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You don’t need to be a college-level athlete to get fit, says coach Phil Herkenhoff

February 7, 2019 GMT

SIOUX CITY -- When some freshmen arrive at Briar Cliff University, strength and conditioning coach Phil Herkenhoff said they want to drop body fat.

They ask, “So should I stop eating carbs?”

Herkenhoff said that’s the opposite of what they should be doing. He said they need to consume carbohydrates so they have enough energy to be able to play their sport, whether that sport be football, basketball, volleyball or cross country.

“In that time of lifting, conditioning and all that stuff, your body fat is naturally going to drop on its own, because you’re doing it the right way,” said Herkenhoff, who said fueling the body properly will help in the recovery process after a game, tough workout or hard lifting session.

Proper diet

Many incoming freshman gain unwanted weight during their first year of college, which is where the expression “freshman 15,” referring to 15 pounds of weight gain, comes from.

According to an Auburn University study, 70 percent of college students gain weight and body fat by graduation due to late night snacking, consuming high calories dorm room-friendly meals and failing to get adequate amounts of exercise.

College athletes aren’t immune to unwanted weight gain or loss.

“I tell them to eat a lot of vegetables, as much as possible. A lot of meat. A lot of protein. Obviously we need healthy fats,” Herkenhoff said. “If you’re a person who needs to gain weight, we’re telling you to kind of eat whatever, but we don’t want the junk food. We don’t want the fast food.”

Herkenhoff said college athletes will listen to his advice, but he said they often struggle with inconsistency when it comes to nutrition. He said they’ll eat a healthy diet for a week and then revert to their old habits -- reaching for that bag of chips or can of pop.

“School gets in the way, life, stress levels -- it’s very hard for them to do it,” he said.

Proper hydration is also essential for athletes to perform at their best. What should they be drinking? Water, according to Herkenhoff.

“That’s the best thing you can be drinking. You can never get too much,” he said. “If you’re doing any type of exercise, you gotta be pushing the water as much as possible. That’s going to help flush your system constantly throughout the day.”

Getting fit

Strength training at Briar Cliff is broken down by sport. Before the start of the season, Herkenhoff said he meets with each coach and then devises a specific program for their athletes.

“There’s more conditioning for a soccer team versus a baseball team,” he said. “Obviously there’s new research coming out all the time, but for the most part, we’re pretty consistent with what we do every year. It’s what type of team we have this year and what the (coach) wants from the team that year.”

Last year, Herkenhoff said, the football team’s program emphasized gaining physical strength.

“This year we might be looking at more speed. It really depends on the year,” he said. “It’s not as complex as people think. It’s very basic once you get the general idea of what we’re doing.”

Whatever your age or athletic ability, gaining fitness and strength, according to Herkenhoff comes down to being consistent. Do cardio, lift weights and strive to eat a balanced, healthy diet.

He said Briar Cliff’s teams typically strength train twice a week during the season and three to five days a week during the off-season. He advises someone just starting out to strive for at least two days of strength training a week. Spend two more days doing cardio.

“If you’re going to go (to the gym) Monday, Wednesday, Friday, go Monday, Wednesday, Friday. If you miss a day, try to squeeze it in if you can,” he said. “People, I think, get wrapped up in what’s the new program? What’s the new trend? It really comes back to being consistent.”

Know your limits

Herkenhoff said his workouts are set up based on four-week periods, with three weeks of build up.

“By the end of that third week, I’m pretty shot. That fourth week is designed to be more a lighter week or a recovery week,” he said. “You’re still doing strength training and conditioning. You’re still watching your diet. It’s just a time for you to go back to lighter weights, less conditioning for that week, just to give your body a time to adjust. The next week you start a new phase.”

Getting enough sleep, Herkenhoff said, is key in helping the body recover from a workout.

“Some people will get out of bed and are like, ‘I’m too sore. I’m not going to go in.’ Well, let’s look back on what you did. You only got five hours of sleep last night. Maybe that’s the reason why,” he explained. “Maybe you could try to get seven hours the next couple of nights, or eight hours.”

Muscle soreness should be expected, especially if you haven’t worked out for a while, according to Herkenhoff. If you’re tired whenever you wake up in the morning and you’re dehydrated, Herkenhoff said you’re pushing too hard.

“If I start doing a new program and I get sore, it’s a good sore. It’s a sore that you want. It’s a sore that you know you’re getting something out of,” he said.