An Occidental baseball player diving for a catch, a lacrosse player sprinting past defenders and a water polo player firing a shot on goal have one thing in common: strength and conditioning coach Chris Harms ‘14. During his time at Occidental, Harms played baseball and majored in kinesiology. He is now in his first year as the strength and conditioning coach for seven sports at Occidental. Working with men and women’s teams from softball to water polo to basketball, Harms uses both general workouts and specially individualized training sessions to prepare each athlete for the uncertainty and high intensity that sports demand.
Before returning to Occidental, Harms interned at Deuce Gym in Venice, Calif., as well as Sacramento State University, where he worked with their football team. He was also the assistant athletic performance coach with the University of California Los Angeles’ (UCLA) baseball team after interning with several U.S. Olympic sports teams, such as men’s and women’s soccer and diving.
Baseball player Jack Brancheau (sophomore) has seen his team’s work ethic improve since Harms took over.
“He’s been huge for us,” Brancheau said. “Not only does he make our workouts specific for different guys, but he’s also super passionate about lifting and baseball. Compared to other years, it just makes us all want to work out and get stronger, which obviously relates directly to the field. We’re all bigger, faster and better.”
After injuring his back during weight training with the Occidental baseball team, Harms began to notice that their preparation off the field was lacking. He knew that he and his team needed different workouts and routines tailored specifically to baseball.
“My brother is at UC Santa Barbara with the baseball program as a coach, and he would send me their programs,” Harms said. “I’d get some people on the team together and we’d do those workouts in addition to the team workouts because the team workouts felt like a waste of time.”
Working with UCLA — a D-I sports program with a top-of-the-line staff, reaffirmed his opinion that Occidental lacked an effective strength and conditioning program. When Occidental head baseball coach Luke Wetmore asked Harms to be an assistant coach this past summer, Harms agreed, but under one condition.
“[Wetmore] asked me to be an assistant baseball coach and I was like, ‘I’ll do that if you can let me run the strength program,’” Harms said.
During his time as an intern at Deuce gym, Harms discovered the efficacy of cross fit training. According to Harms, cross fit is often seen as an effective, safe means of training at the collegiate level.
Basically, anybody can take a one-week cross fit course and, if they have the means to do so, open their own gym, according to Harms. Becoming a professional coach, especially at the D-I level, takes much more time, investment and knowledge. Regardless of how coaches viewed this method, Harms firmly believed that it was one of the most effective and valuable ways to train elite athletes.
“The community at the gym was so strong because everyone goes through this grueling workout together,” Harms said. “It’s like human nature. If we go through a tragedy, we’re going to be a tighter community. That’s why I like it so much. You can build like life, in a way. That’s kind of what drives me I guess.”
Much of Harms’ influence comes from his senior kinesiology comps, for which he researched barefoot running.
“What I found was that we used to run for our food, like, we used to outrun an animal,” Harms said. “An animal can’t breathe when he’s running, but we can, so that’s what we did to live. That’s how we’re wired, and I think we should go back to that.”
Since becoming the Tigers’ strength and conditioning coach, Harms has seen a shift in athletes’ attitudes during training, primarily because he expects full effort from Occidental. Bailey Stevens (sophomore), a softball player, appreciated Harms’ helpfulness and dedication.
“This year, our strength and conditioning program is way more specific to our sport,” Stevens said. “[Harms] is really dedicated, he really cares about us individually and if we have a question he’s more than happy to show us the exact thing to do.”
Harms wants to train Occidental athletes at a higher level than most D-III athletes are accustomed to and believes that everybody, with dedication and time, can become physically better and mentally tougher.
“Day one, you might not be able to do what a professional athlete can do, but we’ll work towards that,” Harms said. “We get after it in the weight room, and now they come knowing, prepared. Now you have this hardwired, getting-after-it mentality, and that’s what I want to develop more than anything.”