In an unprecedented move, Men’s Fitness has gotten an inside look at how five NFL teams changed their game in preparation for the 2014 season. These hard-hitting stories will reveal what the players have been doing differently during this offseason compared to last year, in addition to providing workouts for you to try on your own. Check out what it really means to be NFL Fit with our exclusive preseason coverage.
Last season, the Cincinnati Bengals won the AFC North Division—but lost their wild card game. Again. In fact, the Bengals are winless in the post-season since 2011. But the Bengals are poised to shake off their playoff woes, thanks to some offseason training tweaks.
During the offseason, the Bengals had two main goals as a team: to utilize sports technology to improve performance, and to stay healthy, according to Bengals strength and conditioning coach Chip Morton. With the regular season approaching, Morton says the squad has pretty much accomplished those goals.
“If you had positive changes during the off-season, then you have to address those similar training patterns during the competitive season,” says Morton. “We’ve got a really good off-season program and the challenge is to keep a really good in-season program."
Here’s a closer look at how five training factors may bring the Bengals over the wild-card hump.
This past off-season marked the first time the Bengals began incorporating a high-tech GPS tracking device that allows you to get a handle on what total distance the players are covering, the number of sprints they ran above a certain threshold, and the number of accelerations and deccelerations in a given training session, among other metrics, says Morton. “And all those numbers can be tag-traded down with a metabolic load for the players," he says. "The loads are the players experiencing in a given workout session or practice.”
Morton breaks down human movement into three basic patterns: a squatting motion, a hip-hinge movement (like in jumping or a snatch), and ground moves such as crawling and rolling. Going into the 2014 season, Morton placed more emphasis on the importance of movement training.
“We spent a lot more time on movement-corrective exercises,” says Morton. “We track squatting, hinging, pushing and pulling movements year-round as opposed to just looking at bench presses or squats or power cleans.”
In the spring, the Bengals trained four days a week, Monday through Thursday. During the season there’s a two-day minimum for the active roster, while the practice squad players have a third opportunity to train on Friday, says Morton.
This off-season, the athletes used the TRX Suspension Training System and kettlebells more compared to last year, in addition to weight sleds and chains for resisted pushing and pulling. The Bengals have been hitting the ground more often to train like, well, a Bengal would.
“We’ve spent more time on the ground working on crawling patterns, rolling and getups this offseason,” says Morton. “This helps core, hip, and shoulder stability and strength.”
“Going into camp [linebacker] Vontaze [Burfict] is about three pounds heavier, so a little bit bigger and stronger than last year going into camp,” says Morton. “He’s been coming into the gym first thing in the morning and getting his work done.”
Burfict, who went undrafted in 2012 and was named to the Pro Bowl in 2013, is the anchor of the Bengals defense and looks to solidify his role as a top-notch defensive player.
“His level of passion for the game is unique and I think everybody sees that,” Morton says. “Passion is passion. It’s not fabricated or put on.”
Going into the 2013 season, the Bengals made a change to the way they run training camp. Instead of having players just come in and do a workout on training days, the strength and conditioning staff set up mobility sessions on nontraining days to hit areas of improved performance and recovery. Also, it kept the coaches and players together.
“We have contact with our players every day during camp,” says Morton. “We’ll have strength-training sessions in the weight room alternating with mobility sessions in our auxiliary gym where we foam roll, do hurdles, suspension training, kettlebell exercises, and balance work.”
As part of 2014 season preparation, the Bengals have solidified this “check in” approach in an effort to become better football players by Week 1.
The Bengals never stray from one exercise: the squat.
“We squat everyday, whether it be body weight, barbell back/front squat, or dumbbells (unilateral or two dumbbells), because a squat is one of those basic patterns we all should strive to maintain that ability as an athlete but also throughout our lives for quality of life.”
Incorporate the king of all exercises into your daily routine to improve breathing, posture, stability, flexibility and strength.