Interview withCoach Bob Otrando
Director of Strength & Conditioning at Umass Amherst
I have achieved a lot in my life up to this point. And there are a lot of people that I had along my journey that helped me get to where I am today. One of the people that played a significant role in my life is Bob Otrando. Coach O, was my strength and conditioning coach at Umass Amherst. Because of his knowledge and motivation, my teammates and I achieved a lot of success my last college football season. We were national champions in 1998 and I was a consensus 1st team All – American and was able to have a cup of team in the NFL. I was able to catch up with Coach O, and asked him if he would mind answering some questions for me about himself, his beliefs and how he trains his athletes.
Kerry T: Hey Coach O, would you mind sharing with our readers your background?
Coach O: My background is in Track & Field. I have coached throwers on the international and World Class levels. I have also worked with jumpers and sprinters. I feel this gives me a good background in dealing with anaerobic sports.
Kerry T: What are your responsibilities now?
Coach O: I am the Director of Strength and Conditioning for the whole athletic department at Umass Amherst. There is not a single sport I have not worked with in 21 years here at UMass and they number over 28 teams.
Kerry T: What are some of the mistakes you see that athletes have made in their training before they become a part of your training program?
Coach O: The biggest mistakes most incoming athletes make is using or being taught improper techniques. Having a lack of discipline and looking for quick fixes by way of infomercials that lead you to believe they can make you a better athlete, such as p-90x and others.
Kerry T: How do you try to fix that?
Coach O: We try to really take our time and educate them properly. By having them spend more time in the weight room, get coached and read our monthly newsletters the more educated they become.
Kerry T: Newsletter? You didn’t have that when I was around.
Coach O: Yeah, we have it online so we can reach a big audience. All of our current athletes and incoming athletes have it to refer to. It will give you a lot of the ins and outs of the training they will be doing. All the whys, get answered for them. You should check it out.
Kerry T: I will. You always hear people stress they want a strong core. And that they want more core exercises to use in their program. What core exercises do you use?
Coach O: Core depends on what one’s definition is. Mine is every muscle front and back from the top of the knees to the top of the rib cage. Most think it is abs only.
Kerry T: Yeah, I agree with you on that one.
Coach O: I believe too much rehab work is now being used as strength work for healthy athletes and this has replaced a lot of the multi joint training and has resulted in more injured athletes, because of weaker joints and connective tissues. When doing the Olympic and power lifts properly with the right volume of work, you are getting a great core workout. Of course at the end of the workout there are supplementary exercises we do to balance out any weaknesses.
Kerry T: What are some of the supplementary exercises you would do?
Coach O: Roman chair sit ups, plank variations and band crunches to a name a few.
Kerry T: Thanks for that O. What is that saying you use to say all the time?
Coach O: Hahaha. You remember that? It was “Major in the majors and minor in the minors.” Today the strength world is turned upside down we spend all our time majoring in the minors and are not getting as big a bang for our buck.
Kerry T: How about nutrition. I know having the college life, sometimes athletes do not eat the best foods or as much as you should. How do you help your athletes with nutrition? Or do you have someone else take care of that?
Coach O: For nutrition I like to use Fitday.com so the athlete can see just what he or she is putting in their body. Most don't eat breakfast and eat garbage late at night. When they do eat, most are short on protein and high in high glycemic carbs. We try to steer them away from processed foods and soda drinks, anything white, bread, cakes, flour etc.
Kerry T: I am going to have to check that site out later. I remember back when I was under your watchful eye, how much understanding the nutrition component really helped me to achieve a lot of success in the weight room. I know you have to get going to work with the hockey team. Just a few more questions, if that’s okay with you.
Coach O: Sure
Kerry T: At some point in time, an athlete may hit a plateau with their lifts. How do you get them past that if it happens?
Coach O: To get past a plateau I usually have them reduce the weight or intensity and increase the volume. Changing the lifts and doing 5 x 5 at 60% usually works fine or possibly going to 3 x 10 in the 50-60 % range will also help. And when coming back we make sure they progress slowly every week and change workouts weekly as far as sets and reps and percentages. Very rarely do I recommend an athlete to take a week off. I have been lifting for over 45 years and the only time I have taken time off was due to surgery.
Kerry T: Well thanks for your time, O. And thank you for getting me in this field many years ago. You started me down this path and I haven’t turned back since. Who were some of your mentors?
Coach O: When I was younger it was Olympic lifting coach Joe Mills of the Central Falls Weight Lifting Club. Tom Crowe my high school coach. Orin Richburg who has been a 3-time Olympic sprint relays coach and Dr. Paul Ward who is one of the leading exercise physiologists in the world. And just one more, a deep respect for Dr. Mauro DiPasquale.
Kerry T: Wow! Well thanks again coach. I will see you soon. I plan to be up when Spring football kicks off.
What About Bob?
Bob Otrando is the Head Strength & Conditioning Coach at the University of Massachusetts. He supervises the strength and conditioning program for some 600 student-athletes who compete in UMass' 21 varsity sports, and recently designed the school's new 9,000-square foot strength and conditioning facility, which opened in May of 2003. Since Otrando arrived at UMass, 35 football players who he trained with have gone on to sign professional contracts. Otrando was named the 1994-1995 Atlantic 10 Conference Strength and Conditioning Professional of the Year by the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
Otrando came to UMass from the New England Patriots staff, where he served as the assistant strength and conditioning coach from 1992 to 1993 under Dick MacPherson. Prior to his stint with the Patriots, he was an assistant track & field coach at the University of Washington (1986-1992), Kent University (1985-1986) and Brown University (1984-1985). He has also assisted with the UMass track & field program since the 2000-2001 season. During his collegiate coaching career, Otrando coached one NCAA champion, seven All-Americans and two Olympic trials qualifiers. Otrando himself was a 1984 Olympic trials qualifier in the shot put, and holds the world indoor record (53'11") in the masters 45-49 age group. He ranked No. 1 in the world in the shot put master's ranking in 2002, and captured the national title at the 1998 and 2000 USA National Masters for the 40-45 age group.
Otrando served as the National Chairman for USA Track & Field men's shot put from 1991-1995. During this time, U.S. athletes claimed the gold and silver medals in the shot put at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. In addition, Otrando was a coach at the 1991 Olympic Festival, the 1993 World University Games and the 2003 Pan American Games. He has had several articles pertaining to training and performance published in track & field magazines.