As science and technologies have grown and expanded how to get the most of a human body, athletic programs around the country have put an emphasis on such by way of their strength and conditioning programs.
Count UW-Eau Claire in on that front.
On July 11, the Blugolds announced the hiring of Zac Ruch as the university’s first strength and conditioning specific coach, making him the first person to hold such a title at the university.
With more than 12 years of experience in human performance, including stops at the University of Minnesota as well as MLB’s Colorado Rockies, Ruch has seen firsthand what works and has a good idea of how each person can dig up the most of their athleticism in a healthy way that won’t bog the body down.
“It really has taken off in terms of it’s not just how much can you squat and how fast can you run,” said Ruch, a graduate of UW-La Crosse’s storied human performance program. “That’s part of things, but it’s much more how can you transfer what you are doing in training to the court, field, mat, track or whatever you might be doing.”
That’s just it.
Ruch wasn’t hired to count how many weights can be added to a bar or measure success by size of dumbbells.
Each case and each sport are different.
Even inside a sport, workouts can be different. In track and field, distance runners don’t lift the same way throwers do.
The biggest focus for Ruch is to serve as a guiding hand for each program so that they have access to the best recovery modes, equipment and sport specific structure. He looks forward to working with all coaches and programs on an individual basis.
“The big part of this is that we look at this program as a growth process,” Ruch said. “I look at this position as kind of an umbrella for how can we help some of those people and collaborate with them to get the best experience for our student athletes?”
Ruch’s resume speaks for itself, and his wealth of knowledge is obvious the moment he begins talking of his profession.
It’s made for a good first impression on athletic director Dan Schumacher, who noted UW-Eau Claire was behind other WIAC schools in hiring such a position and that it’s been in the works for a couple of years.
“What he has brought to the table is that passion and that expertise and street credit to the students and student-athletes where they are engaged with him and buying in quickly,” Schumacher said.
Andy Jepsen of University Recreation also had a say in bringing over Ruch and will also benefit as he will work with the non-student-athlete portion of the student body to help kids learn how to exercise the right way.
Ruch credits all of his stops, from early on in his career as a high school coach all the way to Major League Baseball, for forming his philosophies today.
He took a lot out of programming at Minnesota and then gained valuable experience as to what it was like being around professional athletes who played nearly every single day for six months.
While at Colorado, he got to understand recover habits and how to work guys out with high intensity in a short volume. And also that indeed one can continue to reach new heights of athleticism throughout the course of a playing season.
“We look at the season, guys in season got plenty stronger and more explosive during the season,” Ruch said. “It’s not an easy process, but it’s all about to adjusting what the athletes have at that time.”
At the college level specifically, Ruch said a big challenge is getting kids to focus in one sport. They are used to having two-week offseasons if they were multi-sport athletes in high school. Even if they are doing one sport in college, it’s a year-round process, but a calculated one.
Rest is important, as is building a base and understanding you are nowhere close to where you should be physically on day one as you will be at the end of the season.
Regardless, this is a new era of UW-Eau Claire athletics. A blank canvas just waiting to be painted. And it seems like the Blugolds have the right guy holding the brush.
“We can literally take this position and build it from the ground up,” Ruch said. “Everything is fresh, everything is new and we can only grow from here.”