Ben Herbert calls himself a "minimalist at heart," but the new Arkansas strength and conditioning coach came across as a maximum communicator in a sit-down interview.
"I tend to want to de-clutter so that we can move around," Herbert said as he pointed out areas he's cleared in the UA weight room he inherited above Walker Pavilion after following Bret Bielema from Wisconsin.
Herbert calls himself a happy coach with what he did find on his first tour of the facilities with Bielema.
"I loved it," Herbert said. "Coach Bielema flew me down before the Rose Bowl so we could look at it. I was very excited when I saw my new playground.
"It's also clear that we have the support of the administration. They understand that we may want to tweak it a little. But this is great."
Herbert said it's too early to point to individual results in his first winter with the Razorback football players. He said he knows there are going to be lots of success stories from the early work, just as he produced at Wisconsin where he was dubbed "The Transformer" by players and coaches. The Badgers had 41 players drafted -- six in the first round -- during Herbert's time in Madison.
"We used the first week of school (starting Jan. 14) for evaluations," he said. "We've now had four weeks of an eight-week program. We are off to a great start and each week the eyes open a little bit more. They are starting to understand what they are doing and the body is not as sore. It's all an adjustment."
Herbert said he's not afraid to say when someone (or a group) has a bad day, but he hasn't seen bad performances so far in the first four weeks of his UA program.
"Our first day after evaluations was Jan. 21," he said. "We have 17 group workouts in a week, times four weeks. That's 68 group workouts. Of that number, two of them have been good. The other 66 have been great.
"I can tell our fans this about our players, they are 100 percent committed. They would be proud of the way they come to work every day. We just haven't had a bad day with these guys."
Herbert loves the progress. And he measures it every day. He takes pictures so players can see their bodies change and he also measures them against each other. He's going to point out differences or lack of progress.
"We had two guys who work side by side," he said. "I asked one of them, ‘What's going on? He just blew your doors off. You are too good to be bad.' That's one of the things I say often, if they aren't getting it done, they are too good to be bad."
The evaluations were thorough. Herbert showed a sheet on one of the Hogs returning players that included a total picture of lifts for every area of the body.
"We wanted to know their capabilities before we started," he said. "It took us three full days. We wanted to know weaknesses and strengths for both the upper and lower bodies. The winter time is when you can make progress as far as physical development and we wanted to be able to come up with a plan after seeing their capabilities."
The picture was good.
"The biggest thing, I liked the mentality and the chemistry," Herbert said. "Anything we gave them new, they made the adjustment. They are learning how to do some things and there was some soreness to new things, but they adjusted.
"The group was anxious at the start, but it's a capable group. They are hungry to regain the success that they had before last year. A lot of guys referenced that. Sometimes when you are successful, you take it for granted. They realize what they had and they are anxious to get back to those winning ways."
How has leadership emerged?
"We are still watching that," Herbert said. "Different guys show leadership in different ways. We've got some emerging.
"Some guys show leadership more on the field and some more in our workouts. We need to go through the process to see how that comes out, but I think we have more that are capable (of leading) than less.
"Some guys may think they are leaders, but they haven't made the adjustment to what we are doing yet. I always say what you do speaks louder than words. I tell them, ‘I can't hear what you are saying.' I hear certain comments from guys that they really want it badly, but there are little things in their actions that contradict what they say.
"If they are saying it, great. But I want to see the words and actions match up. I would say that more than less match it up."
The work in the weight room -- and on the floor of Walker Pavilion in agility and sled work -- is just a part of Herbert's plan. Along with Bielema, Herbert thinks nutrition and hydration is a huge part of his program. That may be where the Hogs need the most changes. Bielema talked about Herbert's system in the announcement, then expanded on it in his signing day media briefing.
"Ben Herbert has transformed countless student-athletes and his system has become known by those on the next level for producing individuals with toughness and an incredible work ethic," Bielema said. "He has a strong background in what we want out of our strength and conditioning program, and he has shown a great ability to produce results with energy and passion.
"He is focused on details and consistency and is always thinking outside the box to come up with new, improved ways to make our student-athletes better. He oversees a comprehensive plan that extends beyond the weight room (into nutrition and hydration), and our student-athletes will benefit from his instruction."
Bielema sees the start of the transformation at the training table.
"I've seen players change right in front of my eyes, guys that have been with Coach Herbert for about four weeks," Bielema said. "I'm sitting at a recruiting dinner and Kiero Small is telling me about how he's changed his life, how he's eating in the last three weeks.
"They put a piece of cheesecake that I could have eaten three of, and he passed on it to the end. He's got better discipline than I do. Hearing him talk said a lot to me. You hear that players at training table come down and make great decisions on what they are eating.
"The part that we have to keep harping on them is that it's not just what they do, it's how they recover. It's how they handle their nutrition."
Bielema took a chance with the returning players and turned them loose with recruits in one of his favorite forums, the player's panel when coaches and administrators leave the room so recruits and their families can dig for the truth in the program from a player's perspective.
"To hear our recruits and their parents talk about the way our kids talked in the player panel about Coach Herbert and the changes we've made, that part's exciting," he said. "A couple of our coaches have been able to have some one-on-one meetings with our guys about what's going on, and it's all been very upbeat and positive. I can't wait for spring ball to get here so we can get our hands on them and start working with them and find out what it's all about."
However, Herbert knows that talk is cheap sometimes as far as his communication. He doesn't just use words.
"I know the more you talk, the less they listen," Herbert said. "So I try to be as visual as I can."
One visual illustration he likes is the way a plant flourishes with the right nutrition. He will bring in plants and feed them the right nutrients -- in this case Miracle Gro -- and show them how well they'll grow as compared to one without the right nutrients. Plants do not fare so well with other fluids, perhaps alcohol. He said the players generally get it. That will come later, perhaps after spring drills. That's when he'll try to drive home his points on nutrition and hydration.
"It's about setting the body up to be successful to reap the rewards of the work," he said. "That part is very real. It's the type of foods and fluids and the amount of sleep they get. That sets the table for who they want to be."
Herbert seemed like he also understands that there is fun to college.
"I think you have to be realistic," he said. "There is always room for mental health. There are some things that are not best for the body, but it might be good for mental health. You want good mental health, too."
And, a 5 a.m. workout might not be best for the body. It might not produce good eating habits. It's all about the timing of the meals and when to splurge on something that might not be healthy.
"There are two reasons to go really early," he said. "It may be that you want to make them uncomfortable. But the other reason is that if a guy has class conflicts and you have to go early.
"But I don't like those 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. workouts. College students go to sleep sometime between 11 a.m. and 1:30 a.m. It's just a fact. When you go real early, they are in that four-and-a-half-hour window. What I've seen, they like to wake up at the last minute possible, then train on an empty stomach. That affects their ability to train at a high level.
"Meal frequency is so important. If you don't eat breakfast, your blood sugar is running low by lunch, then they grab a quick meal, fast food maybe. Most quick snacks are not good, so now they have another two or three hours without proper nutrition.
"Then, they have an intense activity. Then, they binge at dinner because they are starving. And they wonder why their body composition is bad?
"My goal is not for them to eat less, but to eat more frequently and for it to be dense food that helps them in recovery.
"We are making progress, but some are stubborn. Sometimes you have a very talented guy, with very unhealthy habits. When you can get them locked in, the progress they make is ridiculous."
Herbert said he's not asking for perfection in nutrition.
"It's about timing," he said. "I tell them they can make mistakes. You can have some things like ice cream. Just make the mistakes early in the day. Don't make them at 10:30 at night, when they don't have a chance to burn them up. Do it at 10:30 in the morning. I don't want them eating 4,000 calories in the evening. I want it spread out.
"Still, we have some guys who don't understand. They are changing. And as they change, they are going to see that they flourish. I just want them to understand they can't eat frozen pizza every night.
"They might change their habits for two weeks and don't see a lot of change in their body. But if they do it for four weeks, they are going to get hooked. We are seeing that now."
That is just part of it. Herbert stresses proper hydration."If you take everything out of the equation, what's the one thing the body can't go without?" he said. "It's water. You stop taking water for two or three days, you will not survive long. We are great at breaking the body down with our workouts, we just want to make sure they recover and hydration is a big key."
The Hogs know that Herbert's methods have produced a lot of draft picks.
"I didn't have to tell them that," Herbert said. "They had a good idea on that when I got here.
"I did show them pictures of those guys and how they looked. It was all the same, those high draft picks are lean, dense guys. I explained to them that those 41 guys all looked the same. I showed them what a second and third rounder looked like.
"It's not talent that holds everyone back. It's sense of urgency. We've got time, but it runs out pretty fast.
"I'm always amazed at when a player finishes his eligibility and then works like crazy before the draft. They had a window of three to five years and then they tried to do it all in eight to 12 weeks. I tell them, ‘Don't waste time. Have a sense of urgency.' That's what it's about."
That doesn't mean Herbert tries to cram workouts on top of workouts.
"We could do 5 a.m. workouts five days a week, but I want to be realistic and reach a happy medium," he said. "We'd probably get three good ones, then the last two wouldn't be as good. College is a unique environment. I want proper sleep. I want them to have a long weekend to recover."
So there are no Friday afternoon workouts?
"I try to extend the weekend for them," he said. "The majority of Friday is for rest. There is a fine line. It's about quality, not duration."
Some of the quality is in football related lifts or sled work.
"Linemen get a lot of sled work," he said. "And we also have a push-pull machine. A lot of the guys up front spend a good amount of time locked up against each other in football. They are pushing and pulling with their hands and arms. So we have a machine that simulates that. We always do two sets on the push-pull machine. They understand why they are doing that machine.
"The sleds, we use a lot. We do 10-yard bursts. The big guys do a lot of sled work. When we are running the big guys, it's not long distances. It might be from the sideline to the hash. You run those 300-pounders long distances, their lower bodies break down."
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