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Badgers football team makes strides with Shaun Snee's new strength program
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Badgers football team makes strides with Shaun Snee's new strength program

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Faion Hicks didn’t have to think long about the benefits he’s felt from the changes made to the University of Wisconsin football team’s strength program this offseason.

“Shoot, I’m healthy. That’s something,” Hicks said. “I can say we haven’t really had many guys go down this camp, which is a good thing, especially with a lot of soft-tissue injuries. That’s was kind of good to see. Everybody noticed it like, wow, we have a lot more guys healthy than we did in the past. So that’s a testament to what coach Snee did in the offseason.”

Hicks, a fifth-year senior cornerback, had never been able to practice every day of a training camp before this fall.

The Badgers — who are ranked 12th by The Associated Press and open their season at 11 a.m. Saturday against No. 19 Penn State at Camp Randall Stadium — promoted from within when they hired Shaun Snee to be the program’s director of strength and conditioning in February. Snee was the second in command of the weight room for Ross Kolodziej, who now coaches the team’s defensive line.

snee mug


Snee waited to make wholesale changes to the program Kolodziej had put together until the summer, but he was planting seeds early on in terms of the mentality he wanted to create in the weight room. In the months before spring practices, UW players were challenged to hit repetition max-outs — the most weight they could in a particular lift 10, five or three times, depending on the week — along with lighter conditioning work.

“We like to do it that way just mentally so they know, ‘Man, I got more (inside) me. I can push it harder, I can go further,’” Snee said.

After the Badgers wrapped spring practices, the summer phase of Snee’s new program took hold, and he had players’ routines more specifically designed for the positions they played. Both sides of the ball were divided between bigs (linemen), mids (linebackers, tight ends, others) and skill (receivers and secondary) positions, with each having different ratios of lifting and speed work to complete each day.

For example, on heavy-running days such as Fridays, linemen had 800 yards of sprints to run in about 10-15 minutes with short breaks, while skill players were at about 2,000 yards in 18 minutes. In the weight room, bigs had more weight per exercise and more lifts to perform.

A number of players reported being stronger and faster than ever, and Snee said every player hit personal-bests in at least one of the program’s core lifts of bench press, squat and cleans.

“It’s allowed each guy to kind of focus, be a little selfish in an unselfish way,” senior safety Scott Nelson said. “They know that if they get better, the team gets better.”

The new system was enough of a change to bring a different energy to the workouts, and the competitiveness of the Badgers players was incorporated as well. Senior safety Collin Wilder said every running session became a race and each lift saw players trying to out-do one another.

Snee’s existing relationship with the players — he’s been on the strength staff since 2015 — allowed him to know when he could push them and when he needed to pull back the reins. When a player told him about a soreness or something else affecting their workouts, he’d find modifications so the player could get the work done without exacerbating the issue.

Either Snee or one of the assistant strength coaches — John Graves, Kyle Costigan, Ty Taylor and Devin Woodhouse — perform the workouts assigned to a position group and use their own experiences to anticipate days when players may a break.

“You have to be in tune with your team,” Snee said. “You have to know every single one of these guys, relationships are important. If you don’t know the guys and know the vibes of the team, if you can’t feel that, you’re going to overwork them. You’re going to fatigue the system and they’re not going to get as much rewards out of it.

“Yes, the program is science-based, of course … I use a lot of that to build the program initially, but then it’s all based on feel after that.”

From individually-tailored workouts to flexibility in dealing with injuries, Shaun Snee has helped Badgers football players reach new highs in the weight room.

After working for UW coach Paul Chryst as a graduate assistant at Pittsburgh, Snee jumped at the chance to join the Badgers’ program. Snee said Chryst is extremely helpful providing practice plans down to the snap so that the strength coaches can tailor workouts during camp and the season.

They’ll continue to push players in the weight room even during game weeks — Snee says the goal is to continue having players reach personal-bests in the season — but the growth achieved this offseason has already been noticeable.

“What Shaun did and the strength staff did, there’s so many layers to it, in my opinion,” Chryst said. “What you appreciate is everyone’s invested in it and they recognize that. Then it’s how do you find a way to get them to take ownership of it? And I think they’ve done a nice job with that.”


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