Interview with 2012 Seminar Presenter Cal Dietz, University of Minnesota

Coach Cal Dietz

DR: Coach Dietz, thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Could you please give the readers a bit of your own background, and how you got to where you are today?

CD: Thank you for having me. I’m the head Olympic strength and conditioning coach at the University of Minnesota and am currently working with eight sports. These include men’s and women’s hockey, men’s basketball, men’s track and field, men’s swimming, baseball, and men’s and women’s golf. In the past, I’ve also worked with football, wrestling, dance, and cheerleading. I’ve served as a consultant and trainer for various Olympic and professional athletes participating in the NHL, NFL, NBA, MLB, track and field, swimming, and boxing.

During my tenure at Minnesota, I’ve trained a Hobey Baker Award winner, two Big Ten Athletes of the Year, over 390 All-Americans, 27 Big Ten/WCHA Championship Teams, seven NCAA National Championship Teams, and 12 teams finishing in the national top four. I also enjoy sports performance research and founded the Sports Biomechanics Interest Group at Minnesota. The group’s purpose is to explore the physiological and biomechanical aspects of advanced human performance.

Prior to working at Minnesota (this is actually my second time here), I was the strength coordinator for the University of Findlay. I oversaw 26 men’s and women’s sports, served as director of the fitness center, coached the offensive line with the football program, and taught the strength and conditioning classes. My first experience with Minnesota came a few years before when I served as a graduate assistant strength coach with football and various Olympic sports while pursuing my graduate degree.

DR: You’re extremely innovative when developing new and improved methods of training. What are you working on nowadays?

CD: People think that I’m fairly innovative and constantly creating new methods, but in reality I simply go through the old Soviet readings for guidance. In doing this, I’ve found that many of their writings are based upon the concepts and theories that they implemented, but the actual methods used are highly updateable. This is especially true with the advent of newer technologies coupled with various training methods from other people, which you can place into the old Soviet methods.

What I’m able to do is constantly look at a method and try to get a full understanding of why we would use this particular method and how can I make that method better, more effective for my training plans, and more effective for the athletes. Then I develop an understanding of each athlete and individual and how I can change these methods that we’re using right now to better fit someone with a weakness that might be causing an injury or decreasing performance.

With the current state of my programs, which has changed basically every year for the last decade, I’ve actually got some pretty set methods based upon the academic calendar. We just kind of modify those to make sure we can constantly keep various programs running within a team setting. For example, last summer all of the variables and all of the combinations of the programs for my men’s hockey team yielded 24 guys basically placed into 9 different programs during the summer months.

One of the most exciting things about that is I saw the difference in some methods that we used that were separate (I guess you could say completely different) and both got great results. Even though the programs were different, both fit the needs of our athletes very well based upon what myself and my coaches identified as important needs for that particular group, which led me to the loading based percentages of 25-50%. The results of our training programs for athletes at super sub maximal levels between 25 and 50% got the adaptations that we had been targeting, namely reactive ability.

It’s been about 2 years and I’m still somewhat refining these methods of loading and exercise technique because exercise technique completely changes when you’re doing this sub maximal loading. The coaching method that you use for this is pretty different in regard to how you perform the exercise. The more I can elaborate on this in my book the better, which is why one of the projects I’m working on is my tri-phasic book. This will have the methods for super sub maximal loading which for peaking seems to be superior to any other method I have ever used. I wish I could talk about it more, but I’ve already written about 80 pages on this subject and it will be placed in my book. Look out in the future for some articles and posts on the subject.

DR: When looking at new information, how does one sift through the fads and gimics to find truly beneficial techniques?

CD: When I’m looking for new methods, as I stated above, I really just go back and reread much of the Soviet theories. I believe some great resources are the Soviet Sports Review, which is on my docket to reread; Supertraining is a classic, as is Fundamentals of Sports Training by Matveyev, a book that many, many people have used methods from and often forget the reference. I find that this book is a classic and a great source of theories and methods that can be implemented. Please keep in mind for the novice reader that these books will not get you to the coaching level that you may wish to get instantly, but after rereading the methods and rereading these books again and again one will be able to keep developing the methods and protocols to help their athletes advance to significantly higher levels.

Again, one of the biggest recommendations I make to novice coaches is that you have to go back and reread these books. For example, I completed Science and Practice of Strength Training by Vladimir Zatsiorsky 7 times and I think I learned more the 6th when I went through the notes and wrote out sample programs as I was reading. In regard to fads, just stick to guidelines. Many of these fad exercises or things people come up with nowadays have limited amounts of stress that are placed on the body, and stress is the key to everything in regards to eliciting adaption. If an exercise isn’t causing extreme adaptation, you are not going to get extreme results, especially with more advanced athletes. I think one of the biggest things is that people can’t discard a new method or exercise. What they have to do is get a full understanding of the stress it applies to the body and look and see if they could place it in, or if it would even work, for a particular athlete that they have. You would hate not to implement something in your programs that in simply 2 or 3 weeks out of the year, strategically placed, could help the athlete reach higher levels. An exercise may replace something that you are not getting many benefits out of. That being said, sometimes these exercises are worthless; although they may be fun, they might not be getting any results.

DR: You mentioned earlier that you’re working on several books. Can you elaborate on these projects at all?

CD: I currently have several books going; the one I spoke of previously is the tri-phasic book, which I’ve presented on at the CVASPS. This method is not just one that needs to be strictly followed. People have placed my theories of tri-phasic programming into normal programs such as the 5-3-1, etc… The program works because it addresses weaknesses sequentially, building upon the basis for all muscular contraction. It works because of the fact that one may have some strength quality that is weaker relative to others. When we only perform the movement in its entirety, the weakness takes a backseat. Thus, with the tri-phasic method, it is more efficient to sequentially address the problems separately and integrate them into the whole.

The second book that I have is a bit more general in content. This book will address many concepts and principles for a coach who doesn’t have time to read and research in the field for 60 hours a week as he may be a football coach, science teacher, and also in charge of the strength program. My hope with this project is that I can advance the coach and get some really sound programs out there to get our high school programs, and even some college level coaches, info they can use to advance their strength department and help their athletes reach the highest levels. With that in mind, it will be a basic book on the structure and organization of training through daily, weekly and yearly models. I hope it’s not too dry, but we’re kind of putting in some very basic information so a coach can really understand the theories and use the various methods to get the results that he/she wants with their weight room.

DR: What, in your opinion, is the most overlooked quality when developing athletes, from a young age all the way up to the professional level?

CD: The most overlooked aspect I believe is one’s work capacity for young athletes. Many people do tons of work capacity, but the work capacity that they do or think constitutes good exercise is misled. There is no purpose or reason behind what many coaches perform; they just do it to work hard. This is a huge mistake. One reason why this is unadvisable is your athletes can get burned out and stale. The other is that you’re teaching hard work, but they may not see results after 2 or 3 months because it’s the same stress. If you do your work capacity with a very strategic understanding of why you complete it and why you’re doing it, you can develop all of the high qualities of fitness through various energy systems that the body has as long as you’re specifically working them.

For example, I have a number of coaches that call me about the athletes I’ve trained and ask how he/she can test so well on strength and so well on fitness. To develop these in young athletes many people think if you do one and not the other then the kid is going to be good at one but not the other. At a young age, however, I’m able to get both qualities developed and again it’s just strategic work capacity training. I wish I had more time to go into it but everything you do has to be for a reason, and this particular reason is the athlete has to be well rounded when it comes to work capacity, which builds the foundation for later on when you become very specific with the application of stress. The one thing I have constantly said is that a higher level of work capacity allows for more specific stress to be applied, which thereby leads to better results.

DR: I’ve heard you mention several times your use of various biofeedback techniques, such as time-controlled sets, drop-off points, etc…. What are these, and how do you fit them in your program?

CD: I think many people read about these concepts and are sometimes confused, but there are all these variables that exist within the training methods we can use. For example, I remember 9 years ago sitting down with Mel Siff for about 19 hours straight, I believe, and we came across the question I had written down about cybernetic periodization, which led to 6-8 hours of conversation based on feedback and understanding these various concepts. Now Mel was big on technique with the cybernetic methods, but we also talked about measuring bar speed using Tendo units and the question came up, what are the other variables that exist?

Well you have the amount of reps you can do based on a drop off point, so if you do 10 reps with a weight, you can drop some weight and do the same amount of reps with a lighter weight and keep doing that until you get less than the 10 reps of the original weight. There is time (how long you do the set for), there is distance (when throwing), and there is speed when timing sprints. There are many parameters for people to use to control training and sets in regards to how many you should do. When I say that I mean reps and/or sets. This sounds like a new technique, but many people have been doing this for a number of years.

For example, lets say you plan on doing 6 sets of 3 and you destroy all of your sets. I don’t know what guy, unless it’s in a team setting, is going to say I’m going to do another set and go ahead and keep doing sets as long as they’re of high quality and high speed during a two hour training cycle and not a peaking cycle. Everyone’s been in the gym when you had some amount of sets in mind, but your speed changes or your technique was getting poor because your body was not ready to handle that particular load in those prescribed sets and so you cut it short because of obvious reasons. Finding these methods have been something I’ve done over the years but everyone’s done them. People have practiced theses concepts and methods and never really developed them on their own terms.

DR: You’ve been training some athletes for many years. Paul Martin, Tom Vanek, and Keith Ballard have all been with you since they won the NCAA hockey championships in 2002 and 2003. How does their training change over the course of time?

CD: Those 3 particular athletes are pretty special because of how much work they’ve put in and people don’t realize that. I don’t know if you’ll ever find 3 athletes like Paul, Thomas, and Keith who will work so hard for so many years and have the level of advanced athlete label that follows them around, but still work so hard and keep their egos down. I think with many elite athletes this is where their failure comes in, when their egos come into play and they stop training as hard and don’t believe that they need to train as hard as they have been in the past (which got them there). This is the opposite of what these particular 3 athletes have done. They are very open minded; we have changed their methods over the course of the last decade to better suit them as they get a little older, focusing on various things at different times. The focus is completely different between Keith, an NHL defenseman, and Paul Martin, who is another NHL defenseman. The biggest thing with these guys is they’re still normal people; they don’t have egos, and they work very hard to make sure that they can keep playing for a long, long time. For me it was just a privilege and a pleasure to coach these 3 athletes.

Thank you for your time, Coach. Coach Dietz’s website,, contains hundreds of videos, articles, and downloads for free. Check it out today!

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