Like most high school athletic departments, Hilmar High has had its student-athletes lifting weights and undergoing conditioning exercises for years. Nevertheless, it wasn’t until last year that the Yellowjackets’ football program realized that the time spent in the weight room could be maximized to levels they could have never imagined.
“We used to lift two days a week, and we still lift two days a week, but Kyle has flipped everything upside down,” said Hilmar head football coach Frank Marques.
The ‘Kyle’ that Marques is referring to is Kyle Livak, who is Hilmar’s strength and conditioning coach. Livak has been with the Yellowjackets program since last year and is now in the midst of his first full season with the football team. He is also a Hilmar High alumnus, graduating from the school in 2011.
Livak said that during his freshman year at Merced College, he and his friends worked out with a personal trainer for the first time, thus sparking his interest in becoming one himself.
“Within the first five minutes with the personal trainer, I thought, ‘Yeah, this is what I want to do.’ It was quick and I really just fell in love with it,” he said.
Since that moment, Livak has made a career of the practice, majoring in exercise science and opening his business and gym, Top Flight Fitness and The Hangar.
“I’ve worked with a ton of people for all kinds of sports over the years and I really love it,” he said.
Though Livak has trained athletes from all backgrounds, working with football players is still something fairly new to him. In high school, he competed in cross country and swimming, a background that now has him offering a unique approach to building up Hilmar’s current and future gridiron stars.
“Last summer, Coach [Kris] Mendoza at JV kind of courted me to get me into the program. They were looking to get a strength trainer and I know they hadn’t had one in a while. I agreed after about an hour of him convincing me,” Livak joked. “But I’ve always had interest because I know that football is the biggest program at the school even though I’ve never played, and it’s the most kids I can help, which is what I’m really looking for. I want to reach as many kids as I can.”
Livak spoke about his approach to training the players in the weight room.
“I really try to focus on the basics,” he said. “Many times, programs tend to focus on weight and Olympic-style lifts. Honestly, at their age, they should be doing basic strength training and moving well. Form and technique are all I care about. Lifting more weight comes naturally once you get the form down. For example, what is the point of squatting 315 pounds when you can only do half a rep? I’d rather have a guy squat 135 and do a full rep with good form.”
Livak added that the emphasized focus on stretching and good form is beneficial in a number of ways.
“As I said, the results are guaranteed to come eventually. The lessons that also come with that are discipline. These guys are putting their heads down and are motivated to get better. There are so many guys on this team that have made amazing progress, they’ve made insane gains in the weight room,” Livak said.
The motivation and enthusiasm are contagious when being around the Yellowjackets roster after school as they prepare for practice. Every so often when Marques announces that they will start practices in the weight room, players quietly pump their fists and dap each other up.
“There are a lot of guys who returned from last year, and so they’ve known me for a while now and I think we’ve become more comfortable with each other,” Livak said. “The work ethic isn’t quite where I want it to be yet, but we’re a lot more disciplined. They’re listening a lot more and they’re actually coming to me a lot more for questions and advice.”
The tight bond that Livak has created between himself and the team is evident. When asked to pose for a photo of him working one-on-one with players in the Hilmar weight room, he insisted that he be photographed with the entire varsity squad.
“I’m sure other schools and programs may have something similar when it comes to having a strength coach. Like I said, a lot of schools have weight rooms and lift, but a lot of times the kids dread it. I feel like we’ve built a pretty good culture here,” he said.
Marques is one of the few people who have had a front row seat to the new strength training sessions and has seen firsthand just how much of an impact Livak has had on his players.
“How disciplined and strong these guys are getting, it’s really impressive,” Marques said.
With newfound strength, flexibility and work ethic, Marques is hoping that the Yellowjackets can have an extra edge come gametime as they continue their quest to return to the top of the TVL and the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section.
“At the end of the day, I feel really blessed to be where I am,” Livak said. “I’m really honored that they trust me with this program.”