Mile High Sports

TBT: Q&A with training guru (and now Broncos strength coach) Loren Landow

On Wednesday reports surfaced that longtime Denver-based training guru Loren Landow will replace the departed Luke Richesson as strength and conditioning coach for the Denver Broncos.

Coincidentally, Mile High Sports Magazine spoke with Landow back in March 2013 as part of the Fitness issue — around the same time Richesson took over that same role with the Broncos in place of Rich Tuten. Landow spoke on his training philosophies, and about working with world-class athletes like Missy Franklin.

Since that time, Landow has continued to train elite athletes from Colorado and around the world, including Heisman Trophy finalist and 2017 No. 8 overall pick in the NFL Draft, Christian McCaffery

Today, we throw back to Robin Carlin’s conversation with Landow and congratulate him on his new gig with the Denver Broncos.

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Robin Carlin: This is our annual fitness issue. In the simplest way possible, give our readers your basic philosophy when it comes to strength and conditioning training.

Loren Landow: [My philosophy] is about efficiency in making more athletes more explosive and faster, but also decreasing their likelihood of injury through doing things properly

What makes your job so rewarding?

The buy-in moments with my athletes – when they buy-in, when they accomplish a goal or they hit their big milestone – to me, that’s what makes my job so rewarding. I carry a lot of stress with my job, but at the same time once they hit those milestones or see the progress, that’s the rewarding part.

In your mind, what is the difference between training an “everyday” athlete, and training one of the world’s elite athletes? A devoted high school athlete or a weekend warrior compared to an NFL player or professional MMA fighter, for example?

Working with the general population versus an elite athlete is the specificity of what they are doing. There has to be transfer with your training. You can’t hope that it has transfer and you can’t hope that this exercise is going to have a benefit to them – it has to. So you have to be very calculated with your scientific approach to what you are giving your athlete. One of the biggest things that I stress to everybody is the fundamentals – everything we do is about fundamental practice. As a general population, having a sound diet, being consistent with your workout plan and regiment, doing all of the recovery things and not enjoying the exertive things in life that get in the way of our fitness. It’s the same thing with our pro athletes. They have to consistent every morning when they wake up and every evening when they go to bed with what their goal is.

Regardless of whether you are working out with an elite athlete, like Brain Dawkins, or a rookie quarterback, or an NFL hopeful, you treat everyone with the same recognition. Why is that important to you?

I take a vested interest. If someone is going to try to better themselves in a certain aspect of their life, I want to make sure that I am giving them everything I can. The last thing I want is for someone to walk away from spending time with me and think, ‘Well, that wasn’t worth the hype.’ I want to show everybody that it doesn’t matter who you are. I want to treat you individually. And that goes for the way I program – I program my athletes very specifically to what their needs are and what their goals are.

In your work with Steadman Hawkins, you’re known for rehabbing athletes from all over the world. Brag about yourself here. Why do they come to you? What makes you and the Steadman Hawkins clinic superior?

Steadman Hawkins has had a great name for many, many years. I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of that organization. I think what happens is we get such a great referral base because people have had such a positive experience with us – they’ve gotten back to their field of play, they’ve gotten back to the ski slopes. We create this nice referral pattern based on those results.

In rehabbing various athletes, you’ve probably seen some devastating injuries. Do you have a particular one – and anecdote perhaps – that you think of your greatest accomplishment? The one that you helped to heal against long odds?

Alecia Sacramone. She ruptured her Achilles in October and had to be ready to start training in February for the 2012 Olympic trials. It was one of those things where I asked her early on, ‘Do you want to go to London in 2012?’ And she said yes. So, I told her, ‘Here’s what you have to understand – we have to push at an uncomfortable pace at times. We’re going to be smart, but there’s going to be risk associated with that and I need you to understand that. Based on this timeline, there’s a probability that you could reinjure yourself.’ And she understood and we moved forward. Within three to four months, she was back doing gymnastic-style routines and she just missed going to London by the slimmest margins. She placed first, second, and third in all of her events at the Olympic trails, but the unfortunate way that they went about picking who they were going to send to London, she was x’ed out. Alecia was so mentally tough. She needed to see that there was a plan and I had to know when to pull back because she was never going to tell me that something was bothering her. I had to really pay attention to her body language, how she answered questions when I would ask her, and just watch her move. So, we pushed aggressively but we also pulled back when it was time. That one, by far, was against the longest of odds – even myself, I was like, ‘boy, this is a really tight timeline’. And knowing, too, exactly what I was getting her ready for – the stress, the competition, the biggest stage, and the amount of force that it takes to be a gymnast like that – the pounding into the ground, the sticking of the landings, all of those things.

Unofficially, you’re known as a “speed guy” (basically, you help young athletes maximize their speed, and help the world’s fastest get even faster…today is a good example, you’re here working with top athletes on their speed and agility). How did that reputation evolve? What are the keys to improving one’s speed?

It goes back to what my philosophy is, and that’s creating efficiency – from the alignment of our starts and our limbs when we run to how we coordinate our limbs to move in a rhythmic fashion to maximize the muscular potential to generate power. If I were to bring in 10 athletes, I know that with all 10 of them that I can help them get faster based on the mechanical inefficiency that they have. So, at the end of day, it’s just rebuilding on what my philosophy is and that’s teaching the athletes, first of all, how to be better and how to be more efficient. I do a lot of video analysis and I say, ‘biomechanically, here’s what we need to do be faster, here’s where we need to get the limbs, here’s where we need to put the force into the ground.’ All of those things, ultimately, lead to a faster athlete if they are able to grasp them. How I have gotten the reputation of the “speed guy” has just been over time – I’ve had some pretty good results and I’ll take that title.

This concept of “sports performance” is constantly evolving. From the time you began in this profession, up to now, what are some of the biggest changes in philosophy? What methods, techniques, “rules” used to apply, but don’t at all these days?

When we look at performance training, most people have this idea painted in their head of strength and conditioning. To me, performance training is a holistic approach – where we look at the development of the full athlete from speed, agility, power, strength, balance, stability, flexibility, conditioning – you look at all of those processes and you say, ‘How do you maximize those for each athlete given their sport or the position that they play?’ It’s just not putting a blindfold on and throwing darts. Again, we need to make sure from a mechanical standpoint that we are efficient, but from an energy system or a conditioning aspect, we’re efficient, as well. I see a lot of times where guys will go out to condition and they’ll run miles, you know, football players that will go run a mile. Well, that’s out of their domain of what their energy system, and the demand of their sport, is. Over time, we’ve gotten better at using science to justify our methods.

In all your years, who is the hardest working athlete you’ve ever been around? (and why…give a story of something they did that blew you away)

The hardest working athlete? It’s a tie between Tim Tebow and Missy Franklin. I’ve dealt with a lot of hard workers out here, but they were consistently hard workers. If you look at the schedule that Missy Franklin puts in – going to the pool at 4:30 in the morning. She swam a high school meet the other night, finished the meet at 7:00, then she came back to me right after that for strength and conditioning. She is always trying to get better. I think that for those great athletes, it comes down to consistency in your day-to-day. It’s not about how great did I work out twice this week, but how good did I work out in all of my workouts this week. And how good doesn’t always mean how hard – that’s where I think the misconception comes in. It’s not about it being a hard workout today, it’s about the consistency of the training.

What prompted you to write a book (My Offseason with the Denver Broncos: Building a Championship Team (While Nobody’s Watching))? Was this something you thought of early that summer, or was it not until afterwards, when it was all over, that you said, “Hey, this is an experience I should tell people about”?

One afternoon during the lockout, Brady Quinn was leading Broncos players in a seven-on-seven drill. I was sitting there talking to (my PR rep) Judianne Attencio and my interns for that semester and I told my interns, ‘I hope you guys are appreciating what you are seeing right now. This is something you will never see again – professional athletes doing a seven-on-seven in t-shirts and shorts. This is so unique.’ And I think that was the light bulb moment for me where I said, ‘let’s let the fans know what they’re doing’ – when the majority of the NFL had no plan. The majority of the NFL just kind of did what they wanted to. I thought it was a unique thing that Brain Dawkins put together and ultimately, the majority of the players then carried it on moving forward. That made it an experience that I wanted to share with the fans. It gave some great insight as to what these players were doing with their offseason – they weren’t just sitting on their couch playing video games. They were out doing great things not knowing if they were going to get a paycheck and also knowing that they didn’t have health insurance but might get injured.

The story says that you contacted Brian Dawkins about essentially becoming the team’s trainer during the lockout summer. What were your initial conversations like? What were his concerns? What were your concerns?

Both of our concerns were what does this lockout look like and how long is it going to last? Is this something where I just bring the guys in for a limited amount of time and we have a controlled environment for workout, or am I truly going to prepare the guys for the season? Those were our concerns because it was a moving target – the lockout was a moving target – and I had no idea what I was preparing them for. As the lockout drew on, then I went into the mode of preparing the guys for the season and not for a mini-camp. Those were a lot of the conversations. Brian Dawkins wanted to get an idea of who I was and what I was all about. He came in and watched the first workout and afterwards, he said, ‘We need to be doing this.’ He took his time making the decision. He was very thoughtful in how he was going to position it to the players by letting them know that this was not a mandatory thing, but here’s an opportunity.

What was the biggest thing that YOU – as a professional, as a trainer, as a coach – gained personally from this experience?

It reiterated my philosophy of consistency. I had to be consistent with how I was pursing with the book. You know, once you set your mind on whatever your goal or objective is, there are days that it is hard, there are days that it is fun, and you’re under significant timelines. It was a daunting task. I think I was half-way through with the book and I said, ‘Why am I doing this?’ But by the time it was all said and done, I was consistent and I took something off of the bucket list.

You said on Twitter last month that you have a fear of touching cotton balls. Care to explain?

The texture of cotton balls and Styrofoam drives me crazy. Missy Franklin the other day came up to me and she puts her hand out and I thought she has giving me a high-five but she puts a handful of cotton balls in it and I freaked out.

You trained Missy Franklin, and in a recent article, you talked about how stressful it was to watch her during the Olympics. Why was that? What goes through a trainer’s head when he’s watching one of his own “products” on the biggest stage?

Missy was a unique situation where I think the stress was so high because the expectations were so high. She went in with a lot of pressure for a 16-year old to have. Here you are being put in front of the country as this sweetheart before you even go to the Olympics. From my perspective as a coach – and I’m sure from her swim coach’s as well – we felt, ‘Did we prepare her properly?’ That was the biggest fear but then once I watched her first swim, I was like, ‘Okay, we’re good to go.’

This past season, the Broncos had significantly fewer “non-contact” injuries. They also happened to have a new strength and conditioning coach (they let go of longtime trainer Rich Tuten after last season). In your opinion, is there a connection or is it just luck? 

I think there is always luck involved and sometimes it’s bad luck. I know great strength coaches in the NFL who have a lot of injuries and it’s really just timing and luck. Luke Richesson – he gets it. He’s a great strength coach. These guys get paid on Sunday for a reason – you don’t just go out there and beat the heck out of them Monday through Friday, you have to prepare their body for Sunday. As a good strength coach, I think our job becomes more about managing fatigue than it does about putting fatigue on them.

How do you help the players calm and manage their nerves at game time?

They say sports are played from the shoulders up, and the body is just the vehicle for what the head controls. I think the biggest thing is you have to let the athlete know that the work has been done. You have to sit there from a psychological standpoint and let them know, ‘Hey, it’s ok to have these feelings and feel vulnerable, anxious, or nervous.’ Because that means two things – it means you care and it matters to you, but it also forces you to stay focused on the task at hand. It’s very easy when you lose those nerves and those anxious feelings to go out there and just wing it. Well, these guys have a job and they have to be mentally committed the whole time. So, I tell my athletes if you’re not feeling nervous or anxious, then there’s a problem.

How did your experience as an athlete growing up shape the way you’ve developed as a professional?  

I was a marginal athlete. I was a late bloomer. The more I started doing strength and conditioning work on myself – getting really into the lifting and the bodybuilding side of things – I noticed that I started getting faster and I became more explosive. It wasn’t until I started getting into my career that I realized, ‘Wow, there’s really something here – you can actually take somebody and make them faster regardless of what their genetic predisposition is.’ If I make them stronger, they can be faster – speed is a bi-product of strength.

You train athletes in a very wide range of sports (MMA fighters, football players, basketball players, swimmers, etc.). You’re an innovator when it comes to customizing workouts for specific athletes. What challenges come with that? Which of your concepts apply to ALL athletes? Where do you begin when you want to customize a workout?

If I am looking at any athlete across the board, I have to look at a few things. Who are they? What injuries are they coming to me with? What are your deficits? What do you excel at? I have to look and create a needs analysis for that person. From a health standpoint and from an ability standpoint for their sport – from that I can really tailor their programming based on their sport and their position. If we look at football, for example – it’s a speed and power sport. So, I know that I need my guy strong, I need him explosive, and I need him to have the conditioning within the demands of the sport. Plays are going to last four to six seconds, we’re going to have a play clock that is going to manage our recovery and we’re probably going to have (depending if we’re a starter or not) anywhere between 25 to 70 plays a game. So, I need to know if their body can hold that capacity at the intensity levels for which I need them to be at. So, you start customizing your programming based on biomechanical needs of the sport, the energy system demands of the sport, and the coordinative aspects of the sport. Between those three prongs, I can develop my program for anybody.

Speed wins.