Interview with Coach Gene Mirra
Former Head Basketball Strength Coach at University of Pacific
Tell us about your training background, where you started and how you found yourself at University of Pacific.
I started my career out as a GA at San Jose State under Coach Jeff Pitman in ‘98. I was there as undergraduate and started as a GA for one year. Jeff took the Head job at Boise St, and SJSU decided to bring in Kim Sword. Let’s just say Kim and I didn’t exactly hit it off. Now, before Jeff left for Boise, Cal had called him to see if he had anyone that would be interested in a position and he gave Todd Rice my name. Long story short, Cal needed a new GA and I couldn’t wait to get out of my position at SJSU, so I moved on to Cal with Todd Rice in ‘99. I finished the year as a GA, then moved on to become a full-time Asst at Cal for another couple years. In 2003, Saint Mary’s College called Todd to see if I was interested in their position and I eventually took the job and became the school’s first S&C coach they ever had. I was at SMC for 11+ years until I decided to take this current position at Univ of Pacific. I also worked with the San Francisco 49ers in ’04 for Off-Season training and Training Camp.
Lets get straight to it, you have a force plate you get to use daily in your training, tell us about it.
Yes, very fortunate to get to work with a force plate at my convenience! We are using a Kistler plate and Sparta Trac software. This specific software gives us more usable values than your standard force plate reading. This allows us to do some really cool stuff with team/athlete programming as well as help make recommendations to coaches regarding readiness of team/individuals.
What have you found in experimenting and using the force plate with different athletes? (you can go in to guys vs girls, different sports, untrained vs advanced, or whatever here)
This is a tough question to answer because it’s really dependent on each individual and their situation, but in general, the force plate is the great reference point for how the athlete/team is functioning at any given time. What I like about force plate testing is that it takes out any bias the test may have. Just using FMS as an example, there’s a degree of inter-rater reliability that any of the tests have whereas the force plate doesn’t have those issues.
How has the force plate changed your training philosophy and protocols compared to before having it?
I wouldn’t say the force plate has changed the way I view my own personal philosophy, in fact, I would say it’s likely connected the dots on what I felt was the case all along. In my case, I would see things with my eyes but couldn’t necessarily quantify with a number if I needed to go to a sport coach with an issue…now I have that metric.
Have you used it for measuring the activity of the nervous system in an athlete, to find out what level of readiness they are at? (maybe measuring force production and comparing it to their highest level to look at their training status in season?)
Yes, absolutely, in fact, I’d say that this is one of the great uses of our set-up. While there are maybe other alternatives that are much less expensive at assessing readiness, it’s tough to dispute the amount of force an athlete is producing from one date to another.
What have you learned from using the force plate that coaches without one could implement?
I would say to pay attention to how your athlete performs their vertical jump test…it can tell you a lot! When I say pay attention, I mean pay attention to the details like how they eccentrically load, do the collapse when they transition from eccentric to concentric, how long is their eccentric phase, etc. These all correlate to what they do on the field.
What training philosophies and protocols have most influenced how you train your athletes today?
I have to say I’ve been very fortunate to be around some very high-level coaches and training systems that most will never be able to experience. I started out as a typical meathead lifter who learned from Flex, Muscle Media, and PLing USA magazines. I then got to a point when I was 20 or 21 and I started lifting with the PLers and Weightlifters at my Gold’s Gym. I learned a lot from those guys just on the basics. When I got to Cal, Todd Rice really pushed my Weightlifting and sprinting knowledge. This was where I was first introduced the to infamous Russian Texts. He had us read them and he taught us how they programmed. While this was over-the-top learning, it really made things click for me as far as volume and percentages. Years later, I was invited out to train with a group of elite level PLers at a place called Diablo Barbell. This is where I trained and learned the Conjugate System inside and out. I believe at one time, we had the most amounts of classified Elite lifters outside of Westside. Again, I really learned a lot from this experience, and a lot of what I do now was a result of this experience. At some point during my Diablo years, I was told that the famous/infamous Ivan Abadjiev was in town and was working with a group of lifters and even brought some Bulgarians with him. I was one of the few outsiders that was able to come in and watch the training there. So, all these experiences shape what my current philosophy is today. I would also say working with the Sparta Trac software and force plate has also
With so many athletes, how are you able to separate the training from your underdeveloped athletes to your advanced athletes within the same teams?
While I work through progressions on the big lifts, one thing that stuck with me when watching the Bulgarians train was the fact that everyone did pretty much the same workout. I literally saw a 14 year old who was just learning how to lift weights essentially doing the exact workout that Donnie Shankle and Martin Pashov were doing. So while I think it’s wise to gradually build into whatever lifts philosophically a coach believes in, you also don’t need to over-complicate things and just teach athletes the lifts and let them go with it.
What does your annual training plan usually look like for your basketball team? (do you break it into blocks, linear periodization, concurrent, tier, basically what systems do you use)
I set my training up in blocks along with a wave loading system I’ve created. I can pretty much adjust my blocks to whatever I want to focus on through this wave loading system. This is the easiest way I can explain it, not that it’s so complicated, but it allows me the flexibility to train all the intensity zones I want to cover and still keep things in a somewhat linear function with regards to preparation for the upcoming season. It encompasses everything I’ve seen work for an athlete over the years of doing this, so there’s a lot of little tricks and tweeks here and there I’ve found that keep forcing the adaptation process. (This could be open for a second part where I can dive more into it.)
What new training modalities have you introduced in the last few years that have given your athletes the biggest return? (besides force plate of course!)
I would say the identification of fatigue has been the thing that interests me the most these days. I can get whatever desired outcome out of any athlete I’m training, but learning when the right time to pull back or add either in the weight room, conditioning, or at practice is the piece that interests me the most. I’ve tried various methods of HRV, Tap Tests, Reaction Tests, and now our Sparta Trac software, they all mean something and have a place in determining the athletes level of preparedness.
If you were to recommend three books to coaches, what would they be?
Just 3 is so hard…I seem to find things meaningful in just about every book I end up reading. Tri-Phasic was a really great read because it validated some of the theories I had about training. Louie Simmons Book of Methods was good because it sort of summarized the collection of writings by Louie over the years into a book. The Last book that I’ve read recently that I liked was Squat Every Day by Matt Perryman. Recently, I’m enjoying most things being written Mike Israeltel, in fact, I literally just started reading his new book today, Scientific Principles of Strength Training.