Justin Cecil is a full time staff member at St. Vincent Sports Performance in Indiana, and serves as the head strength and conditioning coach at Lawrence Central High School. He is also one of the lead coaches for the NFL Combine and off-season prep, and is involved in program design for several MMA athletes. At Lawrence Central, Justin coordinated the renovation of the weight room and developed the athletic strength and conditioning programs. Prior to joining the SVSP staff, Justin was the head strength and conditioning coach at Murray State University, where he was directly responsible for building the strength and conditioning program from the ground up - handling all aspects of training for all sixteen Division I sport programs.

Justin was also the Associate Director of Performance and Senior Fellow at Perfect Competition, an athletic development center for professional athletes in south Florida. At Perfect Competition, he worked with numerous NFL football and Major League Baseball players. Justin was selected as a keynote speaker for the Elite Nike Coach of the Year 2008 Football Tour, speaking in cities all over the country. His talks focused on football athletic development. He also served as the assistant strength and conditioning coach at Ball State University from 2002-2005. While at Ball State, Cecil was an All-American and champion powerlifter, and was the founder and head coach of the Ball State University powerlifting team. Under his tenure, he produced numerous collegiate national champions and world team members. He is CSCS, USAW, and Crossfit Level 1 certified. Justin earned his B.S. degree in Exercise Science, and did his masters coursework in Clinical/Sport Biomechanics at Ball State.

Introduce yourself to the readership and tell us a little about your background.

Hahaha, I actually got into lifting because of a near death experience. When I was in sixth or seventh grade, I went out for wrestling, and after the first day, I damn near think I had rhabdo. Ha. Within a few months of doing nothing as usual, I started getting sick. Then I got REAL sick. After a week or so of my folks not being able to help me, they took me to a hospital, where I was diagnosed with pneumonia. Long story short, I ended up staying in the hospital, where the nurses said that if I hadn’t caught this until a few days later, I would not have made it. I spent about two weeks in the hospital, lost about 40 pounds and damned near died, but I pulled through.  When I was released, my father said he was not going to let me get sick again, and was going to build my immune system, so he got me lifting weights at a local gym. I fell in love, and the rest is history.

I began reading all the bodybuilding magazines and even got up at the ass crack of dawn on weekends to watch Lee Haney’s show.  I progressed from there, and by my eighth grade year, I was captain of the wrestling team. In high school, we had a guy named Sam Phillipy who volunteered as a strength coach, and one day he asked me to go to a powerlifting meet. I bombed, but I’ve had the addiction ever since. Fast forward a few years and I had won a few state championships in the ADFPA/USAPL, and by the time I graduated, I knew I was gonna make money lifting weights.

By about my first few weeks at Ball State University, I met Wade Russell, the head strength coach at that time for BSU, and asked to volunteer, as I was blown away that this was a career. He had me clean the weight room, stay the hell out of the way, and made me pay my dues. By mid sophomore year, he offered me a part time paid position - the first ever in BSU history. Over the next few years, I founded the BSU powerlifting team, and by default was the head coach. I used all my previous personal experience, and the Westside method and whatnot to drive my program design. We eventually won multiple national and state championships, and had several USAPL world team qualifiers.

What’s your specialty?

I feel like my specialty is in powerlifting and heavy lifting protocols. I have been fortunate to be involved and have a lot of Division I football experience. Since then, I have been able to work in various football training environments, from Division I to professional NFL Combine and off-season preps. On the side, I did a lot of powerlifting training obviously, and was able to train some bodybuilders and fitness competitors, and I had a lot of champions at that level. The football thing continued to grow, but I had a strong stable of growing strength athletes, as well. As my responsibilities grew as a student strength coach, my free time to help other genres of athletes diminished, so I was only able to assist those of a high level and those close to me. I feel like with all my experience, I am very well-rounded and battle tested, and hope to bring this broad scope of training to the EliteFTS crowd.

What’s your training philosophy?

I have tried it all, from Westside methods to old-school Rickey Dale Crain squat routines, to Sheiko programs in my younger days, to using updated versions of the same methods, to using Wendler’s 5/3/1, to Joe Kenn’s Tier System, to Crossfit, to using hybrid methods of all of these, to eventually doing what feels right and gets me and my athletes primed for competition.  My philosophy has always been to walk the walk, and try everything we prescribe - to see how it feels, how it tastes, and then scrap what didn’t work and keep what did. With that being said, sort of a Bruce Lee approach, to have no “philosophy” and to be like water. To be well-rounded and have your strengths, yet have a huge toolbox to lean on and work from when faced with a formidable foe or challenge. I still carry this sort of approach, and am not anti any method and feel that everything works. I am anti some dogmas, but I ultimately feel the art of coaching drives everything. To adopt the USATF model, it is “athlete focused, science based, coach driven,” and that about sums it up. Give me a situation and I will find a way to make the best of it using the skills I have acquired over years of experience.

What about assistance work?

Relating it all to the above response, my assistance work stems from the athletes’ individual weaknesses, but it’s also important to understand the biological adaptation trends in humans and consider those before writing the music. Figure out what we need as a whole, and what this person needs for this goal, and go from there. I use a huge variety of movements from all disciplines, and adapt them to work for me and my respective population. More details will come in my responses on the Q&A section of EliteFTS.

What’s your general philosophy on strength training for football?

My philosophy for football athlete development is similar, but I understand the “known” demands, and can expect and prepare for the “unknown.” I know the basic movement patterns for each position, the basic energetics, the time it takes for execution, the time in between efforts, the mentality, and the ever-present grind of a football season. I played football my whole life. Combine that with the insane amount of anecdotal data and scientific evidence available, and you can conjure up a decent program. BUT it all goes back to under the bar mileage, and knowing how and what certain training protocols elicit and how you TRULY respond - that is what makes a great football strength coach. And let’s not discount the IT factor: if the athletes believe in you, are sold on YOU, due to all above said attributes, your relationships with them as humans, and your daily interaction, that is what TRULY sells a program, no matter the science and how much under the bar experience you have. If you suck as a person and coach, then you suck as a salesman, and you will suck as a strength coach. Bottom line!

What has EliteFTS meant to you?

My background with EliteFTS may be a bit different, but is nonetheless  just as impactful. I came up as a “Westside” guy in my late high school and early college days. I remember Dave Tate training there a few years after, and I was fortunate enough to train at Westside every now and again due to my proximity to Columbus from Indianapolis. Ha, I doubt many remember me, as I was a lone 148 pounder, good at state level, okay at national level and that was it! I remember when Dave branched off from Louie and Westside, and sort of by being a fan and fanatic of the strength sports, happened upon EliteFTS.com. So, to me, it seemed like the ordinary progression. But I have been visiting the site daily for years, and have watched it evolve from ordinary to extraordinary - from an equipment company and powerlifting resource to a worldwide resource for the strength and conditioning profession, period. As a practioner, I have used them as a resource for knowledge, and, of course, the products. I have watched many I know and respect serve as staff in some capacity for EliteFTS, and it has been super cool to watch a bunch of guys do it their way, the right way, and see the rest of us catch on and follow suit accordingly.

What can we expect from you on the site?

Man, I don’t even know where to start answering that question.  First off, I am extremely excited to be involved at any level, and the fact that I am a part of the Q&A staff is really fulfilling. With everything you and I have discussed up to this point, I just feel I can deliver a lot of information on a lot of different topics related to human performance in general. I expect from the few that know of me that I will get a lot of powerlifting/power development questions, then football, then everything else falls in evenly after that. I really just want to contribute quality information, in whatever discipline it may be, and help continue the tradition of excellence that EliteFTS is known for. Aside from that, anything that you and Dave and any of the staffers need me to do, I will man up and do. And for selfish, fan boy, love of the game reasons, being associated with all these great minds and my ability to connect with them is all I have ever wanted to make me a better athlete and coach.  I sincerely want to thank everyone at EliteFTS, especially Jason Pegg, for the opportunity and support, I am proud to be a member and will not let any of you down.