NSCA’s Coaching Podcast, Season 6 Episode 9: Lacey Jahn

by Eric McMahon, MEd, CSCS, RSCC*D and Lacey Jahn, CSCS, TSAC-F, RSCC
Coaching Podcast August 2022


Hear from Lacey Jahn, Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for the United States Marine Corps East School of Infantry. Jahn shares her unusual path into strength and conditioning with NSCA Coaching and Sport Science Program Manager, Eric McMahon, including stops in curriculum development and working as a lifeguard. Learn more about tactical strength and conditioning jobs, athletic qualities as they relate tactical performance in the military, and the how to approach attending strength and conditioning education events as a young coach.

You can reach out to Lacey on Instagram: @laceylyrla | Find Eric on Instagram: @ericmcmahoncscs or Twitter: @ericmcmahoncscs

Show Notes

“However, I've learned that programs also need to account for change. They need to account for stressful life events, poor sleep, fatigue. I have to educate the athlete beyond the program.” 14:01

“We can say broadly that they're going to have to have a base level of aerobic capacity. They're going to have to be able to carry heavy loads for long distances and they're going to have to be able to perform after they get to whatever the destination is. They're going to have to have a base level of strength and they're going need to be able to withstand the impact with load, so landing with a pack on, stepping in a hole with load on your back, things like that, being able to react in situations that are pretty unpredictable.” 16:11

“The old and faithful Super Training by Verkhoshansky and Periodization by Tudor Bompa, they will always have a special place on my bookshelf. A lot of my Xs and Os comes from peer-reviewed literature with the NSCA. I think I use podcasts to get some insight from other coaches' perspective on how they are influencing their athletes or how they're employing the soft skills with their groups.” 19:36


[00:00:00.00] [MUSIC PLAYING]

[00:00:04.42] Welcome to the NSCA Coaching Podcast, season six, episode nine.

[00:00:10.27] However, I've learned that programs also need to account for change. They need to account for stressful life events, poor sleep, fatigue. I have to educate the athlete beyond the program.

[00:00:27.97] 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.

[00:00:38.99] Welcome to the NSCA Coaching Podcast. I'm Eric McMahon. Today, we're joined by Lacey Jahn, the head strength and conditioning coach of the Marine Corps School of Infantry on the East Coast. Lacey, we connected at tactical annual training-- I think Summer Strong a couple of times-- over the past year. How's everything going?

[00:01:00.76] Yeah. Eric, thanks for having me. I'm excited and a little nervous to be on my first video podcast here. But things are good. I'm staying pretty busy. And yeah, I didn't see you at Summer Strong this year, actually.

[00:01:15.75] Yeah. I missed it. We had members of our tactical staff there, Jason. And it's always a fun event. They are a sponsor here on the podcast. And we will, being your first podcast, make sure to ask you all the hard questions, really put you on the spot for everybody.

[00:01:32.38] Can't wait.

[00:01:33.52] So let's kick this thing off, usual podcast fashion. Talk about your background a little bit. How did you get into strength and conditioning and working with the Marines?

[00:01:44.96] Well, if we go way back, my first exposure to strength and conditioning were in middle school and high school. I think many coaches who are involved in athletics have a similar story. Their strength and conditioning coach is also your math teacher. And you also follow bigger, faster, stronger, or maybe Wendler's 531 in weights class. But that was my first exposure.

[00:02:10.73] And at that age, I had no idea that strength and conditioning could be someone's profession, let alone my own. I pursued my undergrad degree at Purdue University and was highly involved with campus rec as soon as I got there. It wasn't until about my third year that I was persuaded by my college crush to get into personal training.

[00:02:38.25] So there, I began exploring the field of strength and conditioning. That college crush is now my husband. So I feel comfortable saying that on the podcast. And I think that it paid off for me in the long run. But those two years of undergrad are really where my love for periodization, and corrective exercise, and coaching really began to steep.

[00:03:04.68] After my undergraduate degree, I applied for a few strength and conditioning graduate assistantships. It felt like the right next step. But I landed a role that I never would have expected, and neither did my parents, honestly. I moved to Nebraska for an instructional outreach graduate assistantship.

[00:03:25.59] So in that position, not many know what that means when I say it out loud, but in that position I did a lot of curriculum development and teaching, academic college courses on topics like periodization and energy system development, and weightlifting. I also had the privilege of doing research in my thesis under Dr. Joel Kramer, who is highly involved with the NSCA.

[00:03:50.16] And while I was there, I really had a huge learning opportunity, but it was also probably my greatest challenge to date. So after my graduate degree, I really jumpstarted my career. I got pretty lucky. But my husband is a Marine. And he was moving out to Twentynine Palms, California.

[00:04:21.00] And I was trying to decide, where am I going to go? What career am I going to pursue? Twentynine Palms in the middle of nowhere, California, let's see what the job market's like out there. I applied for a lifeguard position with my strength and conditioning resume and said, I could do some sun. I'll lay in the sun, and I'll watch some kids swim.

[00:04:49.23] And I get a call from the Semper Fit director at the time. And he's like, hey, do you want to be a lifeguard? And I'm like, well, are you offering me that job or is this for another opportunity? And he's like, well, I have a strength and conditioning job opportunity available for you. I'd like you to apply. And this was really eye opening for me, because when I was in my master's program and maybe even undergrad, I had conversations with my husband about, I'm going to create strength and conditioning in the Marine Corps, like it didn't exist.

[00:05:28.65] So I was excited and really very lucky for the opportunity. But I went to Twentynine Palms. I worked there as a strength and conditioning coach, and then later worked up to be the director of their human performance team. And that led me to network with some really great people. And that's where I met my now boss at SOI East, and I'm a head strength coach. And I love every second of it.

[00:05:54.63] That's awesome. What a great story right there, from lifeguard to strength coach. And I've heard a lot of mentors say to young coaches, when you're hitting the job market, you should apply for everything. But I don't think that includes lifeguard opportunities, typically. That usually doesn't pan out for you. That's really cool how it did for you.

[00:06:17.25] And we hear a lot about tactical strength and conditioning these days, just the amount of growth in all the military branches. Talk about what the experiences has been like working in the Marine Corps. The state of training, where was it when you got there? Where is it today? And what are some of the things that you're all working on to take it forward?

[00:06:44.67] So I think the Marine Corps is maybe a little bit behind in the human performance realm. I think we were talking before this podcast started about the H2F program with the Army and how they have just exploded the opportunities for strength and conditioning.

[00:07:02.39] The Marine Corps has a lot of contract and strength and conditioning assets currently. And with training command, specifically, we are working on getting more solidified GS strength and conditioning roles throughout. So that is an initiative, and it's definitely Sergeant Major Black's biggest push, this human performance concept. So hopefully, we see some big changes coming in the future.

[00:07:36.76] I think as for like strength and conditioning culture in the Marine Corps, when I got there versus now, I think it really depends on where you are and what you're going to see that culture look like. So when I was in Twentynine Palms, there was a lot of running and not a lot of strength, a lot of conditioning, not a lot of strengthening.

[00:07:57.69] That pendulum swung really far when I got to SOI. It was a lot of strength, not a lot of conditioning. So I think it's going to depend where you find yourself in the Marine Corps with, really, what capability you're trying to balance. The pendulum definitely swung a little too far to the other side. So finding a happy medium or really bringing up all capabilities up to this 80% level, getting everyone on the same playing field.

[00:08:27.87] That's interesting. And I think we see that in sport as well, where the pendulum of strength and conditioning swings and whether there are trends or new ideas take hold and make their way into programs. And then, we find our way back to some things that maybe were working before.

[00:08:46.23] You talked a little bit about GS positions. For some of our listeners tuning in that maybe don't work in tactical or have interest in getting into tactical, talk about the difference between a GS position and a contract position. I think that's such a difference in how we look at strength and conditioning jobs on the sports side. So I think it'll be good for our listeners.

[00:09:11.94] So GS stands for general schedule. It just means you're a federal employee, and you're paid directly by the government. There's also another avenue. It's called non-appropriated funds, or NAF. There's also strength and conditioning positions that are NAF-funded. And a contracted position means you're going to work for a contracting company, and the government will pay that contracting company for you to come in and fill that billet.

[00:09:46.15] OK. I think that's really interesting for our listeners who have interest in getting in. And the companies that work to contract individuals, is that usually a gateway into GS positions or have you seen it both ways? Is one better than the other?

[00:10:11.02] I think that NAF is the gateway into GS and maybe even a contracted position. Contracts can pay more than the federal positions, because you don't have the benefits of being a federal employee. But NAF positions are more common. There are lots of MCCS, specifically. MCCS is the, I would say, recreational side of the Marine Corps. And they do have strength and conditioning coaches. And that billet has been around for a while.

[00:10:55.09] I think that's a great gateway. You won't be working directly with green suiters, meaning you don't report to a command. But I think that's a great way to, one, get tactical experience for when you're applying for those GS positions that are typically under a commander or position with a specific battalion or regiment, whatever it may be. And also, those contracting companies are typically looking for somebody with tactical experience. So for me, I would say NAF is probably the gateway.

[00:11:35.78] Yeah. That's interesting. I never heard that before. I remember there was a time in my career I did look at a few different opportunities in tactical. And there was just a lot of different terminology, acronyms, language that I wasn't familiar with, and I had to get schooled up on some of that.

[00:11:57.60] So I think for everyone listening in that maybe is in that scenario, or you are considering just with all the growth, looking at a tactical opportunity, Lacey and all the people working in tactical now are great resources, because they're living that. And so I definitely encourage coaches to ask those questions, because they're not dumb questions at all.

[00:12:23.99] Want to ask-- you got into a little bit about the training that you do in different areas with Marines. And when you're working with soldiers, there's no championship game at the end of the season. It's really be ready every single day for whatever could happen. How do you approach training in that way? What have you seen on the programming side that's helped on the military strength and conditioning side of things? Talk about programming a little bit.

[00:13:01.93] Yeah. So I think I used to obsess over designing the most perfect program. I think a lot of young coaches or any individual who's super jazzed about periodization, they obsess over the small minute details. And so I would spend way too long on the smallest detail and how it configures into the flow of the volume and intensity continuum I've planned for that period of training.

[00:13:32.74] And I was living in a bit of a fantasy world, where plans go according to how you've designed them. And that's certainly not the way of the tactical sector. So it didn't take me long to realize that the program had to be more about flexibility and adapting to the Marines' way of life. And don't get me wrong. I still believe details matter, and there should be a high-level intent.

[00:14:01.92] However, I've learned that programs also need to account for change. They need to account for stressful life events, poor sleep, fatigue. I have to educate the athlete beyond the program. I have to teach them self-awareness and easy autoregulatory tools and strategies. I have to put more emphasis on my ability to connect and teach the athlete and less on having the most dialed-in program of the century, which I think was typical of young coach coming into this field.

[00:14:41.06] I want to take that one step further. In the athletic world, we base a lot of our decision-making on athletic attributes, on athleticism. We're training our basketball players to jump higher for more rebounds or whatever it may be. We want our football players to be faster. What are the athletic qualities that you're looking at with tactical athletes? And how good are we at identifying those in a really nontraditional environment?

[00:15:17.86] So it's tough. The training age that you'll see in the Marine Corps can vary greatly. So our ability to assess the way that you move-- Is the way you move efficient? Is the way that you move going to cause injury? That's our first and foremost assessment. And then, from there, we can go on to start looking at capabilities in the weight room. And then, after that, we can assess physical capabilities in an operational environment. So there are levels in which we have to assess specific performance metrics.

[00:16:06.33] So for the Marines, it's going to depend on their job to what type of physical attributes they're going to need to work on. But we can say broadly that they're going to have to have a base level of aerobic capacity. They're going to have to be able to carry heavy loads for long distances.

[00:16:27.06] And they're going to have to be able to perform after they get to whatever the destination is. They're going to have to have a base level of strength. And they're going need to be able to withstand the impact with load, so landing with a pack on, stepping in a hole with load on your back, things like that, being able to react in situations that are pretty unpredictable.

[00:16:53.85] That's so cool to take the way we think as strength coaches. Typically around sport, apply that to a military environment where you're training people to be better at saving lives. It's really noble. It's really impactful, the work that we can do as strength coaches in this space that maybe we never realized before that strength conditioning would go that way.

[00:17:21.78] I want to go back to when you said you got into some teaching and curriculum development. You said that was a challenging experience for you. A lot of coaches do get those opportunities, whether being an adjunct professor or teaching a few classes while in grad school. How did that experience make you a better coach? How do you look back on that experience now, even though it was challenging at the time?

[00:17:49.32] So as a coach, I believe we are teachers. Our job is to educate. Being able to take high-level concepts and break them down into easy digestible bits is a skill. And so at Nebraska, that was my first experience with really breaking down these exercise science concepts and teaching them to undergraduate students. And little did I know that would be such a big part of my job now at SOI. We are a schoolhouse. I am an academics officer.

[00:18:27.52] So I am involved in writing point of instruction when it relates to human performance for specific courses that come through and learn at SOI. It's a huge part of my day-to-day. And I think that helped me grow a lot, and it's still super challenging. But I think it's one of the most rewarding parts of my job is being able to influence what we are educating the Marines about. And the Marines are able to take that information and disseminate even further, because their reach will be far greater than mine will ever be.

[00:19:07.87] The education piece is really valuable, obviously, the field as a whole. And NSCA is moving towards educational accreditation or raising the standards for our credentials across the board, so that the field improves, so that it gets better. I want to ask, how do you stay educated in the field, especially in such a niche area of tactical strength and conditioning? What are some of the key resources that you gravitate towards?

[00:19:35.93] Well, the old and faithful super training by Verkhoshansky and periodization by Tudor Bompa, they will always have a special place on my bookshelf. But a lot of my Xs and Os comes from peer-reviewed literature with the NSCA. I think I use podcasts to get some insight from other coaches' perspective on how they are influencing their athletes or how they're employing the soft skills with their groups. Podcasts, I think, are super easy to digest as well.

[00:20:20.88] A book that I recently read, Martin Rooney, Coach to Coach, I think that's-- I would recommend it to anyone, coach or not. But I think that was a really good book that reignited my coaching flame. And I didn't even know I needed it to be relit. So I try to stay engaged. I try to stay involved. A lot of my reading, I will say, is fiction, because I got to escape at some point. But when I am reading, it's those journals and maybe a few coaching tactic kind of books.

[00:20:56.97] That's awesome. One thing with you, I always see you at different events throughout the year. Talk about-- this is something we don't talk about on the podcast a whole lot. And I think it's really valuable to some of our younger coaches that maybe haven't been to a lot of events. When you're going to a strength and conditioning event, or you attend one every year, what are the things you look forward to the most? Is it the education? Is it the people? How's that experience for you?

[00:21:29.78] Yeah. I have been very, very thankful that my supervisors in the past have been very for outside education, and conferences, and symposiums, and curriculum review boards. So I like to get out there. But I think I look forward to the most is the conversations had after the fact. So there's presentations of the day, which are always going to be educational in nature. And some of them are going to be motivating, where you'll learn about other people's processes, which is interesting and valuable.

[00:22:07.43] But I think the real conversations of change happen after the fact, when you go to dinner with a group of coaches, and there's someone you don't know comes with a friend. Another person is at the table that you're unfamiliar with. And you start to have conversations and build relationships with people that you would never have talked to otherwise. And I think that is something that I have always really enjoyed about tactical specifically is the people and the community that they have been able to build around tactical strength and conditioning.

[00:22:46.32] Yeah, tactical annual training every August, tactical event by the NSCA. And I went to my first one this past year. And it was, I mean, what a great community of strength and conditioning coach. It's a little smaller than our national conference, but almost in a good way. Everybody knows everybody.

[00:23:06.45] The sessions are really informative. And everything seems pretty new. The topics are new. Just hearing about strength and conditioning for fighter pilots, or what's going on in the Marines, or on the public safety side. There's a lot of unique topics to our field and just applications of concepts, like you were talking about scientific concepts that we just haven't thought about them this way before. Obviously, the soft skill topics that make their way into these events.

[00:23:37.98] But one thing I like to say when I'm sharing the value of NSCA events is learning doesn't necessarily happen right in that moment in the session. It's always afterwards. It's afterwards with the people in the community, the people that you take that information back to, and you're working in your program and you're creating from maybe an idea that stuck out in your head that it resonated with what you were doing in your program.

[00:24:09.33] And that's where the learning happens. And I think sometimes-- and I've done this where you go in and you're like, oh, I didn't really hear anything new. But sometimes it's just the reframing of what you have that can really shape a new chapter of a program or what you're going to do this upcoming year.

[00:24:28.99] And I think one of the real positives for tactical-- what I say that on the coaching conference side-- for me is it comes at a time where you can just go into the next year reinvigorated, feel like you have a whole community with you in this process and people to reach out to. And so for anyone listening in, I do want to give a little plug to our NSCA events. I think it's really exciting that we do them. As a longtime member, it was always where I connected with the NSCA the most. And I know Lacey, because I run into you at all these things, you're probably one of those people.

[00:25:08.07] Want to ask, for anyone tuning in to the podcast today who wants to reach out, learn more about tactical, or your background, or being a lifeguard, or whatever it may be, how can they reach out and get connected?

[00:25:22.89] It is jokes, but I was a lifeguard for 10-ish years. But Instagram is probably the easiest way to get a response from me. It's @laceylyrla, L-A-C-E-Y-L-Y-R-L-A. Or LinkedIn is another great place to connect, Lacey Jahn. I think if there are show notes, you can maybe put those.

[00:25:49.14] We got you. We got you. All good. No. That'll be perfect.

[00:25:53.16] I'll be presenting at tactical this year. So I hope to see you there.

[00:25:58.54] Yeah. No. We look forward to it. It's going to be a great event. And we mentioned Summer Strong. You were just there. I missed it this year. But always a great event, and Sorinex is a sponsor on this podcast. I want to give them a little bit of appreciation for everything they do for us. And to all our listeners, thanks for tuning in. Have a great day.

[00:26:24.58] Thanks, Eric.

[00:26:25.74] I'm Coach Boyd Epley. I'm known as the founder of the NSCA. And you just listened to an episode of the NSCA Coaching Podcast. To learn more about all the NSCA offers, check out nsca.com, and join us at an upcoming event this year. I hope to see you there.

[00:26:44.55] [MUSIC PLAYING]

[00:26:46.80] 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.

[00:27:05.37] [MUSIC PLAYING]

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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Lacey Jahn, CSCS, TSAC-F, RSCC

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