Jeff “Mad Dog” Madden: 30 Years of Earning His Nickname

Coach Jeff “Mad Dog” Madden is in his 15th year as the Assistant Athletic Director for Strength and Conditioning at The University of Texas. He was inducted into the USA Strength and Conditioning Coaches Hall of Fame in June of 2003, and has served as president of the Collegiate Strength & Conditioning Coaches Association (CSCCa) since 2009. He has received various other distinguished honors as a strength and conditioning coach, including the esteemed Master Coach designation, an acclaim the CSCCa describes as the highest honor that can be achieved as a strength and conditioning coach; representing professionalism, knowledge, experience and expertise.
Coach Madden began his 30-year career at the University of Cincinnati before he went on to Rice, Colorado, North Carolina, and finally Texas. During this time, he has trained over 300 NFL athletes, Heisman Trophy winners (Rashaan Salaam and Ricky Williams), two Heisman runners-up (Vince Young and Colt McCoy), three Walter Camp Football Foundation Players of the Year, two Nagurski Trophy winners (nation’s top defensive player), two Thorpe Award winners (nation’s outstanding defensive back), three Butkus Award winners (nation’s top linebacker), two Doak Walker Award winners (nation’s top running back), winners of the Lombardi Award (nation’s top lineman), Hendricks Award (nation’s top defensive end), Manning Award, Davey O’Brien Award, and Unitas Golden Arm Award (nation’s top quarterback), National Title winners and Olympians. The University of Texas has won 14 National Titles in various sports during his tenure. Coach Madden was a three-year letterman, graduate of Vanderbilt University and he played in the United States Football League.
Coach Madden took the time to chat with ATLX about how and why he does what he does. And we learned why he’s one of the best in the business.

ATLX: First things first, do I call you Coach Madden? Coach? Mad Dog?

Madden: Haha, all of the above.

ATLX: Ok great, I’ll stick with Coach for now. So Coach, you’re one of the most respected and recognized strength and conditioning coaches in the country. Do you have a certain set of principles you base your training on?

Madden: Speed and explosive power, the linkage of speed and strength. It’s based on a combination of sound, proven principles. It’s an alternating linear periodization principle which includes a variety of training methods that varies the loads, volumes and tempo. We want to have our athletes perform at an optimal conditioning level for their sport. We’re trying to make them more efficient, powerful, and explosive while improving their speed.

ATLX: During your time at The University of Texas, the Longhorns have won 14 National Titles in football, track & field, baseball, swimming and golf. How is training for strength and conditioning had an effect on the success of these programs?

Madden: Well, I think that it’s played a tremendous part in everything that we do at Texas. DeLoss Dodds is our Athletic Director, and he goes on nationwide searches to find who he feels are the best coaches in the country to help lead those programs. I’m blessed and fortunate to have a staff of 14 full-time strength and conditioning coaches working with our basic principles and helping to teach our athletes, along with their sport coaches, how to win. We are extensions of the sport coaches’ staff; together we try to do everything we can to make our athletes better.

ATLX: Obviously, every athlete is different. You oversee all athletics at The University of Texas for both men and women. So let’s talk about the differences in training individual athletes. For example, how far is the distance between training for men’s basketball and training for women’s basketball?

Madden: The Law of Specificity. You have two different groups of people. A lot of it will be similar because it’s basketball. The movement skills will be very similar because it’s basketball. I’ll train the guards the same way, the forwards the same way and the centers the same way. Then I have to go by the individuals themselves. I make physical assessments on each and every one of them and do functional movement screens on all of our athletes to see where their weaknesses are and what their strengths are. From that point, our strength and conditioning coaches provide the programming to help those athletes. So they’ll have a basic program, then they’ll also have their own individualized programs.

ATLX: And what about from sport to sport? Does the focus change drastically, or is it more of a fine-tuned alteration between different sports?

Madden: Yes, well I train football players differently than women’s golfers (haha). I also have some dual-sport athletes. I have guys who play football and also run track & field. Those guys are sprinters or hurdlers or jumpers. I work together with Trey Zepeda, our strength coach for men’s track and field, and we formulate the programming for all the different guys who are cross-trained athletes. We don’t want to do a heavy max effort squat and then have them go out there and run in a big track meet. We want to make sure they’re prepared. We’re going to make sure they’re tapered properly and they reach their peak performance at the proper time. There is a whole periodization skill program that we run for the entire year to see exactly what the athletes need to prepare them for competition.

ATLX: And speaking of track & field, you said that you focus a lot on speed and explosiveness. How do you train for that? What’s something that you do to increase someone’s explosiveness?

Madden: Well as far as increasing their explosiveness, we have our Olympic movements, complexes, power cleans, power & clean press, clean and split jerks, snatch movements and complexes. We have plyometric exercises, explosive jumps, verti-max training, two-legged jumps, one-legged jumps, depth jumps (which means we’re jumping off of an object or jumping onto an object to work on our explosive stretch reflex muscles), and we’re always doing something that’s quick and fast to enhance that. We also use different types of strength training, progressive overload training, towing drills, fast foot drills, speed training with bungee cords or something that’s making them faster.

ATLX: Now let’s talk within the same sport but position-specific. The training focus for an outside linebacker is obviously different than the training focus for a wideout. Can you explain how you would train each differently?

Madden: That’s important. You have to be sport & position specific in your exercise prescription. So if I have a guy who is a wide receiver, he’s not only going to work on his movement skills, he’s going to run his route tree, practicing all the different routes that he has to run. He’s going to run his route tree with either a weighted vest on for resistance, or he’s going to run his route tree with a bungee cord or some type of cord apparatus where I can pull him and push him to make him stronger and faster in every different range of motion. I’ll try to increase his stride rate and his stride frequency to enhance his speed while working on his general fitness and total body development. I’ll work blocking technique while also working on escape movements to get out of bump and run coverage. Body positioning & balance drills. Physical & mental toughness training.

When you’re talking about outside linebackers, I’m going to work a whole lot more lateral movement. Because as a lateral movement person, when they’re trying to make pass drops or they’re coming off the edge, I want to make sure that they’re going to be explosive. So they’ll do the same thing, and they’ll also have a weighted vest on. I’ll also have some type of cord or band holding them back or pulling them to make them faster in their respective drills. But I always do something to try to enhance them to make them better — pass rush techniques, avoidance drills, hand combat drills, total body conditioning, physical & mental toughness training.

ATLX: What areas of training and focus are standard across the board from sport to sport, position to position? Is anything pretty much baseline?

Madden: There are a lot of baseline exercises. Bench press, squats, cleans, lunges, kettle bell & dumbbell training are standard for most people in most sports. But I don’t want too many heavy overhead loads with my throwing sport athletes like my baseball pitchers. I have to be careful that I don’t overload their shoulders. For pitchers, I’ll do more dumbbell-oriented exercises, kettle bell and bungee work. There are different types of circuits that I use for all our different sports, so each sport is trained differently at different times of the year, depending on when their competitions are.

ATLX: How important is cardio in strength and conditioning training?

Madden: Cardio is very important. I want to make sure they have a strong heart. I want to make sure they’re going to be in great shape when they go to competition and they can play for at least four quarters of a sport. I give them a strong aerobic foundation for the first couple of weeks of training. After that everything is anaerobic, high-intensity interval training and game simulation training. There’s going to be high intensity, it’s going to be quick bursts, I’m going to make sure those guys and girls are ready to win championships.

ATLX: That was my next question; high intensity interval training. Could you give me an example of the high intensity interval training that you go through with your athletes?

Madden: We do so many different types. We vary our work/rest ratios. Normally when we start out in any conditioning program, we’re going to start with 1:4 rep work/rest ratio, mainly because we have to make sure the athletes are in good shape and have good general conditioning before we push them too far. I look at all the different factors of an athlete, whether they have cardio issues or whether they have sickle cell traits. I do a full physical assessment on each athlete. I have to know their history to see exactly where they are before I push them too hard.

Once I have everything cleared through our trainers and our doctors, then we’ll ramp up the intensity a little bit. We do work where they have 20-second work and ten-second rests, tabata variations or 30-second work, 30-second rest. We also vary the intensity, set reps and rounds. We always vary the tempo and work rest ratios. It all varies, depending on what time of year it is, in-season or out of season and what you’re trying to get out of the athlete.

ATLX: What are some of the biggest obstacles you face in training these elite collegiate-level athletes?

Madden: I think that the more elite a person gets, the more elite a program gets. I was visiting with our strength coach for some of our Olympians just a few minutes ago. It’s a day-to-day program, it’s detailed with every aspect of everything they’re going to do for the whole day from the time they see the trainer, to the time they see their massage therapist to the time they see their active release person. Also from the time that they train, to the meals they’re going to eat during the day with their nutritionist, to how that whole day works. And that whole day goes into a week and the week goes into a month. I have to sit down and get much more detailed with the elite Olympic athletes.

ATLX: So time management is a major obstacle for elite athletes. Trying to find that balance. And what about the psychological side? Is this a big issue?

Madden: Well, the psychological side is a huge thing that a lot of people miss. The bottom line is if I can get through their heads and through their hearts and through their minds, I can make a better athlete. But they have to be physically and mentally tough because to be in the middle of competition and try to win a championship, an athlete has to be very, very tough all-around. If you’re on the line and you’re running track & field, you have to be mentally tough to know that you’ve got the preliminary run, then you’re going to go into the finals after that. So the athletes have got to be prepared for everything that they’re going to do before they get an opportunity to win.

But it’s mental preparation on a daily basis and putting them in tough situations before they ever get an opportunity to get out there in the game or in a match to try to get them ready mentally and physically.

ATLX: As a strength coach, how do you push these athletes to reach their potential?

Madden: Well, my job is to try and take them beyond where they can take themselves. So I try to understand what kind of basic knowledge they have about strength training and what they’ve done in their past, whether they were in high school or whatever level. I try to find ways to make them better and to enhance their athleticism. But it’s a work in progress all the time and I’m trying to help them be the best that they can be. The bottom line is when I hear the accolades at the end – that they are better than they were when I first met them.

ATLX: How often and how long do your athletes train for strength and conditioning? In-season versus off-season, for example.

Madden: Well, off-season is always going to be longer trainer sessions. The NCAA has us to where we can only train them for eight hours a week and anything above eight hours is voluntary work. Kids have to come and ask you for that work. One thing about elite athletes is they’re always going to want more than what you’re offering. So I figure that during a given week, there’s going to be at least four days that they are going be training. That fits right into that eight-hour session.

And anything beyond that, if a guy wants to come and work on his pass rush technique or if he wants to work on his martial arts or his boxing technique or something like that, like hand quickness or foot quickness for example, those are all extra things that they have to come and get on other days or at a time on their own.

ATLX: And would you say that the desire to do the extra work is something that separates an elite-level athlete from an everyday athlete?

Madden: There’s no question. The ones who want to come and get the extra training all the time are the ones who are usually standing on the platform at the end.

ATLX: How much variety should there be in a strength and conditioning training program?

Madden: Well, I try to mix it up as much as I can. I think if you do the same thing all the time, it becomes very dull. I try to create excitement. I do things with our athletic programs that we call “sudden change.” I have multiple things that I can do on given days to keep the athlete interested and stimulated. I have to continuously stimulate their central nervous systems to make them better. If you do the same thing all the time, you get the same result. So you always have to change it up. We have gone through examples of many different training philosophies from escalating density training to hybrid training, strongman to tabata training. There are many different ways to help athletes achieve their goals. And they have to stay up on their readings and studying to keep a competitive edge.

ATLX: Tell me how important recovery is to making progress?

Madden: Recovery is huge. We spend a lot of time on it, rolling it out, myofascial release. We put them on the foam rollers every single day and let ‘em roll it out as they call it. I really emphasize the importance of using of the cold tub. We have ice tubs in our facilities where guys and girls can go take the plunge after they have worked their tails off out there in the heat of the day. It gets hot out here in the state of Texas! And we need them to recover fast, so we get them in there and they cool their body temperatures down.

We also use different therapists and our strong nutrition program. We’re going to put some type of protein and an electrolyte-based recovery drink in an athlete’s system within 20 minutes of working out. Hydration of athletes is a huge factor as well. We have fluid replacement drinks all over our facilities. We also have physical therapists, chiropractors and massage therapists.

ATLX: Could you talk to me a bit about the individual aspects of training and compare them between elite-level athletes and everyday athletes? For example, the amount of time they spend training, the intensity level?

Madden: I think even with general fitness preparation, everyone wants to make him or herself better. They want to have the most elite body they can possibly have. The body is their business and the body is a machine. They have to find ways to make it the most efficient machine. There are modern-day warriors, as I call them – people out there who are working out every single day. And I tell you what, there are some phenomenal athletes out there. From watching the different cross-training and all of this stuff that’s going on out there with strength and conditioning, I think it’s wonderful.

ATLX: If you could recommend a few important areas of focus for an athlete trying to step up his game, what would they be?

Madden: For an athlete trying to step up his game, a lot of the training aspects mentioned in this interview can be used by them to achieve their fitness goals. I think the part that most athletes miss out on is the nutritional aspect & the recovery aspect. Doing too much. Sometimes doing more is not the answer. Or people repeating exercises daily, they aren’t getting the results that they want. Just be happy with what you have and work as hard as you can to improve it. And be happy about every small improvement that you make because every small improvement is going to help your overall focus of what you’re trying to do. Watch ATLX!

ATLX: Exactly! So what’s the single most important thing to take into consideration when an athlete wants to get stronger?

Madden: The single most important thing to take into consideration when an athlete wants to get stronger is to make sure you’re training smart, make sure that you’re training to make yourself better, and that you’re feeding yourself. And that you’re working on your recovery as well as your hard work. Be consistent in your training efforts. Change the loads and volumes; work on your rotational core.

ATLX: Is there a common misconception about strength and condition training that athletes should be aware of?

Madden: Yes. There’s a common misconception that the harder and the heavier you train, the better you’re going to get all the time. But you can’t always train through injuries. There’s a difference between being hurt and being injured and a lot of folks train through an injury like it’s the same thing. They try to lift the same level weight they were lifting when they were healthy instead of adjusting what they have to do to make themselves better.  Sometimes if you rest a particular muscle group when that muscle group is injured, it’ll come back a whole lot stronger once you start doing your rehabilitation work and don’t over train.

ATLX: Ok, good. Great. Now, moving in a different direction, let’s talk about the CSCCa. ATLX has partnered with the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association (CSCCa), and we’re very excited about it. As the President of the CSCCa, where you’re recognized as a Master Coach, what can you tell us about this organization?

Madden: I’m really excited about the CSCCa and the direction we are heading in. We’re doing a lot of good things for strength and conditioning coaches. I’m the President and Dr. Chuck Stiggins is the Executive Director. We have a tremendous Board of Directors made of elite coaches. We’re trying to make strength and conditioning coaches aware of what’s going on in the country while making the industry better for all of the younger coaches and future athletes to come. Strength training is forever evolving and we are trying to keep all strength coaches updated with the most current scientific knowledge available.

We’re doing yearly conferences to further educate strength and conditioning coaches on examples of new and exciting training techniques and equipment, to share knowledge, to build camaraderie and respect, to acknowledge safety issues, and to verify that they all have the proven practical knowledge and wisdom to be a certified CSCCa Coach. We want to make sure everybody is doing the proper techniques and doing the things they’re supposed to help our athletes reach their optimal athletic potential.

I’m fortunate also to be in the USA Strength and Conditioning Coaches Hall of Fame; elected in 2003. I have been blessed  to have a lot of different honors, accolades, awards and certifications.

ATLX: It’s evident by your successful career why you’re such a well-respected and honored strength and conditioning coach. You don’t earn a nickname like Mad Dog by going easy on people! Thanks so much for your time, Coach.


ATLX Expert: Jeff “Mad Dog” Madden
ATLX Partner: Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association
The University of Texas Athletics
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