Iowa State’s Director of Strength and Conditioning Rudy Wade (Photo courtesy of Iowa State Athletics)
Iowa State’s Director of Strength and Conditioning, Rudy Wade, was a crucial behind-the-scenes piece of the Cyclones’ on-field resurgence in 2017. With the players returning to Ames over the weekend and 2018 summer workouts set to begin this week, Cyclone Fanatic caught up with Wade to ask him about the process when the staff first arrived in Ames two years ago, building their culture in the weight room, nutrition, the importance of sleep habits and much more for this Q&A.
CF: Chris Williams did a podcast with Joel Lanning and Allen Lazard a few weeks ago and one of the things they brought up was the intense workouts you had them doing during that first winter when you guys got here. What was the thought process of pushing guys especially hard during those?
Wade: We wanted to see what we had. We knew the guys weren’t going to be in great shape. That always makes you a little nervous too when you want to come in and you want to kind of send a message of how things are going to be. You can’t overdo things.
We wanted to see despite not being in great shape how the guys would work, who kind of stood out as hard workers, who doesn’t stand out, who stands out as being really bad. We wanted to kind of begin establishing a mentality right away. Just kind of see what we had as far as character, work ethic, toughness, I think more than anything.
CF: What were the impressions you got from those? Was there a group of guys that maybe stepped to the forefront and took the leadership reigns that really stood out to you?
Wade: It’s been so long ago. We knew they weren’t going to be in very good shape because they’d just come off the winter break. They’d been given workouts to do, but on a 3-9 team, that’s part of the root of the problem right there, you know if you give them something to do on their own, it’s probably not going to happen at a very high rate. That part was kind of assumed.
Honestly, to put it simply, as far as who kind of stood out, I’d say most of those seniors who just finished up. Definitely stood out as guys that it was really important to them. They made not have stood out from a physical standpoint like really strong or imposing, but their will, their work ethic, being able to fight through fatigue and that’s why we got so much out of those guys because it was really important to them.
CF: What was the turning point of this whole mentality you guys wanted to build? I remember Coach Campbell talking about David Montgomery coming in on Friday and Saturday nights to workout, but was there something that happened before to kind of turn the tide?
Wade: I think the turning point was that first meeting that we had after our first year here. You know, they were 3-9 before we got here then 3-9 our first year. Kind of the same result. While things were I think improving, we still had a really long way to go.
It was kind of a get all your feelings out on the table, what we need to do better at, what we’ve done well and Coach Campbell really challenged the guys to do extra work on their own and to work harder when they’re required to as well. I don’t know, but for whatever reason, the guys really took it to heart. There was almost an instant increase and investment right after that meeting. I felt like it was a much different team. To me, that would probably be the biggest turning point.
CF: Something I’ve noticed from the videos you guys put out in the winter is a lot of the drills you guys do are competition based. Is that something you’ve always made a big focus or what is the rationale behind that?
Wade: Really all of our competition takes place in February. We’ll do other competitive things here and there along the way, but it really is in February all of our team work is competitive. I think when we started doing that it was very important. We didn’t necessarily think our guys were that competitive. I think you keep doing it now because they are. Because when they are competitive, it makes it really hard. You’re going against a guy who is not going to quit. That’s the time of year when you don’t really have anything else to worry about. There’s not a game coming up. Obviously, spring ball is coming up, but really the foundation for your team, their competitiveness, their toughness, really that ground level layer is kind of laid in that month of February.
I don’t question our team’s competitiveness anymore, but at the same time, it’s one of those things that can’t be assumed. Just because we’re competitive last year doesn’t mean we can just take it easy now and things are going to be competitive next year. Then also like I said, once they are competitive, that makes it a really grueling time of year and really invaluable for us as we move forward.
CF: Something that was a bit of an Achilles heel for the teams leading up to when you guys came was a lot of soft tissue and ligament injuries even just during fall camp. You know, knock on wood obviously, but what has allowed you guys to avoid some of those in your first two years? Is there something you guys have done differently in that sense?
Wade: No, and honestly we have our share of soft issues in the offseason.
CF: Would you say it is a luck thing then?
Wade: No, I don’t necessarily think it’s a luck thing. Honestly, I don’t know. I wish I could put my finger on it. I will say this, we have more kids come in with soft tissue issues than we used to five or 10 years ago. I think that probably overtraining or specialization in sport is probably part of it. We have been pretty fortunate in season.
I used to think it was all about what we did in the weight room and I don’t necessarily think that at all now. I don’t think if we don’t then it’s because I did a great job. There’s a lot of factors that go into this. Training history, diet and hydration, you’ve really got to take into account a variety of factors. I think if you’re training your guys hard throughout the offseason, you’re going to have those issues here and there. It’s when you want to avoid them obviously is during the season. I think our guys do a pretty good job of preparing and they do a pretty good job of taking care of themselves outside of the building too. We can’t be with them all the time.
CF: Nutrition has been a big piece of everything Coach Campbell has been preaching really since he got here. What kind of role do you and your staff play that?
Wade: That’s a team effort. Erin Hinderaker is our full-time dietician. She’s got a group of interns that assist her. We obviously have to play a role in that as well and even the position coaches do their part as well. The biggest thing that has to happen is accountability and we help her with that. We’re the guys that weigh the players in on a consistent basis. We spend the most time with them so we have to be on the same page with her.
A couple days a week we go over and we have certain guys that we have to eat with us. Whether it’s a weight gain, weight loss, a body comp issue that guys have. We kind of break up those guys in those categories and each one of us as strength coaches will have five or six guys that have to eat with us. Occasionally, the coaches will go over and eat meals with them. They’re aware that, hey, this guy has to gain weight or he has to lose weight. Those guys are always checking in, having individual meetings with her and always going through the line with Erin as well.
CF: Who were some of the guys who really stuck out to you during this most recent round of winter conditioning? Was there anybody who kind of burst onto the scene and made you think, ‘Man, that guy is really kicking butt?’
Wade: That’s really tough because you’ve got 95 to 100 guys. There are so many guys in that thriving, trending upwards category. So I always just tend to talk about the team as a whole. It would be a lot easier to mention the guys who aren’t doing well, but I won’t do that. As a team, I’m really proud of the effort and the maturity. I think we were so productive throughout the winter and the spring that the summer is more fine-tuning. I think in the past, there’s, ‘Oh, we’ve got to get better at this. We’ve got to get faster. We’ve got to get stronger. This guy’s got to gain 10 pounds. We’ve got to be better conditioned, too.’ All those things pull against each other.
Now, really all of our guys are at the goal weight, where we want them by in large, 98 percent of the team. We’ve seen them play at that weight during spring ball so we know how they move. They know how it feels. They’ve done a good job figuring out diet. We’ve talked about sleep habits, not just how much sleep, but just trying to get on a schedule. Those are things I felt like we were really far away from even a year ago. Because if you can’t work hard on a consistent basis, you’re not going to do any of that other stuff on your own. Our guys do work really hard. Our guys do extra on their own. They want to be here. They want to work. So then you can kind of start evolving into aspects. You can start talking about things that happen away from the building on their own. I think the summer can be more focused now.
Really, the summer by in large, everybody thinks you’re getting them ready for the season, but you’re really not. You’re getting them ready for camp because when you kind of hand them over, there’s still a month before we play our first game. I think it was a really productive great job by our group.
CF: You mentioned sleep habits and that’s something I think is really interesting with athletes today. Is it difficult drilling the importance of that into the guys’ heads? Obviously, they’re college kids with a lot going on with football and school plus just wanting to be college kids on some level as well.
Wade: It is definitely tough because they do have a lot of things going on. We ask a lot of them in this building and then you throw academics and try to have a social life on top of it, they do have a lot asked of them. I think it all has to start though with an awareness. So many of these guys, first they have the awareness that ‘Hey, I need to kind of shoot for eight hours.’ But then when you just shoot for eight hours, there’s no schedule. Like, ‘I don’t have to get up until this time tomorrow means I can stay up this late.’ And when there’s no schedule to it, then you’re not going to fall asleep as fast, you’re not going to get as high of quality of sleep.
Now, it might be unrealistic two or three nights that I go to bed at 10 or 11 o’clock, but at least have an awareness or a goal that I want to have everything done by that time. So, yeah, I think just giving them the tools and the awareness is going to help change into better habits.
CF: After the success you guys had last season, what will it take to reach another level or maybe even just maintain the culture you guys have already established?
Wade: That’s tough because there’s so much that goes into it. It probably gets repetitive but the head coach always uses the word process and really that’s all we talk about. We don’t really talk about winning and losing. We don’t even talk about effort that much anymore. It’s just all about the process and details within the process. I think that possibly an advantage is there’s more of a belief starting this season coming up.
There couldn’t have been a belief starting last year. I mean, the tradition was to always lose the close game in the end. We continued to do that our first year here. There were some games we were in. The one positive out of year one was I thought after the first two and a half games, I never really questioned our guys’ effort. They played hard. We were able to take that into that first offseason.
Now, we were able to win some of those close games, but the fact of the matter is you have to win a heckuva lot of close games because while we won several, we lost several too. There’s not a game we lost that wasn’t a really close game. Like the head coach says, I think that’s going to come down to detail. Plain and simple.