NSCA’s Coaching Podcast, Episode 102: Drew Hammond

by Eric McMahon, MEd, CSCS, RSCC*D and Drew Hammond, CSCS, TSAC-F
Coaching Podcast May 2021


Drew Hammond, Army Holistic Health and Fitness (H2F) Program Director at Fort Bragg, talks to the NSCA Coaching and Sport Science Program Manager, Eric McMahon, about differences between tactical and collegiate strength and conditioning. Topics include the Army H2F Program, tactical athlete programming, and how to pursue military strength and conditioning positions.

Find Drew on LinkedIn: Drew Hammond | Find Eric on Instagram: @ericmcmahoncscs or Twitter: @ericmcmahoncscs

Show Notes

“But I think the most unique part about it in hindsight, and this is what I tell people getting into the field, is that I was born and raised in a non-American strength and conditioning system. So some of the decisions that I make now, some of the conversations we will probably get into here, I think are based off of not having grown up professionally in the traditional route, collegiate professional sports stateside.” 2:41

“And so the attempt of H2F is to again, replicate that model, but on a much broader scale. So instead of dealing with a group of maybe 100 athletes that at a very specialized unit, you're now dealing with hundreds, if not thousands of athletes.” 5:34

“And those are things that I think a lot of guys in this industry struggle with because we're still thinking of this problem in a traditional paradigm, where macro cycles, mesocycles, micro cycles, undulating-- all these buzzwords that we all know. But I think one thing that we haven't really thought through or been equipped to think through, is this critical thinking piece of-- if none of these things hold true that I think should fit into this model, how do I react to that? What does my training look like?” 11:14

“But what I found was that there are ways to influence the development of an athlete beyond reps and sets.” 18:20

“I mean, I was fortunate in my previous position, to have an excellent relationship with my injury prevention folks. And there were days where we would be working side by side on the floor with an athlete and you couldn't really differentiate between who is the strength coach, who is the athletic trainer. And I think that's ideal.” 22:33


[00:00:00.78] Welcome to the NSCA Coaching Podcast, episode 102.

[00:00:05.25] There are ways to influence the development of an athlete beyond reps and sets. I think we hang our hat on that because it's the model and the method that we're taught. Three by five, you're going to get stronger, whatever.

[00:00:15.90] But to have an impact on what the guy thinks about nutrition or his relationship with his spouse and to take on this-- the buzzword being kind of biopsychosocial model of stress or strength and conditioning. That, I think, requires a very different kind of professional.

[00:00:32.22] This is the NSCA's Coaching Podcast. Where we talk to strength and conditioning coaches about what you really need to know, but probably didn't learn in school. There's strength and conditioning, and then there's everything else. Welcome to the NSCA Coaching Podcast.

[00:00:45.33] I'm Eric McMahon. And today we are joined by Drew Hammond, a recently named Army H2F Program Director, based out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Drew has a unique background in the field that led him into tactical strength conditioning.

[00:00:59.46] He's got a business degree from University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and a master's from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, where he worked with college athletes and elite rugby players. Drew, welcome man.

[00:01:11.34] Hey. How's it going?

[00:01:13.06] Good. I'm excited to talk to you today. I know we caught up recently. I was learning a little bit more about the Army H2F program. But I want to give you a chance just to tell our listeners your path into tactical strength and conditioning.

[00:01:27.99] You worked with athletes along the way. And now you're working in the military. Speak to some of the stops along the way and how you pursued that path.

[00:01:36.91] Yes. Like you said, I went to Chapel Hill, pursuing a business degree. But all throughout that time, I had been training on my own. I'd been eyeballing and thinking about a career in the military, just by virtue of where the war was at and how old I was.

[00:01:53.35] But I found out pretty quickly that what I was most passionate about was the training piece of things. And so when I graduated with a degree in business, I actually took a year off to coach in some gyms, reach out to some colleges in my hometown and do a bit of work there. But ultimately, headed overseas to the United Kingdom, to Edinburgh, where a program had been set up by a guy by the name of Mike Stone.

[00:02:17.02] So it is a pretty prestigious postgraduate strength and conditioning program. And coming in with a business degree, I think I had a little bit of a different perspective on the systems that were put in place, how we thought about training. But I was fortunate enough in that program to, like you said, work with some professional athletes, some international level athletes.

[00:02:37.96] But I think the most unique part about it in hindsight, and this is what I tell people getting into the field, is that I was born and raised in a non-American strength and conditioning system. So some of the decisions that I make now, some of the conversations we will probably get into here, I think are based off of not having grown up professionally in the traditional route, collegiate professional sports stateside.

[00:03:03.34] And I think that has informed a lot of the decisions that I've made along the way. So when I left that program, when I graduated, I was incredibly lucky to get one of the early strength and conditioning positions within Air Force Special Warfare. That was in 2014.

[00:03:19.66] And then over the last six, seven years, have just been working within tactical strength and conditioning. So I do have a little bit of a background in the sport realm, but for all intents and purposes, I've been one of the lucky few, I think, that's spent the majority, if not all of his professional career in tactical strength and conditioning.

[00:03:42.81] Awesome. And the Army H2F program, it's a rising initiative right now among the tactical ranks in our field and it's something that a lot of coaches are interested in, even on the sports side. Obviously, it's been a tough year for many coaches and people are looking for different opportunities.

[00:04:02.02] I know your position as the H2F director is new. And there are a number of contract positions, government contract positions, currently being filled and hired and bid, for these H2F opportunities. If you would, just take us through the H2F program.

[00:04:17.65] What does it mean for the Army and how is it going to impact the strength the conditioning field?

[00:04:23.93] Well I think the intent is to replicate what has been done successfully in the Special Operations world. When we think about what the Army's done, what the Navy has done, embedding these sports medicine models into squadrons and units for these very specialized organizations.

[00:04:41.89] And so the Army has seen that and has thought, there is a way that we can reduce injury rates, increase the ability for folks to deploy, save money, et cetera. If you look at the way that the military thinks of quote unquote, human performance, it's pretty much unchanged since World War II, if not before that, in the sense that PT is often left to the fittest guy in the squadron or the unit.

[00:05:11.60] It's a lot of push-ups, calisthenics, running. And then we still have these PT tests that replicate that a little bit. But what we're finding when we actually put a magnifying glass on it, is that passing this PT test or training in this particular way doesn't necessarily have carryover to the state of warfare as it is in 2021.

[00:05:33.98] And so the attempt of H2F is to again, replicate that model, but on a much broader scale. So instead of dealing with a group of maybe 100 athletes that at a very specialized unit, you're now dealing with hundreds, if not thousands of athletes.

[00:05:46.40] And so it's still this idea of embedding specialists into these units. You still have strength and conditioning coaches. You still have athletic trainers, physical therapists. But I think the challenge, as we grow this program in it's early days, is to figure out how to take some of the very intimate intricacies of what we've seen in Aspect War and Thor Three and Naval Special Warfare, and to try to replicate that at a much broader scale.

[00:06:16.22] To answer the second part of your question, what I think it means for the industry, in terms of strength and conditioning, my hope is that it provides stability, most importantly, to a lot of these jobs. Contracts are always going to be a little bit wishy-washy. But I think at the end of the day, it's going to be a little bit more stable than working in a collegiate or professional setting where when the coach leaves, there you go.

[00:06:39.48] And the other thing that I hope it does for folks getting into this field is provide a little bit more of a lucrative pay level or salary level. And then the other thing too is, I think when we think about working with the military, there is that piece of it where you're working for folks that are serving our country.

[00:06:57.01] And I think that's something that's important. And it's something that, with me being a tactical strength and conditioning specialist, it is a reason why you go to work every day. Because the athletes that you get to work with do have that extra bit of motivation.

[00:07:11.90] This is interesting because I hear you speak to the evolution of PT in the military. And now it's taking things that have happened, sort of in the Special Forces and applying them more to big Army or to more of the rest of the troops.

[00:07:33.77] But I think it's interesting too, is that while PT has been an ingrained part of the military culture, strength and conditioning and the strength and conditioning roles are relatively new. And I mean that in terms of the curriculum of strength and conditioning or the emphasis on strength and power and elite human performance for tactical athletes.

[00:07:58.40] How is tactical strength and conditioning different in the current landscape than a traditional college model or professional sports model that you've experienced?

[00:08:09.60] I'll speak to my own thoughts on it. And I know that this is something that we could-- like anything in this industry, you could debate it to the end of the Earth. But I think the biggest difference that I have found, in my experience with strength and conditioning on the tactical side, is just that you're working in a chaotic system.

[00:08:28.33] So for example, if I'm working with a football team, I know ahead of time what my schedule is. I know when the games are. That's very well planned out. And in an NCAA model, it's planned out down to how many hours you can spend with the athletes.

[00:08:43.06] So there's still complexity in that system. But there's a lot more control, in terms of the number of variables you have to deal with as a specialist. On the tactical side, we don't necessarily have that. And it's interesting, because when I first started, I stepped into this squadron as the strength and conditioning coach coming right out of graduate school. And I have been taught all these different periodization models and had seen all these Excel sheets and these templates.

[00:09:10.71] And my thought was, OK, these guys deploy. Then they come home. And then they deploy, they come home. I have this in season, off season model. I think that works really well with the things I've been taught in school, the stuff I had read. But what's interesting is that when the guys are home, that's actually when it's the most chaotic.

[00:09:28.68] When they're going away for training trips, they might have appointments across base one day, they may just not have shown up for PT because the night before they were doing a jump or they were diving or whatever. So there really is no way, in my opinion, to lay long term planning, in the traditional sense, onto a tactical strength and conditioning model.

[00:09:50.38] You can try and a lot of guys do and will say that it works, but I think if we really, really look at it, I can create 12 weeks of training. And it can look really nice and linear. And this percentage up to that percentage, and here is how much better you're going to get at these variables. But when guys start missing a week here, two days there, a month here. It just kind of falls apart.

[00:10:12.30] And so that took me a couple of years to think through and recognize. Because for a long time I would just subconsciously or consciously blame it on, and blame it in quotes, but blame it on the athlete and say, he's just not choosing to stick with this program. Surely he could find time to do these things.

[00:10:33.69] And a big turning point for me, I think, was when I looked at some of the work, for example, that John Kiely has put out on periodization. And some of the guys out there that are really looking at the training of athletes as more of an auto regulated kind of emergent, fluid, coach athlete relationship. It's a lot more of a soft skills model, so to speak.

[00:10:53.38] And when I opened the door for the athlete to be much more involved in the training process and allow it to be more individualized and more fluid and not so much long term, but more adaptive, I personally saw a lot of success in terms of athlete performance, compliance, buy-in.

[00:11:13.95] And those are things that I think a lot of guys in this industry struggle with because we're still thinking of this problem in a traditional paradigm, where macro cycles, mesocycles, micro cycles, undulating-- all these buzzwords that we all know. But I think one thing that we haven't really thought through or been equipped to think through, is this critical thinking piece of-- if none of these things hold true that I think should fit into this model, how do I react to that? What does my training look like?

[00:11:44.70] If in my head, every Monday is a high intensity squat session or whatever, do I have the tools in place to change that if athlete A, B, C, doesn't show up on Monday? Because that, I don't think, is ever going to change in the tactical space. You're never going to have much stability. It's always going to be a complex system or a chaotic system.

[00:12:08.92] And when you try to lay complexity on top of that, I think it just becomes unsustainable.

[00:12:16.78] Talking to you about this, and I know we've talked offline about this too, it's really interesting to take it longitudinally. And you speak to that, the way you look at the entire strength and conditioning field. And then you look at where the current state of tactical strength and conditioning is at.

[00:12:37.66] And it takes me back, you know, you think of the beginnings of this field, Boyd Epley. It was largely based on a college football strength and conditioning model. And I think we all have that graphic or image of the 10 principles.

[00:13:00.16] And that has lasted. You know, that's lasted in our field, all the way up. You know, we all kind of jump into this field at different points. And so I know for me, things really took off in the early 2000s, as I'm getting out of college. And you see academic programs in the field, taking off in strength and conditioning.

[00:13:21.82] And that was around the time that you started hearing of nonlinear undulating. We've talked to Andrea Hudy this past year and she was at the advanced periodization virtual clinic, talking about some of the things they were doing at UConn in the early 2000s with Dr. Kraemer.

[00:13:39.13] And this flexible programming, it's really interesting, with all the tech that's out there now, autoregulation, hearing Dr. Mann speak about this philosophy based training. It has really moved more towards fluid periodization, flexible periodization, non-linear undulating.

[00:13:55.63] We have all these terms now and we are still sorting through it. So it's really interesting to see tactical taking off and strength and conditioning still being-- I think there will be some people that say it's not new, but in a way, it's young.

[00:14:13.67] The way we look at our field is young. This is now a very new area, that it's taking off. And I think it's really interesting to think about it from a standpoint of, well back in the Boyd Epley days, they had to put those principles in place to solve a problem.

[00:14:32.67] You have a different problem. You have different challenges. And so it's going back to the drawing board of creating principles and methods to work in that environment. I think that's so interesting.

[00:14:49.16] Well, and I think too-- and we spoke about this previously, but the industry as a whole, and I don't think it's exclusive to strength and conditioning. I think in a lot of industries you probably see this. But there is this very path dependent bias where we come into this-- and I've seen guys come into this as strength coaches and they're very well intentioned.

[00:15:06.62] But it's this mindset of, it worked here, therefore it will work here. And you know the joke that we had was, football players in camouflage. This idea that, I'm coming from a collegiate or a professional space into this tactical world.

[00:15:21.56] The equipment's the same. The gym looks the same. The end result is the same, get bigger, faster, stronger, whatever. But I don't think you can do that successfully in this traditional mindset of-- I meet with the athlete and then I disappear into my secret laboratory and create this plan. And then I give him this plan and then-- oh wait, he's not going to be here next week. Well what am I going to do now?

[00:15:44.18] Yeah. I think to your point, it does require an examination of the principles and maybe even a rewriting of the principles. And those are the kind of conversations that I think are fun to have, especially in these early days of tactical strength and conditioning.

[00:15:58.20] I speak to this a lot, is that our field has gotten more professionalized in the past 20, 30 years. Where we have kicked off the negative stigma of meathead strength coaches. And one thing I want to ask you about, in a military environment, I think professionalism and character are major themes across the board.

[00:16:23.26] Speak to the value of professionalism for strength coaches, but especially in the tactical military environment.

[00:16:30.37] I think for me, I was in a unique position because when I started, I took over the program that I worked out in Arizona when I was 24. So I was the same age as a lot of the guys that I was working with. Having said that, my life experiences have been very different. Where at that point, I had gone to college. I'd gone to graduate school. I'd been overseas.

[00:16:54.71] And a lot of these guys that were the same age as me or younger had grown up in the military, where you may not necessarily have-- I mean, you have experiences, sure. But your exposures are a little bit different. And so as I grew up with those guys and took on a more senior level role and started to become older than the guys that were coming in-- because in the military, you get new faces every year, every two years.

[00:17:19.31] So to be able to stand there as a professional, to present yourself well to these guys that are rotating through and are looking at you as the person who is now in charge of their fitness, I think is incredibly important. Because the other thing that's interesting about tactical strength and conditioning is that just about every single guy that you have coming through the door has gotten there of his own accord.

[00:17:42.58] I mean, he may have done some programming online or he may have worked with a coach at some point. But he has gotten to this point in his career because he has suffered mentally and physically to do that. And so he has a lot of faith in himself as an athlete.

[00:17:55.63] And I think I found out very early on, that for him to then hand the reins over to you, I mean, that's not something that I think any coach should take as a given. And there's not-- of all the guys that I know in my network, I can't think of a single one who has 100% compliance in his program.

[00:18:12.13] And that's not necessarily a bad thing. I think early on, I took that very personally, when a guy quote unquote, didn't want to do my program or whatever. But what I found was that there are ways to influence the development of an athlete beyond reps and sets.

[00:18:27.22] I think we hang our hat on that because it's the model and the method that we're taught. Three by five, OK, you're going to get stronger, whatever. But to have an impact on what the guy thinks about nutrition or his relationship with his spouse and to take on this-- the buzzword being biopsychosocial model of stress or strength and conditioning-- that, I think, requires a very different kind of professional.

[00:18:50.20] We walk into these programs assuming that we sit on this pedestal of knowledge when it comes to training. And that may be true, in the sense that I could probably get a better score on the CSCS than a random athlete that I worked with.

[00:19:04.84] But I do think that there is so much more to the training process than just that. And so to be able to be vulnerable around these guys, to have humility, to ask them for their input in the training-- what do you want to do? I think that's a huge leap for a lot of coaches because it allows them to surrender some of the control that they think they might have over that whole process.

[00:19:26.93] But it gets back to that fluid piece of training, where for this to be a successful relationship between athlete and coach, there has to be give and take on both sides. And that's not necessarily something that I think a lot of guys are taught or mentally equipped to wrap their minds around, so to speak.

[00:19:44.29] For sure. And you know, we've touched on some of the differences between traditional sport based strength conditioning and tactical. But one of the things that, as I learn about the H2F program, it's very collaborative. You're working with athletic trainers, physical therapists, other professionals.

[00:20:10.60] I think that's one of the major themes that strength and conditioning students across the board have to learn to work well in a college environment, professional sports. What is that collaboration like? And with the new facilities and H2F growth, how is that collaboration developing?

[00:20:30.02] I think it's a re-framing of athlete management into more of a spectrum model, so to speak. Where, me on the one end, as the strength and conditioning coach, my role is very proactive in that I am there to take an athlete from point A to point B.

[00:20:48.50] But it would be naive of me to assume that happens in a silo. So having an athletic trainer, physical therapist, dietician there to help build that foundation, I think is incredibly important. And I think that that's one of the things that as a young practitioner, it's important to recognize.

[00:21:04.91] Because I can speak from experience, you're walking into a meeting full of folks that have PhDs, folks that have gone to medical school, surgeons, et cetera. It behooves you to be able to understand and speak the same language because what will happen very quickly is that for lack of having one of those degrees or having that experience, your role in that collaborative process will often be, not necessarily looked down on, but almost taken as like, OK, that's the strength coach.

[00:21:38.36] And I think it gets back to what you mentioned with the meathead strength coach philosophy. That's not just something that exists in our industry. It's a stereotype that people outside of our industry think of when they think of strength and conditioning.

[00:21:50.03] And so being able to work with a team that is very medically based, that is very injury prevention based, and may not necessarily be so focused on improving your back squat or your deadlift or your sprint times, I think it's important, not to have a medical degree, but to be at least able to understand basic anatomy. To be familiar with the return to play or the return to duty process and what that looks like, and where those different roles fit.

[00:22:17.15] Because there's been times in the past where I'll turn an athlete over to an athletic trainer, and he's kind of taking point on that guy's performance. And then we'll reach a threshold where he then transitions back to me. But that's not something where me and the athletic trainer never talk.

[00:22:32.99] I mean, I was fortunate in my previous position, to have an excellent relationship with my injury prevention folks. And there were days where we would be working side by side on the floor with an athlete and you couldn't really differentiate between who is the strength coach, who is the athletic trainer. And I think that's ideal.

[00:22:47.72] And so when we look at H2F and the idea behind it, it's a continuation of that collaborative model. And I don't think that was something I was fully aware of as a young practitioner. Just this idea that being a strength coach also means working within a sports medicine team.

[00:23:06.18] It made me think of a project I worked on years ago. I was digging into random college strength and conditioning websites and looking at the mission statement or the philosophy behind all of the programs. And we probably all would agree with this. Pretty much the general goals of most strange programs are going to be increased performance and decreased injuries.

[00:23:32.61] We communicate that in a lot of different ways. We use a lot of different terminology. And we approach it from different angles. But those generally, across the board, hold true. And listening and just knowing the collaborative model and how important the medical aspect is to that, I want to ask you, how important is the performance side of this shift towards Army H2F?

[00:24:02.33] And what are some of the performance capabilities that you're targeting with your strength program?

[00:24:09.35] I think it's interesting. I was thinking about this a lot the other day because we don't really have a way to objectify performance in combat the same way that we do for rugby or football. I can put a GPS on a guy and I can get a sense of what the demands of the game are and then I can train him to that.

[00:24:32.06] We don't have that level of clarity yet, and I don't know if we ever will, for combat. And so that makes it tough when you're trying to look at all the different options you have available to you, in terms of performance. And should I increase his squats? Should I increase his deadlift? Should he be faster? Should he be able to run longer?

[00:24:50.42] I mean, yes and no. Because I've seen, and I think we've all seen, guys step into our facility who aren't very strong, who can't run very far, who aren't very fast. But when they're out in the field, they're the best operator that we have.

[00:25:08.34] And so it's hard to then sit there and try to tell guys, you have to do this, you have to do that. Because there's not necessarily a one to one carryover for performance in combat. I mean yes, you could make a guy more resilient and more robust. You could work towards injury prevention.

[00:25:23.37] And I think that gets to the point of ideal, in a tactical sense, is injury free. It's not necessarily a 500 pound deadlift or max reps on a bench press. It's injury free. And so every performance decision that I make is through the lens of preventing injury.

[00:25:42.98] Which isn't to say that we're still not going to drive up all these different characteristics that we're all familiar with. Strength, endurance, speed, et cetera. But I don't think that you can make the case for, hey, we really, really need to push this variable at the expense of all others. Because at the end of the day, I'm not really comfortable enough to say that it matters that much.

[00:26:03.48] And again, this isn't to bash any of those performance metrics, it's just to say a guy who can deadlift 200 pounds could be equally successful in the field as a guy who can deadlift 600 pounds. So where is that trade off, in terms of, do we need to make this guy that much stronger? Or do we just focus on solid, all around training?

[00:26:25.36] And I think a very tangible way to think about that, and I fall into this trap all the time, where I'll revert back to your traditional lifts, your traditional strength parameters, your traditional endurance parameters. But you may come across a guy who just doesn't like doing back squats or he doesn't like deadlifting.

[00:26:46.11] And in a traditional model, you would then have to have this debate with this athlete to say OK, here's why you need to do this, that, and the other, because it's important for your sport or whatever. But in our case, it's not necessarily that important. And if he chooses not to do those movements, that's OK.

[00:27:04.32] And I have to be equipped to then modify the training to allow for him to create the buy-in to adhere to the training, to then lead to a lower incidence of injuries. Because I think when you look at the statistics across the field, in tactical strength and conditioning, the injuries that are happening most frequently in the gym are those that are happening with guys that aren't adhering to a sound strength and conditioning program.

[00:27:25.86] And there isn't a commander that I can think of that mandates that the athletes work with that staff. It's very much a voluntary program at this point. And I think it probably always will be. And so there is that element of buy-in that I think is important to the performance piece that you were asking about.

[00:27:40.62] And some of that has to do with the recognition of, it's OK to be a little bit more varied in your exercise selection. It's OK to skip this in favor of that. And then build around it using the principles that we all already know. I think I touched on the question. But if I didn't, let me know and I'll bring it back in.

[00:28:00.75] No, that's awesome. I think this is really interesting because it's not always clear in sport, either. I think we like to think it is. But just the difference between young athletes in that ideal athleticism range and a veteran athlete who just knows their sport and knows the game and knows how to perform but maybe isn't at their peak athleticism anymore.

[00:28:25.60] How do you train that person? Does that change? How do you back off from the traditional squat heavy and deadlift heavy model that we all grow up with and can justify scientifically? And that's the hard thing, is that we want to be evidence based.

[00:28:43.05] And most of the research in the field is going to lend itself towards the big lifts and that traditional power lifting foundations, in a way. That's just one way to look at it. But I think it's really interesting too, there's a lot of more functional style implements making their way into weight rooms now.

[00:29:05.49] I don't know if it's the chicken or the egg, how much tactical has influenced that. Or is it just the fitness machine, just pumping out all this different equipment and we're being resourceful and learning how to apply that. But I think it's really interesting and I think it's empowering for coaches, just in the way we look at mobility and quality movement, right?

[00:29:30.60] How much quality movement emphasis are we bringing in to our weight rooms? And you can make arguments against some of the big lifts in that they're restrictive to movement on the battlefield or when soldiers are deployed or even for field sport athletes who need to move well, who are deficient in movement patterns.

[00:29:54.91] So I want to ask you, and I think this could be a whole podcast in itself. But I want to ask you, deep dive into the training, functional implements in the weight room. If you have that athlete who isn't going to squat or isn't going to deadlift, what do you base your programming on?

[00:30:17.91] Oh man. Yeah, that could be an entire podcast. I guess as a starting point, my five key pieces of this puzzle, so to speak, when I think of programming-- and this is regardless of what equipment we're going to use, what type of athlete.

[00:30:39.22] The training is going to be athlete centric first and foremost. Which means that the athlete is going to drive more of the training decisions than I think most coaches are used to, in the sense that if he doesn't want to squat, if he doesn't want to deadlift, if he's had a bad experience with those, or flip side, if he does really want to do that.

[00:31:00.60] Olympic lifting, I think, is a good example. Where if I was given your average tactical athlete, I probably wouldn't program full snatches, full cleans. Because there's really just not a need for it. And the training time that it takes to become proficient could be better spent elsewhere.

[00:31:14.31] Having said that, I have worked with guys that have come to me with a background in Olympic lifting. And so in an athlete centric type of model, I would feel more comfortable including that because I know that he's already got some proficiency in those movements. And then I can just sort of work around that as I build out his training.

[00:31:33.18] The second piece that I'll always have is some form of autoregulation. And I think that gets into the athlete centric piece as well. Where, in my opinion, a percentage based model doesn't really hold water in a tactical training environment.

[00:31:47.72] Simply because, if I sit there and try to do a top down plan of eight, 10, 12 weeks, going from this percentage of your max to that percentage of your max, it looks very nice on an Excel template. And me, as a human being, it satisfies my sense of pattern dependency.

[00:32:04.31] But realistically, if he starts to miss those days, if he misses a week here, like we talked about, a week there, most of those athletes will then come back into the gym, and because they're very type A motivated guys, they will try to hit that session. But they've just missed the previous two and three weeks. That's where I think we see injuries occurs, is when we try to dictate ahead of time what the training is going to look like.

[00:32:25.55] So when you have a layer of autoregulation, it could be RPE, it could be any of those tools that we're taught, it allows for a little bit of flexibility in the overload, of what your training and where your stimulus is heading. And then you as the coach, in more of a bottoms up model, respond to that adaptation as it's occurring.

[00:32:45.32] Which gets to the third piece of this, which is, in my mind, your training needs to be very emergent. And there's a great piloting coach, Mike Deshear, that talks a lot about this. But when I plan a training phase for a guy it may only be one or two weeks. Because that may be the extent of time that I have control over what his training looks like.

[00:33:05.38] And I can take that week of training, I can see how he responds and adapts to it. And then that will inform what the next week of training looks like. And then that informs what the next week looks like, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

[00:33:16.27] So you're still working within this long term planning model, in the sense that I know his deployment is this many months away. Or I know, because we've talked to each other, that he has to go to a training trip two months from now or whatever.

[00:33:31.23] So I'm still thinking long term, but I may not necessarily know 10 months from now, that on Tuesday he's going to squat three sets of five at 85% of his one rep max. Which if you look at traditional training, it assumes that we can do that.

[00:33:46.02] I mean, if I look at an Olympic cycle, I might be able to say, just looking at the Excel sheet, two years from now on Wednesday, the 15th of February, I know he's going to do three sets of three on the power clean, this, that, and the other.

[00:33:58.14] I think in an emergent model, it allows for you to be a little bit more adaptive and responsive to what's actually happening with the athlete. And then the other kind of pieces of that, I mean, concurrent training is huge in the tactical space. The ability to get stronger and move further at the same time and the interplay of those variables and what that looks like in terms of stimulus management on behalf of the coach.

[00:34:21.78] I've seen guys fall-- I've seen coaches usually fall into one of two camps, where they either have a background in weightlifting, powerlifting, et cetera, and they're very, very good at that kind of training. But they may not necessarily have the tools to improve a guy's mile time.

[00:34:38.70] The other side is you have guys that have a background in endurance training and they're very, very good at improving your VO2 max, whatever. But they may not necessarily understand the basics of resistance training. And so I think it behooves the coach to spend time looking at all of that literature and have the tools in place to create a concurrent training model.

[00:34:57.28] And then the other piece to that is just having training that's flexible. And this gets into the auto regulated, emergent thing we already talked about. But I found very early on that when I gave a guy a week or two of training, very quickly he started to move those days around, based on how he was feeling, what he had done the day before, if he'd gone out on a jump mission the night before and he came in on the next day, he may want to do an active recovery day.

[00:35:20.94] And I may have had something else planned. And so guys would start to shuffle training around. And it fell on me to create sessions that could stand on their own and be moved around throughout the week, throughout every two weeks, whatever.

[00:35:32.31] And there's some literature on this, in terms of this quote unquote, flexible periodization model. But I think building something that's resilient enough to withstand the athlete's intervention is important. And once you have those five pieces in place, the puzzle itself gets formed as you go.

[00:35:54.49] Regardless of whether the athlete favors more, quote unquote, functional type movements or traditional powerlifting type movements or if he has a background in running and doesn't necessarily buy into lifting. As long as you adhere to those key principles, it doesn't really matter what ingredients you use, you'll still end up with an athlete that's able to perform.

[00:36:14.81] So that may have been its own podcast just right there. But that would be my answer to the question of how you handle this vast array of different athletes that you're exposed to in tactical strength and conditioning.

[00:36:28.62] The field gets really big when you look at it like this. Because even just looking at the squat, if you start programming partial movement squats or speed squats, the squat can become 50 different exercises in itself. And so we take things really big, from an extreme high level and can program on that.

[00:36:49.98] But then to bring it back to the athlete. And one of the things I heard in what you said, is it's OK to make practical decisions toward exercise selection. And we actually should do that. For how many athletes we need to work with, for the time investment it's going to take to teach a movement.

[00:37:09.57] Just because we can teach it, doesn't mean we should teach it, given all the other variables. Those are hard decisions for a lot of coaches. And I think we've all been there on that. You spoke to the value of strength coach needs.

[00:37:25.89] We need to have a lot of tools in the toolbox. And that's not just different variations of the squat. It's the strength and conditioning. Nobody really likes the C. I've even heard coaches drop the C from their job titles. And it's the most feared letter in the alphabet for a lot of us.

[00:37:49.95] We all go through those phases too, just in our personal fitness journey and all these things. But I also like that you linked flexible periodization models and flexible training styles with monitoring and assessment and the process of autoregulation. Because the more eyes you have on the athlete on the training that's going on and the readiness of that athlete, the more tactful we can be and the more nimble we can be in our programming for that athlete in that moment.

[00:38:25.86] How can we be more individualized and be more specialized? Granted, your program, the Army's putting more resources into it. But traditionally, we don't have an entire staff dedicated just to strength and conditioning that can accomplish every single thing. We all need to be very versatile and have a lot of processes going on.

[00:38:54.06] The last thing I thought was so powerful was, optimize the time you have with the athlete. If you only have two weeks, you shouldn't be training for six months or a year, because you can't necessarily control that. We all believe we need to control, we can control. Well, you should start with those two weeks that you have, especially with a new athlete, that you're working through that buy-in process.

[00:39:18.18] Those are all things we talk about as strength coaches. And in a lot of ways, we all believe that on some level, what you're saying. But putting it in practice and taking it from that 30,000 foot view down to the ground, it takes a lot of questioning and thought. And I really like hearing your perspective on that.

[00:39:39.73] I think it's one of those things where you have to be very critical of yourself as a practitioner. Because a trap that we all fall into is that we get carried away with showing all the things that we know to athletes. I mean, when we step onto the floor, we have a captive audience.

[00:39:56.01] There is the professional that knows all the things. But I see coaches-- and I've made this mistake myself-- if it takes you 20 minutes to explain how to do it deadlift, that's 20 minutes of training time that you're never going to get back. And if you only see this athlete for a week or two weeks, like you said, there went 20 minutes of training. Because you as the coach got this sense of entitlement, probably the wrong word, but you got this high off of showing all the things that you know.

[00:40:25.98] There's a time and a place to do that, which gets to your other point about, how does this individualized model work on an industrial scale in something like H2F or in Special Operations? And I think what it comes down to is spending a lot of time and effort educating your athletes to be self-sufficient.

[00:40:45.72] Having conversations. And I get this a lot when I tell coaches that I rely heavily on RPE. Well, what if your athlete doesn't understand how to use RPE? Then I'm going to spend, instead of taking 20 minutes to explain a deadlift, I'm going to take 20 minutes to explain RPE to this guy, so that when he disappears for a month, I can still prescribe to him some sense of individualized auto-regulation.

[00:41:07.08] And I can be comfortable in the fact, knowing that he's not going to push some arbitrary percentage of his one rep max and create a scenario where he might get injured. So when you invest in education, both of your athletes and of your staff, I think you set your program up so much better for this kind of individualized tailored model because everyone is equipped to function on their own, basically.

[00:41:29.61] And then it's the strength coach standing there, almost as the conductor of the orchestra saying, OK, here's the direction we're going to go in. But it's on you to play the instrument. And I'm just going to make sure the sound sinks together nicely. Which is a weird analogy, but that's basically how it works.

[00:41:48.53] Awesome. So there's a lot of coaches pursuing tactical strength and conditioning positions right now. And that's from the sports side but also young coaches getting into the field that see this as the path that they want to pursue. There's a number of master's programs coming about in tactical strength and conditioning, which are much more specialized than the programs we had access to a few years back.

[00:42:16.80] What advice do you have for young coaches and aspiring coaches pursuing tactical strength conditioning? And how they should go about getting opportunities in the field, but also advancing the field.

[00:42:30.18] Yeah. I think there's two lines of thought. I think the first one is just getting your foot in the door and getting the job. And that requires, at a very basic level, generally speaking, what these contract companies will look for is a CSCS, in some cases, a master's degree. At the very least, a bachelor's degree.

[00:42:53.11] I've seen anywhere in the window of three to five years of experience. Not necessarily in tactical, but in professional, collegiate, et cetera. So right now, I would say 99% of tactical strength and conditioning is through contract companies that are awarded these positions on behalf of the government.

[00:43:14.02] And so then it's on the contracting company to make the decision as to who they're going to hire. And that's why when young practitioners or even folks looking to transition from sport into tactical, they see a lot of these job offers that are posted without necessarily recognizing, that company is just looking to accumulate resumes so that when they make their bid to the government, they can show that they have the resources to fulfill that contract.

[00:43:39.90] Why that's relevant, I think, is because oftentimes I get hit up on LinkedIn or Instagram from folks looking for advice on how to get into this field. And time and again, they say, I've applied to 10 companies, 15 companies, and I've never heard back.

[00:43:53.64] And I think the piece there is just to stay on top of it, to understand how contracting works, to understand which companies are likely to win which bids, and to focus your efforts on those companies. But at the end of the day, because they are going to have 100, 200 resumes in front of them, have those basics in place.

[00:44:13.35] Have that CSCS. Have that degree. Have those years of experience. But then have a way to differentiate yourself. Because at the end of the day, we all have the same stuff on our resume. We've all done the same courses or we've gone to the same schools or we've all taken the CSCS.

[00:44:30.12] And I had this conversation with a guy who had just gotten out of the Army the other day, where his key differentiator was the fact that he himself had been a tactical athlete. And I said, so speak to that in your cover letter. Speak to that in your resume.

[00:44:41.34] So that when the recruiter is looking at those experiences, he sees that you have the basic qualifications, but he also sees that you've gone above and beyond and have served your country and have these experiences built up as a tactical athlete.

[00:44:54.19] And that's not to say that if you haven't served in the military, you can't get these jobs. It's just a challenge to say, find something that differentiates you from the rest of the field. And I think that's probably the same in just about any industry you would look in.

[00:45:06.78] I think the second line of thinking though, in terms of how to become the best practitioner for your athletes, I would encourage coaches to look at resources outside of strength and conditioning. Look at business development books. Look at leadership books. Read material on biology. Read material on systems theory. Read material on economics.

[00:45:30.87] All of these things will provide you a slightly different perspective on this puzzle that we're all working on, which is athlete management. And time and again, I work with coaches where they walk into the office day one and they've only read three books. And it's the same three books that all of us have read.

[00:45:48.45] And so I know right off the bat that they aren't going to really be able to think outside of the box the way that I need them to. Whereas if somebody has spent time looking at economic theory and how that might work, or if somebody is comfortable with systems theory and how to apply different methods to handling chaos, well now I know that I have somebody they can think critically and can think on their feet.

[00:46:09.99] And as we've already talked about, the way that the tactical training environment is set up requires somebody to be able to do that. So if you don't have the tools in place to solve the problem, I don't necessarily think you should put a bunch of time and energy towards solving that problem just yet.

[00:46:26.74] I think you should go and spend some time developing yourself as a professional in areas outside of traditional strength and conditioning to better address the needs of your athletes.

[00:46:39.26] Awesome. Awesome advice, right there. And I'll put you on the spot a little bit. But just a couple resources that are your go tos, that you would recommend for fellow coaches.

[00:46:51.20] You know, I think I've probably beat this horse to death. But anything written by John Kiely. He's one of the preeminent periodization theorists or critics out there. All his papers are for free, online. So anything written by him, I would recommend.

[00:47:10.79] Just to put yourself in a position to start to think critically about your own processes. He's been a great mentor of mine over the years and is somebody that I've bounced a lot of stuff off of as I've built out my own concepts around tactical training.

[00:47:27.06] Having a great background in both the basics of, like we talked about, strength, but then also the basics of conditioning, I think, are important. And so books like Science of Running, Jack Daniel's Running Formula, they sit really nicely alongside the NSCA's Fundamentals, Practical Programming for Strength.

[00:47:48.45] If I walk into somebody's office or if I ask a strength coach to bring their top five books, if those books are in there somewhere, then I think that gives me a sense of, OK, this guy understands both sides of that equation, if you will. There's been a lot of interesting work on the physiology side of things with guys like Evan Peikon, Aaron Davis.

[00:48:10.02] They are looking at the literature and challenging some of the things that we think about in terms of traditional energy system training, traditional models of training. And it's not to over-complicate things, but it's to actually allow us to recognize that at the end of the day, training is training.

[00:48:26.73] It's not necessarily a puzzle that we have to figure out how to put together. It's really just a complex evolving problem. And so I think, Thinking Fast and Slow, being another book I think is important for guys. But I just go back to, anything you can get your hands on around this idea of systems theory, of chaos theory, of complexity.

[00:48:49.26] These are very soft skills, but they're very important when we look at training and the way that we think about, how do we solve this particular puzzle for this particular athlete? And then this athlete and this athlete? I think I had a few resources thrown in there. But those would be where I would direct folks, when they come to me.

[00:49:10.32] And actually, John Kiely's paper on periodization is mandatory reading for anyone that works with me. So I would say that's probably my resource number one for folks. And then Eric's podcast, obviously.

[00:49:26.53] Oh, thank you. I know one of the other H2F directors at Fort Bragg, Brendan Huttman, he kind of piggyback some of the advice that you had. And I heard him speak recently on, coaches nowadays, we need to have a superpower, something that differentiates us from the other coaches.

[00:49:47.77] The reps and the sets aren't going to get it done. We all have that. And it really is good advice just to-- you can learn from anything. It's more how you approach it and how you take it away. I think there's so much value. And I love how you really take things to high level.

[00:50:08.85] And it can be a little abstract and difficult to bring it back down but it is really valuable to do that because it enables you, as a coach, to read any book and find meaning in it, whether that comes from business, economics, obviously the sciences, for what we do. And the sports science side, a lot of the technology.

[00:50:32.10] One interesting thing, transitioning from pro sports to the NSCA, I've actually learned so much, just in meetings with our IT department, about software as a service. That's an IT concept. But we employ that all the time as coaches. And there's academic theory and thought process behind this that's been laid out that we're not exposed to unless we really branch out into other areas.

[00:50:58.33] So I know there are a number of voices in the field that speak to that. But it is really valuable to look beyond the essentials text. I'm not saying don't buy the essentials text, as the NSCA coaching program manager here, but look beyond the essentials text. I said it.

[00:51:13.65] But no, it is great advice. And Drew, man, really appreciate having you on the podcast today.

[00:51:18.84] Yeah. It's been great.

[00:51:21.00] How can coaches get in touch with you?

[00:51:23.23] You know, LinkedIn and Instagram are probably the two best. I think my Instagram is just @drewhammond to be honest. And then LinkedIn, I'm easy to find. I like to be as open as possible, in terms of how I program, how I think about it, helping people get into the field.

[00:51:40.32] Yeah, don't hesitate to reach out. I'm happy to help guys out.

[00:51:45.18] Awesome. That was Drew Hammond, recently named Army H2F Program Director at Fort Bragg. Drew, great connecting. And to our listeners, thanks for tuning in. Also a big thanks to Sorinex exercise equipment. We appreciate their support.

[00:51:59.16] From the NSCA, thank you for listening to the NSCA Coaching Podcast. We serve you, the coaching community. So follow, subscribe, and download for future episodes. We look forward to connecting with you again soon and hope you'll join us at an upcoming NSCA event or in one of our special interest groups.

[00:52:17.79] For more information, go to NSCA.com.

[00:52:21.57] This was the NSCA's Coaching Podcast. The National Strength and Conditioning Association was founded in 1978 by strength and conditioning coaches to share information, resources, and help advance the profession. Serving coaches for over 40 years, the NSCA is the trusted source for strength and conditioning professionals. Be sure to join us next time.

Reporting Errors: To report errors in a podcast episode requiring correction or clarification, email the editor at publications@nsca.com or write to NSCA, attn: Publications Dept., 1885 Bob Johnson Dr., Colorado Springs, CO 80906. Your letter should be clearly marked as a letter of complaint. Please (a) identify in writing the precise factual errors in the published podcast episode (every false, factual assertion allegedly contained therein), (b) explain with specificity what the true facts are, and (c) include your full name and contact information.

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Eric L. McMahon, MEd, CSCS,*D, TSAC-F,*D, RSCC*E

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Eric McMahon is the Coaching and Sport Science Program Manager at the NSCA Headquarters in Colorado Springs. He joined the NSCA Staff in 2020 with ove ...

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Drew Hammond, CSCS, TSAC-F

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Drew has spent the last 10+ years in elite human performance. He received a business degree from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, then a ...

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