Interview with Cortland’s Strength and Conditioning Coach Justin Kompf

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Today my interview is with Justin Kompf, the Strength and Conditioning Coach at Cortland College.  For those of you that don’t know, Cortland is a powerhouse in athletics having just recently won five conference titles (SUNYAC) in baseball, women’s lacrosse, men’s track and field, softball and men’s lacrosse.  I am sure Justin’s work has a great deal to do with this success.

Good morning Justin and thanks for your time.  Why don’t we start by having you tell us a little about yourself and your background.

Good morning, my name is Justin Kompf. I am the strength and conditioning coach at the State University of New York at Cortland.  This is my third year here.  I did my undergraduate degree here in fitness development and I am on my last semester working on my Master’s degree in exercise science.

What is one of the biggest challenges that you find as a college strength and conditioning coach?

The biggest challenge is probably getting a buy-in from the athletes, after that, it’s all cake from there.  Also getting them to enjoy the process, but inevitably once they get stronger that’s something they become very proud of and that ultimately helps a great deal. But up until that moment without the buy-in, it’s tough.

What do you do to get the buy-in?

I can give you a couple examples.  We have the freshmen volleyball girls.  At first, I told them that they’ll be able to smack the ceiling with their hand if they keep working hard. That was at the end of the fall semester and just now the girls are doing their approach shots and actually smacking the ceiling, which is pretty considerable.

Other examples are, if you struggle to do pull-ups and you come in every single day that you walk by the gym, and do one pull-up eventually you will get to do it.  Another example is our testing with the women’s soccer team.  At the end of the fall, when they first started lifting, I told them that everyone here is going to deadlift two hundred pounds.  They all looked at me like I was crazy.  In their first testing, almost all of them deadlift-ed two hundred pounds.  That type of thing definitely helps get the buy- in.  They get to start thinking that this guy isn’t crazy and he knows what he is talking about.

How much time do you have, if any, to use Energy System work in your programs?

I would have to say it’s challenging.  I have them only three days per week and it’s hard to get that kind of work in.   Our training programs are really to pair heavy movements with explosive movements.  In a way it’s about working the creatine phosphate system. I don’t think we really do a ton of aerobic work but when we do we use our accessory training we group three exercises in a row with short rest periods.  We have the morning conditioning class as well which isn’t mandatory but is open to anyone.  We can’t really make them come in 5 times a week on top of school work.

What are your thoughts on long distance running?

I used to be anti-long distance running but I don’t think long distance running is as bad as people make it out to be. If they like doing it, I don’t like to stop them from doing something they like doing.  I tell them which days are better to run based on our training.  So if we had a heavy lower body load day, I tell them maybe it’s not the best day to run long distance. I tell them we just did a high volume day on your lower body and you probably don’t want to run during the next two days because you might be pretty sore.  Our off-season training is really focused on getting stronger but if they say they are going running I am not going to stop them.  Some athletes are just addicted to it.  I have a field hockey player and there is no way I could tell her that she can’t run.

Do you assess every athlete prior to the start of their training and do you re-assess?

So… our assessment process goes as far as testing maxes and verticals.  We are doing 200 athletes and we need to get them going immediately.  To that extent, the first three weeks we have are heavily coaching intensive so we are just looking at how they do.  We are looking at what needs to be improved and what needs work.   If we see a specific problem in any of their movements then we can address that separately.  That’s basically how approach it.

Do you find a noticeable difference with your freshmen athletes that have had a good strength training base before their arrival on campus.  And if you do, where do you see the biggest difference?

I love it when they come in and already know what they are supposed to be doing.  I think it’s so good to get into the habit of doing it sooner.  When they start in high school they already see the value in it and I don’t need to search for and get that “buy-in” from them.  Overall, I also think they are better listeners as well.  I think that has to do with the fact that they are already interested in it and have seen the benefits from it.  They’re more coachable in general.

How do you break up your workouts.  I know it can be different from player to player and sport to sport.  But I think every coach has their niche, so how would a typical one hour session go.  Can you start and go through Justin Kompf’s template with me?

So we always start with a team warm-up and we always have a different athlete lead it every day.  The team warm-ups usually include body weight exercises, squats, lunges, the basic stuff and then we get into plyos and medicine balls based on the day, including the 2 to 3 plyo exercises that they do.  From there, we go to their main lift and each day focuses on something different like speed, strength or just more capacity.  If it’s a more capacity day, we do max reps and nothing after that.  If it’s a strength day or a speed day we end up pairing those with power movements.  So if they do a squat they might follow that with a hang clean and go into a dumbbell jump followed by a minute or two of rest before they go back into the squat.  This of course all depends on whether it’s a speed or strength day.  After that we cut the team in half, with half the group coming to me and the other half going to the other coach.  They would do three exercises in a row and then repeat that three more times.  The room also dictates the flow.

So those three exercises in a row that you mentioned with a minute break is some kind of short conditioning in the end?

It’s conditioning and more capacity.

That’s awesome Justin.  Thanks so much for your time.

By Nunzio Signore (BA, NASM, CPT, PES, FMS)