Find out how the USC Trojans carried out their revenge on the entire nation after losing in triple overtime to Cal on Sept. 27, 2003.
An unassuming three-story brick building sits in the heart of University of Southern California’s campus. Heritage Hall, built in 1971, doesn’t even warrant a glance from a passerby, for what makes this building remarkable happens underground, in the basement.
Within this subterranean environment, Trojan warriors are built, molded and prepared to battle rivals from across town and across the country. There are no gimmes for the men of Troy—and they know it. Consecutive national championships in 2003 and 2004 ensure that every time they take the field, it is the biggest, most hyped game of their opponent’s season.
Head Strength and Conditioning Coach Chris Carlisle reigns over Heritage Hall’s concealed kingdom. Every year he produces some of the best football players in the nation, and every week he prepares them for a new challenge. Two of Carlisle’s most notable projects are tailback Reggie Bush and quarterback Matt Leinart—both Heisman Trophy winners and back-to-back All-Americans.
Bush understands and appreciates the impact Carlisle and his program have had on the team. “Coach Carlisle is genuinely concerned about each one of us getting better,” he says. “His training program really gets it done for us. Because of him, we have more energy and enthusiasm in the weight room and on the field. And we are stronger and more powerful all the way through the fourth quarter. I was only 180 pounds when I got here. Now I start the season at 205 and, more importantly, I can still move.”
Leinart’s gains have been even more substantial. Stepping on campus as a 190-pound beanpole, he’s become a 240-pound Heisman Trophy-brandishing stud.
These and other overall improvements resulted from Carlisle’s college football workout program, which emphasizes three priorities: movement, tempo and core development. Although he knows it might be hard for some to accept, Carlisle does not place a premium on building huge, massively strong athletes. But anyone who doubts his program can simply walk up the stairs from the basement weight room to the lobby of Heritage Hall. The dazzling display of national championship and Heisman trophies will quickly dispel all doubts.
Following is USC’s training philosophy. Use it to help you and your teammates get your priorities straight. And carry out the revenge you vowed.
College Football Workout Program
Developing athletes with speed, quickness and agility is Carlisle’s top priority. “We train to move,” he says. “Pete Carroll told me from the start that he wants guys who can move. Anyone can spend a lot of time getting big and strong, but that doesn’t prepare him athletically. I am not trying to develop refrigerators, because all they do is sit in the corner.”
Carlisle’s approach also allows USC coaches to focus more on game preparation. He explains: “I teach athletic movement, so our coaches can coach football. Since they don’t have to implement extra movement drills in practice, they can emphasize things like strategy and an opponent’s tendencies. Our team is a step ahead before we even take the field.”
Carlisle’s Movement Tools
The Trojans reap the most valuable benefit of Olympic Lifts—explosive ability—by emphasizing bar speed. Carlisle says, “We work speed of movement on the platforms. So when we replicate the movements on the field, they are equally fast and explosive.”
Carlisle has a simple mantra about performing these lifts: how to, how fast, how much. The Trojans first concern themselves with learning proper form, even if it means starting with a broomstick and moving to an unweighted bar. Once form is to Carlisle’s liking, speed of movement is the goal. Once he approves that, only then do the Trojans think about with how much weight is on the bar.
Plyometrics are a mainstay of most college football programs. But the USC team performs them with a Trojan twist; they focus on landing more than jumping. Carlisle says, “When a player jumps in a game situation—whether it is from a pump fake, chop block or jump cut—he has to be ready to move immediately upon landing to either pursue a ball carrier on defense or run to daylight on offense. He can’t be stuck in mud and waste time when his feet touch the ground.”
The Trojans learn to land through a jump progression of both vertical and horizontal jumps. They begin by performing sets of jumps with landings; progress to jumping, landing and exploding into a sprint; and then polish their skill by learning to jump, land and react to a coach’s cue.
Tight hips have no place on the football field. “A main concern is teaching these guys to open their hips. Sometimes, guys get really tight in the hips when they start lifting a lot of weight,” Carlisle says. “These guys are tremendously gifted athletes before I even get to work with them. I can greatly improve that by teaching them how their body works and how to open their hips properly.”
Every speed ladder painted on the floor of the Heritage Hall basement has a purpose. The Trojans hit up speed ladder work almost every time they set foot in the room. “Foot quickness can be worked and improved every day,” Carlisle says. “You might be big and powerful, but if you can’t drop your center of gravity and move quickly, you won’t gain leverage on the field.”
Carlisle and company pass on the common practice of conditioning athletes at the end of a football session. “An additional 10 minutes of running at the end of practice doesn’t prepare you for the fourth quarter,” Carlisle says. “The gasser pace is way too slow, and just ends up being punishment. All through practice players know they will run at the end, so they conserve energy through practice and get less training.”
Instead, the Trojans perform their conditioning at game speed. Carlisle makes them exert full effort “so they don’t have to turn it up a notch when game time arrives.”
During conditioning, the players replicate the movements used in their respective positions, and perform bursts and changes of direction for seven to 10 seconds with a 20- to 30-second recovery, which mimics the pace of a game. For example, backs and receivers run pass patterns at full speed, come back to the line and then repeat. Offensive linemen perform pulls or other blocking techniques, while defensive players pursue, change direction and retrace after the ball.
2) Trojan Tempo
An intense activity level is the first thing you notice upon entering the USC weight room. There is no sitting down, as the football team moves through each exercise like a disciplined army of warrior athletes.
Carlisle says, “We prepare at the highest level and practice at the highest level so that we can play at the highest level. Sitting around in the weight room carries onto the field; they’ll be sloppy and lazy out there. The tempo we use every day sets a tone for their whole existence on the field.”
The team’s entire 45 minutes in the weight room mimics the pace on the football field. Carlisle allows only 30 to 45 seconds of rest between exercises and supersets many lifts. This tempo is an invaluable conditioning tool. “The heart is a big, dumb muscle. It doesn’t know what you are doing— whether you are running or pushing a weight,” he says. “All it knows is that it needs to pump oxygenated blood through your body. With a high intensity level and fast tempo, your heart will be pumping the whole time.”
USC’s football team doesn’t have a 500 pound bencher or a 700-pound squatter. Carlisle is quite happy, though, with what he calls a 3/4/5 guy—300-pound clean, 400-pound bench, 500-pound squat—which, according to Carlisle, is more than enough to be an outstanding player. “It takes too much time to focus so much on strength alone,” he says. “You have to take long rests between sets, which you don’t get on the field.”
“When I speak at conventions, the first thing I put on the board is our bench routine. Not because it is most important, but because that’s what everyone wants to see. We only spend seven minutes on the bench; it’s not a priority for us. I don’t get it when I hear about people spending 30 minutes on it. You could’ve done so many other things in that time.”
Although the Trojan tempo takes getting used to, its results are worth the struggle. “Our athletes’ bodies and minds learn to deal with stress in our weight room so they can handle it on the field,” Carlisle says. “By the first game, guys have experienced more stress and contact than they had in their entire high school career. It can take a guy up to a year to get his mind right.”
A weak core is the most common deficiency Carlisle sees in freshmen. Some never focused on the region, while others trained it improperly. “You need to work your core in an upright fashion, not flat on your back,” he says. “This is the only way to improve your core’s rotational and stabilizing strength. The only time on the field you use your core in the sit-up motion is when you’re bent over in the huddle.”
A strong, stabilizing core is necessary to transfer strength from the weight room to the field. “Without a solid surface behind you, the only way to exert force—with your legs or upper body—is through a strong core. It acts as a bench behind you, so you can stand firm and deliver a blow.”
There is no sitting down, as the football team moves through each exercise like a disciplined army of warrior athletes.
• Perform specified drill down length of ladder
• Jog back around to start and immediately perform next drill
Carlisle’s Comments: Move quick, not fast. Don’t think about getting down the ladder fast, but focus on keeping your feet moving in and out of each rung quickly. We mix things up by alternating linear and lateral drills each pass. I make sure they aren’t sliding their feet, and I listen for a quick tapping, not a shuffling.
HURDLE HIP MOBILITY
• Place alternating high and low hurdles in straight line
• Beginning at right of low hurdle, raise left leg over, and then right
• Step forward and squat underneath next hurdle and slide to right without bending at waist
Carlisle’s Comments: This routine helps the guys warm up their hips and improve joint mobility. You have to be mobile in this explosive region to be able to move. We make sure they don’t lean to the side when they go over the hurdle and that they don’t bend forward when they go under.
• Start with shins touching bar
• Grip bar just outside athletic stance
• Get into deadlift position with back locked, shoulders up, and abs and chest flexed
• Explode by fully extending hips, knees and ankles and forcefully shrugging
Carlisle’s Comments: Any time you train your explosive joints—the hips, knees and ankles—to go from 90-degree angles to fully extended, you increase your explosiveness on the field. If you slow things down and look at an athlete tackling, blocking or coming out of a stance, the joint angles are the same as with these Olympic movements.
A football player doesn’t need to concern himself with the catch portion of the Olympic movements, especially in season. The clean pull works the full range of the triple extension without placing additional strain on the shoulder, elbow and wrist joints, which may be sore or strained during the season. In addition, sometimes the purpose of the power clean is defeated by technique. If an athlete is too concerned with the catch, he begins it too soon and doesn’t bring his hips all the way through to full extension.
1) Front Rotations
• With partner standing in front, assume split stance holding five-pound plate in front of you
• Rotate left and right touching partner’s hand on each side for 20 seconds
• Repeat with opposite leg forward
2) Rear Rotations
• With partner standing behind you, assume split stance holding five-pound plate in front of you
• Rotate left and right touching partner’s hand behind you on each side for 20 seconds
• Repeat with opposite leg forward
3) Overhead Rotations
• Assume split stance holding five-pound weight overhead
• For 20 seconds, rotate left and right, pausing each time in the center
• Repeat with opposite leg in front
Carlisle’s Comments: You want to transfer your weight from the ball of one foot to the ball of the other as you rotate. Keep your core tight and drawn in the whole time. Follow your shoulders with your eyes as you go from side to side.
• Begin with bar on back in athletic stance with toes pointing slightly out
• Focus on high point on wall in front of you
• Squat down with control and good posture until thighs are just below parallel; keep weight back on heels
• Drive upward out of squat into starting position; keep eyes up and chest out
Carlisle’s Comments: Squats are great for developing mass and strength in the lower body. When performed properly, it is a great workout for the core as well. Being able to stabilize the weight when it is on your back really helps solidify the abdomen and lower back.
• Begin with bar on back and front foot on box
• Using only front leg, drive up onto box until leg is straight
• Forcefully drive back leg up until knee is at waist level
Carlisle’s Comments: The game of football consists of many one legged movements. If one of your legs is capable of running a 4.5 and the other leg can only run a 4.8, then you will run a 4.8. The single-leg nature of this exercise helps you overcome such deficiencies and develop strength equally on both sides.
This movement also develops explosion, proprioception and core strength, because you have to balance on one leg. It mimics proper running form with the toe up-knee up action. Picture a D-end or anyone else in his football stance—one leg is ahead of the other. It is clear to see how this applies to the game.
ALTERNATE DUMBBELL INCLINE
• Hold dumbbells with arms fully extended
• Lower one dumbbell with control while keeping opposite arm extended
• Drive lowered dumbbell upward until arm is extended
• Repeat on other side
Carlisle’s Comments: When the off arm is straight, it is still working hard from an isometric contraction. This is similar to when a lineman works down the line and keeps one arm locked out while he punches with the other one, or when a linebacker has to keep a blocker off his body and make a play with the other. You get great core work because you’re staying tight and stabilizing throughout the set.
ROMANIAN DEADLIFT (RDL)
• Hold bar in upright position with slight flex in knees
• Bend forward at hips and slide bar down front of legs keeping back flat
• Drive hips backward and lower bar as far as possible without changing flex in knees or spine position
• Move upward in same fashion to standing position
Carlisle’s Comments: RDLs are a great closed-chain hamstring and glute exercise, meaning the feet are in contact with the floor. This is the best way to train these muscles because that is how they are used on the field. When I see a guy with really developed glutes that sit on top of really developed hamstrings, I know that there is no way these muscles can hold up, because they are overbuilt. RDLs work the two muscles in conjunction with each other so an imbalance or overdevelopment of one does not occur.
This circuit consists of 18 machine exercises in 34 minutes. The Trojans go through the circuit twice with only 15 seconds rest between each exercise. Although Carlisle might change the exercises week to week, he always alternates push and pull movements.
Free Weight Circuit
Set up the same as Machine Circuit, but all exercises are done with free weights.
THE APPLE PIE EFFECT
My mom is a great cook. When I was little, she made all kinds of dishes, from beans to pasta. Everything she made was good, and I ate it all. But what I remember the most are my mom’s desserts, especially her apple pie. I always walked away from the table remembering her apple pie instead of the dinner, because it was the last thing I ate—and because it was so damn good. I couldn’t wait for her next dinner.
This is why I have the guys work their arms last. Because it’s the last thing they do and they walk out of here with their arms pumped up and bigger, they want to get back in here and hit it again. It becomes more of a “get to” situation rather than a “got to.” They walk in the weight room and ask me, “What do we get to do today?” Not “What do we got to do today?” —Carlisle
Enjoy your slice
Targeting one or two specified muscle groups, the Trojans perform a series of exercises that thoroughly fatigue the muscles at the end of a workout. They move immediately from one exercise to the next and perform 10 repetitions on each. Then they rest and repeat the series a second time. Carlisle and his assistants create the circuits by experimenting with their own workouts. “We know we have something good when it really starts to hurt,” he says.
Treat yourself to some apple pie with these arm-busting circuits.
• Bentover Rows
• Rear Delt Raises
• Barbell Curls
• Close-Grip Bench
• Push-ups on Medicine Ball
• Partner Medicine Ball Bench
• DB Shoulder Press
• Front Raise and Punch (10 front raises and then 10 punches at shoulder level)
• Overhead Tricep Extension
For obvious reasons, Matt Leinart’s in-season workout differs from that of the Trojans’ younger athletes and positional players. Because he has been training longer, his focus is on maintenance and remaining healthy throughout the season.
Carlisle explains, “This guy is a fifth year, Heisman-winning quarterback. We’ve already developed him as an athlete, so he doesn’t have to spend a lot of time trying to improve. He used this program last year, and it got him the Heisman and our team the national championship. Since it ain’t broke, we’re not trying to fix it.
“Typically, I get about a year with a guy when he comes in as a freshman quarterback. I help him build his body and further develop his athleticism in that time. Once he establishes himself and takes over the reins as the team’s QB, priorities shift. At that point, it’s about making sure he is ready to play and his body feels good each week. To do this, we limit the impact on his joints.” Following is the in-season QB workout Leinart uses to stay fresh and fit.
• Stand in hack squat machine with shoulders under pads
• Keeping core tight and knees behind toes, lower with control until thighs are parallel to ground
• Drive up into starting position
DUMBBELL SPLIT SQUAT
• Holding dumbbells at side, assume split-legged position
• Keeping front knee behind front toes, lower into lunge position until back knee almost touches ground
• Drive up into starting position
CABLE CHEST PRESS
• Stand in split-stance in front of cable machine gripping handles at chest level
• With tight core and slight forward lean, drive hands forward until arms are fully extended and hands are together
• Alternate front foot each set
UNDERHAND CABLE FLIES
• In split stance, stand in front of cable machine holding handles with underhand grip at waist level
• With tight core and slight forward lean, drive arms forward and up until hands meet at shoulder level
• Alternate front foot each set
Complete entire circuit, rest and repeat
1) Trap-Bar Shrugs
• Grasp trap-bar or barbell at hip width
• Keeping arms straight, shrug shoulders upward
2) Lateral Dumbbell Raises
• Raise dumbbells from hips out to side until at shoulder level
3) Single Arm Front Dumbbell Raises
• Raise dumbbell from front of hip forward until at shoulder level
• Lower with control and repeat with other arm
4) Rear Dumbbell Raises
• Bend over with flat back
• Raise dumbbells to side until at shoulder level; keep palms facing floor
1) Single Arm Pushdown
• Grasp handle of tricep pushdown machine
• Keeping elbow tight to ribs, drive arm down until straight
• Raise weight with control; repeat with other arm
2) Overhead Tricep Extension
• Sit on bench holding dumbbell or plate overhead with both hands
• Without allowing elbows to splay out, lower weight behind head
• Without changing elbow position, drive up until arms are straight again
Reggie Bush Bench Test
Reggie Bush 40-Yard Dash