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What of the weight program Bob Young—at 6'1", 285 pounds one of the most massively proportioned players in the NFL—used to gird those slackening loins? How does it differ, if at all, from the conditioning program of other pros?
"The one thing I do that's the most different," says Young, "is that I concentrate on strengthening my trunk and hips and legs instead of my shoulders and arms. I laugh when I hear coaches who don't know the first thing about how strength relates to football talking about how much so-and-so can bench press. You even see it these days on scouting reports, and on TV, along with a man's time in the 40. I guess it's the one lift they know, so it becomes more important to them."
But what about the upper body? Young is one of a handful of football players who have done a legitimate, hips-down 500-pound bench press, "I don't mean the shoulders and arms aren't important," Young says. "All I'm saying is that since line play is 75% lower body, why spend 75% of your time on bench presses and curls? The payoff just isn't there. People seem to think they get enough legwork from running or racquetball, but they're wrong. You need squats and dead lifts and pulls so that the legs and hips and lower back are used hard as a unit. That's how you play, and that's how you should train. And forget about machines. Stay with free weights. Machines cost too much and do too little."
Not surprisingly, Young's perceptive insights are getting substantial support these days from both empirical observation and independent research. The Pittsburgh Steelers, for instance, use mostly free weights and concentrate on heavy leg and back work both preseason and in season; they do very little work with machines.
Recently, during an interview Steeler offensive linemen Mike Webster and Jon Kolb did for a CBS Sports Spectacular segment called The Strongest Men in Football (in which they placed first and second respectively), Webster said he felt that the hard training with barbells he and Kolb—and most of the rest of the Steeler linemen—do both before and during the season has been a large part of their success as a team and as individuals. Young was in the Strongest Men competition, but a back injury hampered him. Webster graciously said Young probably would have won had he been fit.
Much of the recent research in physiology and biomechanics has failed to substantiate the claims made by the advertising departments of companies whose business it is to make and market weight machines. Several athletes, in fact, have found free weights to be significantly superior to certain well-known machines in the development of the kind of strength and power usually associated with football.
Young says, "Lord knows it's easier to use a machine than a barbell, and it's easier to lie back on a bench and do a few presses than it is to face a heavy set of squats, and it's easier still to just sit on your butt and do neither. But if easier was the key, I'd have been All-Pro all my life."
In training, Young has lifted 800 pounds in the squat and 800 in the dead lift. But it must be remembered that he uses the weights intermittently, as a means to an end, rather than as an end in themselves.
Jim Hanifan, the head coach of the Cardinals, says, "Bob's strong, all right. No question, he's the strongest man I've seen in the game, but his strength is only one aspect of his amazing ability as an offensive lineman. I've seen lots of big, strong men who couldn't begin to play pro ball, much less play like Bob plays. I coached the offensive line for St. Louis when Bob came into his prime, six or seven years ago, and I guess I've ?watched more footage of him than anyone, and there is absolutely no question in my mind that he's the greatest offensive guard ever to play the game.
"I've seen them all, from Jerry Kramer to John Hannah, and I mean no disrespect to them when I say that. But those films don't lie. Bob is simply the best that's ever been. I'm proud he's doing so well in Houston, but I'm damn sure not surprised."