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Brad DeWeese, EdD, CSCS, NSCA-CPT Brad DeWeese is an assistant professor within the Physical Education, Exercise, and Sport department at East Tennessee State University (ETSU), which also serves as a designed United States Olympic Training Site. In addition, DeWeese is the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for the USA Canoe/Kayak slalom team while also continuing to serve as a coach to several Team USA Olympic athletes competing in bobsled, skeleton, and track and field. Prior to his work at ETSU, DeWeese was employed as the Head of Sport Physiology at the US Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, NY, where he oversaw the physical training of the winter division. He earned his Doctorate from North Carolina State University and holds several certifications including the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist® (CSCS®) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).
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1. How long have you been working in the field of strength and conditioning? I have been in the field of strength and conditioning for 15 years, starting as a graduate assistant strength and conditioning coach at Western Carolina University and working primarily with baseball and Olympic sports. Upon graduation, I became the assistant track and field coach at the University of North Carolina-Asheville (UNCA) overseeing the sprinters, hurdlers, and jumpers. During this time, I started the Strength and Conditioning Department, which eventually became my second full-time position at the university. Throughout the process, we created an athlete monitoring program in order to optimize training decisions and give undergraduate students a chance to apply theoretical/classroom knowledge in a practical setting. During my tenure at UNCA, I became passionate and involved with national sport through such initiatives as the United States of America Track and Field (USATF) Coaching Education Program, developing a training site partnership with USA Weightlifting (USAW), and serving as the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for USA Canoe/Kayak slalom team. A few years later, I had the opportunity to serve as the United States Olympic Center’s (USOC) Head Sport Physiologist for the Winter Division in Lake Placid, NY. 2. What is your training style/methods regarding training?My training style is influenced by the work of Dr. Mike Stone and Charlie Francis. Since the beginning of my career, I have served as both a sprint coach and a strength coach, so the development of a methodology that merges speed development strategies with strength development has been advantageous for me. With regard to strength development, I utilize a strategy that is built on conjugate sequential programming, which incorporates phase potentiation through concentrated loads and controlled overreaching strategies. This is coupled alongside a speed development philosophy that uses the short to long approach, where accelerative abilities are emphasized prior to exposing the athlete to maximum velocity training. The idea is that athletes can achieve higher speeds via optimized acceleration abilities and enhanced strength via weight training. Concerning day-to-day programming, there are many nuances: how we set the load in the weight room through relative intensities, the order of exercises based on long-term procedural memory development and lift kinematics, and work-to-rest ratios (clusters). We focus on the tried and true exercises such as squats, presses, weightlifting derivatives, and full weightlifting movements. On the track, the training is based on the athlete’s event, but we always start with a focus on acceleration. A motto I learned early is “don’t sprint 11 meters until you can sprint 10.” We typically begin the first block on an incline to promote a natural body angle, low shin angles, and propulsive forces that will complement “flat ground” sprinting. Eventually, the acceleration work gives way to longer accelerations, transition work, and velocity training. 3. How has this training style/methods evolved over the years?At the beginning of my career, I was very strict about how we progressed and stayed true to “the philosophy.” Over time, however, I have become less dogmatic. This is similar to how a teacher develops. At first, they teach solely “by the book,” as they have not developed their own practices through experience. As they work in their field, they accrue more classroom-based evidence and are able to complement their formal learning with their own experiences. Finally, the teacher’s experiences serve as the primary guide on how to instruct their students. At this point, their formal education acts as a support for the craft of teaching. As such, I do have a strong philosophy on training that is founded on a healthy balance of both experience and education. The monitoring system we have in place allows me to see specific differences that occur for each athlete upon completion of each training block. This holds me accountable to the athletes, forces me to reflect on my belief system and adapt my training to new information, and demonstrates how the training system manipulates the athlete’s status. A specific example would be our ability to quantify ground contact times, step velocity, peak force, and rate of force development through advancing technologies. Now, instead of making decisions based solely on education and “faith,” I am able to refine my decisions based on hard information.4. Who has influenced you the most throughout your career and why? I have been very fortunate to learn from a few of the brightest minds in the field of sport performance and coaching. First, I cannot express my gratitude enough for the mentorship that Dr. Mike Stone and his wife Coach Meg Stone have provided over the course of my career. The insights they have provided regarding strength training, applied physiology, and monitoring have been invaluable. In addition to the Stones, I had a strong and frequent line of communication with the late Charlie Francis, who taught me a great deal on speed development, talent management, and track-side therapy. Learning from these individuals helped me forge a training theory that synergistically builds off both philosophies. 5. How do you adapt your programming to fit the needs of each athlete you work with?To begin any coach-athlete relationship, I start with building a strong line of communication. These unscripted discussions allow me to gain a better understanding of the athlete’s training background, their work tolerance, and how to best move forward. This communication supports the monitoring data and serves both as a guide for the training and reinforces the fact that the athlete has a hand in their training. This process continues as the relationship develops in order to determine the efficacy of exercises, training volumes, loading schemes, etc. We often forget that the same athlete isn’t exactly the same physiological specimen they were last year, so each phase of training is a chance to revisit choices made for their unique situation and their sporting requirements. Thus, my ability to adapt the training choices and environment relies on fruitful communication between the athletes and me.6. What do you think is the most overlooked concept in the field of strength and conditioning?In my opinion, the most overlooked concept in the field of strength and conditioning is the ability to visualize, understand, and manage the various aspects of training. For instance, a traditional strength and conditioning coach may be well versed in strength/power development, but not fully aware of how to properly develop speed within the same plan. In addition, these training volumes and the training load from work capacity development would need to be balanced with recovery. Finally, the strength and conditioning coach must understand how to prescribe properly dosed nutritional countermeasures in their plan. My belief is that we should all be generalists that can supervise the training plan “from 30,000 feet away” while having the ability to zoom in to “ground level” to refine specific areas.7. What resources do you use the most when it comes to getting continuing education as it pertains to the field?With regard to continuing education, my own development coincides with advances in the field of andragogy. As I have matured and have had to balance multiple jobs, family, travel, etc., I have relied on a variety of self-directed learning opportunities such as communication with other coaches/scientists in the field, reading scholarly articles, and attending conferences. Based on a lecture on personal development given by Dr. Dan Wathen a few years ago, I challenged myself to read 2 – 3 articles each morning before work.This process is a bit different from the earlier years where my learning came in the form of formal education and guided mentorships. I challenged and affirmed my existing knowledge through conversations with mentors, who further provided me with the toolsets that helped get me to where I am today. I am also extremely lucky to be working at East Tennessee State University (ETSU), which is both an academic program in sport science and a designated Olympic Training Site. For one, I work alongside Mike and Meg Stone, and Dr. Bill Sands. Further, we mentor over 60 graduate students who are passionate about sport performance. Together, this mixture has created a culture of innovation and creative thought around the clock. As a result, continuing education is part of the job. 8. What is your take on “specificity” of training and how (if so) do you apply it to your programming?Specificity is a big word with many interpretations. While one would say we are getting closer to understanding how exercise selection and training tasks transfer to sport, we are still fuzzy on the specifics (neurologically and physiologically speaking). For instance, a major aim of many programs is to begin the training year with an emphasis on hypertrophy. There are several ways to meet this objective, but some research (Abe, et al. 2003; Wakahara, et al. 2013; and Wells, et al. 2014) demonstrates that we need to pay close attention to the chosen exercises, as muscular development is not as uniform as we would like to think. Thus, we need to utilize exercises that both provide the necessary training stimulus and possess a strong carry-over to athletic performance. Within my framework of understanding specificity, I tend to look at the kinematic requirements of the sport and build from there. For example, it can be argued that sprint speed is underpinned by the production of high vertical forces in a short amount of time during the stance phase (minimal ground contact time). In other words, we can say that successful sprinters have high rates of force development. In addition, sprinters also utilize the stretch shortening cycle to assist in propulsion down the track. Combining this information leads me to believe that the incorporation of weightlifting movements and derivatives such as the mid-thigh pull have a great deal of crossover to sprinting as they overload the stretch-shortening cycle and provide the athlete with an opportunity to produce high forces in a short amount of time.9. What is your favorite tool in your toolbox?Without a doubt, my favorite tool in the metaphorical “tool box” is communication. Specifically, I utilize two types of communication: traditional coach-athlete interactions and the data colleced through monitoring. I have come to believe that a program is only as strong as the bond between the parties involved. For instance, many of us have probably caught ourselves saying that a certain coach “doesn’t have a lot of coaching success but they sure do know training theory.” On the flipside, some of us have also wondered, “I don’t know how this coach continues to win; their training system doesn’t make any sense.” In both scenarios, the deciding factor could be the relationship between the coach and the athlete(s). Sometimes the brightest coach cannot articulate their thoughts in a way that enhances athlete buy-in, motivation, etc. While I am not suggesting the relationship makes up for bad planning, but, optimal leadership can further enhance an optimal program. As a practical example, I use various monitoring tools to further the communication with an athlete. When an athlete is asked how they feel, they might respond with “I feel like I have a lot of pop today” (qualitative). They cannot, however, tell me their rate of force development. While the conversations at practice can assist in gaining clarity on chronic development, the athlete cannot speak to the minute changes in conduction velocities, fiber shifts, metabolic state, vitamin/mineral deficiencies, and hormonal profiles. Thus, a monitoring program provides objective data that can quantify athlete readiness or a lack thereof. I should caution, however, that practitioners should understand that true, comprehensive coaching is an art supported by the sciences. In no way should force plates ever write the training plan.10. What are your 5 favorite exercises?Selecting five exercises is rather difficult because the advantage of one exercise over another is founded on several factors: - The emphasis of the training phase - The ability of an athlete to accurately “hit” positions that allow for a transfer of training effect - The synergistic relationship between exercises and other training methods
Having said that, I am a firm believer in utilizing “tried and true” methods of athlete development that demonstrate crossover to improvements in athlete performance. While we use variations and derivatives of these movements throughout the training year, a bulk of my programming emphasizes the following: 1. Sprinting (enhancing acceleration then graduating to velocity work when ready) 2. Olympic-style lifts and derivatives (both clean and snatch pulls from varying positions) 3. Squats (emphasizing full range of motion, with both back and front variations) 4. Push press/push jerks/split jerks (continued investment in rate of force development) 5. Elastic strength movements (miometric jumps/throws in conjunction with traditional plyometrics in later phases)
As such, you will find the weightroom and track devoid of training aids and “toys.” From an outside perspective, it may seem that simply sprinting, squatting, and jumping is too plain for elite athletes training for a spot on Team USA in the Olympic Games, but I argue that complex does not necessarily mean correct, and simple does not necessarily mean small. The effect of proper training, even with “mundane” tasks, can be dramatic in sports where hundredths of a second separate a podium-performance from a fourth place finish.
11. What advice do you have for young coaches who are beginning their careers and hoping to “follow in your footsteps?” Strangely enough, the advice I give younger professionals in this field is more about personal actions/coaching behaviors and less about “sport science.” Based on my own career and experiences, I firmly believe that a coach should practice critical self-reflection on a daily basis. All too often, we want to “grade” ourselves based on an athlete’s performance or against another strength/speed or performance coach. While I have certainly been guilty of comparing my work to others, I find now that the only criterion of success is yourself. The only way to improve is by looking at your own body of work (interactions with athletes, programming choices, monitoring data, and competitive results) and reevaluating those decisions. When we are honest with ourselves, we can understand our shortcomings and take a more honest approach toward personal development. This serves to improve the decisions we make for the athletes under our care.In addition, this outlook on the coaching process prevents someone from falling victim to the aforementioned dogmatic mindset. Dogmatism is a product of many behaviors and feelings, including comfort/complacency with training outcomes, a desire to lobby for a certain “training theory,” and the unwanted feelings that arise from acknowledging you could have made better decisions. Finally, I am not afraid to tell younger coaches that I know less than I thought I knew 15 years ago, because I am very aware of all the subject matter I have yet to learn or fully understand. Ultimately, when we are honest with one another in this manner, it is difficult to tear each other down.