Maverick strength: Linsacum puts focus on being more powerful

Linsacum puts focus on being more powerful

You’ve seen it on the back of T-shirts: Bigger. Stronger. Faster.

Dan Linsacum would add: Powerful.

The strength and conditioning coach at Colorado Mesa University and former football player for the Mavericks, Linsacum has spent the past four years implementing his program.

Offseason conditioning programs are no longer seeing how much weight you can lift and how many reps you can do.

“It used to be all about how much you could lift,” Linsacum said. “Now it’s how fast can you lift it? That’s power. You want to be powerful. We don’t want to just be strong.”

It’s not just lifting weights

A weight-room session with Linsacum can consist of anything you can imagine — and some things you couldn’t.

During a recent 6 a.m. workout with the men’s and women’s basketball teams, very few weights were lifted.

“It’s that functional strength,” men’s basketball coach Jim Heaps said. “Every lift they do has a purpose, and you can see how it relates to real-life basketball skills. It’s all combinations, no isolation, no bicep curls, it’s all full-body, whole-body functional type of strength. It’s a lot of balance, lifting while they’re balanced.”

Friday was a “balance and agility” day.

From taking 20-pound sandbags and throwing what equates to a two-handed chest pass straight up toward the ceiling to chest passes against a wall with weighted basketballs, every drill is designed to increase strength, agility and power.

One by one, the Mavericks lined up behind one of three iron tables or heavy wooden boxes, all different heights.

They gathered themselves and, like a standing broad jump, leaped onto the table, landing on both feet, then, again checking their form, jumped to a lower platform and then stepped onto the floor.

Balance and power equal jumping for a rebound or posting up in the paint and powering up to the basket.

Linsacum moves from one end of the room to the other, making sure they’re using the proper form.

“Your body weight is one of the best pieces of resistance we have,” Linsacum said. “We still fight gravity, so as long as you fight gravity, you’re doing some kind of resistance. That gets us into our power motion.”

The weight benches throughout the room were used not only to lift, but to do hurdle strides. Linsacum is big on athletes learning how to generate power from their hips, not their knees, as they run and jump.

They stand on balance boards and swing kettle bells, using their hips to generate the motion, not their arms.

The men jump in place while holding barbells in a dead-lift position. The women hold weights to their chest while lying on the floor, their knees pulled up and rotating side to side from the hips.

At 7 a.m., the track teams start to filter in for their workout. The basketball teams and Linsacum run out to the football practice field for the second part of their session.

They pull on sweatshirts to ward off the chill, because the sun hasn’t yet fully peeked over Grand Mesa.

Sprints, shuttle runs and team competitions help build speed, stamina and footwork.

Linsacum wrapped up the session with the players lying on their stomachs in the end zone.

On his command, they push up to their feet and sprint 20 yards, then turn and slide-step back to the goal line, all the while making sure they turn the right way — “Utah!” he calls out. “Which way’s Utah?”

“Finish it! Be relentless!”

Linsacum, who was a standout wrestler at Moffat County High School before becoming an all-RMAC middle linebacker at Mesa, brings his wrestling attitude to workouts, no matter the sport.

“It’s a matter of competitiveness. If you’re relentless and a person doesn’t want to play you again, that’s a huge advantage,” he said.

“You can be down 20, but if you’re in there playing hard all the way through the contest, no matter what sport it is, that person’s not going to want to come play you again.”

Seeing is believing

At Central High School, Haleigh Higgins was always playing a sport and didn’t have much time to train. All that changed when she entered college.

“My dad used to joke and call me ‘Sticks’ in high school because I was just skin and bones,” Higgins said. “It’s fun to come in and be an athlete and gain all this muscle. It’s a competitive advantage for sure. We work our butts off in the weight room.”

Some athletes have gained weight by adding muscle, others have lost weight and changed their physiques.

“On the court I’m seeing huge differences working with Dan,” said 6-foot-5 sophomore guard Mike Melillo, who has put on 12 pounds since last season and is noticeably thicker in his upper body. He’s also increased his vertical leap at least three inches since last basketball season.

“I feel like I can play through contact and finish a lot better. There were some times even last year when I’d take it to the hole and get bumped off my spot and I’d be fading away or leaning left or right. Now I feel I can finish through contact and be a more improved player.”

The women’s basketball team has changed physically, with more muscle definition and slim, athletic builds.

“All over I feel stronger,” said Kelsey Sigl, a 6-foot senior forward. “When you drop 20 pounds in two years, you’ve got an advantage. I can jump; I touched the rim the other day. My vertical has increased 4 1/2 inches from last spring.”

Sigl said a combination of proper diet and working out has her eager for her final season, which begins Monday.

“This is the most conditioning we’ve done in preseason,” she said. “We’re going to be that much further ahead.”

Opponents are noticing the changes, women’s lacrosse coach Abby Simpson said.

“We played Fort Lewis (in a fall scrimmage), and they said, ‘Oh, my gosh, you guys are much faster than last year,’ ” she said. “Once the competition notices ...”

A break in the action

The lacrosse teams just wrapped up the fall practice season and will expand strength and conditioning sessions with assistant strength coach Kylie Kegans, who played soccer at Mesa, until the spring season begins after the semester break.

“To see how much faster we are at this point and it’s only been five or six weeks,” Simpson said. “By the time the season comes around, we should be rock stars.”

The school calendar and NCAA regulations work against athletes at times. The strength and conditioning staff can work with the athletes during school breaks because of safety concerns, but every session is voluntary.

Spring sports teams start conditioning and fall practices once school begins in August, but then have to deal with the semester break before their seasons begin in January.

“We go all first semester and get them in great shape, and they go home for six weeks and if they don’t do anything ...” Linsacum said. “We can’t have required workouts the week before finals and the week of finals. That turns into eight weeks of everything we did the first semester could be lost if they don’t work over Christmas break. It comes down to accountability for the athlete.”

End results

Linsacum was hired in 2009, and he’s now seeing the first group of athletes who have spent their careers in his program. With the increase in the number of sports at Mesa came the need for a full-time strength coach.

With 23 varsity sports and seven emerging sports, Linsacum, Kegans and Karli Knudson, a personal trainer in the university’s Hamilton Recreation Center and assistant women’s basketball coach who helps condition teams, stay busy.

Linsacum is up at 4:15 a.m. and opens the weight room while it’s still dark outside. After a full day of workouts, he offers strength camps in the evenings for area high school athletes.

“We’re only here for two reasons: to prevent injuries and increase performance,” Linsacum said.

He works with the coaches on tailoring his program to their needs and schedule. For the most part, the coaches turn their teams over to him when it comes to the weight room.

“Where I came from, we didn’t have a strength and conditioning coach,” said first-year women’s basketball coach Taylor Wagner, who last year was at Otero Junior College. “It’s been a big positive. They know what they’re doing, they’re qualified, and (the players) are hearing a different voice.”

Linsacum started charting muscle pulls and strains when he arrived, hoping to see a correlation between his program and a decrease in injuries.

In 2009, the football team had 74 strains and pulls during the season. Last fall, that dropped to 21 or 22, he said, and many of those were incoming freshmen.

“The first couple of years I got some heat because I was taking things slow,” he said. “We weren’t doing squats, we weren’t doing cleans, not doing all those things right away. I can’t teach them a clean if they can’t do the other parts first.

“It’s really worked out.”


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