Offseason workouts crucial in football, but don't push it

February 4, 2011 

Driving home after a recent golf outing on Lady's Island, I wanted to hear about Beaufort High's plans for the 2011 football season, so I decided to visit head coach Mark Clifford. I coached Mark at Clemson in the 1970s, and I deeply respect his coaching ability.

Even though no games are scheduled for high schools and colleges until August, the 2011 football season is already under way for coaches and players. That's something I learned after my first college season in 1960. When I returned to Wichita State after the holidays in January 1961, I had to begin my first weightlifting and agility workouts.

Talking with Coach Clifford and then going to the weight room and watching the kids lift weights reminded me of the importance of this time of year for building a team. A significant part of building a winning team is accomplished by increasing each player's overall strength, improving flexibility to increase athleticism and developing cardiovascular strength -- all important factors to being physically competitive.

Also, during the early season it is important to improve backup players' strength and athleticism. The best teams' backup players are just as strong and as athletic as the starters, ready to step in for an injured player during a game.

Coach Clifford told me the Eagles are lifting three times a week for 45 to 60 minutes and then they do some agility exercises. The Eagles, like college programs, are doing three basic lifts: power clean, squat and bench press. A few other lifts also are being used.

Weightlifting among players can be as competitive as when they are vying with each other on the field for a starting position. Everyone wants to be the strongest and quickest at their position.

On Beaufort High's weight room wall there was a list of lifting achievements. The Eagles' top lifter registered a 225-pound power clean, a 285-pound squat and a 295-pound bench press -- and that's doing eight to 10 reps with each lift. To use a term said many times by old-time coaches like me ... that's a stud!

Coincidentally, after visiting Beaufort High, I read an article about 13 University of Iowa players hospitalized due to severe medical problems created by preseason workouts. A freshman said after doing 100 squat and 100 bench press reps, he couldn't walk or feel his arms. That's sad, not only for athletic reasons but also because there is chance an injury creates academic problems for the young man. I've seen it happen.

The article made me wonder what physical philosophy Iowa's preseason workouts are based on, and it brought thoughts back to my ancient mind of seeing a few players get injured in preseason indoor workouts. I saw one drop a weight, breaking his foot. Several times, I saw players strain their backs doing squats as they were trying to out-lift one of their position mates. And I saw a bruised chest caused by a dropped bar on the bench press.

Those injuries and the problems they bring -- caused as hard-working players try to impress their teammates and the staff -- really are disconcerting for a coach.

My first year coaching at Minnesota, I committed myself to the weight room so I could talk to players about Xs and Os and encourage them to increase their strength and flexibility, which was lacking the previous season when the Golden Gophers went 1-10. But then I created a problem for myself. After lifting for three weeks, I gained 12 pounds because weightlifting created overeating habits.

Coaches must be aware that overly intense preseason workouts can create mental and physical problems for players, on and off the field, and can hurt the team when the real season begins.

I passed that thought onto Coach Clifford, but it wasn't necessary. He has the right mind-set about preseason workouts.

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