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Combat Grappler Interview with Coach Ethan Reeve

March 24, 2005 07:49 AM

Ethan Reeve
Head Strength and Conditioning Coach

Ethan Reeve is in his third season at Wake Forest, coming from Ohio University in February 2001 to guide the Demon Deacon strength and conditioning program for all sports. Reeve, who spent six seasons with the Bobcat program, was a two-time NCAA All-American and four-time Southeastern Conference Champion wrestler at the University of Tennessee. He began his coaching career at his alma mater, serving as assistant wrestling/strength coach for the sport of wrestling for two seasons. He also assisted as wrestling coach at Oklahoma State, Ohio, and Clemson before serving as Head Wrestling Coach at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. At Chattanooga his teams won five Southern Conference Championships in six years from 1984-1990.

Reeve is certified through three organizations: USA Weightlifting, Russian Kettlebell Challenge and the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association. He was at the McCallie School in Chattanooga from 1990-1995 as the Director of Strength and Conditioning while also strength coaching the Women's US Rowing Team from 1993-1995. The Women's US Rowing Team won four Gold medals and one Silver medal in the 1995 World Championships out of a possible six medals.

In 1995 Reeve then returned back to Ohio, his native state, to become Ohio University's first Director of Strength and Conditioning for six seasons. He also designed and oversaw the opening of the Carin Strength and Conditioning Center at Ohio University in November 1999.

Coach Reeve and his wife Susan have three children and have been married for seventeen years.

1) Coach Reeve, thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk to us. You have been a highly successful wrestler, wrestling coach and a ground breaking strength coach. With what you see regarding the physical strengths / weaknesses of your incoming college freshman, how would you train a high school athlete (focusing more on wrestlers & football players) to better prepare them for D 1 sports?

Coach Reeve: Yes, I wrestled at the University of Tennessee from 1973-77. Although I was not an NCAA Champion I was a 4-time Southeastern Conference Champion and a 2-time NCAA All-American. Fortunately, I was privileged to have been an assistant wrestling coach under some great coaches at the University of Tennessee (Gray Simons), Oklahoma State University (Tommy Chesbro), Ohio University (Harry Houska) and Clemson University (Eddie Griffin). Eventually I landed the Head Wrestling coach position at the University of Tennessee @ Chattanooga where I coached from 1984-1990. We had five Southern Conference Championship teams in six years. I loved coaching wrestling and still miss it. However, I really enjoy training all sorts of sport athletes. The main thing I enjoyed about coaching wrestling was the training in the wrestling room. That is why it was such an easy transition to strength coaching because I just love training athletes and helping them become champions. Hard, smart work is the answer to success!

Basically, we are at the mercy of the athletes that are given to us by our sport coaches in recruiting. Our job, as strength coaches, is to "maximize" the athletic potential of each and every athlete we work with. We trust our sport coaches to identify the athletes they feel can help our university have success in that particular sport. Sport coaches, like NFL scouts, will look at film and visit the players and see how they perform at practice and in competition. An athlete can have great results in the "combine" but not perform well in competition. If the athletes do not succeed in their sport under competitive situations then they will be overlooked in the recruiting process no matter how well they test in the strength room or combine. What coaches need are athletes that perform well in competition. We do not emphasize numbers in testing in the strength room or speed and agility tests. We look for adequate strength, power, speed and athleticism. If the athletes given to us do not meet our standards then it is our job to get them to those minimum standards. It is the athlete's choice to go beyond those standards and succeed at a higher level on the field of competition.

How we break the body and its movements down is like this:
Total Body Power
1. Power Clean-301 lbs.
2. Power Clean-n-Jerk-242 lbs.

Total Body Strength
1. Deadlift-401 lbs.
2. Power Shrug (Pulls)

Hip and Knee Extension
1. Front Squat-308 lbs./Back Squat-352 lbs. Both squats are well below parallel!
2. Lunge -242 lbs. for 2+2RM

Hip Extension Power
1. Hang Clean-308 lbs.
2. Hang Snatch

Hip Extension Strength
1. Romanian Dead Lifts (Rdls)
2. Good Mornings

Upper Body Pressing
1. Standing Press-198 lbs.
2. Bench-300 lbs.-325 lbs-350 lbs. (depending on position)

One-Arm Upper Body Pressing
1. DB Bench-(125 lbs. for 5+5RM)
2. KB Standing Press

Upper Body Pulling
1. Chins
2. Bent Rows

We feel it is very important for athletes to be athletic while they are getting stronger and more powerful. What is athletic? Great athletes do something that marginal athletes don't do. The great athletes make the skill of their sport look easy. How does this happen? Thousands upon thousands of repetitions of the skill of their sport at the speed needed in competition! We believe in making our athletes athletic by doing athletic lifts instead of isolation lifts during our team workouts. An athletic skill, like an athletic lift, is the incorporation of all your joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments together in a natural and many times explosive fashion. Therefore the best way to train athletes is in the standing position. What are the athletic lifts? Cleans, squats, snatches, presses, pushups, sled pushes, sled pulls, tire flips, farmer walks, etc. are athletic lifts. What are the implements used by our athletes? Olympic barbells, bumper plates, kettlebells, dumbbells, sand bags, 300 lbs. wooden sleds, chin bars, dip bars, benches, and power bars.

Our recommendation to incoming freshmen is to do athletic movements and athletic lifts. Don't be so concerned about the amount of weight right away. Work on technique through a full range of motion and the speed of bar movement. Learn how to tumble (forward rolls, diving rolls, backward rolls, back rolls to handstands, bear crawls, crab crawls, seat rolls, etc.). Tumbling is one of the best ways to develop kinesthetic and spatial awareness for all sports.

Learn how to do agility drills. What is agility? Agility has three main components: 1) change of speed 2) change of direction and 3) change of levels all within the same drill. Athletes must know what good position is for an athlete. The athletic position for most standup power sports is with your hips bent (down), feet shoulder width apart, on the balls of the feet, natural curve in lower back and with knees bent. One of the worst positions for an athlete (other than a jiu jitsuu grappler) is on their back. What we did with our wrestlers every day in practice is spend at least 5 minutes drilling a Bad to Good Position Drill. This drill entails, on the coaches' whistle, having your athletes go from different bad positions up to their feet in the athletic position while moving their hands and feet when they get there. Some bad positions are: 1) back, 2) belly, 3) side, 4) butt, 5) hands and knees and 6) knees. The object is to go from the poor position and get to the athletic stance, with motion, as quickly as possible. The slower, less athletic athletes will get there slower.

2) With the experience & knowledge you have gained in the past years as the head strength coach at Wake Forest, what have you learned or implemented differently that you wish you would have done when you had wrestlers in your strength room (for those who don't know, Wake Forest does not have a wrestling program) at your previous coaching positions?

Coach Reeve: We do not have a wrestling program here at Wake Forest. I wish we did! I'm not sure I would have trained wrestlers a whole lot differently than I did back in the 80's. I have a notebook for every one of my six years at UT Chattanooga. It is a detailed notebook with every practice's lesson plan, minute by minute. It also has my observations of each workout. Within the notebook, prior to the daily lesson plans, is a detailed Master Plan of the teaching progression and drills to incorporate for strength training and wrestling technique.

We had a philosophy the permeated every wrestling drill and competition we had. Everything we did was based on these three elements of our philosophy:

1. Pressure
2. Position
3. Motion

These words were said, by me, to our team maybe 100-200 times at each and every practice. I will explain what their meaning is!

1. Pressure. The wrestler must keep pressure on his opponent every split second of every match he wrestles. This is whether he is on top, bottom, or on his feet! Pressure, pressure, pressure! Unrelenting pressure must be applied. The wrestler must also be able to handle pressure mentally and physically when it is applied to him. Referees will make mistakes. The crowd will taunt him. The opposing coach will say negative things at times. The wrestler must maintain his cool. He should never show emotion of any kind! Stone-face and stoic! When you show emotion in competition, the heat of battle, it is compared to a shark smelling blood! If you display emotion during the battle the shark will smell the blood and attack that weakness. We taught our wrestlers to search for physical and mental weaknesses in their opponents and attack them! If you are to have success with pressure then you must put all three portions of the philosophy together. And it must be implemented into every drill and scrimmage during practice sessions. There is no way you will pressure in a match without practicing pressure in every drill in practice.

2. Position. If the wrestler applies pressure to his opponent while being in poor position he will surely not have good success. All strength is angle specific. A great wrestler puts himself into positions of strength. This is whether he is on his feet, bottom or top position. Having good position is not just being in an athletic stance. It is his position in relation to his opponent. Cutting distance down so he can work his offensive technique and also be able to have a good defense when his opponent attacks is paramount. This is true in all sport whether it is strong man competitions, Olympic weightlifting, Power lifting, tennis, golf, football, basketball or wrestling. In the lifting sports it is gravity, resistance and the object to be lifted that is your opponent. The great wrestler continues putting himself into positions of strength in his sport. This is why being a strong strength room guy is not as important to him. The strength you receive from the strength room will only benefit the athlete if he has paid the price with technique of his sport. There are a lot of wrestlers that don't appear strong. However, they realize their strength potential in wrestling by putting themselves into positions of strength. Teaching a wrestler how to use his body with total body power and strength lifts will help him use his strength in wrestling. Out of season we would focus on the power cleans, hang cleans, squats, standing presses, chins, dips, etc. In-season we placed more focus on lifting our partners within the technique of the wrestling drills. That way we hit two birds with one stone. We worked on our strength specific to the sport of wrestling! However, in-season, we still did our lifting two days per week.

3. Motion. A wrestler is not in good position if he cannot move. A wrestler cannot run as fast or move as fast on his knees, butt, back, sides etc. as he can while he is on his feet. Shooting takedowns and staying on your knees will stop your motion. I am not saying you should not shoot to your knees. However, don't stay there if you cannot finish quickly while there. Learn to hit on the knee and get off of it quickly or work on your takedown technique by not going to your knees. We found we had more success by not allowing our wrestlers to go to their knees on double leg and single leg takedowns. Their technique for the setups and penetration was much better by doing this. We did allow them to go to their knees while doing fireman's carries.

There is one other thing we did at UT Chattanooga that no other wrestling team did that I am aware of. We made our wrestlers bow as they entered and exited the wrestling room. This was not done as some religious sort of thing. . The only clothing we allowed our wrestlers to wear in the room was t-shirt, shorts, jock, socks and shoes! No sweats or rubber gear! We emphasized to our wrestlers that they need to come into every practice with the intent to leave the room in some way better than when they walked in. Did they get better at technique, stronger, better condition, more mentally tough? Better and better everyday was our motto. A wrestler cannot get better if he knows everything. He must come in with an empty glass to learn and improve. If he walks in with a full glass, if he knows everything, he will not make changes needed to become a champion! Bowing as you enter and exit the room promotes humility. Humility allows the humble to learn and get better!

3) How would you go about training a high school football player who is heavy in body weight but lacks the strength & power for someone his weight? The reason I ask is that I find a good number of high school football players tend to carry extra weight yet are weak /deconditioned for their size.

Coach Reeve: That high school athlete, in our opinion, should work on all qualities of athleticism together: strength, power, speed, anaerobic-endurance, flexibility, balance, mental toughness, spatial and kinesthetic awareness. By doing this the athlete will fit into his body naturally with some changes in his diet. I am not a certified dietician nor do I claim a vast knowledge of nutrition. I know enough to identify folks that need some help with their diet and try to direct them in the right place.

We believe the combination of Olympic lifts (hybrids), Powerlifts, bodyweight calisthenics, dumbbells, kettlebells, speed work twice a week, agility work twice a week, tumbling, plyometrics, static and dynamic stretching will benefit all athletes. I remember one of our baseball coaches coming up to me at Ohio University telling me that a couple of the pitchers didn't understand how the tumbling or agility ladders would help them as pitchers. I told him that the two pitchers he mentioned were not very good at ladders or tumbling. Also, I informed him to tell the pitchers when they get good at ladders and tumbling they'll understand why we do them. They both went on to have their best seasons that spring.

Everything we do is based on the ability to move. The only way to get good at moving is to move everyday! As the athletes get stronger and more powerful in the strength room they will move faster and more explosively. However, their flexibility or lack of flexibility will be a limiting factor if they don't do both dynamic and static stretching each day. Static stretching should be done at the end of the workouts or after a dynamic warm-up. We feel it is more important for athletes to spend more time on dynamic flexibilty like: tumbling, hurdle flexibilty drills, form running drills, and agility drills.

What we are trying to develop are athletes that can move more efficiently for sport. They must spend the bulk of their training time working on the technique of their sport in order to be successful! However, they must also work on being more well-rounded athletes. This is where strength coaches come in to play! The strength coach must also realize that strength and athletic development, by his prescription, is just a piece of the pie. This is why we stress that strength coaches train athletes to be better athletes on the field of competition. They should focus on making their athletes better athletes not so much on getting bigger lift numbers to be posted on the strength room board.

4) What are some things in / out of the weight room that you would discourage football players / wrestlers to do? Are there any training methods / techniques that are used commonly today yet have no carry over to their sport?

Coach Reeve: We tell our athletes and sport coaches that there are many ways to become a champion. Some are more efficient and some are less efficient. We have found many ways to gain strength, power, speed, athleticism and size! We try to incorporate as much variety as possible without compromising our philosophy and efficiency while also delaying boredom.

Weight machines are not used by me or my two assistant strength coaches here at Wake Forest when working with our sport teams. This is part of our philosophy. We are not saying you cannot have success using machines. Of course you can! We just don't train our athletes with machines during the team workouts. We don't discourage our athletes from using machines during their personal "champion" workouts individually. We do have machines in our strength room, just not many.

We prefer training our athletes with total body lifts to develop strength, power and athleticism. In our opinion, using weight machines is less efficient in developing these qualities. Isolation of joints or muscle groups is a less efficient way of training athletes. If the athlete desires, during personal workouts, to do isolation work then we do not discourage this!

5) With regards to in season training for football players and wrestlers, are there any specific things you can advise them on or perhaps guidelines to follow? Especially w/regards to how so many high school athletes do strength training only in the off season and then completely stop during the in season?

6) Last but not least, give us a little insight to your thoughts on the "Champion's Attitude". Also, what does it take for an athlete to make it in a D 1 sport and be highly successful?

Coach Reeve: A major part of our philosophy is the "champion's attitude". A champion in any sport has to make a concrete decision to become a champion. A champion is different than other athletes. But there is a reason he is different. He does things other athletes either refuse to do or don't think of doing! He does the "extra" things it takes to become a champion. This is true in sport, music, the classroom, business, medicine, law, etc. A champion does both the extra work and works hard at it. The champion works hard and smart. He writes down his short and long term goals to give him direction. The champion finds a way to win. The champion doesn't want to waste time! The champion wrestler does the extra drilling of wrestling technique, runs extra bleachers, gets up early to workout before school, does extra pushups or chins before going to bed! He is the one that watches what he eats and gets adequate rest and sleep. He stays flexible and in great condition! He has great control of his emotions in stressful situations. He comes to practice early and leaves late. He is the one that strives to get better and better each and every day.

The sport coach has the duty to encourage the "champion's attitude". "Did you do any extra workout today?" he will ask! The strength coach and sport coach must not design team workouts that will take every bit of energy out of the athletes. Leave some energy for the "champion" to do his extra workouts. This way the champion can take some ownership in his success. The sport coach and strength coach should design the team workouts to make them difficult enough for the team to have success.

If the strength coach and sport coach designed workouts around the champion then he will find few athletes left to coach. I have had many of these types of champion athletes ask why I don't push the whole team harder. My answer is "how many athletes would be willing to work like a champion?" Not many!!! However, by encouraging the "champion's attitude" maybe we can get more athletes doing their "champion" workouts. The key is to get the athlete to "want" to be champion not "pushed" into being a champion. We push our teams hard enough to win as a team while encouraging the champion's attitude in those individuals that decide to be a champion.

7) As the head strength coach who works closely with the football coaches, how do the coaches at your university & other universities view the combine that high school football coaches compete at?
  • Do the coaches get swayed into recruiting a player if he does well on the combines?
  • Any other comments on the combine tests?
Coach Reeve: Our football coaching staff will look at results from the combine. However, most importantly, they get to know the football player, his family and his character to see if he fits Wake Forest University. I can't answer for other universities. I will tell you that combine results are of little value if the football player does not exhibit being a good football player on game day. From my experience, the NFL scouts feel the same way. They will look at tons of game film. If the player lets up on plays and doesn't play all plays with his "hair on fire" then the scouts will not ask me much about him. We give the NFL scouts strength room results dealing with speed, agility, strength and power. These results don't matter if the player doesn't produce on game day!

Hopefully, this will be of some value to some of the high school football players to make sure they always play hard each and every play.

Zach Even - Esh, BA, MA, is a performance coach for combat athletes. His training methods are heavily influenced by coaches such as Pavel Tsatsouline, Louie Simmons, Ethan Reeve and the Cross Fit Training methods. A self admitted strength training addict, Zach has been involved w/wrestling and other combat sports for over half his life.

Located in NJ, living with his wife, Zach is the CEO of Zach Even - Esh Performance Systems, LLC. To learn more about Zach & his training methods visit his web sites & or simply search his name to find the many articles he has written for web sites around the world.