The Runner Sports’ Craig Gridelli Sits Down with Ben Brzoski, RUNY Head of Strength and Conditioning: Part 1
Craig Gridelli, one of the lead contributors for The Runner Sports, sat down with RUNY’s Head of Strength and Conditioning, Ben Brzoski. This is the first part of two in an interview series.
Craig Gridelli: Tell us about your professional background and education prior to joining RUNY
Ben Brzoski: I started at UMass Amherst by getting a degree in kinesiology. The summer after graduating I started my first S&C internship with the UMass football team under Joe Connolly, training the players through summer workout and into preseason training camp. This was an amazing experience to get my foot into the door for the Strength & Conditioning field. While the days were long often working from 5am to 5pm there was nothing more rewarding than knowing you’re helping the team get better each and every day. From there I moved home and interned for Sacred Heart University under Chris Fee. I would spend my time helping coach all their varsity teams that would come in throughout the day. This broadened my view of how each sport differs in the weight room and how different athletes respond to coaching. My last experience before starting with RUNY was working at Prentiss Hockey Performance in Stamford, CT, which was arguably my most valuable experience. Learning how they would progress their athletes from each training block into the next and picking up their coaching cues was huge. I implemented many things I learned from them with the RUNY players from the start of preseason back in November.
CG: When did you first get involved with rugby?
BB: I first started playing rugby back as a sophomore in high school for Fairfield Rugby Club. I originally started to stay in shape for football and wrestling, but it didn’t take long for me to get hooked. The environment of a rugby team is unlike any other sport, you battle each other but once the final whistle blows no grudges are held and everyone is friendly. One of the things that stood out for me was our coaches’ passion for the game, during practice our coaches would often lace up their boots and scrimmage with us. From there I played in college for UMass Amherst for four years with the role of Captain my senior year. Currently I still play for the Fairfield Yankees Men’s Club and run their off-season conditioning practices.
CG:What are your primary responsibilities with the team?
BB: My primary responsibility with RUNY is to coach our Strength & Conditioning sessions 2-3 times per week. With the goal to improve their on-field performance and prevent injuries. During our field training sessions, I’m in charge of the conditioning portion of practice along with monitoring our GPS data. The company Statsports has provided us with GPS trackers that give us amazing feedback about the players on field performance which has helped us track their workload throughout the season. Some of the metrics it provides us are distance ran, max speed, and collision load.
CG: What are the core S&C principles that help guide your program for the team?
BB: One of the core S&C principals I have is to train all three components of a movement; eccentric, isometric, and concentric. Imagine performing a squat, the lowering phase is the eccentric, the pause at the bottom is the isometric and the way up is the concentric. Athletes to be able to produce high amounts of force, but also absorb and withstand force which is sometimes overlooked. Adding exercises with a slow lower or pause at the bottom is one way we apply this into our sessions. Being able to control not just move the weight also creates better bodily awareness.
CG: What are the biggest differences in a S&C regimen for a rugby team when compared to an American football team?
BB: Rugby and American football share some big similarities, the first is that they are collision sports and with that strength is the most important emphasis. From there, the two sports differ vastly. In American football a play last about 5 seconds then everyone gets a break for around 30 seconds. In Rugby there are no breaks in play unless one team scores or commits an infraction. So the conditioning aspect is completely different. Our players must have a solid aerobic conditioning break so they can last for an 80 minute game and also have repetitive sprint ability so they can always kick it up to their top gear. Our conditioning drills we use to improve this are the Bronco test and 150m shuttle.
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