*** This is a post that I wrote while working as a Strength & Conditioning Specialist for SAPT Strength, in Fairfax, VA. I believe it holds a strong message about why it's so important to pursue educational opportunities as you begin your career. Both Strength & Conditioning and Physical Therapy are fields where you are required to be a "life-long learner" or your risk the chance of falling behind.***
If you're cracking into the field of strength and conditioning, chances are you'll be enrolling in an internship at some point soon. If you're serious about the profession and truly want to succeed as a strength and conditioning coach, you better make the most of these experiences, because if you don't valuable time and knowledge will pass you by. Let me tell you a little bit about my experience as an intern. Hopefully, you'll learn something and it will help you in your next endeavor.
I've completed two internships (so far) in the field of strength and conditioning, and 2 in other sports-medicine related fields. As a Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise major at Virginia Tech, I was required to complete 2 field studies to earn my degree. The first took place at The Jackson Clinics shadowing a physical therapist. I completed the second as a student athletic trainer at VT. Both were fantastic opportunities, and I learned an incredible amount during those semesters. One of my long-term goals is get my doctorate in physical therapy, and these two experiences played an instrumental role in forming that vision. I really enjoyed the fact that both professions use exercise as medicine. Although you don't often see a knee replacement or ACL repair patient performing Romanian Deadlifts, a good PT or Athletic Trainer will ensure that, by the time that patient is finished with their rehab, they've been taught how to execute a proper hip hinge.
If my memory serves me correctly, I started these internships right about the time that I had "recovered" from my own back surgery. My family has been plagued with disc herniations, and I was determined to not repeat the experience. I became obsessed with weight lifting. Pouring over strength and conditioning blogs, rehabilitation studies, etc. I decided that the most effective method of preventing future back injury was taking the initiative to strengthen my body and make it as resilient as I possibly could. During my time as a student athletic trainer, I began developing a growing interest for what these athletes were doing in the weight room. Were they still training with these injuries? How were the strength coaches modifying their workouts in order to prevent re-injury from occurring? How were the coaches progressing them back to the core compound movements that make up the bulk of a proper strength and conditioning program? I had to know.
Virginia Tech Strength and Conditioning
Near the end of that semester, I walked up to the weight room and sought out the first authority figure I could find. He was a massive human being, and little did I know, he would be one of the most influential people in my life thus far, although he may not even know it. I introduced himself, and told him my intentions. The next semester, I was a strength and conditioning intern for Virginia Tech.
I interned for Olympic Sports, under coaches Ryan Shuman, Terry Mitchell, and Megan Evan, and it changed my life. Growing up as a competitive swimmer, I had absolutely no formal weight training experience. In high school, I tagged along with a friend a handful of times and he showed me a couple of very basic things, but that was it. I was lucky that I had found some fantastic resources online. Eric Cressey,Kelly Starrett, and Mike Boyle to name a few. I read EliteFTS and T-Nation like it was my job. In class, after class, before bed. I was always reading, but being an intern that weight room is what really helped me grow.
Most of the other interns needed a certain amount of hours to be filled for class and they all had assigned hours, but I was a volunteer. I wasn't interning for school credit, so I had no benchmarks to hit. Coach Mitchell left it up to me for when I wanted to come in. I ended up spending upwards of 15-20 hours a week in that weight room. At least 2 days a week I would be up at 5:00 AM and in the weight room for the baseball lift at 5:30. I'd stay through tennis, stay through wrestling, and go to class around 8:30. I would get out of class around 3:00, and head right back to the gym for more sessions. They couldn't keep me out if they tried.
Now keep in mind that I had no real expectations from a supervisor, no papers to write or assignments to complete, no one to really report my experiences to. How did I keep myself busy, you might ask? I asked questions. I remember on the first day of my internship I asked Coach Evans about how she plans the season of training for her softball team. She took me into her office and spent at least 30 minutes breaking down the entire year. It was awesome. Obviously she couldn't cover everything, but I was so grateful that she took the time to talk to me that I didn't care. This conversation led to five more questions, and then five more. I ended up keeping note cards in my backpack at all times, and I'd scribble questions down as they popped into my head. Almost every day I was knocking on Coach Mitchell's door with another question, usually more then one. I bet I was probably pretty annoying, but at least I wanted to learn.
Looking back, my only regret is not volunteering in the weight room sooner. I only had the pleasure of spending 1 semester with VT Strength and Conditioning. If I could travel back in time and give the Charlie of 2009 one piece of advice, it would be to skip that stupid ice-breaker you're forced to do during freshmen orientation, and head straight to that weight room. That's where I belonged, and I'm so fortunate that I was able to spend that small amount of time shadowing those incredible coaches.
As you all have probably realized right now, I'm pretty long-winded. I like telling stories and this post is no exception. Unfortunately for you all, you'll have to wait until next week to see how this particular story unfolds. Until then, I'll leave you with this...
"The most important days of your life are the day you are born, and the day you find out why." -- Mark Twain