Feedback from the US Naval Academy: How our PT programs can better prepare our cadets
Updated: Jun 13, 2020
This weekend I had the pleasure of spending four days with a Strength and Conditioning Coach of the US Naval Academy (I do not want to use his name without explicit permission, so we will refer to him as “Coach”). While we were both playing in a baseball tournament, there was significant time to pick his brain and I gained very valuable insight into what challenges the USNA staff face with new recruits.
The USNA sees about 1,200 new inductees every year. Understanding the challenges that the USNA staff witnesses from incoming classes is a great opportunity to identify areas that we can focus on to help our cadets improve.
The focus of this article is to convey Coach’s valuable feedback to other USNSCC staff, allowing us to tailor our PT programs to address weaknesses that the USNA sees from incoming midshipmen. If you have been working with USNSCC/NLCC cadets for any length of time, his feedback may not surprise you, however it is enlightening to see that many of the issues we have with leaguers persist to the Naval Academy. We can also use Coach’s advise on how to address these issues, starting the same process that he is applying to 17-18 year old men and women to our young adults to prepare them early.
Challenges with this generation of Midshipmen
I started our conversation with describing our program to Coach, and how our goal is to develop complete cadets, from a leadership, integrity, and physical fitness perspective. My first question for Coach was “what challenges do you consistently see with new recruits, or students of this generation?”
According to Coach, the overarching issue is that kids are less active today. The result of which is limited flexibility, particularly in the hips, ankles, and shoulders, which impacts nearly everything on the PRT. Range of motion seems to be a key issue with athletes of all levels as they come into the academy.
Specific issues, which seem so remedial, include performing a proper push-up, especially in female athletes. Issues with female athletes that cannot perform push-ups are trending up, and according to coach this is primarily because midshipmen are focusing on PRT numbers and not push-up form in their training. We see it in our division’s cadets, that otherwise exceptional athletes struggle with the full range of motion in push-ups. As an example, one of our cadets is a world class swimmer that cannot perform push-ups correctly.
To combat this trend, Coach wants midshipment to focus on form. If it means doing sets of 5 good push-ups, then do sets of five strict, full range of motion push-ups. “Forget about the PRT (in training), and make sure you are getting quality reps in to build muscle strength and promote a full range of motion”.
Pull-ups (which are not on the USNSCC PRT) are also a problem for both genders, but significant issue with female midshipmen. The solution is the same: focus on quality, full range of motion repetitions over abbreviated, “cheating” reps.
The Unfortunate State of Mile Times
I specifically asked coach about maybe my biggest “pet-peeve”: cadets that cannot run a decent mile. I explained to him the problem as I see it, where cadets just simply do not know their capabilities in this area. I have run next to cadets who are barely holding an 11 minute pace while they explain to me that they are out of breath, need to stop, didn’t eat well, it’s too hot (we train in South Florida, so yea, its always going to be hot). I consistently tell these cadets that if they can hold a conversation at this level, they are not out of breath.
This is consistent with non-athletes at the academy level. Officer candidates are expected to complete a mile-and-a-half run in 10:30, which is a significant pace for even experienced runners. However, it is not an unachievable pace for runners that are not particularly gifted athletes. Our cadets do need to run hard, and often, consistently test their own limits, and most importantly consistently improve their times with sub 8 minute mile goals.
Flexibility: It’s not just for old people anymore
A key point that coach made was flexibility. Siting the fact that many (if not most) of the new cadets grew up playing video games on the coach, lower body flexibility in particular is a constant issue. I previously did not put much stock in flexibility exercises for teens and pre-teens (they seem to be able to bend in half when compared to adults that I train), but Coach made me a believer in the concept that we should start these exercises early as well. A focus on the IT Band, hip flexors, and ankle flexibility will improve running and swimming performance as well as dramatically reduce injury.
I would love to hear about your experiences with your cadets in these areas? Where are the biggest PRT challenges? Do you have athletes that are “Presidential” in one area and struggle in others? What creative things are you doing with your PT programs at your drills?
I will be following up with coach, as well as updating this BLOG with videos, tips, and other information, so please check back periodically.
Robert S. Williams – XO – Gulf Eagle Division
More information about XO Williams