East Carolina strength coach Jeff Connors shares 10 things every strength program should include.

By Dan Guttenplan, FNF Coaches Managing Editor

Jeff Connors took over East Carolina University’s top athletic performance position in 2011 after spending 10 seasons on the University of North Carolina staff as strength and conditioning coordinator. Connors was inducted into the USA Strength & Conditioning Coaches Hall of Fame in 2016.

He shares 10 things every strength program should include.

Competitive scenarios. Summer lifting programs can become boring and tedious if a coach doesn’t appeal to his players’ competitiveness. Connors splits up the team into smaller groups – often pitting offense vs. defense. The same two players face off on every lift, and they’re scored based on their improvement.

Assign leaders. Peer pressure can be a good thing when it comes to doing something constructive. Connors assigns captains for each lifting group and relies on the leaders to focus on things like attendance and effort.

Develop fast-twitch qualities. “We place a lot of emphasis on training the nervous system,” Connors said. “The nervous system only knows one thing. If you want to develop fast-twitch qualities, whatever you do has to be fast. We measure bar speed with every lift.”

Lift heavy. Connors devotes at least one day a week to heavy lifts. “In our program, anything that is not heavy or fast is considered body building, which is what you’re looking for in hypertrophy. That’s not bad either, but it’s not how we train.”

Establish metrics to measure success. Connors’ metric of choice is the Power Quotient, a formula he created and is now popular among NFL scouts. It takes the value of a player’s vertical jump, broad jump and power clean and divides that total by the player’s 40-yard dash time. “That’s a good indication of power,” Connors said.

Test core lifts routinely. The players at East Carolina are tested in 12 strength and conditioning exercises at the end of each training phase. Team members get points for each event, and it’s standardized by position.

Match the strength program with the in-game philosophy. East Carolina wants to play an up-tempo style, so Connors builds a strength program that complements that style. “We want to be prepared to go 90 to 100 snaps,” Connors said. “It’s no secret to anyone that a lot of games are close in the fourth quarter. That’s when you win or lose.”

Mat drills. Connors is not shy about borrowing training programs that work in other places. He models his mat drills – which include breakdowns and other footwork drills – after Bobby Bowden’s program at Florida State.

Plyometrics/metabolics. Connors has been using some exercises for more than 25 years. Those include players running stadiums in weighted vests, multi-jumps, and position-specific movements on intervals.

Reward player commitment. It may sound cheesy, but Connors has found that players respond to rewards. His top players in the strength program earn Super Pirate Elite status. They get plaques to commemorate their offseason commitment, although coaches can be flexible with the money they have available in the budget.

About the author

Dan Guttenplan