Former Arkansas offensive lineman Mitch Petrus laid down underneath 225 pounds at last year's NFL Combine workouts and after pumping the bar 45 times over his head had left an impression that resulted in being taken in the fifth round of the draft by the New York Giants.
Petrus, 6-foot-4, 307 pounds, tied the combine record for most reps in the bench press. It's one of the measuring sticks college athletes go through annually when teams judge a player's worth. Petrus didn't make a huge leap up the draft charts, but he certainly left Indianapolis a year ago, like others hope during the recent combine, leaving your mark.
"Mitch was a very explosive athlete, he had the genetic structure with the length of his arms and how burly his chest was," recalls Jeff Dillman, a former strength and conditioning coordinator for college football teams who currently works at Athletic & Personal Development program -- where Petrus trained last year -- preparing athletes each January and February of the brutal demands of the combine.
While that might not sound like a major change to the routine of a college football player, doing the NFL's bench workout is actually very different and takes special preparation.
"Most college strength coaches, you are getting them ready for the football game, you're not getting them ready for the combine," explains Dillman. "There are two different ways to train. For the NFL Combine you are doing a little bit of track and field work with kids but you are also doing a lot of volume up top (upper body) with them. So you are working strength and power down low (from the waist down), which is a lot of lower volume and then up top you are working a lot of volume trying to get their capacity for upper body a little better.'
Florida's Carl Johnson can lift 225 pounds about 30 times without stopping, which is pretty solid. But he worked with Dillman in his two-month stay at the Bradenton facility, which has also helped train the likes of Eli Manning, Drew Brees and Chad Pennington to name just a few of the high draft picks in preparation for the NFL Combine.
"It's more trained lifting here than power lifting," Johnson said. "In Gainesville, you train to lift for the season -- to move 300 pounders. But here you are training for muscle repetition, more so than brute strength. It's like conditioning your muscles to being used pushing so much weight and so many reps. It's a big difference training here vs. back home."
FSU lineman Rodney Hudson agrees the strategy for getting ready for the combine workout is very different.
"There is a technique to it," he said. "Most people don't know that but there is a lot of technique involved. Getting as many reps is the goal of course."
Dillman had the athletes back off from heavy weight training just before the combine started this past week with massages and time in the cold tank to rebuilding the body's strength after breaking it down. Petrus used the same strategy. The most he had done 225 was 35 times prior to the 2010 combine but the rest made him even more explosive.
Johnson hopes the same strategy will help him attack the record.
"You try to push your body the most stressful way so when you go to the combine it's easy," Johnson said. "To be the best you've got to compete with the best so you've got to get better, you can't be satisfied. There are a lot of linemen in the country who can do 30 reps so you've got to be different."
Dillman said it's a process of retraining the nervous system.
"When you get tired, a lot of these athletes want to shut it down psychologically and their technique goes (bad)," he said. "More (weight) is not always better. We work on different parts of the lift. People get to sticking points in their lifts. We try to work through those.
"What we try to do is we try to keep the peak power high and velocity quick throughout the movement. We break it down three ways. You take one breath, you try to get 15 reps on one breath, you take another breath and you try to get about five to eight reps on another breath and after that you are doing one breath at a time."
Pushing through and going fast helps stimulate as much fast twitch muscle fibers as possible to try to get them as many reps in that small window as possible before they start getting muscle fatigue.
Different parts of the body were worked on during different days -- with plenty of rest in between. Dillman has a logical response to the issue of using steroids to get stronger.
"If you do the right training like you are supposed to, you don't need that stuff," he said. "You show them the negative effects of it. At the end of the day, it's like anything else. If you play in the fire long enough you get burned. You show them what the end result is: 'This is what's going to happen to your liver, this is what's going to happen to your body.' Educate them on why you do not do it. I've never really had any issues."