The power of strength, conditioning and nutrition
For Husky Football, the most important time is not game day, but the critical hours long before student-athletes step onto that field. The unwavering focus on strength, conditioning and nutrition, coupled with a phenomenal staff, contributed to UW’s 11-2 record last season.
At the forefront of these efforts are Head Strength and Conditioning Coach Ron McKeefery and Director of Football Performance Nutrition Alison VandenBerghe. Together, the two utilize a delicate balance of analytics, technology and relationship building to help Football student-athletes reach new heights.
Coach McKeefery focuses on physical training and building mental resilience and discipline. He utilizes state-of-the-art technology like heart rate variability monitors, ForcePlates and body composition scans to create tailor-made programs for each student-athlete. This enables players to monitor progress, set individual performance goals and use body composition tests, real-time data and cutting-edge tools for optimal performance.
By guiding his players to push past their comfort zones and challenging them to confront and overcome their own perceived limitations, Coach McKeefery and his team prepare them for challenges on and off the field.
“Our players are hungry for the type of training we do,” shares Coach McKeefery. “They understand there’s no growth in comfort and that they must work to get better each and every day.”
Upon joining the UW in January 2022 and discovering the absence of a Football team dietitian on staff, VandenBerghe took the opportunity to shape the program. In addition to creating personalized meal plans and conducting body composition assessments four to five times a year, VandenBerghe provides ongoing nutrition education for the Football team.
These encompass guidance on dietary choices, plate coaching, nutrient timing, performance-oriented grocery shopping, decoding food labels and interactive cooking demonstrations. These initiatives enhance student-athletes’ culinary skills, benefiting their performance and long-term well-being.
Even with the best analytics, tech and education, performance on the field often comes down to the human factor. Both Coach McKeefery and VandenBerghe focus on creating a rapport with student-athletes to help them be their healthiest. Coach McKeefery explains, “You’re not going to change your habits for someone you don’t care for.”
The level of support and care shown by VandenBerghe and Coach McKeefery is evident in the remarkable progress of student-athletes such as Michael Penix Jr. and Ulumoo Ale.
Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has gotten a lot stronger since adopting a comprehensive fitness plan. Here are a few of his achievements:
- He’s gained almost nine pounds of muscle and can now lift 65 pounds more in his bench press.
- He’s also improved in other exercises: adding 13 more reps in the 225 test, lifting 150 pounds more in his squat and jumping 17 inches farther in the broad jump.
- His pro agility test time also decreased by 0.23 seconds. These advances have made him more resilient, fitter and stronger.
Defensive lineman Ulumoo Ale’s personalized nutrition plan has led to remarkable changes. Coach McKeefery lauds, “He is leaner, stronger, faster and more explosive.”
Some of Ale’s accomplishments include:
- He lost 40 lbs, reducing body fat by 5.8%.
- He also added 30 lbs to his bench press and 7 reps on the 225 rep test.
- His squat improved by an impressive 95 lbs.
- His agility improved with a 0.48-second drop in pro agility time, a 5.5” broad jump increase and a 7.6” vertical improvement.
Physical progress translates into performance. These stories are just two examples of many which highlight the power of personalized nutrition and dedicated training.
None of these efforts would be possible without the donor-funded resources available at UW. “Our donors’ footprints are in every single thing that we do,” Coach McKeefery says fondly. “Whether it is the nutrition we provide student-athletes or the equipment we train them with, donor contributions are a huge part of the success the athletes have.”
As the team heads into the upcoming season, their focus remains on continuous improvement. Coach McKeefery says, “We consistently strive for innovation, staying current and pushing the envelope in pursuit of cutting-edge performance.”