The world of college sports is a competitive one. For athletes, it is nearly a full-time job split between practice, games, scouting and physical rehabilitation. Often times, a crucial part of an athletes’ day-to-d
ay lives is overlooked in the chaos of it — strength training.
This is where the head of Cal Poly strength and conditioning, Chris Holder, comes in.
Holder has worked in strength training for 18 years and has been at Cal Poly for the past five. With a bachelor’s degree in Physical Education from Eastern Kentucky, a master’s degree in Kinesiology from Cal Poly and a doctorate in Medical Qi Gong, Holder has all the tool
s to help Cal Poly’s athletes excel.
“In this day and age, an athletic program that doesn’t have a strength person is trying to lose,” Holder said.
There is much more to strength training than just getting quicker and stronger and stayin
g in shape, according to Holder. He also touts the fact that strength training is an integral part of team chemistry and injury prevention.
A lot of effort goes into each team’s lifting program. On top of that, Holder also takes great care to ensure the programs are also tailored to individual athletes’ specific needs.
Working alongside the sports medicine department, Holder is able to create workout
s for injured individuals that will keep them in shape and avoid slowing down the healing process.
When it comes to injuries, Holder looks for trends in teams. For example, if he sees that a team is having a lot of shoulder problems, he knows that he needs to either modify something in their strength program to combat the issue or eliminate something in the workout that may be aggravating the issue.
Chris White, a former colleague of Holder’s, spearheaded the developmen
t of a program for the track team called “hip flow.” After noticing that a lot of track athletes had lower back problems, White decided something needed to be done.
“The hip flow came in as a product of trying to solve low back stuff with track, and then we saw how sweepingly successful it was so everybody got it,” Holder said.
It became clear that athletes weren’t loose enough and their hips weren’t open going into a workout which caused muscle tightness and in turn, lower back issues.
Kettlebells are another tool that Holder loves to use. He has done extensive research that has been published about the benefits of kettlebell workouts.
“It’s undeniable that when it’s done well, and it’s done thoughtfully, it’s going to make a gigantic difference in the performance of an athlete,” Holder said.
One Cal Poly team that is seeing the direct benefits of the strength program is volleyball. The team was ranked in the nation’s top 25 for the majority of the season, went undefeated in conference play for the first time in the programs’ history, had a program-record 22-game win streak and made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
According to Holder, a big reason for the volleyball team’s recent success is the coaches and players are finally buying into strength training. Instead of going home during the summer, they stay and train to prepare for the season. Since volleyball plays in the fall, staying committed to the strength program in the summer makes all the difference at the start of the season.
It is a domino effect. It starts with the player’s commitment to the training. From there it transfers into success on the court which in turn draws quality recruits to the program and creates a culture of excellence. This domino effect starts largely in the weight room.
One player in particular who has adopted this mentality is senior setter Taylor Nelson.
“[Nelson] may be the best athlete we’ve had in any sport,” Holder said. “When you can say that about a person … that person is going to make an enormous impact on their respective team … she’s as good as it gets.”
Nelson also recognizes the advantages that the strength program gives the volleyball team on the court.
“This season we had a good season and they changed our workout program to be more volleyball-specific,” Nelson said. “It helped a lot improving verticals and just helping with speed.”
It is not cut and dried but the growing commitment to strength training appears to have a positive impact on athlete success.