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What Do You Mean You Guys Don\'t Bench? Not At All?

Do things right; Do the right things; the key to optimizing weight training performance
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"Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect"—Mark Twain

I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve had to answer the title of this article in the past four years—from all factions: fans, players, parents and even other coaches. As you well know, in our profession anytime we go against the norm there is some inherent risk. There is safety in conformity. “If the league champ is running the spread, then we will too. So and so runs the 3-5, we do too.” That way, criticism is deflected to other areas. I have to admit that I’m guilty of it too.

After our 1-9 first season where we ran the unconventional single wing, we quickly moved to the popular spread offense ourselves.

Sometimes when faced with a problem; however, you have to take a risk.

You have to turn to someone who knows more than you—even if convention would say otherwise. Remember, a well-beaten path does not always make the right road. During my interview process before being named head coach at Mathews High School (a division 6 high school in Northeast Ohio), I was introduced to our high school principal Lou DeMarco. He was brutally honest when he exclaimed that the past problems of the football program were, in his opinion, mainly physical.

DeMarco should know. In addition to being a high school educator and administrator for the past 42 years, he has been heavily involved with USA weightlifting since his teenage years. He has trained dozens of athletes—some who have gone on to major colleges to participate in athletics, others who have become Olympians (see chart for DeMarco’s coaching experience.) DeMarco, himself, was a national class athlete who was by and large “self taught.” He was inspired by his boyhood idol, now good friend, Olympic gold medalist and eight-time world champion Tommy Kono. In fact, last year, Kono spoke to our entire student body before his visit to the Arnold Classic in Columbus.

It didn’t take our coaching staff long to figure out that Mr. DeMarco was right. It became apparent to us, if not the casual observer who blamed our troubles on the single wing offense, that we were indeed out muscled most of the time. After a particularly embarrassing loss where we gave up 50 points before halftime, I went to DeMarco for help. That night he told me to meet him in his office on Monday and we would work out a plan.

It was in that meeting that I realized how uneducated I really was when it came to strength training. It was previously my plan to simply do what we did when I was in school and when I was an assistant coach at the school I graduated from. I thought all lifting was pretty much the same. The only semi-educated opinion that I had ever made was that free weights in general were better than machines.

I have since learned much from DeMarco and the material he has presented to me:

1. There are three types of weight training. I’m simplifying here: A. The body builder develops nonfunctional muscles for any sport (the Ferrari without an engine). B. The power lifter develops absolute strength which is a non-factor in the development in speed (the tank—strong, but slow). C. The Olympic lifter develops speed strength that is essential for any sport (the rocket—fast and explosive).

2. Rest is paramount. The most common undetected mistake in weight training is over-training. This goes back to trying to keep up with the Jones’s. We as coaches tend to think that more is better, but athletes will quickly plateau if they are worked too hard.

3. Weekly routines should be cycled. In other words, athletes should not simply try to start at a specific weight and try to continually climb with steady increases. Many programs I have seen require athletes to just keep adding weight. The percentage of weight lifted and reps for the routine are often stagnant, or increased steadily until a new max is reached.

Our routine is quite different. DeMarco has designed a program wherein our athletes plug in their personal records into our computer program (Microsoft Excel©) and is very simple to follow but changes percentages based on variables that should bring optimal results (see diagrams 1,2).

In week one of our monthly program, our athletes will typically complete a “light” work out. Week two will many times be our “heavy” routine and week 3 will be a medium to heavy workout. We re-test during our 4th week, which allows our athletes full recovery and ample rest as we only complete one of our four lifts on a given day. We then use the new personal records to build the next month’s program.

4. Strength training is a year round proposition. I know this is nothing new to many of you, but it was something that we had to sell to our team. We are lucky here at Mathews that DeMarco or myself can monitor the weight room throughout the school day so that our athletes who play other sports, which we strongly encourage, can still weight train. We have designed a more flexible three-day a week schedule so that the athlete can work around game days and other obstacles. During our football season, since it is so tough on the body, we reduce the number of repetitions and load the bar with high percentages and hope to maintain our overall strength.

5. Less can definitely be more. As stated in the title, our athletes do not bench press. I am not going to try and convince you that the bench press has no value to the football player (although I think it and the 40 yard dash time are the two most overrated barometers in football), but it is not a priority to us. In creating our program, we wanted to, #1, prioritize our lifts. In fact, we removed the benches all together as not to detract from what we felt was important. We didn’t want to create an atmosphere where ten guys were lying on their backs trying to out do each other in something that we don’t feel is a necessity. We needed to, #2, see bodies in the weight room. You may have the most comprehensive program in the world but if you can’t get your players to commit to it, then its useless. In focusing on four lifts we are only asking our athletes to put in 35 minutes, four days a week. I’ve yet to find the excuse that doesn’t allow a kid to squeeze in a little more than a half hour for training. Our kids don’t miss sessions because we are not beating them up. On Mondays and Thursdays we full squat and power jerk from the rack (push workout). On Tuesdays and Fridays we power snatch and power clean (pull workout) [See Diagrams 3,4]. Some of our experienced lifters graduate to the full squat snatch, full clean and jerk and front squat.

I know exactly what you are thinking—it’s not enough. Before you dismiss our philosophy, there are a few more things to remember:

You can’t lift if you’re not there. When our coaching staff took over 3 years ago, there were only three or four football players who were lifting consistently on a program that took well over an hour to complete. At present, we have in the vicinity of sixty. Now, I’m not a math wizard, but I have to believe that our total output is astronomically better than what it was three years ago.

Olympic movements are complex. Although they are only doing four specific exercises, our athletes are working on all the aspects of functional strength for football. The power clean is, by far, the most relevant lift for the football athlete. The amount of speed and explosiveness required to complete the snatch is exactly what each of us crave in all of our athletes—whether they be a linemen or a running back. I am of the opinion that the power jerk benefits far out way the bench press because it, too, is an explosive movement similar to the punch off the line that we require from our blockers; whereas the bench press is slow and steady, reduces flexibility (potentially leading to shoulder and chest injuries) and is not ground based. It does not teach the athlete to “push back” with his entire body. In essence, it doesn’t simulate any movement in football.

We also teach the full squat as opposed to the parallel squat. Once again, this is one of those controversial topics that I ask that you look at from a different perspective. First of all, the hamstring (our basis of speed) does not factor into the squat until slightly below parallel, so it is important that the athlete squats deep enough to achieve the desired result. Also, when trying to achieve parallel, many athletes will not crouch deep enough. This will result in the over development of the quadriceps in proportion to the hamstring thus causing a potential knee problem. It is true that more pressure is placed on the knee in the full squat; however there is NO WHERE NEAR enough to cause harm to a healthy joint. The only time we would use a parallel squat is in a rehab situation. Another benefit to squatting deeply is that athletes cannot load the bar with so much weight as to cause back injury.

You find your athletes early. I realized this in one of our first lifting sessions where DeMarco pointed out an athlete that had not played the previous year and predicted, after watching two snatch attempts, that the lifter would be one of my best players. He was wrong.

The young man has been THE best all around player for the past two seasons and was named our conference Defensive Player of the Year.

I have since acquired the vision to spot athletic ability while watching our players complete their routine. We have been able to predict, with remarkable accuracy, not only who are our better athletes, but also the position most likely for our newcomers. I have even astonished our junior high coaches by pulling a “DeMarco.” They were wondering who was going to be a fit at quarterback during a lifting session and I told them the answer was easy. It was either the 220lb right tackle or 130lb newcomer. Of course they chose the smaller player but were amazed to find out that the big tackle did indeed have the best arm and footwork on the team. By the way, the bigger “lineman” started for us (as a freshman) at left tackle this past season.

You can supplement later. Once your daily attendance increases, it may be time to add an auxiliary exercise or two. These can be remedial exercises that add to the program and may prevent injuries; this is a practice of Bulgarian weightlifters. To be honest, our more motivated athletes have done this on their own. Let’s face it, teenage boys are concerned with the look of their bodies and will often do bicep curls and, yes, even bench presses (against their coach’s wishes) on their own. We have also encouraged footwork dot drills, speed ladder drills and jump roping to our athletes (which most do) but we don’t run them out of the gym if they don’t do them.

Take it from us. At the start of our lifting program 3 years ago, the average player was able to lift a combined total of 540lbs in the full squat, power clean, power jerk, and power snatch. At our latest testing, our athletes improved that average to 780lbs combined—an increase of 45%! Keep in mind, also, that many of our stronger upperclassmen have graduated, but our younger team members are entering much stronger as our junior high program follows a similar workout.

Last season was a record-breaking one for our football team. It was the first time in school history that we qualified for the state playoffs.

2004 was also a record-breaking year. We finished with the school’s first ever-outright conference championship. We broke records in wins, points scored, points allowed and rushing yards in a season. Our running back broke both the single season and career rushing marks. Not coincidentally, he is one of the leading United States amateur Olympic lifters (286lb clean and jerk, 231lb snatch and 352lb front squat@ 5’8”/160lbs) who has trained exclusively under DeMarco’s eye and we hope to watch him in an Olympic arena someday soon.

What was coincidental, and lucky for me, is that I ended up at a school with a principal whose passion was our team’s greatest deficiency.

If our coaching staff can be of help to you in anyway, please don’t hesitate to contact us. E-mail:, phone: (330) 394-1138


SQUAT 155 X 3 185 X 3 215 X 3 245 X 3 260 X 3 275 X 2
PRESS OR JERK 105 X 3 125 X 3 145 X 3 165 X 3 175 X 3 185 X 2
POWER SNATCH 65 X 3 80 X 3 90 X 3 105 X 3 110 X 2 115 X 2
POWER CLEAN 90 X 3 105 X 3 125 X 3 140 X 3 150 X 2 160 X 2
SQUAT 155 X 3 185 X 3 215 X 3 245 X 3 260 X 3 275 X 2
PRESS OR JERK 105 X 3 125 X 3 145 X 3 165 X 3 175 X 3 185 X 2
POWER SNATCH 65 x 3 80 x 3 90 x 3 105 x 3 110 x 2 115 x 2
POWER CLEAN 90 X 3 105 X 3 125 X 3 140 X 3 150 X 2 160 X 2


SQUAT 155 X 3 185 X 3 215 X 3 245 X 3 260 X 3 X 2
PRESS OR JERK 105 X 3 125 X 3 145 X 3 165 X 3 175 X 3 X 2
POWER SNATCH 65 X 3 80 X 3 90 X 3 105 X 3 110 X 2 X 2
POWER CLEAN 90 X 3 105 X 3 125 X 3 140 X 3 150 X 2 X 2
SQUAT 155 X 3 185 X 3 215 X 3 245 X 3 260 X 3 X 2
PRESS OR JERK 105 X 3 125 X 3 145 X 3 165 X 3 175 X 3 X 2
POWER SNATCH 65 x 3 80 x 3 90 x 3 105 x 3 110 x 2 X 2
POWER CLEAN 90 X 3 105 X 3 125 X 3 140 X 3 150 X 2 X 2


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