FROM THE WEIGHT ROOM TO THE FOOTBALL FIELD
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --Working out in an NFL weight room is not about putting up the biggest possible bench press numbers. For NFL players, lifting is all about improving on-field performance.
The Broncos' new strength and conditioning program aims to do just that.
"In a sense, it's more core-related, stability and flexibility—things of that nature that the football field relates to," Pro Bowl defensive end Elvis Dumervil said about the new program. "I think it makes it more of a functional strength. There are a lot of great things I think that you can implement toward football that we do in the weight room. I'm very excited about it."
Dumervil, along with about 30 of his teammates will stay in Denver for much of the offseason to work with the new strength and conditioning staff even though there is no official team program in place until training camp begins in late July due to NFL rules.
"He does a lot of different things with your whole body," defensive end Jason Hunter said. "We do a lot on the power plates, a lot of stretching. We work our lower back and different parts of the body that you need to be solid on the football field. Balance is real big working with him. Those types of things right there are definitely helpful and are going to translate to me playing faster and being stronger on the field."
For the staff, their goal isn't just to get players ready for the beginning of the season, but to maintain their strength and explosiveness throughout the year.
"It's funny because people take different approaches," Strength and Conditioning Coach Luke Richesson said. "Some processes say do the least amount and just try to keep them fresh, but then I think you sort of lose your edge and become dull. Our thought process is that you take an intelligent approach to what you ask an athlete to do, but you still train. You must train. It may not be the longest workout but you will do the things that need to keep you on the field, whether its soft tissue or flexibility or mobility."
With the new equipment that Richesson and company have installed in the Broncos' weight room, players' results are easy to track.
"The way we do it, with all the Kaiser equipment, you're looking to see how they are acclimating and avoid over-training," Richesson said. "So for us, on the Kaiser equipment, everything is tracked at once. The higher the (wattage) number, the better the power."
Tracking the numbers makes it easy for the strength staff to monitor a player's workouts throughout the season.
"If there's ever two weeks back to back that their personal record isn't getting broke, then we know something is off," Richesson said. "Whether it's sleep, nutrition, a personal issue is stressing them, or they have something bothering them that they're not telling us – a hamstring, a quad, a groin. So the numbers don't lie."
Players like having the easy access to the numbers as well. When results are tangible, it provides extra incentive for a player to continue pushing his own progress.
"I like to see how much power I'm generating and it's been something that's been working really well for us," Linebacker Joe Mays said. "To see how much power you're generating and making sure you're doing the right amount of reps is great."
"Guys aren't working for nine weeks and not seeing any growth," Richesson added. "They're seeing the strength and the power gains."
Having each player's results out and in the open increases the accountability that players have to themselves and to their teammates.
"To be able to track these numbers and have measurables as many as thirty weeks including the playoffs and a run to the Super Bowl, those are invaluable," Richesson said. "You couple that with the education on the nutrition and the recovering and the regeneration, the seamless integration with Greek, you paint them in a pretty tight box that they can't screw up."
KEEPING PLAYERS ON THE FIELD
A key component of Richesson's program is helping players prevent injuries – and rehab those injuries should they occur.
Richesson's staff communicates daily with the training staff to go over rehabilitation programs for specific players.
"For us, to be able to work with 'Greek' (Head Athletic Trainer Steve Antonopulos), and see someone that is truly a master at his craft, I think that's probably been as high a point for us as anything," Richesson said. "Being able to work side by side with him, and understand his mentality and his approach. He's welcomed us with open arms and taken us under his wing."
Since the training staff and strength staff strive toward similar goals, Richesson says the two groups work together to foster a plan to get a player back to full health.
"Understanding what (Antonopulos) needs to accomplish, what I need to accomplish, and how do we merge those plans together, it's been outstanding," he said. "Whenever you can get with a guy who has been in the business as long as he has and knows not the tricks of the trade, he's the master of the trade, we take note. The rest of his crew has been outstanding. There's always one of his guys in here if it's not Greek himself. We touch base before and after and it's been excellent."
One player that has seen that communication first hand is quarterback Demaryius Thomas, who has worked extensively with both groups as he continues his rehab.
"This injury has been a new experience for me," he said. "I'm following the orders of 'Greek' and Luke, who have been excellent in my rehab and training. I'm taking their orders."
The cooperative rehabilitation approach stems from something Richesson learned working with Athlete's Performance Institute (API) in Phoenix.
"You have to be able to pull the rope in the same direction for the athlete," he said. "I think that, for me, being able to work side by side of an athlete, if they had an ankle mobility issue, pulling that athlete out of the workout going right to the athletic trainer – or the athletic trainer watching the squat with you and making the mobility adjustment, and being able to learn those keys."