Carolina had one of the strangest NFL seasons in recent memory, starting off 2-0 and then winning only one of their next 10 games before running off four victories to end the season and make the playoffs at 7-8-1. Most teams don’t have enough gas in the tank for that kind of finish, so we thought we’d talk to one of the guys working the fuel pump.
In the following Q&A, Carolina's Assistant Strength Coach Jason Benguche, MS, CSCS, PES, explains how he got into strength training and shares a few tips for how you can get the most out your workout.
How did you become a strength coach in the NFL? Was this always your goal or intended career path?
I started training for athletic competition when I was about 13 or 14 years old, with aspirations to play high school football. Once I began to learn about training and realizing what it could do for my performance, I was hooked. From that point on, every move I made educationally and professionally has been to become a strength and conditioning coach. I began the first eight years of my career coaching at the college level before this opportunity with the NFL became a reality. I had always envisioned coaching at this level with some of the greatest athletes in the world, but with only 32 of these positions available, the goal seemed like a stretch early in my career.
What is your approach to player strength and conditioning?
Our approach to strength and conditioning for our athletes is unique and multi-dimensional. Our primary responsibilities are to prepare them for competition and continue to train and maintain those traits developed through the rigors of a long NFL season. With this being said, our philosophy with training is focused on general preparation, while taking into consideration the specific needs of each individual as well as high-level skill requirements. This approach utilizes a wide array of disciplines. Aspects of Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, bodybuilding, strongman, yoga, Pilates, physical therapy and track and field can all be seen within our program on a yearly basis.
How has strength and conditioning changed since you’ve been in the game?
During the past 10 years, there has been a shift in strength and conditioning toward training safer with more knowledge and utilizing information from different aspects of performance. Coaches and athletes now realize it is more than “working out” or just working hard. You have to work smarter while continuing to educate and learn along the way. Athletes know more about their bodies now than ever before, which helps coaches develop programs in which the athletes have a vested interest. If they know the program is designed with their needs in mind, they’ll be that much more committed and motivated to achieve their goals.
How do you recommend treating/preventing sore muscles?
We use a variety of strategies when it comes to treating/preventing sore muscles. We utilize cold tubs post training to decrease inflammation and aid in the recovery process. Contrast baths (using both hot and cold) promote blood flow and help flush tissue that has been damaged from training. Self-myofascial release (e.g., foam rolling) is employed to release/re-lengthen tight, sore muscles. Lastly, general movement and light exercise is a strategy that helps promote recovery by increasing blood flow and circulation to the body as a whole.
What workout would you recommend to supplement with weight training?
Other than a solid conditioning program to develop the cardiovascular system and promote balance, I would recommend most individuals do more work for their core (abdominals/lower back). Traditional ab work is a thing of the past. There is a variety of options that help promote stability of the spine, which is what a lot of people lack, leading to faulty movement patterns and lower back pain. Examples would include planks, chops, lifts and bridging options.
What is the No. 1 thing an athlete does to sabotage his workout/diet?
The greatest pitfall for many athletes is that they never take time to recover. The lack of recovery among high-level athletes can quickly lead to mental burnout, increased risk of injury and overall poor performance. The choice to get off of your feet and get an extra hour of sleep can go a long way during the course of a 16-game regular season.
The NFL is in its offseason, but that doesn't mean teams are just sitting around. Look for a strong showing by Carolina in 2015, thanks in part to the efforts of Benguche and his crew.