Inside Michigan women’s basketball strength and conditioning

Tuesday, March 6, 2018 - 5:25pm

Senior forward Jillian Dunston has made an impression in her time at Michigan as being one of the hardest workers in the Wolverines' weight room.

Senior forward Jillian Dunston has made an impression in her time at Michigan as being one of the hardest workers in the Wolverines' weight room. Buy this photo
Zoey Holmstrom/Daily

We see Michigan women’s basketball players knocking down shots, grabbing boards and drawing up plays. But the fans rarely get to witness the preparation that goes into the final spectacle. They don’t know about the daily lives consumed with practice, game planning and watching film.

People rarely think about the countless hours in the gym, and they certainly don’t consider how much time athletes spend in the weight room.

To establish a firmer grasp on the Wolverines’ strength and conditioning program, The Michigan Daily sat down with Jamie Preiss. This past summer, Preiss was named Michigan’s strength and conditioning coach after spending time with the wrestling, men’s gymnastics, men’s tennis, men’s lacrosse and volleyball teams. He also currently works with the men’s basketball program as well as men’s and women’s golf.

Take an inside look at how the self-proclaimed “hardest working team in America” prepares.

How strength and conditioning changes throughout the year:

The Michigan Daily: Throughout the year I’m sure the types of workouts you run the team through differ. So how do the workouts change from the offseason to in-season?

Jamie Preiss: Really it all kind of starts in the summer. So they go home and come back in June. We’ll do our testing and evals for a week, and then we spend all of July up until August training, and then we’ll test them again. So July through August we’re doing as much work as we can. We’re trying to get as strong as we can, and we’re trying to get in the best possible shape as we can.

TMD: So when you say “training,” specifically what kind of training do they go through?

JP: We do a lot of our main lifts like our power cleans, squat, bench and a lot of circuit training. We’ll do things like sled pushes, we’ll get the battle ropes out. I’ll also mix in some cardio – like some Airdyne workouts, (and) conditioning on the court, we’ll do basketball specific drills for agility and start and stop sort of things. We also do straight endurance, getting up and down the court as many times as we can.

TMD: To clarify, this is during the summer?

JP: Yeah, during the summer. We’ll go three times a week in the weight room – Monday, Wednesday (and) Friday. They aren’t on the court a lot, so I get a lot of time with them. The workouts are an hour to an hour and a half.

We usually reserve one day a week – usually on Fridays – where it’s full-on intensity. We work as hard as we can. We do team-oriented circuits where whatever team finishes first wins – it’s competitive. We want to try and keep things competitive in here and get them working as hard as they can.

TMD: That fits with the motto of the team.

JP: Yeah, their motto is the “hardest working team in America.” So we try and come in every single day in that offseason and work as hard as we can (in the weight room) because they don’t really need to work on basketball.

TMD: How does that change when the summer ends?

JP: Once you get into the fall, once they start playing more basketball, we kind of slow it down a little bit.

TMD: How often are they getting into the weight room once basketball picks up?

JP: We might get in (the weight room) three times a week in the fall, but it’s our general lifts — our squat, our bench, our power cleans. We might do a couple supersets. I’m not really crushing them. We want to try and keep them fresh for practice.

TMD: How does that change once the season starts?

JP: It depends on what kind of minutes they’re playing. A high-minute player, they’re going to lift once a week. We’re going to get our squat, bench and power clean out of the way early on in the week, and the next day is a recovery day. They’re stretching and foam rolling. We’ll do rehab kind of stuff with stretching and mobility.

TMD: And what about players that don’t see as much playing time?

JP: If they’re not playing a ton of minutes, we’ll do a little bit more lifting. Two days a week (of lifting) in season. And (how much you do) depends on what kind of player you are and where you’re at in your development.

TMD: In basketball, what lifts translate to the most success on the court?

JP: Definitely being able to squat, being able to put force into the ground. That allows you to jump higher. Having good leg strength (is important), so squatting, deadlifting, power cleans. Anything that will improve your lower body strength.

TMD: And what does an “active rest day” consist of?

JP: It’s like coming in and doing some mobility drills. I might do some dumbbell work with them, some foam rolling, balance drills and things like that. They do stuff in the training room. Making sure they’re doing something to get some blood flow.

Catering to different style players and different body types:

TMD: So how do workouts change between players? A player like Hallie Thome (6’5”) surely has a different workout plan than Katelynn Flaherty (5’7”).

JP: In season, the high-minute players pretty much do the same thing. They do their day one lifts at the beginning of the week — squat, bench, power clean — and then it’s basically like, let's keep them healthy.

Out of season, it depends on what each player needs to work on. Like Hallie Thome really needs to do a good job getting her legs stronger. Her squat numbers were equivalent to girls that were guards or much smaller than her. So we focused on getting her lower body strong and she bought in. She went up 40 pounds in her back squat in six weeks of training over the summer. Her power clean went up 15 pounds too.

With Katelynn, it was more about just keeping her healthy, and she needed to build up her core strength because she was having some issues with her lower back in the summer.

For conditioning, each position group’s workout is a little different. But in the weight room, it’s really based on their individual needs. And I evaluate them in the summer to determine what they need.

The Michigan women's basketball team has to adjust to weight lifting in college because many have not done much of it in high school.

The Michigan women's basketball team has to adjust to weight lifting in college because many have not done much of it in high school. Buy this photo
Photo Courtesy of Hunter Sharf

On who excels:

TMD: Is there anyone that stands out in the weight room?

JP: Jillian (Dunston). There’s a record board (in the weight room) and she pretty much owns every record.

She holds program records for back squat (350 lbs), bench press (175) and power clean (170).

She has great energy and thinks it’s super important. When she comes in here she works as hard as she can. Just a great athlete. She’s strong, she’s the fastest, she can jump the highest, she has the best conditioning on the team – which is rare. A lot of times you don’t see the strongest kid being the best conditioned. She’s a specimen. She’s an absolute freak. She’s an unsung hero. What she brings in the weight room is a dream for us. She’s a leader for us.

TMD: Too bad she’s a senior.

JP: Yeah, we’re going to need to find someone moving forward that fills that role

On freshmen coming in:

TMD: How do the freshmen acclimate to the training?

JP: We need to identify their strengths and weaknesses right off hand. What we do is we’ll go through a whole screening. There’s different tests we do to help us identify if they have weaknesses in certain areas.

The first week (they get to campus) they’ll do this. Before they even lift or practice, they do this testing. Injuries are so prevalent, especially in the knee, so we want to make sure they can squat properly, they can hip pinch properly, they can jump and land properly before we even send them out there.

TMD: Is the transition hard for a lot of athletes?

JP: With high school girl’s basketball, the biggest thing is knee injuries. Every girl that comes in here, they’ve probably had some sort of knee issue in high school. A lot of them just don’t work on strength. So we have to identify any red flags and then I’ll work with Melissa (Poherence) — our athletic trainer — to work them out.

TMD: I assume they all come in with different levels of lifting experience?

JP: Yeah, it depends on where you are at when you come in here. As they move along and when they’re ready, we start testing them. For example, (Deja) Church came in as a freshman, and I didn’t test her on everything right away because she just wasn’t there yet. It took a minute before we did something like a back squat and power clean test because she didn’t know how to do it. But freshman Priscilla (Smeenge) came in, and she had training she had a good (lifting) background, and I was able to test her on everything.

TMD: What kind of testing do you do?

JP: We do vertical jump, sprint test, lane and agility, power clean, squat and bench press.

Some of the technology the team implements:

JP: We use this Fit Life Trainer. What you do is you put these reaction lights on the wall and set up a timer. The lights go off randomly, and we’ll have them get in a defense slide position and slide back and forth. I usually have them go for 20 seconds.

Another thing we use is the Catapult. They wear it in practice every day and in games. It’s a GPS unit that goes on their back and monitors player load. It’s a number that identifies how many times they’ve cut, how far they’ve run, contact and all these different variables that go into one final number — they call that score the player load.

A lot of it right now is just data collection. Our next step is how can we actually apply it? How we can manipulate training with it? The idea behind it is to be able to see trends. Things like, “do we have weeks where our player loads are super high and we have to take a day and come down a little bit?”

TMD: Do you find the Catapult the most useful piece of technology you use?

JP: Yeah, just because it gives us a number in practice. It tells us how much they’re doing, which is hard to kind of quantify without this.

Working with the coaches:

TMD: How often and how closely do you work with the coaching staff?

JP: Quite a bit. I work with (assistant) coach Melanie Moore — especially when I first got here — weekly. We talk all the time about what the girls needed individually, what she thought the pulse of the team was and what she wanted the pulse to be. We would literally go player by player and (discuss) what they needed individually and how they are improving.

TMD: What about head coach Kim Barnes Arico?

JP: I pop in and I talk to coach Arico as much as I can. We talk before practice, and we always try to make sure we’re on the same page. They think strength and conditioning is super important, so Coach Arico is in here all the time wanting to know what we’re doing. She asks me things like, “What do you think of this player? Can we get this player’s conditioning better?” It’s always a back-and-forth, we always try and be on the same page. I take what they say to heart, and I do what I can in (the weight room) to help improve them on the court. I think it’s a really good relationship. They’re super bought into what we’re doing.

TMD: How much are the basketball practices and the strength and condition sessions intertwined?

JP: So coach Arico utilizes practice to get them in good shape. It’s actually been pretty easy for me in my end in the condition area because she runs such a high intense practice. They’re not just doing basketball, she’ll work in sprint drills and things like that.

TMD: Since it is such a condition-based practice, does that allow you to focus more on developing strength?

JP: Yeah, for sure. In season, for the most part, I can work on getting them stronger. In the offseason, when they’re not doing as much on the court, that’s when I have to focus more on the conditioning.

On the stigma of women and lifting weights:

TMD: Do you find even in an athletic setting, there’s a difficulty in the stigma that society has created with women and lifting?

JP: Yeah, it is different with women. Usually, with guys, they want to lift, they like to put a bunch of weight on and try and lift as heavy as they can. You know, some girls (say), “I don’t want to get too big or too bulky.” (Part of it) is getting them to understand that just because you’re strong doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be super bulky.

That’s why I think Jillian Dunston is such a big part. She came in here, she lifted heavy and got after it. And the rest of the team kind of falls in line with that. Having her helped a lot. With this team, I haven’t come across any issues with that.

TMD: Do you think in women’s athletics the importance of weight training gets overlooked?

JP: For sure. More times than not you’ll get a female athlete come in and not have any training.

TMD: Do you see that in men’s sports?

JP: In men’s sports, more guys work out. And you see that in the injuries in women’s basketball, they just don’t work out (when they’re younger). In women’s sports, you get more girls that come in here and have never even stepped foot in a weight room.

So being able to get them to understand why they are doing it is a big part of what we do.