It’s no mystery to those who are involved in training American football players that there is great disagreement when it comes to training. Different philosophies abound, of course, but I am talking about the rift that sometimes splits coaching staffs right down the middle. In many situations it is the old methods versus the new methods—a “tried and true” mentality against a “scientifically proven” mentality. There is an underlying tension between the two that is beginning to grow.


I have always had a passion for training. I have been lifting weights since I was 14 and was getting ready to play high school football in Kaysville, Utah. My high school coaches were doing their best to prepare us physically. Yet, looking back, I realize that they had no idea what they were doing, but by damn they were doing it as hard as they could. While I didn’t play college sports, I instead decided to get into training, which is how I came to know Performance Training Center (PTC) and Mark McLaughlin.


I pulled up to the Performance Training Center facility in the middle of the Portland winter. Having only spoken to Mark on the phone a few times, I had no idea what to expect. Squinting through the thick fog, I found a squatty garage in a ditch next to the freeway that was surrounded by weeds and moss. This was the beginning to what would soon open my eyes to a new kind of training mentality. I met Mark for the first time, and I didn’t’ realize it then, but I was about to be tutored by one of the best athletic coaches in the United States. (Meeting Mark, you would never know from how he acts just how famous he actually is. He’s extremely humble, but he’s also brilliant). Mark adapted a system of training, one that was originally developed for soccer and track athletes, to meet the needs of American football players. His methods are tried and tested, and his athletes have proven it with Super Bowl rings and state championships.

While interning at PTC, I also interned at a local state university in the football weight room. My experience at both facilities offered me a unique perspective on an underlying tension that is driving a widening chasm between the way that teams and private facilities go about developing their football players.http://articles.elitefts.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=40798&action=edit&message=10


At the local state university, I performed typical intern duties during practices and in the weight room. Generally speaking, practices lasted close to two hours. At practice, athletes performed speed work, skill work, and ended with “conditioning,” which pushed the athletes to their breaking point. Vomiting, exhaustion, and muscle cramping were daily occurrences.

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These sessions were often immediately followed by a one-hour weight lifting session. At one point during my internship, athletes were told to lift 100% of their 1RM for bench, squat, clean, and incline bench, and this was over the course of five days of training. (For some, this was immediately after practice). At one point, I saw a 280-pound lineman, after having used incorrect form, drop a 300-pound clean from shoulder height onto his ankles as he fell backwards onto his back. I thought for sure his leg was broken, but thankfully it wasn’t. The players hated lifting sessions. All I basically heard was complaining and the coaches barking for them to get back to work. This, for me, was familiar. It was how my high school weight lifting was and, in my mind, it was the “tried and true” way to prepare to play football.


My experience at PTC was different. At this time, Mark was training Owen Marecic, a Portland native and current fullback with the Cleveland Browns. Training at PTC consisted of testing on the Omegawave followed by an adjustment in daily workout intensity according to the biological readiness readout. This was then followed by 10 to 15 minutes of warm-up. Every set of the workout was closely watched by Mark and consisted mostly of rest time. I never saw Olympic lifts performed. Instead, a wide variety of jumping movements with only bodyweight were performed. In turn, I never heard Mark yell or scream, not even for encouragement. Only the occasional trademark, “come on, man” was uttered in a conversational tone before a heavy set. Everything from bar speed to heart rate was monitored and recorded every single day. In fact, being in the gym was like being in surgery—the focus and intensity were palpable. After a while, I noticed easy conversations and even jokes between sets. Where I was seeing disgust and frustration at the local university, I was seeing smiles and hearing jokes at PTC. This was the scientifically proven method, and needless to say, I was confused. But the difference between the two methods is a subtle one.

Results. Period.

Both the local university and PTC used weights. Both facilities used bench and squat at maximum effort intensities. The sets and reps of training are so similar that if I hadn’t experienced both philosophies at the same time, I might have missed the difference between the two. The difference, however, lies with the athletes themselves. To understand what I mean, it’s helpful to step back and take a look at history.

Research in the former eastern bloc countries was conducted on athletes from infancy to full biological maturity. Sport schools were established where children were groomed and raised from pre-school to the Olympics. Researchers would then do things like record heart rates, draw blood during workouts to analyze lactate levels, and even cut into athletes during their competitive preparation to analyze the muscle tissue. However gruesome the means, research showed that it’s harmful to force athletes through a workout when their biology isn’t prepared or ready for it (results.period.). It also showed that when you do, it crushes the athlete forever, causing irreversible damage and possibly career-ending tragedy. This is especially true of athletes who are still in the four- to five-range of development (LTAD). Factors like PHV, gender, and age-sensitive training periods are all things that cannot be modified through training itself (Drabik, 1997). They come standard in the genetic package of the athlete. Simply stated: athletes, to a certain extent, come as they are.