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    How UCLA has Designed a Program Centered Around Safety

    Mike Jolly, Founder and CEO of Iron Neck sits down with UCLA's Strength and Conditioning Coach to talk about concussion prevention, player safety, and other innovations in their football program to keep players on the field.

    Mike Jolly: I am here with Frank Wintrich. He is the head strength and conditioning coach at UCLA, he's in charge of the football program. Chip Kelly stole him away from Virginia and I for one am very grateful, being an alumni and seeing the work that he's done here. Frank has installed iron neck's in his facility and he's using them two, three times a week, right?

    Frank Wintrich : Yeah, so we've incorporated the iron neck as part of our ancillary work on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. It's been a noticeable difference in the circumference of the players' necks, just looking at them, you can see it. The other thing about it is the guys are actually starting to step away from the racks a little bit more, which is showing that they're getting stronger and they're looking to get more resistance. They're moving better. The first couple of times we were using it, it was very choppy. The movements were very choppy and now you see that it's becoming more fluid as the guys move, they're becoming more comfortable with it and they really like it a lot. Before we didn't have neck machines when I got here, so we were doing a lot of manual resistance stack, band resistant neck and that stuff was okay, but the iron neck is really great. What I love about it is that it's so dynamic and then once the players get comfortable with it, they can become more fluid with the motions. They move more naturally. It's very similar to the way that their heads are going to be moving out on the football field. Their heads will snap around, they'll move in different patterns as they run, so those things are really good for our guys to develop their bodies and their necks particularly in a way that they're going to be using them out there on the field. 

    Mike : And you're using it with the quarterbacks? 

    Frank : Everybody uses it at least twice a week. Our guys are using it three times a week, but yeah, we're getting it in with the entire team and even our kickers are using it. 

    Mike : Good. We want to keep the kickers on the field, especially if they're good. 

    Frank : We don't have many of them. We got to keep them on the field. 

    Mike : That's great. Talk a little bit about the monitoring system that you use because I've seen it before but I've never seen it to this detail with your catapult system and your heart rate monitoring. 

    Frank : Yeah, our whole goal is to optimize player performance and the first part of that for us is safety. The number one principle in our program is safety. Safety first. So number, one guys should never get injured in the training process or a result of the training process and that includes practices. And so what we want to make sure that we do is make sure that all of our loading, whether it be external or internal loads are within safe parameters. The catapult enables us to look at external load, the work that they did. We also look at speed bands and how far they travel in certain speed bands. And so a lot of times you can look at a practice report and go, "Oh my gosh, they went 7,000 yards at practice. That's so much." Well what kind of volume was that? How much of that was high-speed distance, which is 90% or above. How much of that is what we call tempo distance, that's 75 to 90% range. How much of that was jogging? We're not really worried about jogging. How much of that was walking, how much that was grazing, which is where you're standing on the sideline waiting to go in. 

    Mike : Grazing?

    Frank : We call that grazing where you just... You look like a cow, you're just moving back and forth. You're not really going anywhere, you're waiting for your turn to go in in the next play. But we can look at all those things and then when you start looking at what the breakdown of those distances are, then it becomes a little bit more like the aha moment. While really that practice wasn't so bad or man maybe that was a really difficult practice. And then we look at high speed distance, which I think is really important, and than total speed. So how fast did they go and then how many yards did they travel at that high speed distance? Because that's really where we can start looking at picking up hamstring injuries and those types of things. The heart rate monitors that allow us to look at what's called internal load, so what does that work actually doing to them and that we high-low sequence everything. So every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, we bring our guys in after we come off a low day and see how well they recovered. We do a QR test, which is an HRV, a heart rate variability screen and we want their heart rates to be rested but ready. So we want a low heart rate, but a high level of variability between the heartbeats. Most importantly for me, what that does is enable us to have the conversation with the athlete. If the numbers are starting to show something, so you look at it and your coaching intuition and after doing this for 17 years, you start being able to look at guys and say, "Mmm, he looked this way earlier on and now he doesn't look right. Something isn't right." Then you look at the data, what does the data say? Well speeds are down, his heart rate variability is poor. Something might be going on, call the kid and "Hey Johnny, what's going on? Everything okay?" And then you can have a conversation. 

    Frank : I've never been a big fan of the 24 hour monitoring system where you put a bracelet on a kid or you send them home with something that's tracking their sleep. I think that's too invasive and too intrusive and I think that it doesn't enable you to have a good conversation with the athletes. And what we've always wanted to do was have the athletes be a part of the process, not apart from the process. 

    Mike : Right. 

    Frank : They should never feel like they are being subjected to the training. They should feel like they are a partner in the training and that we are doing this together. They come in, they give us feedback. We utilize that feedback to help develop the training processes that they need. Then we go through that day. Then we watch and see what does the data say, how did they perform, how did they look, what feedback are they giving us? And then we just continue that process. And as the athletes go through the program and we've got five different levels of training in our program, as the athletes go through the program, they actually get more autonomy. We start giving them more and more opportunities to give us feedback to where, when we got guys in the elite program, we're doing a lot of autoregulation work with them through a philosophy-based training. 

    Mike : Yeah. 

    Frank : But then they're coming in and I'm saying, "Hey Mike, how do you feel today?" "Coach, I feel great. I want to do safety bar squat because I know that that's what gets me the most ready for Saturday." Or "I want to do the pit shark because my back's bothering me today and I know that that's going to help set me up for success." You and I built that relationship over the last four years. You can trust me, I can trust you. I know you know what you need to get yourself ready to go on a Saturday, on a game day. And we allow the athletes to do that. We've done that at other places. We've been and we've had a lot of success with it. 

    Mike : Okay great. Frank, I really appreciate your time. 

    Frank : Yeah 

    Mike : I know you're super busy. I cannot wait for the season to come.