How Raimond Braithwaite has put his stamp on Iowa football's strength program

There was a noticeable change in sophomore offensive lineman Connor Colby's appearance when he met with reporters for the first time during Iowa's spring practice period. 

"Looks like you put on some weight," one reporter commented. 

It was a compliment, both to Colby's off-season work and the gains that the Iowa strength and conditioning program under Raimond Braithwaite had made. 

"I'm at about 310 (pounds) right now," Colby replied. "I'm up about 15 pounds from the end of last season. (The training period) went great. A lot of personal records all around. It was definitely a good phase that brought everyone closer together."

To Colby’s point, with each wave of players who’ve rotated for Tuesday player media availability this spring, weight room bests have been a consistent theme. 

“I think I PR’d in everything except squat,” sophomore running back Leshon Williams said. “My (vertical leap) went up to 39 (inches) from 36. I can’t remember my speed numbers but I PR’d in everything and finished top five on the team.” 

Sophomore receiver Arland Bruce IV took it a step further when discussing this year’s winter strength & conditioning period. 

“(Strength & conditioning coach Raimond Braithwaite) showed us our weight room numbers and our maxes in the team room,” Bruce said. “They’ve steadily improved over the past three years. This year was our best I think in terms of average since (head coach Kirk Ferentz) got here so you can see guys are hungry.” 

Braithwaite didn’t go as far when it was his turn at the podium but confirmed that this team "stacks up with all of those other teams that have come before them in a favorable manner." In some ways, comparing each team’s strength numbers is a moving target. Braithwaite noted that a lot of those markers are determined by team makeup; it's more common to see younger teams reach new personal bests than older teams. But what remains the same is Iowa’s performance in strength and conditioning now under Braithwaite’s supervision. 

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Iowa named Braithwaite interim director of the strength program in June 2020 as Chris Doyle was accused of racist behavior. In March 2021, the interim tag was removed for Braithwaite. 

Entering his third year at the helm, he’s balancing a foundation that’s still in place while adding his own personal touch. 

"There's similarities and there's differences," Braithwaite said. "The nuts and bolts don't change but every year we have to stay relevant and we’re always evolving, researching and making sure we're on the cutting edge of what's out there. I think I'm a different human being, my personality is different, I’m a different guy. The staff's different and changes and evolves. And with that comes changes in how we do things and how we interact with the team." 

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Raimond Braithwaite is entering his third year as Iowa director of strength and conditioning.

Each winter conditioning period brings new challenges for Braithwaite. This year there’s another group of early enrollees who must get brought up to speed, an athlete in Brody Brecht who’s managing two sports at once to veteran players who want to make changes to take another step in their development.

One of those veterans is senior quarterback Spencer Petras.

Following Iowa's Citrus Bowl loss to Kentucky, Petras expressed a desire to get slimmer and more athletic in the off-season. Braithwaite meets with every player individually going into the winter period and crafts a plan specifically for them to help reach their goals. He suggested a nutrition plan for Petras, who followed it and is currently down eight pounds from early January. 

“My performance indicators in the weight room have all gone up. I’m faster than I ever have been,” Petras said. “It’s helped. … So I feel good. I feel really good. I feel like I’m moving better.” 

Iowa director of strength and conditioning Raimond Braithwaite says the program is placing an emphasis on mental health.

Furthermore, Braithwaite mentioned a few other program veterans who are still breaking personal bests including cornerback Riley Moss, fullback Monte Pottebaum and defensive end John Waggoner. With a higher difficulty to reach new heights as an older member of the program, seeing high marks from seniors helped push the entire team forward, said Braithwaite. 

"It's much easier to establish personal bests day after day with a young guy," Braithwaite said. "But when they see older guys still grinding, pushing themselves and adhering to good habits away from the facility, the younger guys follow suit and progress in the same manner."

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Focus on strength and speed early in the calendar has transitioned into recovery and body maintenance as spring practice draws to a close. There's also a focus on mental health. 

“That goes back to individual meetings with guys,” Braithwaite said. “I think you have to build a rapport when kids get on campus initially, just to let them know there’s an open-door policy and you care about them outside of football. I think it’s big for their own mental health to know they’re not just a commodity that comes in, works out and then leaves.” 

As far as the next steps in developing Iowa’s strength program, Braithwaite said he’s leaving no stone unturned. The core of what’s made Iowa’s strength program successful will always be there but he’s committed to innovating in whatever capacity that may be to continue seeing growth on the field and within the program’s culture. 

"I don't want to close myself off and be constrained by what we've always done in the past," Braithwaite said. "There's stuff that works and will always work but we always have to stay open and don't stay rigid in our approach to training." 

Kennington Lloyd Smith III covers Iowa Hawkeyes football and men's basketball for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at ksmith@gannett.com.