The Triangle sat together with Michael Rankin, the director of Drexel’s Strength and Conditioning, and talked about what the program is about, his long time being at Drexel, and his experience working with an NFL team.
Raphael Bartell: You are the Director of the Strength and Conditioning program here at Drexel. What does your daily work at Drexel look like?
Michael Rankin: My direct work has changed over the years. When I started here it was only me and the GA (graduate assistant). I was in the gym pretty much all of the time. I used to see all of the athletes here. As I’ve been here longer we had a larger staff. Right now we have 6 people here including myself. Overall I would say that there is a lot of scheduling involved in what I do. There is a lot of management from the programming making sure that everything that we can squeeze in is squeezed in. I think if we are prepared for the athletes we can give them a better product and more attention. The more attention we can give our athletes the more they can realize what is the right way to succeed.
RB: You have been here at Drexel since 2002. What has changed over the 22 years you have been here?
MR: The weight room, as it is right now, didn’t exist when I started here. We had a much smaller area for our athletes. When we were able to build a new gym area we got more space for our athletes. One of the biggest additions was having a place to warm up. To be able to assess how people are feeling and moving is a really important part of our work here. We also made the changes to a free weight based program which we have now. Before that we used to train with machines. I think that we have all the resources now to be able to move forward. I don’t think there is anything that we can’t meet whatever level student athletes come in.
RB: What are some key elements a Division 1 athlete needs in order to to get the most out of their athletic practice?
MR: For me there are really four key elements. First, I want to make sure that we touch on something mindset wise. I think you have to be really strong with how you’re thinking when coming into the gym. A phrase people here always hear me say is: “Is what you’re thinking helping you or hurting you?” Because challenges will always be a part of your life, whether it will be in the weight room, on the field, on the court, in your work, in the classroom or in your social life.
The second would be fueling. We are really lucky to have a sports dietician in Andrea Irvine on our staff to be able to fill in with questions like: “Hey, what’s the best type of fuel to put in so I can perform.” If you are fueled properly then you should be able to perform in all aspects of your daily life. And having so many options to choose from in the city or on campus can be overwhelming. But having some kind of guidelines can be really helpful for our athletes.
The third key aspect is movement, being able to assess how you are moving. Is it moving well and how can you basically progress that and make it feel better, stronger, and faster.
The fourth one is recovery. The most important aspect of recovery is sleep. Everything in between seven and nine hours is ideal. But you should still listen to your body and look at what you are needing and how you are feeling, so you can make adjustments. A lot of the other things get rolled in like doing ice baths, and fueling your body correctly, especially hydration.
RB: A lot of pro athletes praise that lifting would prevent them from suffering injuries, would you agree?
MR: I don’t think that we can prevent injuries. I think we can reduce the occurrence with good overall training. It comes down to the four key elements we have talked about before. So if I’m at a really bad place up top I don’t think that I can really go forward. If I’m not fueling properly, if I’m not recovering properly and if I’m not moving properly, well, these can all contribute to a higher occurrence of injuries. It is all connected. How often do people get hurt and they didn’t sleep well for a couple of days, or they were highly stressed for a few days which threw them all off. Those things all come together and I think we need to have a program that puts us in the right place.
RB: In 2013 you had an internship for the NFL team, Cleveland Browns. How was this experience and what did you bring back to Drexel from this opportunity?
MR: I loved it! I was very fortunate to be able to go out and work with a sport that I don’t get to work with here but played (Western Maryland College). It was like being around superheroes. When the helmet went on I can remember just feeling this overwhelming feeling of happiness, because it just seemed to be so cool to me. The camp was a big realization for my work here at Drexel. Wow, I get to work with almost like comic book heroes every day. Because the number of people who have the abilities that Division 1 student athletes have is actually very rare. It doesn’t seem that way but the overall population can’t do the things that the kids here on this campus and across the country can do. They are not only students but they have to do study hall or homework, practices, meetings, strength and conditioning, and they have their social life. There is a lot on their plate. It’s pretty special and I don’t know if we realize that as often as we probably should. It’s a pinch me moment when you realize that you kind of have some superpowers. But man it’s so cool to be able to come in here!
RB: Fitness is currently one of the most hyped trends on the internet. On social media you can see countless influencers that are defined and have huge muscles. Is this something that concerns you?
MR: I don’t get too concerned with things that I can’t really control. And social media is not something that I can control. Gaining an immense amount of muscles takes a lot of hard work and dedication. It’s not easy and it doesn’t happen overnight. I don’t want to broadly say don’t look at things online, because I think that there is some valuable information out there. But you have to be able to filter out what is useful and what isn’t. And I think you have to be careful too with understanding that not everything you see on social media is real. It is just made for that to entertain you. It’s not real life.
RB: Would you say that there is a way to gain a lot of muscles in a short period of time?
MR: In a short period of time typically raises caution flags for me. Strength and muscle gains come in small increments. You have to try to get one percent better each day. And if you do that consistently I think that you can do amazing things. But it really takes a long time. I think it can be done but you have to put in the right amount of fuel, the right amount of recovery and the right amount of work. And you gotta do that for a long time, knowing that it is small gains. If you see somebody get huge overnight, ask questions.