Quick Hit Summary
In this installment of “Interview with the Expert” we have the privilege of talking performance training with Luke Richesson. Topics discussed include differences between various coaching environments, appropriate use of kettlebells and early sport specialization.
About Luke Richesson
Figure 1. Luke Richesson
In this installment of “Interview with the Expert” we have the privilege of talking strength with my mentor, Luke Richesson, director of strength and conditioning for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Prior to joining the Jaguars coaching staff, Richesson designed and implemented programs at Athletes’ Performance for athletes preparing for the NFL Draft. During his stay, he directed the Performance Team that set the standard for NFL Combine preparation. From 2001 – 08 he helped the performances of 52, 1st Round Picks (including four #1 overall picks) and more than 250 draftees. In addition to his work with the rookies, he also prepared NFL veterans for the rigors of the season; many of whom were later selected to participate in the NFL’s Pro Bowl.
INTERVIEW UPDATE. On January 27, 2012, Luke Richesson was hired to be the Denver Broncos head physical preparation coach. It is with great pride that we congratulate Luke on this accomplishment!
Richesson, 37, earned his degree in exercise science while playing football at the University of Kansas (1992-96). He was a four-year letterman at safety and a member of two teams that won the Aloha Bowl. After beginning his coaching career at his alma mater, he pursued graduate work and spent time on the coaching staff at Wyoming (1998) and Arizona State (1999-2000).
More important than any of his accolades on the athletic field, Luke is a phenomenal human being. As aforementioned, I can attest to this after being mentored by him. The lessons I learned from him extended way beyond the training floor.
Coach Richesson, on behalf of the readers here at CasePerformance, I want to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to join us. It’s a true honor to have you with us today.
When did you become so passionate about strength and conditioning… Did you do much lifting as a high school athlete or did this passion of yours start during your college days at Kansas?
I was very fortunate to have an older brother, Gabe, that took to weight lifting and I simply followed in his footsteps. When I was 12, my dad bought Gabe an old school weight set and DB’s. Whenever Gabe went to workout, I tagged along. Although I had no real idea what I was doing at the time, I instantly fell in love with training. In the last 25 years that feeling has never diminished.
Being the competitive guy that you are, did you ever partake in any strongman or powerlifting competitions following your collegiate athletic career? If so, are their any personal feats of strengths (1 RM’s, etc) that you’d be willing to share with us?
I have dabbled in a few power lifting meets. I have only competed in the Dead Lift (198 class). I have pulled 650.2 lbs; 700 has eluded me and I am still going after that one.
A quick note from Sean Casey… I would like to interject here and just mention that Luke is being extremely humble when stating only this 1RM. I have lifted with him on multiple occasions and his strength and power totals across all the major lifts (military press, squat, bench, pullups, etc) would destroy most individuals, including many of the elite athletes he coaches!
You’ve had the opportunity to coach at two division 1 colleges (Arizona State, Wyoming), at an elite private training facility (Athletes Performance) and now in the NFL (Jacksonville Jaguars). What have you enjoyed most about working at each one of these settings?
Although they may be similar… let me tell you – they are three different settings & I have really enjoyed each one. My initial goal was to become a head strength coach at the college level. As a student-athlete, I had breathed the university setting for 5 years and thought it would be a natural place for me to start as I felt very comfortable coaching/motivating the college athlete. Also I thought that it could potentially lead to the NFL later down the road. Three years into my collegiate coaching career, an excellent opportunity presented itself and I joined Athletes’ Performance. I stayed with them for the next 9 years. Although I never intended to stay with the company that long, the learning curve and experiences never dropped off; Year after year the Performance Team was doing some very cutting edge things in training & I wanted to see it through. My time at Athletes’ Performance thoroughly prepared me for my job with the Jaguars. Each setting that I’ve worked at has a unique feel but it is hard to beat game day in the NFL !
It’s well known that there is a major jump going from college football to the NFL. From a physical standpoint, are there any areas of performance (raw strength, movement mechanics, core strength, etc) that most college athletes are lacking?
You see the typical patterns of weakness (strength) and poor movement (position specific) but these guys can overcome these limitations because of their physical ability and knowledge of football. In our realm (Strength & Conditioning) one of the areas we can impact the NFL Player is by correcting their movement compensations due to a past injury.
A college athlete can be hammered in their workouts and you do not have to worry about any residual side effects; they will bounce back the next day & ask for more… a 21 year old kid is pretty resilient! On the other hand, the body of a veteran with 3+ years of experience in the NFL shows wear and tear. When they’re repeatedly put in a bad position, due to compensations from past injuries, their body will quickly remind them of this fact. Thus, a premium has to be put on proper movement technique and the training methodology has to be sound in order for athletes to enjoy long careers in the NFL.
Outside of football, what types of sport athletes have you all trained?
My time in college and the private setting I was exposed to all types of athletes; in the private setting I’ve worked with quite a few team sport athletes who competed in the NHL, MLB & NBA. Additionally, I also worked with many athletes who were competing in individual sports.
While in the college setting, I worked with the soccer, tennis, swimming, basketball and wrestling teams. When I reflect on my college experience, I get a big smile on my face whenever I think about training the wrestling teams for Arizona State & Wyoming. Those were, without a doubt, some of the most enjoyable times I’ve ever had as a coach. College wrestlers are unquestionably the toughest of the tough in the NCAA. What those guys go through on a daily basis would mentally & physically break most athletes. It’s a shame that the sport does not get more attention.
Although football is my bread & butter I have also enjoyed having my hand in the Mixed Martial Arts & Boxing.
Everyone always talks about sport specific training programs. What are your thoughts on this issue? In order to achieve great athletic success, must one specialize at an early age?
With the popularity of the NFL Combine and the National High School Combines, it appears that performance training is gaining popularity every year & with that has come a lot of people that don’t know what the hell they are doing. Unfortunately these individuals are guiding kids in workouts. As a result, many kids lack a basic athletic skill set that should serve as the foundation for future development; this critical step has been skipped over for “sport specificity”. Kids no longer play the seasonal sports, they ‘specialize’ in one area and it’s a shame. Kids are missing out on great experiences & areas that would actually help their ‘main’ sport.
What are your thoughts on back squat vs. front squat vs. box squat for athletes?
I love all three & you can add in Kettle Bell Squats, Overhead Squats, Keiser Squats, & Zercher Squats. Everything boils down to where it is in your program and can the athlete perform the exercise with a clean movement pattern. You have to be able to justify your exercise selection/progression and once that is done – LET IT RIP!
Do you use kettlebells much? If so, what advantages do you see in them verse traditional dumbbell/barbell training?
Hopefully the above answer will help me with this one. We have Kettle Bells (a lot of em’ – over 120) & just like everything else in our methodology they have a specific purpose in our plan. I am by no means a Kettle Bell purist, I think there a lot of poor exercises used with them. For example, I do not feel that using kettlebells for Olympic Movements is the best idea. However, they work great for squatting & single leg exercises. They provide us the ability to grow our blue print.
What role does nutrition play in the success of your athletes?
Nutrition plays a HUGE role in the success of any athlete. Proper nutrition increases performance, speeds up recovery, and limits systemic inflammation in the body. With the amount of inflammation that athletes faces naturally, due to competition and training, the last thing you want to do is add even more to it by eating the wrong foods. Since arriving here in Jacksonville, the nutrition program has underwent a complete overhaul under the guidance of my wife Anita Nall-Richesson who is a Certified Holistic Nutrition Specialist and runs PhenomeNALL Nutrition . She has done an excellent job making sure the diets of our athletes prepare them for success on the field. For those interested in learning more about the changes that Anita implemented here with Jaguars, I encourage you to read this article which appeared in the New York Times during December of ’10.
I realize that thoroughly answering these questions takes a lot of time and effort on your part. Thus, on behalf of the readers here at CasePerformance, I want to once again thank you for taking time out of your busy day to join us.
It’s been my pleasure… you have been a great resource for me. Keep up the great work.