Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Strength and Conditioning is Paying Dividends

How has the offseason strength and conditioning program helped improve player's athletic abilities? Daniel House discusses the change in weight lifting and nutrition philosophies that have already made a significant difference. 

Updated: June 11th, 2014 2:05pm

By: Daniel House

As we were told when Mike Zimmer entered the fold in January, strength training would be a huge emphasis during the 2014 offseason. The Vikings hired strength and conditioning coach Evan Marcus away from the University of Virginia with one task in mind- to make the Vikings stronger and more athletic. Marcus' biggest change from the previous regime was to expand strength training via free weights instead of targeting specific muscle groups with machines. This is done through more team lifting, rather than the previous individualized method under Leslie Frazier's regime. The program is more similar to college weight training, having players working together on bench presses and power cleans, and the program as a whole is designed to put more of a focus on explosion, which will do a better job of giving players football-specific strength.

According to a body building professional, machines don't tone as many muscles as free weights.

"Free weights involve more muscle fibers and more contractions, because you use stabilizing muscles not used when exercising on a machine. Performing an exercise on a machine and lifting something in real life are significantly different, so you may find that while your weights are increasing at the gym, you aren't particularly stronger outside of it. For example, when you bend over to pick up a heavy box, you won't have the opportunity to rest the non-working parts of your body against a machine and isolate all your force to the working muscles. You will need to incorporate more muscles, such as your abs, in order to stabilize yourself while picking up the box. If these other muscles aren't strong as well, you may have a hard time."

From a football standpoint, professionals indicate most athletes in all sports are using this specific training regimen on a daily basis.

"With free weights, the athlete must guide and control the movement throughout the execution. In the process, balance and stability are developed because the entire body participates in every exercise, especially when relatively heavy weights are used. When the machine weights are used, one must do what the machine dictates. The athlete is guided by the machine, rather than by what the body or limbs are intended to do."

From a nutritional standpoint, the Vikings made changes to the food options at the Winter Park facility. They focused on removing items like bacon and placing an emphasis on protein heavy meat such as fish. The training staff partnered with Gatorade to install a protein shake and smoothie bar to promote healthy beverage and desert options. The goal is to include healthy foods, full of nutrient-rich protein to build muscle and drop fats.

The difference can be seen already at Vikings practices in OTA's. Players are developing upper body strength and are dropping fats, while adding muscle. According to Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer, the team has lost a total of 170 pounds of fat, while gaining 70 pounds of muscle.

Players have needed time to adjust to the weight training philosophies and strength coaches have been stressing the importance of proper technique, in an effort to prevent injuries. The Vikings have stressed explosion and total body control, which will make the hot practices in Mankato even more strenuous, as Mike Zimmer looks to improve this team. 


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