s 1RM, which is a broad range. The Perch system allows coaches to watch and throw on more weight if the velocity is above the range or lighten the load if the player fails to hit the zone.
  • Conditioning is a key part of football practice, with players constantly on the move between drills and fields. At the end of practice, strength coaches challenge athletes to complete 53s by running from sideline to sideline. Each set takes an average of 10 seconds to complete, with 30 seconds of rest in between. While the number of sets can vary depending on the phase of training, missing the target time means extra sets. Off-season and preseason workouts often feature 300m gassers, a known favorite conditioning exercise. 
  • Core training is given very low priority at this level, with players potentially only getting 30 sit-ups each day, if time permits. With a full day of weights, practice, film, meetings, classes, and tutoring, strength coaches have only about an hour per group. This means coaches are focusing on taxing the core with compound movements. 
  • Two exercises dominate UGA football: the neck machine and power clean, both of which are used year-round. The neck machine is crucial for preventing injuries and is used almost daily to build neck strength. Sets and reps vary, but typically progress from higher reps to reps of five with weights of 85+ pounds, working all directions of the neck. The power clean is essential for strength and explosiveness Strength phase of this exercise is low reps and higher sets of up to six working close to 1RM. The power phase relies on the Perch system to place an emphasis on barbell speed and quickness. Percentages will drop during this time, while sets remain high with three to four reps. 
  • Strength coaches expect discipline. Discipline translates from the weight room to practice and the games. Players who lack discipline in the weight room are more likely to jump offside or start sprinting before the whistle, costing the team valuable yards. UGA strength coaches demand attention to detail and hard work in every training session.  Attention to detail is expected, with hard work each session. Players are expected to hold themselves and each other accountable, both on the field and off. 
  • Strength coaches are expected bring energy each day while running the weight room floor. This includes screaming encouragement, loud music, etc. There is one head strength coach and four assistant coaches. Typically, the weight room is divided into four sections, with one assistant coach per section. The head strength coach acts as a rover between sections. On a regular day, the ratio is ten to fifteen athletes per assistant strength coach in each section.

Key points on how to be successful strength coach at a high level D1 football program:

  1. Any job is your job. The strength coaches work their asses and readily do whatever the head coach needs. If that means cleaning the floor for 10 hours, then do it willingly and well. Be the “yes sir” coach.
  2. Don’t complain. At this high level, long days of up to 12 hours, six days a week are common during both in-season and off-season. Everyone is working hard, so complaining will only hurt your chances of success.
  3. Keep it simple. I went into UGA assuming we would be learning some new age programming with some extreme design that no other coach has used before. What I observed is simple, effective programming deployed extremely well. No gimmicks or tricks. Just detailed, hard work.
  4. Time management is key for strength coaches. The coaches are always doing something productive. If they weren’t not cleaning, programming, or in meetings, they were working on research or reading books to improve themselves.
  5. Find the buy-in. Players must believe that the program will help them get bigger, faster, stronger, and better at football – and they must know the strength coaches believe in the system. Practice consistency and let the results speak for themselves. 
  6. Energy, energy, more energy. Bring the energy to every training session. Coaches have to be at 100% each and every day. Players won’t respond unless coaches are motivated. Sick or tired? Load up on  Emergen-C or Red Bull and suck it up – there are no off days in  D-1 college football. 

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