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Interview with the Expert – Scott Hettenbach, M.S., CSCS

Quick Hit Summary

In this installment of “Interview with the Expert” we have the privilege of talking performance training with Scott Hettenbach, assistant director of strength and conditioning at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Topics discussed include lifting vs. training, sport specific program design, and techniques to help tall athletes better train their legs.

Scott Hettenbach

Today we have the privilege of talking performance training with Scott Hettenbach, assistant director of strength and conditioning at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. For the past 16 years, coach Hettenbach has served as the head strength and conditioning coach for the Badger Men’s basketball team. During his time at Wisconsin, he has also worked with 15 different sport teams in all, training numerous Olympic, NFL, NBA and NHL athletes.

Prior to coming to the UW, Hettenbach coached four sports at Brookfield (WI) Central High School. Under his direction the boys track team won three conference titles and he was named Woodland Conference coach of the year in 1993.

Coach Hettenbach received his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse while also competing in the 110m and 400m hurdles on the track team for three seasons. He also earned his Master’s Degree from UW-LaCrosse in Exercise Science and Sport Administration.

Coach Hettenbach, 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.

Thank you Sean. It’s great to speak with you today.

How did you become so interested in the field of strength and conditioning field? Did you lift much while in high school or did this passion of yours develop later in life?

I was always involved in athletics as a youth. I played 3 sports in high school and was always looking for ways to improve. I was tall and very lean, so the weight room became an asset for me. We did not have a very structured training program so we were on our own to figure out the path to take. Much of my passion today is to teach young athletes just how valuable a performance program can be in reducing injuries and improving strength and athleticism when done with proper supervision.

During the past 20-25 years, the viewpoint of most sport coaches (ie – head basketball coach, baseball coach, etc) on resistance training has changed. At one time it was feared that athletes who lifted heavy would become muscle bound and prone to injury. That being said, how much of an emphasis did your track coaches put on resistance training while you attended the University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse?*

Surprisingly we were left on our own with little guidance when it came to training in the weight room during my time as a collegiate student-athlete. Thankfully much has changed, for the better, since I was in college. UW-LaCrosse does an outstanding job with their student-athletes now. I only wish I would have had such a great resource when I competed. It was just a sign of the times that most D-3 schools had not yet put into place structured Strength and Conditioning programs, and those that did, usually revolved around the football program. Although my track coaches encouraged me to be in the weight room, it was also left up to me to figure out what to do. And that lead to very limited results . . . hard to get where you want to go without a proper road map.

If you had the chance, based off your knowledge today, to redesign the strength and conditioning program you completed while running track in college, what changes would you make?

Even the most basic program would have beneficial to me at that time. To have someone design a 3-4 day lift, with progressions, and actually teach me proper technique would have made all the difference in the world for me. I think at that time most of us were just lifting . . . working out. We were not really training. The proper progression and consistent intensity needed to improve over time was not present. I needed some guidance, but it was just not available at that time.

You’ve had the opportunity to coach at both the collegiate and high school levels. I think most individuals would say that coaching at the college level would be the better of the two positions. However, I was wondering if there is any aspect of coaching at the high school level that you actually prefer over that of your current position?

In my opinion coaching at the collegiate level offers me the best opportunity to make the greatest impact on a student-athlete for their career because I have them under my tutelage for 4-5 years in a relatively controlled environment. I am also fortunate enough to be working with student-athletes that are dedicated to one sport, and most of them were All-Conference or All-State in high school. They also tend to be highly motivated, and very skilled in their sport. The time commitment can be a lot at times, but at this level it is par for the course. I really enjoy being in this environment so you find ways to balance it out over the course of the season.

In high school maybe 1 out of 100 athletes might be talented enough to move on to college and play a sport. So for most of the kids you work with, this will be their last participation in organized competitive sports. Teaching and time management play even bigger roles because of the sheer number of athletes and the limited time you have in the wt room with them. Getting good at the basic lifts and training them consistently are important. The hours are also demanding, but the competitive seasons are much shorter.

bq.Shifting our focus a little more specifically towards training athletes…

Compared to other sports, individuals playing basketball are relatively tall and have long limbs. Thus, many strength coaches struggle when teaching these athletes how to properly squat. Have you found this to be an issue? Do you have any advice for coaches struggling to teach their athletes how to squat?

Proper mobility and flexibility determine how well an athlete will be able to squat. Some guys just do not have the necessary mechanics that are conducive to squatting, especially while loaded. I have used the box squat with our guys with relative success. I think it is a great teach tool. But we have had athletes that still struggled with the movement. For these guys I have used a combination of BW 1-leg squats, Bulgarian squats and trap bar dead lifts to increase lower body strength.

As mentioned in your bio above, you’ve had the opportunity to train 15 different Badger sport teams. Does your exercise selection vary considerably based off the sport or do you use the same primary lifts for all of your athletes?

I would say that 90% of the exercises are the same for all of the sports. Where we might get into movement specific exercises would be with something like hockey and the unique skating motion or swimming athletes and their body position in the water.

How about with your secondary lifts? Are there certain lifts that you emphasize when training basketball athletes vs. swimmers/divers?

I like to address traditionally weak or injury prone areas or use unilateral movements with my secondary lifts. For example with basketball we might do additional shoulder exercises such as empty cans, face pulls, db shoulder series. With swimming I might focus on upper body horizontal pulling movements like seated row or PT/Band 1-arm pulls along with some 1-leg movements.

You’ve built up a wealth of knowledge over your coaching career. For someone new to the performance training field, are there any specific individuals, books or resources that you’d suggest?

So much information is available on the internet, but be careful, much of it is incorrect. Network with experienced strength and conditioning professionals that have been successfully coaching for years, read everything you can get your hands on and go to clinics and conventions. Observe coaches whenever you get the chance. Ask questions, and from that you can start to formulate your own training philosophy. Whatever you decide to implement, you must be able to explain and justify. Don’t do something just because someone else is doing it, make sure you believe in it before making it part of your program.

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.

Thank you Sean. It has been a pleasure speaking with you. Good luck with your website. It is a tremendous resource for young strength coaches looking for sound information.


1 University of Wisconsin-Badgers. Obtained January 11, 2011 from: http://www.uwbadgers.com/sports/m-baskbl/mtt/hettenbach_scott00.html.

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Written on January 16, 2011 by Sean Casey
Last Updated: April 02, 2013

This information is not intended to take the place of medical advice.Please check with your health care providers prior to starting any new dietary or exercise program. CasePerformance is not responsible for the outcome of any decision made based off the information presented in this article.

About the Author: Sean Casey is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison with degrees in both Nutritional Science-Dietetics and Kinesiology-Exercise Physiology. Sean graduated academically as one of the top students in both the Nutritional Science and Kinesiology departments.
Field Experience: During college, Sean was active with the UW-Badgers Strength and Conditioning Department. He has also spent time as an intern physical preparation coach at the International Performance Institute in Bradenton, FL. He also spent time as an intern and later worked at Athletes Performance in Tempe, AZ. While at these locations he had the opportunity to train football, soccer, baseball, golf and tennis athletes. Sean is also active in the field of sports nutrition where he has consulted with a wide variety of organizations including both elite (NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars) and amateur athletic teams. His nutrition consultation services are avalable by clicking on the Nutrition Consultation tab.