No Rest For The Weary


An NFL football game has often been described as organized chaos. The Green Bay Packers' weight room in some ways fits that description these days.

The Packers are in their third week of a nine-week offseason strength and conditioning program, and four days per week the weight room is abuzz with, and a blur of, activity.

Under new strength and conditioning coordinator Dave Redding, the players are packing an intense workout of weights, flexibility and other core exercises into a 1-hour, 50-minute window during which they're constantly on the go. And seemingly no one is doing the same thing, with the new program Redding and assistant Mark Lovat have designed giving the players the freedom to choose from a variety of lifts at each stage.

"This is a great group of guys," Redding said. "They've responded very well, they're having a blast, and they're pushing each other."

Some of the changes from what they've done in the past became apparent to the players immediately on the first day 2½ weeks ago.

For starters, their workout for the day is projected on the wall rather than printed on a card or piece of paper. The projected screen applies to everyone in the room, with each focal point of the workout - say, legwork, for example - offering a handful of different lifts to choose from. The players pick what types of lifts they want to do that day, and get to work.

"This gives them ownership in what they can design, to do their own thing," said Redding, who's in his 23rd year in the NFL and with his fifth team. "Ownership is important. If you give me ownership in something, I'm going to work harder at it."

In addition, because the players aren't carrying around paper on which to record their lifts, there's almost no rest time. They go right from a set of lifts to a core exercise, to another set of lifts and then maybe a rehab or pre-hab exercise that targets a past injury.

Some key lifts are recorded on a card at the end of the workout if the players choose, but those numbers take a back seat to the value of constant activity. The program isn't focused on how much players can lift but rather how much they can flat-out do during their workout.

"In between sets of everything we're doing, these guys are moving, so we're getting a lot of volume done in a very short period of time," Redding said, noting that any player caught sitting down has to do sit-ups, and gets assigned more sit-ups if he argues. "My progression is more about increasing their work capacity as opposed to always increasing their loads.

"It promotes durability, the ability to play four quarters and be strong in the fourth quarter, to avoid nagging little out-of-shape injuries that happen to you, (muscle) pulls and tendinitis and things like that."

After a warm-up in the team gymnasium, each day's workout is split between the weight room and the Hutson Center, where players do more of the running and conditioning, with sprints and other movements appropriate to their position. Some days the workout starts in the weight room and finishes at the Hutson Center, other days it's reversed.

The variety is appreciated, as is taking Wednesday off in the middle of the week. As hard as it is for some players to stay away from the weight room when they're accustomed to working out every day, Redding doesn't want anyone to overdo it. His philosophy is he'd rather have a slightly undertrained athlete than an overtrained one, because the latter is more likely to have a body prone to injury due to a lack of sufficient recovery time.

In addition, overtrained bodies don't make the strength and athletic gains properly rested ones do. That's something Redding himself learned during his football playing days at the University of Nebraska, when his strength coach convinced him to work out only two days per week for a month, and Redding saw more noticeable improvement than when he habitually worked out every day.

"You don't get strong in the weight room, you get strong on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays - sleeping, resting, eating right, replenishing your fluids," Redding said. "Some guys want to get into a mode where they want to work out five, six or seven days a week. That doesn't promote growth. That's too much."

The nine weeks of strength and conditioning will be followed by the organized team activities, which cover four weeks from May 26 through June 18. The offseason program then concludes with the full-squad mandatory mini-camp from June 23-25 before the players get roughly a month off prior to the start of training camp in late July.

{sportsad300}Overall, Redding's goal while he has the players' undivided attention is to get them as well-conditioned as possible to play four quarters of football 16 times from September through December. He said research shows that most injuries during games occur late in the second and fourth quarters, when fatigue starts to set in, and an intense strength and conditioning program is needed to get players to push through that fatigue and keep themselves healthy and productive over the long haul.

"I want them to be the same guy on the first play of the first game (that they are) on the last play of the last game, to make the block, the tackle, the catch, the throw, the kick to win," Redding said.

Thus far, Redding sees the players responding to the program and pushing each other within their position groups, which is what he likes to see because then all the pushing doesn't have to come from him.

"We're going to peak in nine weeks, and we're going to be at new strength levels, new capacities, new endurance," Redding said, "and hope they've gained the durability and the flexibility and the mindset to be ready for a hard, long season."

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