Christian: Today I’m joined by Rett Larson. Rett is a fellow Strength and Conditioning Coach and has a vast background in strength and conditioning. He is a former Director of Coaching at Velocity Sports Performance, Project Manager at EXOS and S&C Coach for the Chinese women’s volleyball team.
Rett is currently working with the women’s volleyball team in the Netherlands towards Tokyo 2020. Amongst his most notable successes, go to Google and type in ‘diving Olympics 2012’ and you will see a few Chinese flags in the medal count, and being part of the Chinese Women’s Volleyball team, that won the gold medal at the Rio 2016 Olympics.
Rett is also a keynote speaker and has contributed as an author to the High-Performance Training for Sports book.
And you hold a Master in Exercise Physiology at the University of North Carolina?
Christian: Is that Jordan’s university?
Rett: Yes, that is Michael Jordan’s University.
Christian: You are destined for success.
Rett: Thanks for being here.
How he got into strength & conditioning
Christian: What brought you into strength and conditioning?
Rett: Initially it was just to get a free gym membership, honestly. I was at a local Gold’s Gym and I was taking a class. I took this one class; they called it Sports Performance class. It was pretty much just an hour and a half boot camp of butt-kicking, suicides push-ups and plyometrics kind of thing.
I think I’d taken the class four or five times, when the instructors quit. I remember showing up to class one day and the people came in from Gold’s Gym and told us that the instructors just quit. They asked for some volunteers to take over the class.
A buddy and I decided we would take over this class and it got us a free Gold Gym membership which was great. But I quickly became way more obsessed with planning for this class and trying to make it way better than it had been before. I was quickly forgetting about my day job.
I quickly became way more obsessed with planning for this class and trying to make it way better than it had been before. I was quickly forgetting about my day job.
That little obsession led to my mom to tell me one day that I can get a Master’s degree in Exercise Physiology. She said I could do this for actual living and not just a side hustle. So, I started researching getting my Masters and while I did that, I got really lucky that I fell in love with a girl.
She lived in Atlanta, Georgia and so I decided to go down to Atlanta, Georgia to live with her for the summer. She then said that she could get me a job at her gym which was a nice gym. I was excited about it and she said that I had to get a certification.
So, I just went online, checked out the certifications that I would need. I saw the NSCA CSCS and I said that one seems to be the best one. I figured that I should probably have the best one and I bought the book and I just read. I read it a chapter a week or something like that, took the test, passed the test, rolled in and I get the job.
On my second day at the Peach Tree Center Athletic Club in Atlanta, Georgia, I have one client. I have this one pregnant woman that they had just given me. She’s somebody that signed up for a free ten sessions with me.
The NBA basketball team, Indiana Pacers, roll in. This Peach Tree Center Athletic Club is the place to work out if you are in the NBA, living in Atlanta and you’re off-season. It has beautiful basketball courts on the top floor. It’s the who’s who of NBA players.
Well, the NBA Indiana Pacers roll in and they said that they have five players that live in Atlanta and they were off-season. They said that they needed a personal trainer to do their program. The head of personal training told them to look at our top row of coaches.
These were the ones that have been training with all the NBA stars for a long time. They had all the experience. So, the Indiana Pacers wanted to know which of the guys had their CSCS. After checking down the list, she said that none of them had it, except me, the new guy.
Just because I was the only one with my CSCS, my second- pretty much, my first clients ever are five NBA players. After that summer of training, one of them, due to nothing I did with him, goes on to have the year of his life. He gets the NBA’s most improved player of the year, Rookie, the first All-Star bid for the Pacers and he’s the MVP of the team.
Just because I was the only one with my CSCS, my first clients ever are five NBA players.
It is this crazy thing that he gets and I get a ton of credit that I didn’t deserve for this one dude. I go from lowly personal trainer to getting to write articles for Men’s Health Magazine. Just by sheer luck, I stumble into that.
The next summer, as I’ve finally gotten into Grad school at North Carolina, I’m still doing my summers with the girlfriend. I decided that I want a better place to train these guys and I find Velocity Sports Performance. At the time, they just had two centers in Atlanta.
I go there, kind of as an intern, to study under this guy Loren Seagrave, who I don’t know him from anybody. It turns out he’s one of the smartest people when it comes to linear speed in America. Well, I start learning from him.
That same summer, Velocity goes from two centers to 70 centers. It franchises out. All of them are looking for coaches that have studied under Loren. Now, I graduated from UNC with my degree and I can pick where I want to go to become a Sports Performance Training Coach, having studied under Loren for a couple of years.
I have this awesome experience, not really with NBA, but experience running the Pacers program. I have a couple names under my belt, so it was just a ton of luck that went into getting me into the deep end of strength and conditioning.
I have a couple names under my belt, so it was just a ton of luck that went into getting me into the deep end of strength and conditioning.
Christian: And you said you had a day job before? What was it?
Rett: I was going to be an attorney. I was in law firms. I had a family full of lawyers and my dad was just so great. When I graduated from college, I just didn’t know what I was going to do.
He told me that before I just default start, looking and trying to prepare for the LSAT and getting into law school that I should work in law firms for a little bit to see if it appealed to me. Aside from falling in love with a girlfriend, who was an attorney there and who I just had a great time with, I did not see many attorneys that were super happy with their work or their lives.
So, I just I didn’t want to waste the young years of my life, stuck reviewing documents all hours and pissing off my girlfriend or wife. So, it didn’t appeal to me at all and it was easy for me to make the 180-degree turn. When I found this, it was everything that a law career didn’t seem like it was going to be.
Christian: We shouldn’t waste any years of our lives.
Rett Larson: Yes, right. Amen.
His darkest moment
Christian: So, lucky moments brought you into S&C. What were the dark moments of your career? What’s the darkest one?
Rett: There’s been a couple setbacks. There’s definitely been setbacks. There’s definitely been times when I thought everything was going real. When I was at Velocity and I was there longer than Loren Seagrave was. Seagrave ended up going and doing other things after about eight years.
Christian: Oh, he transitioned out? I thought it was his business?
Rett: He transitioned out and I took his job as the Director of Performance at that point. He was the Spiritual Founder. He was never the money behind Velocity. He was the Program Designer, Creator, Founder and Main Educator. He was the lifeblood of Velocity. But when the economy took a skid, I think it became hard to afford him or something.
I don’t know the mechanics. I was a lot cheaper than Loren, that’s for sure. I kind of came in and took his positions and to answer your question of dark side, I wasn’t as good at that role as I was coaching on the floor.
Eventually, the CEOs kind of repositioned me. I’m good at some stuff. I was good at the education. I was good at creating and being the face of the company and videos and things like that. But as far as sitting down and being an innovative programmer for our target demographic, that wasn’t my strong suit.
I tried to do it well, but it wasn’t and people could do it better and so they started finding better ways to use me. But that was a dark moment in learning something I’m not good at. At that point, through a lot of luck and other things I just kind of felt really good and confident about myself.
I’m good at some stuff, I was good at the education, but as far as sitting down and being an innovative programmer for our target demographic, that wasn’t my strong suit. But that was a dark moment in learning something I’m not good at. That was an ego shot.
I tried to do it well, but it wasn’t and people could do it better and so they started finding better ways to use me. At that point, through a lot of luck and other things I just kind of felt really good and confident about myself.
That was an ego shot, but for the best. But me being in a different position also, when EXOS came calling with a great opportunity to go to China, I had the flexibility to be able to do that. At that point, I had gone back to the Director.
Everyone kind of got it when I told them that I needed to have my feet on the ground coaching some more. I felt that I was losing relevance in the coaching community, if people aren’t seeing me actually getting sweaty with athletes and out there barking and having fun.
So, I thought it was just going to be a temporary thing when I went to China. I only signed up for a one-year gig; actually just a 10-month gig. China either repels you immediately or you learn to embrace the suffering.
I’m in the latter camp where I just felt like my cushy life in Southern California when I was with Velocity was making me soft and uninteresting and I wanted to go somewhere and accumulate some stories and some adventures. China was perfect for that.
Christian: I worked in China for some time for the Chinese Tennis Association.
Rett: Yes, I think you told me that.
Christian: Yes, and I was heading the physical conditioning for the Davis Cup team and the Fed Cup team in 2009-2010.
Rett: So elite tennis players. This is the best, right?
Christian: Yes. I can relate to what you’re saying. I don’t say love-hate, but it’s a special relationship, because I like the way they are working. Also you are treated very fair and you’re treated with respect.
Rett: There’s so much compliance.
Christian: Strength & Conditioning is well respected and you can work well, however, at times there is very little to do next to working and it’s lonely at times.
Rett: It can be very isolating and very lonely. You’re cut off from all the social media apps that maybe you like. You’re cut off from daily conversations with friends or in a different time zone.
I think it’s one of the things I liked about it, is it made me really comfortable entertaining myself again and getting out of that boredom. I don’t know what I would do without audible, like audio books. Audiobooks saved me. I read 30 or more books the year I was in China than I’d read the previous three years.
I think, just because you get all that time, you got to think. It was nice that mindfulness came out while I was in China. I had no distractions in China. It was super easy to get into exploring meditative stuff, so I’m thankful for that part. I got a lot done there because of that boredom and isolation.
Christian: I believe that.
His best moment
Christian: What was your best moment?
Rett: It is so cliché, but it would be hard not to say the Olympic gold medal. All of that stuff is just cemented and that’s out of the weight room.
Christian: With the divers or the volleyball team?
Rett: So divers got cleaned up when we were there. They got eight gold.
Christian: It’s too much to count?
Rett: Yes, it’s a ton. What’s funny is before the London 2012 Olympics, when I was with diving and I went to the divers and asked them what were their goals. I told them that I wanted to know what they were working for. At the Olympics, they just said they wanted all of the medals, every medal.
We can only have two people in each, so we won gold and silver in every single one. If we did not get that we were disappointed and upset.
When I was with diving and I asked them what were their goals for the Olympics. They just said, we can only have two people in each discipline, so we want gold and silver in every single one. If we did not get that we were disappointed and upset.
Even though those divers were great, before London, I was working with five or six different teams, and so, it wasn’t the same as if you’re with one team.
By London, there were still some athletes whose names I was getting wrong, so I believe I can’t claim too much of their success.. I was their strength and conditioning coach, but I would see them three times a week for one hour. So, it’s not the same as when you’re with a team the whole day, every day.
In fact, when I was in London, and this is one of my top one or one or two moments of all time, one of the teams I was with was judo. The judo team, I went in for EXOS just to give the dog-and-pony show. I came in to give them agility sessions and a little bit of strength. So, I was just sent over there just to try to sell them on EXOS.
So, I went over there with high expectations on me, this is judo, they got like six medals at the Beijing Olympics 2008, the three years before. I thought ‘They don’t need me. They shouldn’t want me.’ It was eight months before the Olympics, at this point, this was like six months before the games. You shouldn’t be changing their strength and conditioning.
So, I go over there. I have 60 athletes. They say they want to do agility sessions. We don’t have any equipment. I don’t know, I made something up. Then they said just take them to the weight room. I can’t remember what I did, but all of the coaches thought that it was great and wanted bits of it.
But they passed on different parts of it because every weight class has a different coach. This one coach who had just finished training in America said that he wanted a Western strength and conditioning coach. So, I get with this girl who did not medal at the last Olympics. She was eighth in the world, you know the little one they didn’t have a lot of hope for, they sent me with her and I’ll fast-forward through the story.
This is when I didn’t speak any Chinese and she spoke no English. We would communicate pretty much through high fives. We had this one high five, which you would go forehand, backhand and up. Every time we did it. Whenever anything was good, forehand, backhand and up. This was even our way of saying “Good morning.” and literally anything else.
That’s how we do it. We go to the Olympics and she gives me the tickets that her parents were to have. They didn’t have the money to be able to go. These are the tickets that the Chinese Olympic Committee gives everybody that their parents can have.
So, I’m super excited and I roll in the day for the competition. If you know anything about judo competitions, every weight class is one day for a single-elimination, because you have four matches in the morning, if you can survive those. Then you go into the afternoon and it was pretty much quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals.
And yes, she wasn’t expected to make it out of the morning. Well, she made it through the morning. I didn’t have a ticket to the afternoon because no one thought she would get that far. I am screaming my head off in the morning. She can hear me and I keep on making the mistake of saying her name Lily and telling her to go.
Go in Chinese is dog. So, she would come off the mat and she’d look at me and she would pant and imitate a dog. This was super cute. So, anyway, I’m outside trying to scout tickets to get back in to see her in the quarter-finals and a little Chinese person runs up to me and ask if I’m Rett. She told me that Lily needed me to have a ticket because she told her she could not win without me.
I told her that this was great and I take the ticket and I go in. It’s now packed and I’m up in those bleachers. She wins the quarter-finals and she wins the semi-finals. By the way, she has now upset the reigning silver medalists and the world number three at this point. She’s now going up against the best in the world.
The girl whose ippon-ed everyone, has won automatically in every single match going up to this. She’s going against the reigning gold medalist and Lily’s a longshot. She loses, but she doesn’t get ippon-ed. She stays up the whole time, but she gets beaten.
I’m so sad because in China it’s only gold medals. Lily had bought me a Nike shirt that just said, “Silver sucks”, and there she is with a silver medal. Now mind you, of all of the women judo, she’s the only one that got a medal at the London Olympics.
All of the former medalists did not podium in London. So, she becomes the only one that did, with her silver and she gets up there and she’s receiving the silver medal and I could see how disappointed she is. No one can hear me, but I’m screaming in the middle of the stands.
I am so proud of her and she gets the silver medal and she just looks straight over at me and she does the forehand, backhand and up. Ah! One of my best moments, one of my best moments. It sometimes makes me teary thinking about it. This is why we do it.
She’s receiving the silver medal and I could see how disappointed she is. I am so proud of her and she gets the silver medal and she just looks straight over at me and she does the forehand, backhand and up. One of my best moments, one of my best moments. It sometimes makes me teary thinking about it. This is why we do it.
His advice to a younger Rett Larson
Christian: Yes. So if you could travel back in time, what advice would you give the younger Rett Larson?
Rett: I’m so happy I made the decision to go to China. I wish I’d done it earlier. I was 37 years old when I decided to go to China. It was the most pivotal thing and not only just mind-expanding, but immediately I go from having worked with a handful of elite athletes, a handful of Olympians in America to having worked with dozens, because I was willing to suffer a little bit in being uncomfortable, being in hotel rooms that were awful and eating food that’s worse.
I’m so happy I made the decision to go to China. I wish I’d done it earlier. It was the most pivotal thing.
But if you do that and you invest in the experience, all of a sudden, my experience grew. I became way more confident in being able to train a ton of weird sports. I did not just stay in my lane with the football, basketball and baseball that I’ve gotten pretty confident in America.
I had to sit down with a table tennis team and diving and being able to deliver something that can convince them that I know what I’m talking about. So I wish I’d done that earlier.
Christian: Is it specifically China or is it going abroad?
Rett: I think going abroad. I don’t have all the experience, except for here in the Netherlands or China, but I think when you’re willing to be flexible and move around, opportunities will open up.
When you’re willing to be flexible and move around, opportunities will open up.
China was kind of perfect for me, because not only is it a huge experience, but you can make a lot more money, which is a nice thing to be able to set your salary at a different level now.
So now, you finish time in China and you can say that your CV has gotten better but also you’re going to only take jobs that will pay you something. I think that’s important. I think that may be my advice to myself also, is don’t feel bad about wanting to make money like a normal human being.
There’s a lot of talk about paying your dues and, of course, that’s necessary and I’ve done a bit of that. But I don’t think that you necessarily should just settle for making a little bit of money, if you’ve been growing your skillset and if you have become indispensable to a team.
But I don’t think that you necessarily should just settle for making a little bit of money, if you’ve been growing your skillset and if you have become indispensable to a team.
Christian: I have a very strong opinion on that myself because in our job you can also be out of your job for multiple months and in case you have a family to feed, you need to have reserves.
Rett: It’s true.
Christian: I have been in that position, where I was out of a job and I had a family, and I had a newborn child, and in these situations money becomes important.
Rett: You’re right, you need to insulate yourself. We have a large amount of risk with our jobs. You could be a great S&C and if your head coach is a terrible tactician, it can happen, that the whole staff gets wiped out, so, you’re right. With that riskiness, you should be able to command a salary that insulates you against that potential.
I’m so glad you feel that way too. I’m always trying to lobby for coaches to not just demand more, but grow your skillset so that you give more to a team. This may be to have more tools in your toolbox so that you become somebody that they can’t live without.
I’m always trying to lobby for coaches to not just demand more, but grow your skillset so that you give more to a team. This may be to have more tools in your toolbox so that you become somebody that they can’t live without.
I was just having this conversation the other day, because I like certain bits of tech. When you see me in the weight room, I like my kBoxes, my push bands and my smart speed system. I have, slowly, over the years accumulated that all personally, instead of having to go to a job and the first thing I have to do is ask for the tools that I feel most comfortable working with.
There’s something in it. There’s investing money, like in the US stock market. But I also think that there is investing in stuff that makes you hard to replace. I like the idea that I just left China. I know they’re hurting because they loved velocity based training. Those girls really, really got into the idea.
Before, all they were doing was seeing who had the heaviest squat. Our six best squatters were not our starting six. When I would put 80 kilos on a bar and see who can move it the fastest, then our fastest, our starting six start to come to the top of that list. This was an easy sell, for me and to the athletes and the coaches.
I want when I go, when I take a job here, I want it to sting. I don’t mean that in a bad way, but I want people to notice that I’m not just easily replaceable by somebody else because okay you lost a velocity based trainer.
Maybe you could always buy push bands and kBoxes, but it’s not that easy to buy the knowledge and experience. The fact that with the smart speed that we time their sprints all the time. I think that having stuff with you is just another addition to having a brain that’s full of wonderful knowledge.
Christian: That was the advice, right?
Rett: Yes, I got some good advice here, all right. At Velocity, one of my main jobs was trying to get young coaches up to speed. So, because of my years there, I was also thinking the other day when it comes to advice, that more coaches need to start investing in the art of group control.
This is being able to manage a lot of people in a way that has a certain degree of individuality, a certain degree of everyone looking like no one’s worried that you don’t have control of this situation. They would feel that there’s this wonderful heady mixture of discipline, of achievement, of laughter and all those things.
More coaches need to start investing in the art of group control, being able to manage a lot of people in a way that has a certain degree of individuality, a certain degree of everyone looking like no one’s worried that you don’t have control of this situation. They would feel that there’s this wonderful heady mixture of discipline, of achievement, of laughter and all those things.
I think those are the coaches I find myself drawn to. I think that as a young coach, it is really important to get one great methodology that you start from, that you build your foundation on. For me, it was Loren Seagrave’s methodology that we put forth at Velocity [Sports Performance], similar to what we had at EXOS, because Verstegen and Loren are cut from the same cloth and came from similar backgrounds. So, all of that was very similar.
But I think once you get that, I feel like I’m always drawn to the coaches that seem to have a team that works super hard for them. They seem to be having way more fun than anybody, are managed very well and warmups look interesting. The coaches have the ability to be creative enough to be pushing those edges of athleticism during warm-ups or movements and stuff.
They also give the right amount of consistency, they look that there’s mastery, that the athletes can start feeling like they’re finally getting better at it. I kind of get drawn to what I’m seeing coaches do. It’s a little less black and white. It would be harder to write a manual about, if that makes sense.
His advice to young and aspiring strength & conditioning coaches
Christian: That leads perfectly into the next question. What advice would you give young aspiring S&C coaches?
Rett: Yes, definitely spend some time with group control and I’m happy that I cut my teeth as a strength coach with younger athletes. That’s one of the things about Velocity [Sports Performance]. After the whole Indiana Pacers thing, when I joined up with Velocity [Sports Performance], the key demographic for them are 8 years old to 18 and so you’re getting in a ton of high school kids.
So, you’re developing your coaching eye, first of all, being able to see slower acceleration mechanics or lateral movement, crossovers and clean snatches. You’re getting to see that a ton of times a day with tons of groups coming through, but you’re also getting this nice practice in controlling groups. If you can control a bunch of 10-year-olds, throw a session to keep them focused, energetic, working hard and then it’s no problem.
But I’m still having to use group control tactics on the Dutch volleyball team. It’s not like it’s just for kids. When I design programming, I’m still having to think through what decreases any idle time, how does this flow, so that they are less likely to get distracted. I’m still thinking through some of that.
Spend some time with group control. When I design programming, I’m still having to think through what decreases any idle time, how does this flow, so that they are less likely to get distracted.
His view on the role of self-development for younger strength & conditioning coaches
Christian: That’s interesting. I know you have heavily invested into your own development within your job for Loren Seagrave and Mark Verstegen, but I also know you follow courses from Ido Portal. How do you see the role of self-development for younger S&C coaches?
Rett: Yes. Outside of Lauren, I wouldn’t say that I’ve had a few mentors. I just had made a ton of influences. I really love and are attracted to people that aren’t telling me what I already know. I used to go to some of these conferences that seem to recycle the same kind of speakers over and over again and all of them are kissing each other’s butts and it’s all the same stuff.
It’s all that confirmation bias. You just want to be told that what you’re doing is great, and that’s fine. So, I do find myself attracted to people that are pushing those limits and telling me something that flies in the face.
I do find myself attracted to people that are pushing those limits and telling me something that flies in the face.
Ido Portal is a great example of that. It’s a guy that is shaking up the way you think and none of it has caused me to do a full 180 on anything really, but I’ve certainly expanded myself that way. Part of my philosophy is a heavy amount of challenging the athletes with different, almost like movement puzzles or different novel activities that I don’t let them master very much.
I don’t do it often that they master it, so every time they do it, they have to struggle a little bit. Like I said, it’s kind of pushing the edges of their athleticism. One of our best players in the Dutch national team is garbage at throwing a Frisbee and it’s wonderful because her having to learn to throw a Frisbee, makes everybody that has to catch her first have to be incredibly agile.
But even she is learning motor patterns and she’s feeling off, and that’s important to struggle. It’s a part of what I like about China, is the struggle. It’s a part of what I try to put in my programming is a little bit of intelligence struggle that they’re always kind of feeling, not all super comfortable. It’s always neurologically stimulated.
So, when I go to conferences, I’m looking for what can I steal from you that would be really challenging for my athletes. Well, Ido’s a great example. That’s the next thing about this gig is that I’m working most summers, but I have winters off. I have winters with a lot of free time to either go speak or learn from other speakers and I take so much advantage of that time.
Christian: Interesting. More coaching specific questions now.
Rett: Oh, give it! Give it! And now the sun’s baking me. That’s all right.
His coaching philosophy
Christian: What’s your coaching philosophy?
Rett: I think we’ve touched on some of it, as you can tell. What I was just saying is that I believe in a healthy amount of variety that keeps pushing the corners of their athleticism. In fact, it kind of my global periodization. In fact, if we were to go take that to the weight room because when I’m talking about Ido, I’m mostly talking about stuff that I cram into movement prep.
I cram stuff into warm-ups, things that I’ll take from Frans Bosch. For example, the stuff that I see that we do with the aqua bags and trying to get dynamic co-contraptions and perturbations. I believe in fully maximizing warm up. I would be half of the strength coach and I would get half of the results, I think I do, if I were limited to only the weight room.
I believe in fully maximizing warm up. I would be half of the strength coach and I would get half of the results, if I were limited to only the weight room.
I think one of the best changes I’ve made in the last five years, is throwing out the script of what a warm-up should look like. For example, some thermogenic activity, like skips, jogs, jump rope, what have you and instead, just micro-dosing strength stuff that I want to be working on. If I’m going to be teaching a hang snatch or a single-arm dumbbell snatch in the next phase, then we’re all going to get warm by doing light dumbbell snatches.
If I want to teach a Turkish get-up and if I’m going to go heavy in Turkish get-ups in my next training block, we’re doing a ton of Turkish get-ups the first thing they do when they walk through the door. I can get them warm in so many ways.
I can be teaching them to juggle. I can be making them feel silly with the aqua bags. I can make them feel uncoordinated and get better with the aqua bag stuff. I can be teaching micro-dosing strength.
So, I’m a heavy believer in shuffling a ton of different stimulus in warm-up and then stretching them and then dealing with movement stuff too that has enough of variety as well as a healthy dose of fun. But when we get to methodology, I also believe in the weight room, that I have my exercises that I love.
I probably have, let’s say four or five lower body exercises that I freaking love that I have to go to war with if I’m training a volleyball team. But within those exercises, you take any one of those exercises, any squat and I’m going to play with it.
Sometimes having counter movement, non-counter movements. Sometimes having accommodating resistance. Sometimes that’s a band and sometimes that’s a chain. Sometimes I’m just trying to get heavy. Sometimes I don’t care, we’re all doing the same weight, we’re just competing on speed. Sometimes we’re competing on speed with a weight that’s 100 kilos.
Sometimes we’re lightening it up like we did yesterday, forty kilos on the bar, grip it and rip it. These are most explosive. So, I believe in a ton of conjugate method of variety and a bunch of programming that way, with a ton of variety of warm-up.
I want every day they walk in to look at the setup of warm-up and wonder what the hell I’m going to make them do today. I want them to wonder why water balloons or anything is out there. They should ask themselves why the TV is set up with dancing on it. I want that stimulus. I like that lack of monotony.
I want every day they walk in to look at the setup of warm-up and wonder what the hell I’m going to make them do today. I want that stimulus. I like that lack of monotony.
Christian: Has it always gone down well with the athletes?
Rett: So, believe it or not, yes. But footnote, since I’ve adopted this philosophy, I’ve been with women’s teams, so I think there’s a difference. I think it might be a harder sell to men’s teams.
Also, I think it might be a harder sell to some sports, especially in China, where the Chinese are so strict and rigid in so many ways, in technical training, that it’s kind of a yin and yang that I provide and I’m unapologetic about it. It’s not like I just do this with the women’s team. I do it with the Chinese team too and I can explain it.
It’s play and it’s fun. It’s a compliance issue. I feel a big part of my methodology is creating an atmosphere where people want to come back. Not just for the games; but it’s an experience of achievement.
I feel a big part of my methodology is creating an atmosphere where people want to come back. Not just for the games; but it’s an experience of achievement.
Part of me taking a squad and doing it for three weeks, four weeks and me watching a standard squat plateau, and then I’ve already gotten to celebrate everybody’s new maxes on that, and then boom!
We’re going to throw a band on it. Now, I get another chance in two weeks to start celebrating the shit out of that exercise when we start PR-ing [personal record] in that exercise. Maybe, while this one’s plateauing, I’ve now taken deadlifts and I’ve decided to do deadlifts on a kBox because that gives me another chance to go nuts when they do well.
And so, I’m always almost trying to manipulate confidence by constantly creating an environment that is full of achievement in the weight room is definitely a part of my philosophy, whether or not all of that would work, I think, with men’s teams or other sports, but I won’t guess. I won’t tell you that it does. All I know is it’s worked.
I’m always almost trying to manipulate confidence by constantly creating an environment that is full of achievement.
It’s worked with the teams I’ve been with, which has been a lot of volleyball, but also a bunch of other Chinese teams that are not used to anything but grinding work in the weight room. So, yes, that’s part of it.
I think from a philosophy standpoint, a way that I’ve changed and I definitely wouldn’t suggest this for other coaches. In my youth, I was very concerned with being the best technical coach in the gym. I wanted to have the best coaching.
I wanted to be able to see somebody’s right leg external rotation when they are sprinting before anybody else noticed it. I wanted to be able to notice and test their dorsiflexion and I wanted to have that. That was my thing.
I spent a ton of time trying to prove myself as a coach by delivering the most feedback. I was good with positive and negative feedback, but I was just a feedback guy. What I’ve learned, and the Dutch do a great job of it, especially the Frans Bosch group. I wish I spent more time designing drills and exercises that are more constraints based that have the athletes self-organizing.
I was good with positive and negative feedback, but I was just a feedback guy. What I’ve learned, and I wish I have spent more time designing drills and exercises that are more constraints based that have the athletes self-organizing.
This would allow the athletes room to self-organize without me having to say as much. I think there’s a real beauty in that. I hope that’s going to be a shift in the way that I coach. I hope I continue to get better at that as I continue to steal ideas from what I see around here because I think that’s powerful. I’m sick of hearing myself talk after this many years of coaching too. Only so many times I can tell somebody to triple extend and dorsiflex.
His core values
Christian: What are your core values?
Rett: I value intensity. I definitely value intensity, sometimes at the expense of technique and that is controversial. I wouldn’t have said that. That is probably the first time I probably ever said that, but it’s true.
I value intensity, sometimes at the expense of technique and that is controversial.
As long as the break in technique isn’t dangerous, I will do things that will stimulate your intensity. I’m not going to be the guy that tells them that they have to squat perfectly until they tick all the boxes. Or that their knees never go valgus, or that they never do this or do this.
I make sure that technique is good enough that they’re not going to get hurt, and then I want them moving it freaking fast. And so, I’ll try to fix it on the back end. I’ll try to fix it on the back end with other stuff.
And footnote, this is by virtue of the fact that I also jump into teams usually three weeks before our first competition. So, there’s really not a lot of time to spend trying to make sure everybody’s Snatch looks great. And this is also a reason that I haven’t used a lot of Olympic lifts in my scenario that I have.
In these scenarios, you just jump in for the summer, but I am very apt to get people running fast and jumping high and moving weight before I clean up technique. Sometimes things will look bad. I am just sold on the fact, that if you’re constantly wired to demand from your muscles that they go a 100%, if that’s what the message you’re sending them, more often than not, then you’re going to get faster.
I am just sold on the fact, that if you’re constantly wired to demand from your muscles that they go a 100%, if that’s what the message you’re sending them, more often than not, then you’re going to get faster.
If I had a high school track coach here and a high school track coach here and one was Loren Seagrave into speed dynamics and teaching a hundred A-skips and drills and shuffles and this and that and wall drills every day, and then this guy was just having them sprint as fast as they f—ing could, like 10 times a day, I’m not sure if Loren’s team beats the other team.
I think that as long as there nothing egregious happening here, I think the body self-organizes pretty well, especially when you’re dealing with elites. So, now I have already have a bunch of girls who are doing things very well and been taught by great strength coaches for a long time that I am going to try to work on speed before technique.
Christian: Yes. I actually agree with that.
Rett: Oh, I thought I was going to ruffle some feathers here.
Christian: No, it depends a little bit on the context. What I found, for example, especially working in tennis players on their speed, multilateral speed, and agility, and it’s probably personal trial and error. I found if you teach it slow, they do it perfectly and then once you increase speed, the flaw still there. But if you do the speed first, you have good chance of cleaning up the flaws.
Rett: And you bring up a great point. There’s a reason, that if I were to ask my girls to do a maximal block jump right now, a bunch of their knees would go valgus. If I ask them to go squat a hundred kilos, none of their knees would even inch valgus. That’s easy; a squat.
A slow squat is actually easier to do from that point of view than a jump, because the body is just organized very well. When you have that weight on your shoulder, everything lines up really well. But does your body recognize that? Are we losing transference from squat to that when it gets that much slower?
A slow squat is actually easier to do from that point of view than a jump, but are we losing transference from squat to that when it gets that much slower?
And so, I’m always kind of aware of that. We only go one-day a week probably heavy squatting and just to maintain a level of strength. I also believe that there is a strong enough limit that I don’t need to push anymore on the girls or on any athlete.
I will spend much more time on the other parts of the force-velocity curve, because I feel like the body recognizes those exercise. The faster I can get with an exercise with a barbell on your back, the more the body’s going to recognize that when we get out into the field.
The person that has influenced him most
Christian: Which person has influenced you most and why?
Rett: It’s got to be Seagrave. It’s been so many years since I was with him. But all of the foundational stuff came from him. I think it served me well being able to talk speed with people, even though I don’t deal with a lot of linear speed in the last couple years, Chinese diving certainly doesn’t even deal with linear speed.
I never dealt with anybody, except for handball. I was with Shanghai handball for a little bit, where I got to teach acceleration and speed mechanism. It was so much fun. But I haven’t gotten to teach maximum velocity or anything like that, which used to be my bread and butter, but those same principles apply.
I’m now coming around full circle, where I think that my jumping athletes need to be sprinting way more often. There’s presentations I’m seeing people give more often that sprinting is the new squatting. And that’s probably a title to get butts in the seats, but there’s something to be said for this focus of turning your attention towards ground contact times.
I’m now coming around full circle, where I think that my jumping athletes need to be sprinting way more often. There’s presentations I’m seeing, that sprinting is the new squatting, there’s something to be said for this focus of turning your attention towards ground contact times.
The application of force in a really quick time and really as fast as possible, that I think has some merit to it. So, Seagrave definitely gave me this foundation that I’ve built everything else on, no doubt. From then, from that point on, it’s been bits and stuff.
It’s like, Ido Portal becomes my weekend mentor. He sits in my head for three months and then I see something or I take an FRC course or I take a this or I read a book on this and then all of a sudden that all changes. But it all just feeds this big foundation.
How to manage expectations
Christian: As an S & C coach, we work with high-profile athletes. Sometimes their idea of what needs to get done, it’s different from your idea. How do we convince them, persuade them that your proposed course of action is best?
Rett: This question is very apropos. I’m dealing with this right now. In Holland, I have a very educated group that knows a lot about their body. They have had probably seven strength coaches before me that were all probably pretty good. Every winter they go away to a strength coach that might be a fantastic strength coach and they come back often times with different stories.
They spoke about their knee pain. One said she I started doing squats on a Bosu ball and it went away. I told them that I never would have known that that would have worked, but that I’ve never really programmed a ton of Bosu ball stuff into my weight training necessarily. So, I told them that since it works for them, we would keep doing it.
And so, in my old age, I have gotten so much better, I hope, at checking my ego with this because, of course, I want every girl doing everything that I’m telling them to. I have two athletes right now, who just had the best club seasons of their lives and just got pain-free doing what I think is a generic, boring volleyball program. It’s working.
In my old age, I have gotten so much better, at checking my ego.
The worst-case scenario is that they’ve got to do the program. I informed them that they’re doing all the undulating periodization with these new exercises they’ve never done before. I give them the kBox and all of a sudden they’re getting hurt. They were perfect, first off.
With the Chinese diving team, at this level, these girls are great. These girls are already great and at some extent you got to ask yourself if we’re losing because we’re less athletic than the team across from us? Or if we’re losing because we went against team China and China trains 80% longer than we do every single day.
You got to ask yourself if we’re losing because we’re less athletic than the team across from us? Or if we’re losing because we went against team China and China trains 80% longer than we do every single day.
It’s just tough to beat a team that has done that much tactically. What is the reason that we’re not up to some teams? Maybe, they would be much better, if they were seven kilos lighter. Or they would be much better, if they have horrible non-counter-movement squat going on. Showing them the data usually helps with that.
And one of the reasons that I do invest in the technology is I see it’s almost like an assistant coach for me. You don’t believe that you should be doing velocity based training. Let’s set up a bar with this weight and see who the best girls on the team are. They’re going to be close to our starters.
They’re the ones that are the most explosive. You can’t get that by training heavy all the time. That will not work out for you, because the girls that squat the best are not our best players. So, I try to let the numbers inform them. I tried to let experience inform them.
I tell them that I’ve had bunches of athletes like them. I place them in a category that I call ‘strong but slow.’ That’s why I bought kBoxes, because I hope it helps their rate of force development and helps their muscles couple a little bit faster so they can get their butt off the ground a little bit faster.
There are girls who have a great vertical jump, but it takes them forever to have that jump. Guess what the kBox does? It’s going to stimulate them on the way down and make them have to work harder to get out of the hole.
So, having these little elevator pitches for why we’re doing something, along with just being able to show the numbers. For example, I will tell them to look at the way that a particular girl jumps. Then I will tell them to look at how she does the kBox and then encourage them to take a chance on it.
How to deal with decisions you don’t agree with
Christian: In a team of coaches and support staff, everyone wears his own hat, and everyone looks at things from their perspective. If there are decisions taken that you don’t necessarily agree with, how do you deal with that?
Rett: I’m trying to think of a good, recent example. I’m pretty good knowing my role and this mostly comes up in maybe the medical side of things. If I think an athlete needs to develop, let’s say, the posterior chain and my physio or my team doctor comes in and says that we need to spend all of our time on anterior chain, the quads and isometrics and this and that. I don’t think I’m so hard.
Boy, Christian, you asked a good one here, because I do get opinionated sometimes, but sometimes I back off really, really easily. I think it just depends on how right I think I am. So, whether or not I want to die on that hill.
I try to be really conscious of how important it is that our team is unified and if it’s a sticking point, to some degree, more often than not, probably both options will help, maybe, and I’ll never know if mine would have been better. Something that starts off as we’re going to go fully this one direction, might end up being in the grey area in between after a while.
I try to be really conscious of how important it is that our team is unified.
But sometimes I have to go home and have three fingers of whiskey and take some deep breaths and just let them know that if she gets hurt, it’s on them. I try not to. I’m lucky right now to be in a situation where the medical staff and I work together really well.
That has not always been the case in my career. I don’t know how it is with you in BMX, but a lot of the times, our head coach puts us in a room together just to have these discussions. We get to hash it out behind closed doors, then we come to an agreement and then we move on to the next person.
Christian: It can be difficult at times. I think I’m very much with you to make sure the unity of the team is maintained, and in order to maintain the unity, I’m very happy to take a step back. However, there have been situations in the past, where I’ve thought that a proposed course of action is really counterproductive for the athlete, and the wellbeing of the athlete. Then I have stepped forward and made that point to coach and to persons.
But I think, that’s probably where I aligned with you. The message we have to give to the athlete needs to be a unified message. Consequently, whatever we bring to the athlete it needs to be clear, and that they know that we believe in what we’re doing.
If there’s disagreement, we do it in the backroom. The only times I think I’ve really stepped up and said that something is not good, is when I saw someone in danger. Let’s take an example of the past, where an athlete had a certain injury and the advice is to take rest and if it doesn’t get better, take more rest.
However, we know certain injuries have to be treated differently, and there are certain principles in rehabilitation that actually work opposed to the given advice. You need to be proactive, you need to invest time and effort, you need to load, and so on. And if in these instances, we would follow the advice of taking rest and wait, the athlete’s career might be in danger. In these instances I face confrontation. Normally, I am not so confrontational, but in this moment when I saw my athlete in danger, I will go for the confrontation.
Rett: No, that’s a great example of when you do.
A typical day in the life of a strength & conditioning coach
Christian: How does the typical training day in the life of an S & C coach look like?
Rett: A lot of it is the brainstorming and the prep. When I decided to go full in on that intelligent, healthy variety and maximizing my warm-ups, that means that sometimes twice a day, I have to come up with a new and novel inventive warm-up. At least a portion of it has to be a little bit weird or I have to shuffle things up a little bit.
So, I have to, not only track all of that, but also have to figure out when’s the right time to come back to Turkish get-ups in warmup or when’s the right time to come back to drop steps in warm-ups. Or maybe today we do drop step races.
Maybe I set up the lasers behind us and they actually have to drop step and run in a race, maybe I’ve never done that before, so maybe that goes today. Maybe this and this and this and this. So, there’s planning of putting things in the matrix to figure out where they would all fit in a given week.
A lot of it is the brainstorming and the prep, there’s planning of putting things in the matrix to figure out where they would all fit in a given week.
There’s a little bit of this and that all comes with a lot of set-up too. On a given day, I’m always the first coach in the gym. I’ve got to be there at least 30 minutes before to just set it all up.
I think there is something wonderful about the girls walking in and seeing medicine balls in a new place. Now, there are hacky sacks in the corner and they don’t know what’s going on with that. I want it to be interesting, so I want a weird cone set up.
I want them kind of wondering. I want there to be an excitement, so I take some time and some pride in that. I get like a nice 20-minute chunk for warm-up, it’s great.
Another thing that I’ve done which worked really well for me is that I started looking at volleyball specific movements. They do have to drop step off the net. Jamie, the head coach, used to give me like 10 to 15 minutes for the warm-up.
Then at about the 12-minute mark, I would start doing very volleyball specific looking stuff, just with resistance bands on, and have them do some approach jumps and some blocking crossovers. Then Jamie’s would get excited and encourage me to keep it going.
So, that expanded my 15 mins to 20 mins. Him seeing these low-level strength stuff going on and very volleyball specific stuff going on, the girls hit the ground sometimes, has bought me some time. Anyway, get back to the question. After that, I am helping with the volleyball practice.
I like to say I spend a lot of that time watching the girls and seeing if things are going poorly. Or I’ll ask the coaches, if the girls need help on certain stuff. But I don’t do that all the time. I try to keep my ears open for what I can do to make things more individualized.
I like to spend a lot of that time watching the girls and seeing if things are going poorly. Or I’ll ask the coaches, if the girls need help on certain stuff. I try to keep my ears open for what I can do to make things more individualized.
Within this whole special, something what we haven’t talked about yet is, I’m a firm believer that we need to individualize programs. And so, aside from some fundamental exercises that I love, I believe that the girls appreciate, when we’re doing things that are specifically looking at what they need to work on.
The moment I know that you are terrible at ground contact time or you’re a slow jumper, you need to have a healthy dose in your program of stuff where you are rewarded for a quick contact time. This may be jump mat on the ground or whatever or just running at maximum speed.
We sprint with the girls and the fastest girls don’t have to sprint for me anymore. I take them out of the sprint bucket. It’s the girls that suck at sprinting that I have to start looking at programs for their weaknesses.
So, I start individualizing, and so within a week of movement prep, there’s value in some days keeping the whole group together for that, there’s value in some days of me handing out the girls’ individual note cards informing them that they should do the three exercises listed there.
It may be three exercises that are designed for your shoulder that hurts sometimes, or the fact that they don’t jump well off of one leg or the fact that they suck at Turkish get-ups. So they have to go through that ABC for ten minutes as their warm-up.
For me, if my shoulder hurts, I don’t want to do anything until my shoulder doesn’t hurt. I just want to do full shoulder rehab exercises and then some squats and stuff, but I’m very aware of trying to individualize things.
I’ve gotten off track. All right, so I’m trying to put things together like that. I want to be prepared for the girls having different little note cards they can come in that are individualized for them. Then helping with practice and this year I’ve tried to step up my game as a mental coach expert.
Jamie’s made me a de facto mental coach, so at the end of practice we get some time, usually to do some mental training. So, we’ll pull them down and then lay them on the floor and do some mindful breathing and then we’ll do some visualization sometimes.
Sometimes we’ll do some gratitude, sometimes we’ll do some practice of what we call stepping behind the waterfall. When you’ve missed two serves and you get up to serve again and all you can think about is the fact that you’ve missed two serves and that kind of a waterfall pouring over your head.
We can give them that visual and we want to, instead of thinking that the whole time, you want to take a step back, behind where the water is falling, between you and the rocks where it’s calm and you can think back to serving. I tell them to think something that’s useful.
So, I’m spending a little more time this year thinking about the mental side of things and how I can, in a short period of time every day or every few days when we get a chance to do it, how we can make the most out of that. So things like that. Our medical team and our nutrition team and all, work together really well. There’s a lot of meetings with them as well, to make sure that we’re preparing for heat and things like that.
Christian: And then just a quick run-down, when does your day start and when does it end?
Rett: Right now, our typical practice day is a morning practice from 10:00 until 12:30. Then we eat lunch, we give them a chance to take naps and rest and then we usually resume at around 3:00 or 4:00. Then we’ll go for another 3 hours into the night. So, it’s usually three and three. And we’ll do that for usually three days on, one day off.
Christian: Where does the S & C fit in then?
Rett: The S & C goes into one of those blocks. Half the team is training and half the team is with me and then they flop.
How to design a training program
Christian: I know this can be an open, long question, but take us through the thought process of how you design the training program?
Rett: Okay. I actually did this for somebody just the other day. They asked me a similar question and it’s pretty simple. When we’re in the weight room and I’m just talking about the weight room right now, I have two quad sets.
I have four exercises that go together that you’ll go ABCD, ABCD, ABCD four set of five, five sets of them and then you’ll have EFGH, EFGH and then you’ll do that. If I have the whole team at once, half the team will do ABCD, and half the team will EFGH, so that we’re not all on the same equipment and then we flip flop.
So, for me the quad sets work best, because I think that having three exercises off before you come back together is the right amount of rest. This structure gets me out of the weight room in about 75 minutes, which is reasonable. It’s not taking too long.
For me the quad sets work best, because I think that having three exercises off before you come back together is the right amount of rest. This structure gets me out of the weight room in about 75 minutes.
Within this, my A-exercise and my E-exercise, are going to be my two most important lifts of the day. The A will usually be speed power exercise and the E is a grind. This is something heavy, and like I said, I have three training sessions a week in the weight room.
So, I have 24 slots. Now, I know what each slot is for every single day. Those are my six big rock, lower body exercises. It is a mix of bilateral, unilateral, eccentric, counter movement, non-counter movement, hip dominant, knee dominant, hip hinge and various movements.
So, if I get all those in, that’s the main thing that I have. And from there, we’re throwing in supplementary stuff. Like I said, A and E are both leg exercises, so are usually the C and G exercise also. So it goes lower body, upper body, lower body, abs, that would be a really simplistic outline.
Then once I filled in those spaces, I’m looking to see if I have covered hamstrings enough. Luckily, volleyball doesn’t have a ton of hamstring injuries, but I’ve read a couple articles of people, that have convinced me that it’s good to have some dedicated hamstring time.
So, I allot one of these two slots for some hamstring stuff, one or two days out of that week. In that, I’m going to mix it up. I let them go on a Nord board kick for a while. I love being able to track anything, so that’s great. The girls can compete on it. That’s awesome.
I love being able to track anything, so the girls can compete on it.
Then we’re going to go physio ball leg curls for a while, and then we’re going to go with something stupid I found on YouTube stuff for a while, that will do hamstrings. All of this is that kind of healthy amounts of variety. I don’t do the YouTube thing, but I’ll throw YouTube stuff into the warm-ups.
It’s like crazy stuff that you might find. From here, I know, that I need to get the girls rotating, it’s a big heavy rotational sport, so I need to have a dose of anti-rotation and rotation in here. So, maybe stuff on the Kaiser, maybe it’s stuff with medicine balls; get that all put in.
Once I get that kind of done, I move on. I’m not a huge believer in a ton of traditional abdominal exercises, but my girls, the athletes freaking love it. They love being sore and I do like bang for the buck kind of exercises. I like to have exercises that you don’t have to do 20 of them before you feel it, I prefer exercises that just kick your ass in five.
So, I have a couple of my favorites. Those might go with the last exercise of the day that they’re cycling through. And then, I’m going to want to roll out my jump mat some days and just get vertical jumps during the session. I want to make sure I have one day that we’re getting vertical jumps.
Maybe I mix it up and we’re doing spike jumps for a session. Then I just make sure I have some upper body pushes and pulls in that B or that F-section. Make sure I have enough pushes and pulls that it looks good. All my favorite scapular stability and strength exercises that keep shoulders healthy.
So, once I ‘ve peppered it all in there and then it kind of fills up pretty quickly. That’s the general structure of it though. And every week, nothing changes altogether, but something changes every single week.
So, the hamstring exercise will change or whatever scapular thing we were doing. We’re doing super bands before, but now we’re going to do hovers off the ground that I learned at FRC. Now we’re going to do kettlebell bottom-up carries kind of thing, just mixing it up. We’re going to mix up randomly as we go. But those A’s, that’s never going to change.
Christian: And you said sometimes you’ll switch the A to D quad with the E to H?
Rett: No, I try not to. I only do that if my whole team hits me at once, I’m forced to do it. But I want the power exercise coming first. I hate when that grind comes first because then I never get as good an exercise after I’ve beaten them up on five by five Back Squats or Deadlifts or something.
Christian: That was exactly my question. So, if there are constraints like space or time, then you mix it up.
Rett: I absolutely will do it. I don’t tell them that it’s a big deal. I don’t tell the group that has to go to this group that they’re going to have worse. But this is just what you have to do and you’re stuck with that.
Christian: You have to make the training work.
Rett Larson: You have to make it work.
His interview nomination
Christian: Do you want to nominate someone to be interviewed?
Rett: Oh man, I saw that and I cannot think of anybody around.
Christian: Doesn’t have to be around here. It can be worldwide.
Rett: Oh, well that opens things up. Let me think on that. Let me think on that. I want to get you the perfect person. I have a couple people that I think I can sell you on that have some great Olympic experience that you would be fascinated to talk to.
My knee-jerk reaction is my buddy David Joyce, who is an Editor of High Performance Training for Sports. He’s a great interviewee and he’s so interesting and has so many stories. I’d nominate him. You’d love him.
Christian: That’s great.
Where can you find Rett Larson
Christian: Where can people find you? In the volleyball hall? And where else?
Rett: Here’s the thing about China. You get out of the social media habit. But that said, I’ve been much better about Instagram and Twitter. I’m on there, you can search my name Rett Larson or sometimes my handle is Rettasaurus, R-E-T-T-A-S-A-U-R-U-S, a name made up by my nephew, decades ago that I just randomly put into Twitter and I should have changed it years ago and that has stuck because now it makes me sound like a juvenile, but it’s kind of cute.
Rett Larson’s social profiles
Christian: Really cool. Thanks a lot for your time.
Rett Larson: My pleasure.