Playing linebacker at the University of Iowa, then-sophomore Dan Wirth had the opportunity to train in the facility of Hall of Fame wrestling coach, Dan Gable. In those moments Wirth spent waiting for the wrestlers to finish their training session, Wirth watched in awe as coach Gable mentored his team.
During that time, Wirth learned as much about human performance as any classroom he stepped foot in. Mind you, these were the same Hawkeye wrestlers who won Big Ten and NCAA titles, and eventually, Olympic medals. Those lessons are still firmly branded in Wirth’s mind.
Wirth was South Dakota born and brought up primarily in Nebraska and Iowa. While attending Iowa, he played in four straight bowls for the Hawkeyes before coaching in the Pac 12 and the SEC. Sandwiched between, he owned his own training facility. Through time, Wirth, currently the Tennessee Vols’ Director of Olympic Sports Performance, had a good view of what life is like across three of the Power Five conferences. It’s a resume that may make him appear to be an intimidating presence. But spend 15 minutes with Dan Wirth and you’ll find he’s humble, down to earth, and just as excited about his profession these days as he was when he was lifting at Des Moines Hoover High School.
Boost Treadmills’ Layne Anderson jumped on a Zoom call with Coach Wirth in mid-October to discover more about the technology the Vols use at the Carmichael Strength Facility, what makes athletes tick today and much more.
BOOST: What technologies make the Carmichael Strength and Conditioning Facility state of the art?
WIRTH: We have five or six major technology tools that we feel have an impact on our program. The air pressure Boost Treadmills provide an important training alternative that keeps the pounding to the athlete’s bodies low. PUSH bar velocity monitors, Hawken Dynamics force plates and Swift Jump plates help us monitor power and recovery levels throughout a training year. Tracking both external and internal loads are done with Catapult, Polar and WHOOP. WHOOP has been super helpful for our athletes as it gives them individualized information on sleep and recovery that helps them create healthy habits that they can use throughout their life.
In addition to these technology tools, we worked with Sorinex to put together all our rack, bar and weight needs. Sorinex did an amazing job. But as we all know, it’s the people that make it work. I truly believe we have the best staff in the country!
BOOST: That’s an impressive use of technology Coach Wirth. With so much sports science involved now – going to the weight room isn’t just about lifting weights and going home anymore is it?
WIRTH: The fundamentals of quality movement, conditioning and overall power development are still the foundation of our training philosophy. But, it’s cool to now see how aspects of technology can enhance this philosophy. It helps to know the bar velocity and power outputs during lighter, in-season workouts. It’s great to have a tool like the Boost Treadmills to unload the body yet still be able to reach our training goals for both recovery and performance workouts. Ultimately, our goal is to make sure we’re getting all the training fundamentals accomplished and these newer tools, which simply weren’t widely available 10 years ago, help us attain this goal.
BOOST: Was it your time in the weight room as a collegiate athlete that sparked your interest in your human performance career, or did you always have an interest in training and the science of training?
WIRTH: Growing up I rotated from football to wrestling to baseball to swimming year-round. I was always doing something. I loved playing football, but I really loved the training end of it. I loved figuring out how training impacted you and as you became stronger how that affected your ability to make a tackle. When you’re 15 and you train for three months and then get to hit someone in a football game, you feel the improvement compared to the year before when you weren’t training at all. I had a great coach in high school and that just carried over into college where my passion for training continued to grow. Back then, there was no internet so I was always trying to get my hands on training information from coaches and scientists like Boyd Epley, Mel Siff, Dr. Michael Stone and Dr. Tudor Bompa.
WIRTH: There are initially classic stereotypical aspects of each conference, especially from a football perspective. The Big Ten is powerful. They are strong – the linemen in the Big Ten are really physical. The Pac-12 has freakish athletes that are so strong and fast maybe because of the wonderful year-round weather where many of these schools are located. The SEC has this crazy power combined with unbelievable athleticism and speed. From an Olympic Sports perspective, the SEC just has such an amazing level of athlete. The support, enthusiasm, and intensity both from the Universities themselves and in the communities supporting the programs is excellent as well.
The intensity, the competitiveness and everything else in the SEC is pretty much unmatched!
BOOST: I agree with you there. What are a couple things you think every student-athlete should focus on if they want to enhance their performance?
WIRTH: Obviously there’s the element of conditioning, speed and power development that is enhanced through a consistent training process. This element, bottom line, cannot be overlooked. However, reaching your potential also means focusing on recovery.
When you talk about recovery, you’re not just talking about reduced training loads. You should be looking at everything from nutrition and sleep to active recovery techniques which is what we do quite extensively with our Boost Treadmills. The Boost allows us to get the blood flowing, to get some positive hormonal involvement and ultimately to do this while keeping the pounding on the athletes’ body as low as possible. Our Boost Treadmills are going 12 hours a day right now with volleyball and soccer using it as part of their recovery sessions between competitions.
BOOST: How has the pandemic affected the athletes and your recovery thought process when it comes to their performance?
The recovery element and the fatigue in the athlete’s soft tissue was even more heightened because of the fact that many of them just weren’t able to work out as consistently as they would have liked. Even when they did get some consistent training sessions in, it wasn’t quite at the intensity level like it is when a coach was pushing them the whole time. So, they were still in shape but their general work capacity was down. Utilizing modalities like the Boost Treadmills helped us to slowly bring them back. We had specific return to play protocols to meet and the Boost allowed us to control the intensity for the athletes better.
The return-to-play guidelines also involved active recovery techniques. As mentioned earlier, recovery workouts with the Boost were very helpful to us. Ultimately, we were lucky that we had them in the weight room, since it’s not just a rehab tool, it’s also a physical performance tool.
BOOST: Interesting. So you’re saying that the consistency of the recovery process is as important as the consistency in the training process?
WIRTH: Yes, that’s right. And really, the more advanced an athlete gets the more thorough the recovery process has to become. Elite athletes can do crazy things with their bodies. The years of hard work, neural pathway development and simply being gifted gives them the capacity to generate huge intensity levels. Obviously, it took years of training to get to this elite level but the recovery process needs to “grow” along with the athlete’s physical development. Young athletes just need to learn how to be consistent in everything they do. Hard work, good nutrition and getting to bed at a decent hour will be the key to their early success!