Inside 'Bama Football's Weight Room
Alabama football's rich tradition dates back to the mid 1920s. For the better part of a century, the Crimson Tide was a college football dynasty. However, after a title-less decade, 'Bama football had to rely on the motivation and hard work that engendered the dynasty to reinvigorate their program. And in 2009, the Tide rose again, rolling all the way to the NCAA National Championship.
Though a lot goes into creating a championship team, hard work and dedication are the two pieces head coach Nick Saban focuses on. "Everything we do is Coach Saban's program," says 'Bama S+C coach Scott Cochran. "I am just one of his guys that puts it into play. There is no rocket science behind it, it's just hard work. Coach Saban wants us to be a fast, physical, dominant team. He wants us to be in better shape than the opposition in the fourth quarter. That's the way he coaches—intensely focusing on being perfect in every way—so we have to get the [players] ready for that."
Alabama coaches expect dedication and hard work during the season. But it is in the off-season when champions are formed, so these qualities must be part of each player's mindset—not only so they prepare well, but also so they properly represent themselves, the team and the school at all times.
"You want a totally conditioned athlete, and the words that come to mind are explosive power," Cochran says. "What we try to do is make these guys work harder than they have ever worked—push the envelope further than they have ever pushed it—and see how they respond. We can't simulate [in the weight room] the amount of adversity they will face in a game. But we can get as close to it as possible by getting their bodies completely sore, then pushing them past their limits."
Saban expects every player to achieve the ultimate goals of his Alabama football workout program, which are "to get ready for camp [come fall], and to be as strong and as fast as possible," Cochran explains. "The purpose for that is injury prevention. We are playing in the SEC, a tough conference, against the best. We have to be stronger and work harder than anyone else. That's basically the purpose of the program."
Each day is programmed to be as intense as the previous day, giving the athletes weekends off to recover fully. Coach Cochran says, "[Coach Saban] wants us to be the fastest team on the field and, obviously, to be strong. But the number one thing is speed. So we run four days a week—and we are talking about strain-your-gut running."
From stadium stairs to 110s and agility drills to speed-specific work, the Crimson Tide football team run themselves into the ground, excreting every drop of energy in the offseason to gain every edge against opponents.
For his weight room strength routine, Cochran emphasizes proper technique, as opposed to lifting a larger amount of weight to gain strength. He says, "Everyone who walks in the door, even Mark Ingram ['09 Heisman Trophy Winner], starts the same way. We start everybody off super light when introducing the weight room. [But] it is at a fast pace; we are constantly moving, so the guys see a huge reaction. For example, look at one of the first lifts we do, Clean Pulls. All they are doing is 100 to 135 pounds. Now that is the entire team, not just the freshmen. You can be a fifth year senior and we are still going to start back with technique, because to me, if you can concentrate on and use proper technique, the amount of weight you are going to be able to move is going to be higher."
Affirming Saban's focus on speed, Cochran says, "Today's athletes want to be bigger, but the important thing is speed. You have to spend time on it. Even in theweight room, you can spend time on speed. Jump rope for 30 seconds or do ladder drills between sets. There are a million things you can do for speed. If you weigh 185 pounds now, don't worry about being 200 pounds and putting fat on your body. Muscle will gain you weight. If you are gaining weight properly, you will be able to move faster, be more explosive and be able to knock people around."
Beyond speed and strength, the Crimson Tide are serious about training their minds, too. In fact, mental training is probably what separates them from the rest—the fact that they prepare their minds to deal with the adversity that arises on the field during competition. "Ninety percent of what the athletes deal with is just being in a situation where it is not easy, so we switch things up [in their training] to make it more difficult," Cochran says. "You can't be satisfied with what you just did. This next one has to be better. We use this statement a lot when training: 'You haven't seen me this good. I am better than I was last group. I am better than I was last rep.' It is a state of mind."
Cochran offers an example of how he develops the players' mental toughness. "You do heavy legs, and then you go try and run. We start off light, and the program builds, so the guys have to become tougher. So when it comes to the game, they are climbing that mountain; and as they go, they get better and better. That is Coach Saban's whole plan."
To further develop their mental toughness and increase their capacity to handle adversity in the off-season, Saban makes all his players participate in a character development program twice a week. "Our character development program is basically getting them in the classroom and teaching them how to use their minds, how to talk to themselves," Cochran says. "Coach Saban wants the guys to learn what to say to themselves when the going gets tough. What are you telling yourself? Are you saying it's hard? That it's hot outside? That you're tired? Or are you saying, 'I feel great. I am going to dominate this rep; this rep is going to count right here, right now.'"
Saban also emphasizes writing down personal and team goals and evaluating yourself to see if you are doing everything you possibly can to achieve your goals.
"Football doesn't last forever," Cochran says. "We're trying to build a total person here—not just a champion on the football field, but also a champion in the classroom, a champion in the work place. Football will come to an end, even if you're going to the NFL for 10 years. After that, you are only going to be 32 years old. You have a long life to live. Obviously we are going to help put you in the best situation to get a degree; but at the same time, the character development class really helps each player understand what needs to be done to help himself."
Finally, Cochran encourages every football player who uses the Alabama football workout program to "Start today. Do you think your opponents are taking a break?"