1 part cutting-edge functional training
1 part traditional style lifting
1 part amazing athleticism
Mix thoroughly for a few seasons; combine with a positive training culture; Serve hot on grass.
The Cincinnati Bengals fell just short of postseason play in 2006, but the team’s superior fitness is undeniable, as they pushed through to win eight games and lose five others by less than a touchdown. Especially dominant was the physically punishing Bengal offense, which ran circles around opposing defenses each time they took the field. “We work the no-huddle offense quite a bit,” says the team’s strength and conditioning coach Chip Morton. “Coach [Marvin] Lewis has always stressed to me that he wants his players fit, so all of our training is purposeful and productive. We set out to challenge the players’ strength, explosion and overall work capacity in the weight room so we can outlast every team we face.”
Morton achieves these goals with his players by strategically blending different training approaches. “Some people in performance training have gotten carried away with all the functional stuff out there,” Morton says. “They have their athletes standing on Dynadiscs for everything, so they end up not getting any true strength work. At the other end of the spectrum, you have the hardcore guys who still only do traditional strength lifts or platform work. I believe that if you position yourself at either extreme, you miss out on a lot of training benefits.”
During the season, when the players are banged up, Morton finds a happy medium that provides the best football-specific results through a “hybrid program that emphasizes strength development with barbells, dumbbells and machines.” He continues, “Since these traditional exercises are done at a controlled pace, we like to mix in some functional and explosive training that involves rotation; a higher rate of force development and speed of movement; and explosive power in the form of slams, throws and jumps.”
Morton blends traditional exercises with modern ones to create complexes. The Bengals roll through each complex with minimal rest between exercises, then take a few minutes before attacking it once again. “Complexes are a great way to get a bunch of different goals accomplished in one package,” Morton says. “They are how we combine traditional strength movements with functional, flexibility, power and core training.”
Using complexes accomplishes another key goal for Morton’s players: “Moving rapidly from one exercise to the next increases the players’ work capacities,” he says. “We have hung our hats on the fact that we know we will be in better shape than our opponents. So even in our strength training, we move quickly.”
A strategic design prevents Morton’s men from sacrificing strength development for off-the-chart conditioning levels. “The ’plexes are designed so that a functional, flexibility, power or core exercise follows a main strength movement,” he says. “If a player is benching, he’ll do two or three other exercises before going back to the bench, or whatever the main strength exercise of the ’plex is. He’s getting enough rest to restore his energy before his next strength set; it’s not just idle rest time. This is very efficient and productive while creating a conditioning effect at the same time.”
The well-conditioned, fast-moving Bengal offense showed Paul Brown Stadium some serious firepower last year. With Rudi, Chad, T.J. and Carson, the team had a 1,000-yard rusher, two 1,000-yard receivers and a QB who passed for 4,035 yards and 28 TDs.
According to Morton, a “positive training culture” boosted the team’s scoring power. “We have a great bunch of guys here who have all learned the importance of preparation,” he says. “Each player has a mental training encyclopedia that they began in high school and added to in college and during their Combine prep. I am here to provide them a service by expanding that encyclopedia. When I see our players coming in on their own and doing the exercises I have shown them, I know that they understand how important it is, which has created a great environment.”
A few bad breaks at the end of the season prevented Cincy from marching into the AFC playoffs like they did in ’05. But it’s only a matter of time before the perfect mix of training gets the loaded, well-conditioned squad back to playing for an NFL title.
Rest only 30 to 60 seconds between sets in each complex, and one to two minutes between complexes. Perform Complexes 1, 2 and 3 twice and 4 and 5 Once.
Pull-ups [Add extra weight if necessary] or Seated Hammer Row
Medicine Ball Standing Rotational Slam
• In athletic stance, hold med ball in front of chest
• Rotate right and raise med ball overhead
• Quickly rotate left and slam ball into ground as hard as possible just outside left foot
• Catch ball on bounce; repeat movement sequence starting from left
Reps: 5 each side, moving continuously
Morton: This gives us a lighter, more explosive version of a pull exercise. We go from a heavy, controlled pull [Pull-ups] to this rapid power set, which really taps into the whole work capacity idea.
Dumbbell Incline Press or Hammer Incline
Bench Press or Hammer Flat Bench
Explosive Bosu Push-up
• Begin in push-up position with hands on floor just outside Bosu
• Lower into push-up until chest barely touches top of dome
• Explode upward to achieve maximum height with body
• Land with hands on top of Bosu
• Slowly walk hands to floor one by one; repeat
Morton: Contract your lats and pinch your scapula together to pack the shoulders. Slowly pull yourself down to the dome with tension to load your pecs, shoulders and triceps. Think of it as compressing a spring and then releasing that energy as explosively as possible. These basically are five one-rep maxes.
Bodyweight Recline Pull
• Place bar on low level in squat rack; then lie with back on ground so bar is lined up with chest
• Hold bar with shoulder-width grip and pull chest to bar, keeping body straight and heels on ground
• Lower with control; repeat
Advanced 1: Raise one leg
Advanced 2: Elevate feet on physioball
Morton: This is another pull exercise that helps balance out pushing or press exercises. You work your lats with the pulling motion, and it’s also a core stabilizer, because you work to keep your body straight.
Dumbbell Lateral Raises
• In athletic stance, hold dumbbells at sides
• Keeping arms straight, raise arms to side until they are parallel to ground and palms are facing floor
Morton: There are no power movements in this shoulder complex. It is all about strengthening the shoulders and keeping them healthy. A lot of guys use the machines when they are beat up.
Dumbbell Rear Delt Raises or Hammer Rear Delt
• Hold dumbbells in front of chest, then bend over at waist, keeping back flat
• Without rocking, raise arms to side
Dumbbell Lying External Rotation
• Lie on right side; hold light dumbbell in left hand
• Bend left arm 90 degrees so that forearm and palm face floor. Keep upper arm tight to side.
• Without changing position of upper arm, rotate forearm up until knuckles face ceiling
• Lower with control; repeat
• Perform on opposite side
Morton: This strengthens the muscles surrounding the ball and socket joint of your shoulder.
• Use partner or machine resistance at back of head
Neck Lateral Flexion
• Use partner or machine resistance on side of head
Reps: 10 each side
• Stand holding dumbbells at sides
• Keeping arms straight, shrug shoulders toward ears
Bicep Curl with 2-inch bar
• Wrap towel or piece of foam around barbell’s grip
• Perform bicep curls with modified grip
Morton: The thicker bar makes this exercise a lot tougher on your forearms to work your grip.
• Holding triceps pushdown handle, extend arms while keeping elbows pinned to ribs
• Fill large bucket with dry rice grains
• Drive forearm into bucket; repeatedly squeeze handfuls of rice in different patterns
Time: 30 seconds each hand
Morton: This strengthens your fingers, hands and grip, which usually aren’t emphasized enough. You use them so much in tackling, blocking and holding onto the ball. The fist is a weapon in football—an object to strike with—so hand strength is obviously important.