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Q&A With Strength and Conditioning Coach Luke Richesson

Editor's note: sat down with the assistant coaches to talk about their position groups before the coaches left Dove Valley for vacations in mid-June.

Last year was your strength and condition program's first year. Is more efficient this year now that you don't have to install your system from scratch?"For sure. I think the big thing is that guys understand the methodology. They understand the mindset, they understand the expectations. Although we add to the blueprint, the foundation is still the same. Absolutely, it was a good, clean transition into year two."

Were you happy with how the first year went?"Overall, yes. If you look at just the realm of strength and conditioning, I thought it went well. Obviously, there are areas of improvement that we'll be looking to target. I think understanding the expectations of how to train in-season – I think that's a big area that I think most teams are looking to improve. I think our guys did an excellent job of working all the way up until the end."

How was it working with Peyton Manning last year as he was coming back from an injury?"I think the big thing for Peyton last year was that we were all getting to know each other and understanding, with his injury to his neck, what he was physically incapable of doing. If you look at last year to this year, it's really not even the same guy. If you had to put a term to our level of training, he was at a lot of foundation-type work, almost physical therapy-type rehab exercise. Whereas this year, there's no limitations. He's full-blown training, and it shows in his strength. His strength is significantly up from last year."

Ronnie Hillman's weight is significantly up from the end of last season. How did you and your staff help with that?"Well, that was a goal throughout the year, and I think a big part of it was understanding nutrition. Again, he was a younger guy who had never played professional football. He was the youngest player in the NFL last year – and still is one of the youngest. At the end of the year, he was high 170s. He showed up in April at 184. He just clocked out at the end of minicamp at 195 pounds. The exciting thing is that you can tell there's been a mentality switch of what it takes to be a pro. I don't think the weight issue will be an issue moving forward. He grasps it, he understands that you have to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. You can't miss meals. It's a full-time job and he's done a very nice job of addressing that so far."

Von Miller is another guy who has said he wants to play a little bit heavier than he has in the past and he will come back before camp a little bit earlier to work out with you guys. What's your approach with him?"Last year, during the downtime that he had for five weeks, he wanted to get away and do some things like yoga. I think he now understands that was not the way to prepare for an NFL season. I think the thing about Von is that he's still young himself and he's still raw in his development. By midseason or the latter part of the season, he got up around 250 and he found that he was more explosive and powerful. I think he likes that feeling, so getting his strength numbers up and addressing his lean mass – the amount that he carries – I think that's something he's keenly aware of. I'm excited that he's staying with us this summer so we can make that push for him."

*What's the key for adding weight, but still maintaining speed and quickness, for guys like Von or Ronnie?  *"It's a two-fold approach. One, the methodology. Some guys will go about putting size on and they'll do it with a bodybuilding program where they focus on arms and shoulders. For us, it's about where you're getting your wheelhouse, your power. For us, the front of your body is for show, the back of your body is for go. We put a lot of emphasis upon the hamstrings, the glutes, the lower back, the back, the triceps. They'll get the right training to make sure that they're going to address those needs. The second approach is nutrition. That means making sure that they understand what their body is going to respond well to, the timing of meals and how much they need to eat. It's not just focusing on the days they train, but also the weekends. What are they eating on the weekends? I think guys who have trouble maintaining weight, not eating enough on the weekends is a cause, so that'll be big for those two guys."

With the offense picking up the pace a little bit this year, a lot of players have talked about conditioning. Have you guys altered your program at all to help them get up to speed?"With our altitude, with the tempo that we work at and the amount of volume that we do, a lot of it becomes managing fatigue. That means making sure we have in place regeneration protocols, the right soft-tissue, the right flexibility, and making sure that we're prescribing the right stability exercises. Also, power. Those would be the biggest things that we've addressed."

What kinds of programs do you put together for the guys over break between minicamp and training camp?"Up to this point, we were strength and power based. We were really trying to get our guys as strong as we could and as powerful as possible. We had their conditioning at a level where they were healthy and could compete in OTAs, but the goal was not to have them ready to play four quarters of football. So now, we'll transition into more football conditioning. You'll see even better drops in body fat. We're making sure that they're ready to step into training camp and compete with everything they've got."

Do you create individual programs for this time or general guidelines?"There are general guidelines. It's difficult because you don't know what guys are going to have access to. But within that, they do have individualized heart rate zones, individualized strength and power numbers for each exercise. For the most part, it's a general plan and it's something that can be easily repeated throughout different gyms."

How has having a full staff to work with the players helped with accomplishing results?"With a staff of four people, I really hope that we're setting a trend in the NFL. Jason George, Anthony Lomando and Mike Eubanks have been with me for a while and really help us execute our program at the level we expect. We're able to provide quality training and make sure that everyone is doing the exercise correctly. Plus we're able to give more personalized and individualized attention to all the players. Without having Jason, Anthony and Mike, I don't think that the system would be the same."

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