Interview With Strength & Conditioning Coach Mark Strasser by Ben Tatar of CriticalBench.com - Posted April 2007
Critical Bench: Mark, tell us about yourself.
Where do I start? I am proud of where I am, and I know it is because of
where I have come from. I have a strong background of athleticism and
competitiveness from within my family. My father was an all-state sprinter
and football athlete in Wisconsin. He was recruited by Miami and other
Division 1 schools. My uncle also held a state weight-lifting record for
squat and deadlift. I also have three brothers and two sisters. Their
accomplishments have ranged from winning State finals in Cross Country,
state-runner up in wrestling, player of the year in baseball, all-state in
basketball, Division 1 runner, professional Ultimate figher, and many more
accomplishments. I have taken what I have learned from my family and
applied it into my lifestyle.
I have accomplished a lot in my life. I had a successful high school career
succeeding in Football, Basketball, Baseball, and Track. I continued to
have success in college even though I was undersized. I was voted captain
my senior year, and set a few records at a Division I-AA school for
football. I continued my football career by serving as an offensive
coordinator and player for a professional football team in Sweden. I was
runner-up for Import of the Year, and amassed more than 1,000 yards in 8
I returned to my alma mater to serve as an assistant football coach. I then
changed my direction, and began to focus on high school athletes. I have
been coaching high school athletes in Massachusetts and New York for the
past five years. I have coached football, basketball, indoor and outdoor
I have recently been working for the Minnesota Twins during my summer
vacations. I have been working for their minor league teams, serving as
their strength and conditioning coach.
I have also been working on designing programs for individual athletes that
can be used for a specific sport. That is why I began my website:
Critical Bench: How did you get started in training and what has
kept you motivated to keep training up until this day?
I have always been the athlete that was a little bit slower, a little
smaller, and a little weaker in high school. I have had to constantly train
and find ways to improve over the competition so I could compete at the
highest level. I have been constantly motivated because of what everyone in
my past used to tell me. They used to tell me "I wouldn't be able to do
that". I am a strong believer in goals. I have consistently set my goals
high, and have done everything possible to reach them.
Critical Bench: How did you meet Mike Westerdal? What were
some of your favorite moments with Mike Westerdal "the president" of Critical Bench?
I first met Mike Westerdal in college. We played football at the same
University and later played professional football together. I really got to
know him well when we played and coached football in Sweden. When you spend
three months constantly by someone's side, you really get to know a person
inside and out. He has really motivated me throught the last ten years. He
is one of the hardest working people I know, not to mention brilliant.
There are alot of great moments, most of them I don't think he would want me
to talk about. One moment that I will always remember is a time in Sweden.
We were playing for the Norkopping Panthers at that time. During one of the
practices I was lined up as a tailback and he was lined up as a middle line-
backer. I probably ran the ball 10 times in a row, and all 10 times I was
tackled by Mike. We laughed a lot about it later. He knows that I averaged
over 4 yards a carry.
Critical Bench: Tell us about your website strength-
conditioning.net! And tell us about your ebook The "Critical Speed
Manual"? Why did you create a website, write an ebook and decide to
write about strength training?
I am really proud of my website: www.strength-conditioning.net . I wanted to
provide resources for athletes and coaches on the subjects of strength and
conditioning. It used to take me a lot of time and effort to find useful
information to use when training. My vision is to provide a trusted and
tested site for training information.
I have also developed a ebook about how to run faster. For me, increasing
my speed was essential. I would have not had so much success if I did not
get faster. It is simple as that. I wanted to share what needs to be done
to get faster.
I have developed a program for all athletes to become the best they could.
I tried finding other programs, but nothing was complete. There may have
been a plometric workout, a running workout, a weight-room workout, but I
couldn't find a complete program. I developed one program and have continued
to train thousands of athletes using it. It has been tried and tested.
Critical Bench: So, your brother David Strasser is an ultimate fighter--- What
is it like having a brother being in full contact fighting? How do
you get along with your brother?
It's pretty intense! I had the opportunity to be in his corner for one
fight. Talk about adrenaline rush!
When you step back and look at ultimate fighting, you'll see that these
fighters are highly skilled athletes. These are not guys coming straight
from the bars. My brother spends endless hours watching film, perfecting
techniques, and conditioning. It is like any other sport.
I get along very well with my brother. I was the best man in his wedding,
and always will be very close to him. He is not as vicious as you would
think an ultimate fighter would be. He is actually always filled with
Critical Bench: What's your opinion about the sport of full contact fighting? Is it something that you would ever like to do?Why or why not?
I think I have a different view on the sport of full contact fighting because my brother has been involved with it for over ten years. I feel it is a very technical sport. There are so many different strategies involved in a sport where the untrained eye may just see it as a barbaric slugfest. These trained athletes must possess power, strength, and endurance to last the fifteen minutes. They must also be very knowledgeable on defending and attacking standing up as well as on the ground. On top of the techniques and training, these athletes must also have nerves of steel.
I love the idea of the sport, but I do not have any background in this sport. Most people have a background in wrestling, like my brother, and then they develop the rest of their game. I will personally stick with the sports that I have grown up loving and playing.
Critical Bench: What are your 5 tips of advice for strength athletes out there?
Over the past 10 years I have been training athletes that range in skill level. I have trained the elite professional athletes, college athletes, and have recently been working with high school kids. I have come up with five tips of advice for all strength athletes out there:
1. Develop a pattern in your training habits. The number one key is to get out there and consistently work. Too many athletes do not stick to their schedule and they are just treading water.
2. Focus on form. In the weight room wasted movement is just a waste of time. Correct form has proven to increase your performance. Explosive movements can still be very controlled.
3. Eat properly. Eating is half of the equation. Eating properly, enough high-quality protein and complex carbs, will benefit your body. The more efficient your body is, the better performance.
4. Set clear, specific, and measurable goals. Setting short-term goals, and long-term goals are essential to maintaining progress through a training career.
5. Last but not least, stay positive. Positive language and thoughts can lead you over the slumps. The mind is a powerful tool. Use it wisely.
Critical Bench: You Coaches tons of sports... What sports have you coached and tell us about some moments, experiences or teams that especially stand out in your mind.
I love all sports. I love competing, coaching, and watching all sports. I have found that coaching has given me the opportunity to stay close to what it is I really love. Helping athletes achieve goals they never imagined they could has been the greatest feeling. I also love the strategic aspect of every sport.
The sports that I have coached have been football, basketball, track, and baseball. I began my coaching career at the college level. After I played football at Central Connecticut State University, I joined the coaching staff as a running backs coach. That gave me my first real taste of coaching. Long hours of breaking down film and game planning gave me a real respect for the job.
One year later, I found myself in Sweden playing/coaching a professional football team, the Norkopping Panthers. The player/coach experience was a unique experience I am sure not a lot of people can say they have done. We were very successful, making the playoffs for the first time in team history, something that I am still proud of today.
After the Swedish experience I moved back to the states, and began coaching football, basketball, and track in high school. It has been a challenge, but a great experience just trying to keep it simple and teach the basics. I love something different about every sport, and every sport is unique in its own way.
Within the last two years, I have been working with the Minnesota Twins organization. I have been serving as a minor league strength and conditioning coach. I have been able to hone my skills and strategies with the elite athletes. Baseball is a unique sport where it combines short explosive movements with a long and tumultuous season.
Critical Bench: You also played football in Europe... What was it like living and playing football in Europe?
Living in a different country was a great experience in its own. I have traveled to a lot of different countries as a tourist, but there is no comparison to living in a culture. Getting to know a different way of life was so exciting and interesting. It made me reflect back on how busy and demanding American life is.
Playing football was a great experience too. In there professional league they are only allowed to draft two Americans. These Americans are the targets on the field. Every player on the field knows exactly where the Americans are because they have to where a helmet with a big "A" on the back.
The football players are pretty good there. They are the biggest human beings I have ever seen. They are not as quick, and they did not have as much football "smarts" as Americans. I think that would be a great place to recruit for a lot of the college football teams.
Critical Bench: You also were also the strength and conditioning coach for the New Britain Rock Cats minor league baseball team.. How did you train the New Britain Rock Cats for baseball? How did coaching baseball athletes different from other sports?
Strength training in baseball is relatively new. Benefits have recently been seen with all of the long-standing records being broke. Some attribute it to steroid use, but the bottom line is that the recording breaking performances can be attributed to strength-training. Players have the extra pop players of the past did not have because of weight training. Also, players are extending their career because of the preventative benefits of weight training.
Strength training is not going to make an average player great, but it will help an average player become better. When training baseball players, strength training cannot be substituted for sport-specific skills, but it can help the players' overall game. I've seen some of the hardest working athletes get released, just because they did not have the skills.
Training the Rock Cats was all about maintaining strength and protecting the body from a long and grueling season. Eight hour bus rides from town to town, and ten games in ten days are common for the baseball player. I had to be unique and creative when trying to fit in workout sessions. It was a great experience I can continually draw from.
Critical Bench: On top of that you were the captain of your college football team? What was that like? How did you become the captain and what is your philosophy regarding leadership? How did you respond to players on your team who were acting like wusses?
I was an unlikely story. I was not recruited by anyone out of high school. I was too small and too slow for a running back. I disagreed. I walked on at a division 3 school in Green Bay, Wisconsin. I ended up earning a starting position as a two-tailback set alongside the university's all-time leading rusher. By the end of the season, I broke the freshman rushing record and proved I could play some football.
My dream was to play division 1 football though. I sent my tapes to Central Connecticut State University (Division 1-AA) and walked on the next year. I worked my way up the depth charts and ended up starting my junior year. My senior year, I was voted captain, and still hold a school record for the number of receptions in one game(13).
My teammates voted to make me captain because of my work ethic. On my team I was never a vocal leader. I lead by example. I believe there are a lot of ways to lead, and a person does not need to yell to be effective.
To the players that were not doing there job, the most effective approach on my part was positive reinforcement. It is a strategy I still use today. Acknowledge the good, but let them know what they can do better.
Critical Bench: Since you have trained so many different athletes which type of athletes have impressed you the most? Is there any person that you have coached who you would like to mention?
Each sport differs so much. It is hard to compare athletes training for
different sports. Football athletes always train with the most intensity.
Track athletes are always precise in their training, and push their bodies
to the limits. Baseball players have to endure grueling day-to-day training
both physically and mostly mentally. There is one athlete that I coached,
Francisco Liriano of the Minnesota Twins, that exuberated confidence and
will. He knew what he had to do to be the best, and he did it. I guess
that is why he was taken on this year's All-Star game and leads the league
in ERA and wins.
Critical Bench: How do you like coaching? What are the pros and cons of the job?
Coaching is a great profession. In any sport, the whole can be broken down into parts. Parts are easier to train than the whole. Once each part is mastered, it is trained to become a whole. That is the bare bones of coaching. If you can figure out the best way to apply that principle and get a team to respond to it, you will see real success.
The pros of the job are that it is very fulfilling. In the end, you love what you see as an end result. Being a part of someone's accomplishments becomes very fulfilling. I know in my life, I have not forgotten any coach that has really helped me. I love the idea that an athlete will always remember me.
There are not a lot of cons to the job. It does take a lot of time to be an effective coach. Pouring your heart into a team can be very exhausting, but in my mind, it is worth it. Losing is also not fun, but it just gives me more motivation to go out and work harder.
Critical Bench: How have you liked the people that you met in powerlifting, coaching, football, and in athletic training in general?
I have loved the people I have me in sports in general. Everyone I have met show true passion for whatever they are competing in. There are always going to be people better than you out there, but that is something a person cannot control. A person can control how close they come to fulfilling their potential. That is what I love about the people I constantly meet. They work hard to fulfill their potential. I still feel like I learn so much from the people I train and meet.