The way of the weights
By David Merrill
MARSHALL-While Southwest Minnesota State football players put in plenty of work on the football field at practice and during games, there is a whole other side that a lot of people don’t see.
The Mustangs keep in football shape with a weight training program that puts emphasis on keeping them healthy for a full season.
What they are doing is working. Last season, SMSU had just a single Week 1 starter that didn’t start their last game.
Mustangs assistant coach Grant Murray heads up the strength and conditioning program.
“When we get to the offseason, our goal is to get the smaller guys to gain weight and gain strength and for bigger guys to maintain weight or slim down and gain strength,” Murray said. “We have different phases of the type of workouts we do. Right now we’re in the phase where we want guys to stay healthy and prevent injuries.
As the Mustangs get deeper into the season, Murray will start scaling the workouts back a little bit due to the beating his players’ bodies will take on a daily and weekly basis.
The emphasis on injury prevention stays with the team throughout the season.
SMSU wants to keep every player as healthy as possible, starter or not.
“Keeping every starter we have on the field, every backup we have ready to play that game. When we get to the offseason, that’s when were going to spend time breaking them down and building them back up,” said Murray.
Players who travel with the team on a regular basis get two workout sessions per week, while players who are redshirting or not traveling with the team lift three times per week.
Players start by loosening up their muscles with a piece of PVC pipe.
They use this to stretch out their muscles and prepare for the exercises ahead.
“It’s just a piece of PVC pipe that you pick up at Menards,” Murray said. “It goes a long ways as far as loosening their muscles and making sure they don’t cramp up during the rest of the workout.”
Scorpions and Swing Throughs
AAfter completing the PVC pipe exercises, the players do some more leg stretches.
All that’s needed for these is an exercise mat. Players lay face down and alternate bringing their knees up to their torso to loosen leg and stomach muscles.
After the knee-ups, kick it up a notch on the difficulty level with scorpions.
The Scorpion is done by bringing the right leg toward the left shoulder and then repeating on the opposite side.
The final exercise in this set focuses on shaping the muscles in the upper body.
Players kneel and lie one hand flat on the ground while taking the other hand and swinging it underneath their chests before alternating hands.
These are some of the most intense workouts the players do, giving most muscles in the body their own individual workout.
Murray identifies these as the most important workouts football players will do in the weight room.
“These deadlifts and Olympic-style lifts require a lot of explosiveness,” Murray said. “The best football players are ones that are explosive. We want a guy to be able to lift as much weight as fast as possible. Sure, a guy might be able to lift thousands of pounds a short way off the ground, but if he can’t do it with any explosiveness, he’s not gaining anything.”
Free weights and muscle tightening
As players reach the end of their workout, they use ropes that act like giant rubber bands.
They will use these to help keep muscles loose. They help improve prevent injuries out on the field.
Before moving on to the final phase, players will use the free weights and do more deadlift exercises while bent halfway over and lifting to their waist.
They do a few sets straight up and down and a few sets in a chainsaw-like motion.
To end the session, players give their muscles one last workout with the use of jumping blocks.
These are stools with enlarged platforms to fit the players feet.
The team keeps various heights of stools in the weight room to tailor to different size of players.
The goal is to jump up on the blocks and land quietly.
Landing with excessive force can cause harm.
“We don’t want to hear feet landing on the board,” Murray said. “Landing with quiet feet is one of the hardest things to do when you first come into the program. If you land hard, it just sends a wave up through your legs and up your entire body, which caused unneeded stress on those muscles.”
Maintaining a healthy diet
While players do plenty to keep their bodies in playing shape while in the weight room, some have to be careful about what they eat off the field.
Diets vary based on what players are trying to accomplish in the weight room.
Wes Bednar, a redshirt freshman safety from Sioux Falls, S.D. is trying to gain weight, muscle, and strength, so his diet isn’t as restrictive.
“I can pretty much eat anything and everything,” Bednar said. “I’m trying to gain weight, so as long as I put my work in in the weight room, I can eat fast food and stuff like that.”
Junior linebacker Blake Pennock, from Clinton, Iowa, is one of the players trying to lose weight.
He keeps himself on a much stricter diet.
“Pennock eats about seven servings per day,” Murray said. Instead of taking in all those calories at once, he spaces them out and keeps his body on a strict regimen.”
The Mustangs coaching staff has figured out a way to keep its players healthy and reduce injuries.
Players have bought into the philosophy of injury prevention and they will hope to see even more positive results.