STRENGHT AND CONDITIONING PROGRAM
Univeristy of Florida
By Dr. Greg Shepard
Published: Winter 1997
“Are You Committed?” is the question asked on the front cover of the University of Florida Strength and Conditioning Manual. A summer letter sent to Gator football players had the following statement: The SEC and National Championship of 1996 were not achieved by talent alone, but by a daily commitment to be the best conditioned team in the country. As a Gator preparing for the 1997 season, will you challenge yourself to an even greater standard? You have a responsibility to your teammates to report in the best physical condition possible.
The goals of the Gator program are succinct. (1) Increase strength, conditioning, flexibility, speed, power and agility. (2) Improve position skills (3) Improve eating habits (4) Increase mental toughness through discipline and competiveness (5) WIN SEC CHAMPIONSHIP (6) WIN NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP.
The Gator weight room has 50,000 pounds of high-tech equipment which consists of approximately 90% free weights and 10% selectorized machines. However, underlying all this equipment is an emphasis on technique. I observed all the strength coaches hustling from one athlete to the other so they could spot and coach. The manual states, “Technique is very critical at the University of Florida. DO THINGS THE RIGHT WAY.”
Heading the Gator Strength and Conditioning Program is Jerry Schmidt and he is assisted by Rob Glass, Randy Popple, John Grieco and Jerry’s wife Robin. Coach Schmidt was hired from Notre Dame in March of 1995. He started with the Irish as their Strength and Conditioning Coordinator in 1989. While there, he was named in 1991 as the Collegiate Strength Coach of the Year by U.S.A. Sports Fitness. Coach Schmidt has also been the head Strength and Conditioning Coach at Oklahoma State. Some of you BFS readers may remember the feature article we did on Barry Sanders. Well, Coach Schmidt helped with that article in 1988.
The decision to leave Notre Dame for the University of Florida turned out to be a good one. Less than 22 months later, the Gators were crowned national football champions. The University of Florida has over 40,000 students making it the 7th largest in the nation. However, the biggest reason for making the switch was Steve Spurrier.
Coach Spurrier led Florida to its first national championship in just his seventh year at the helm. He also achieved a 53-6 record in the SEC during the same seven years. His overall record of 73-14-1 at Florida ranks as the third best total during the 1990’s.
Steve Spurrier exhorts, “Creating a family atmosphere among the coaches and players is very important. We want an atmosphere where the guys like each other to do well. Teams that believe something good is going to happen for them in the fourth quarter and keep playing hard, find good things do happen . . . I think former players should know that, no matter what, they always have a home here. It is nice to belong to a group, a family, a team, and that does not have to end when you quit playing here.”
When Coach Schmidt arrived at Florida there were only two Squat Racks, One Bench and no Power Clean stations. Now the Gators have 7 Deluxe Squat Racks, 5 Benches, 5 Inclines and 7 Power Clean Platforms. He believes that free weights can make you more explosive and that an athlete can learn to be more explosive. The primary lifts are the Squat and Clean. Coach Schmidt also says, “I want our players to be able to play 70 plays in our heat and humidity. We are getting stronger, we weigh more and we are leaner.”
Coach Schmidt’s number one priority is speed. He works on speed 3 times per week and emphasizes sprint mechanics and overspeed training. “The weakest point in sprinting,” claims Coach Schmidt, “is sprinting mechanics. We work on running form and explosiveness through the ground with the ball of the foot. Plyometrics help our athletes understand this concept. Therefore, Box Jumping, Bounding, Hurdle Hops and Skips are an important part of our overall speed development program.”
Coach Schmidt advises, “Keep your drills simple and not too many. Get really good at a few things. It can be like having too many plays in football.” He loves pulling sleds and does all of his plyometric drills with weighted vests in order to get used to what football pads feel like. He starts with six pounds and works up to a 12-pound vest after 12 weeks.
“Everybody looks good in shorts,” challenged Coach Schmidt, “but what about when you put the pads and helmet on.
Coach Schmidt has been coaching for 17 years. I asked him about the differences in athletes over this span of time. “Players have gotten stronger but the big difference is in their speed. Players today are much faster. The high school coaches are doing a better job every year and every year I think they just can’t get any bigger but they do.
“I would advise the high school coach to work his players hard on the Squat, Clean and Speed Development. Be able to watch, see and measure improvement in whatever you decide to work on. Organization is the key.
“You also lift to prevent injuries. For example, we have two Glute-Ham machines. I feel that exercise is really important and believe it may be the primary reason we have only had one hamstring pull in two years.
“Look at what is important today. Do today what will make you better tomorrow. Consistency is the key. You have got to stick with it not just get fired up for a couple of weeks and then quit. Make sure you get good rest and excellent nutrition. It all comes down to execution and motivation. Help your players understand the why and how of what you are doing.”