A Q&A With Strength Coach Matt Balis

The Friday workouts for the Mississippi State football team are becoming legendary due to how tough they are both physically and mentally. MSU head strength coach Matt Balis talks about the workouts and the reasons why they are so tough.

You have Friday workouts that are extremely intense. They also have names such as Protect Our House, The Gauntlet, The Massacre. Why do you make them so much tougher than the other workouts?
"The reason why you can make the Friday workouts harder than normal is because you have the whole weekend to recover. We don't want to do something that's unbelievably hard every week but we try and do it every other week. The body can only take so much.

"We put names to them to have fun with them. At the same time we want the kids to not just lift to be lifting but to create some kind of mental edge that they will have when they play."

How do you come up with the names?
"Just learning from other coaches. I've called a lot of great strength coaches. We have a staff here of six. And we sit here and talk about things for hours, brainstorming, thinking about whether this will work with what we are trying to do."

When did you start doing Friday workouts with names to them?
"Back when I was a high school strength coach Fridays were always especially hard. When I got to college at the University of Houston we started doing that. At Utah we actually put names on them. We talked with other strength coaches, picking brains and learning from guys. You just try to make them as creative as you possibly can to address the needs of your football team in a way that can help them be more mentally and physically ready to play. You do things that make them stronger but the mental aspect is huge."

The team did a Friday workout called Protect Our House where the players touched every step in the stadium twice with the exception of the student section. Why did you call it Protect Our House and why did you not have them touch the student section seats?
"That is their stadium, that is their house. So, we want to make sure we thoroughly prepare ourselves mentally for when we play home (games). To us that is very important.

"The only reason they didn't run on the student section is because it is fenced off."

Do you always do the workouts early in the morning?
"Not always. A lot of times it's either early, early or we get together later. We like to go early because it's harder to do it then and that's one more thing they have to overcome mentally. Once they've done it they can say, 'wow, I did that.'

"I also have to have the entire team together and those are the best times to bring the team together. Having the team work out together is a big deal, especially in July. Guys have to see each other paying the price, they have to see each other sacrificing. They do not see that when they work out in small groups."

The players told me that you don't tell them beforehand what they are going to do Friday. Why do you keep it a secret?
"Because you don't know what will happen in a game situation. You know who you are playing but you really don't know what is coming. In workouts you want to do the same thing. You want to keep them mentally on edge. You are excited, have your adrenalin going. Those are all things that help you do better, help you perform better. Our league is so tough you have to make things hard because the people we are going to play are the best. So, for us, we have to train that way. We have to train as if we are getting ready for the best every week."

Do you ever repeat a Friday workout or are they always different?
"Sometimes we do. There are certain things that we come back to."

Would you come up with a workout due to something that has happened the previous year?
"Yeah, that could be. Every year is different. Every team is different."

With the workouts so hard, how do you know they can physically do the workouts?
"There are a lot of things that I have done that is somewhat close to what they do, sometimes the actual workouts. But just having done it for a while you know what they can and can't do. You know what is going to be really hard. And some guys can't all do it. Then there certain guys on this team that can do everything. Those are the warriors. Those are the guys you will win with."

Will the Friday workouts be even harder in the future as the players continue to work with you?
"I don't know. It depends on the team but, theoretically, yes, they should get in better and better shape. But there is a point where that kind of progression will slow down. You aren't going to get the same growth. You will get better, but you aren't going to double and double and double. The better shape you get into, the increase you make becomes smaller."

I know the Friday workouts are tough mentally and physically, but what are you trying to key on when you have the players do them?
"In July we are really focusing on our schedule, on two-a-days, how our team responds to adversity, how our team responds to hard things. Football is so hard, game are so hard, practice is so hard. That is what we are trying to key everything toward."

What kind of workouts are the Friday workouts, what part or parts of the body do you key on?
"The Friday workouts are either the total body, which encompasses the entire body, or they are lower body. Lower body training is harder."

What kind of workout was Protect Your House?
"Protect Your House was pretty much a lower body day but it is also an unbelievably cardiovascular workout as well. The fastest guy was able to do it in 51 minutes. The slowest guy was an hour and 20 minutes or something like that."

How did they go about touching all the stadium steps?
"You snake the bottom, then you go across the field and snake the other side. Then you go up the ramps to the top, snake the upper level. Then you come down from the top and back to the other side and go up to the top and snake it."

You've been at Mississippi State for about seven months. What are your thoughts about these players?
"I love our players. I love what these kids are about here. Having never trained kids from Mississippi, I had no idea what they were like. But they have a lot of heart, a lot of pride. It's just fun to be around them."

Have they surprised you how good they have done?
"Sometimes they do."

How have the freshmen handle your workouts?
"They are ok. The guys who got here in June are obviously better because they have been here a long time. The guys who just got here are just learning but I definitely think some of those guys can help us."

Who have become the leaders of this team?
"It's Jamar Chaney and Tyson Lee. To me, they are our two leaders."

How have they separated themselves?
"Their work ethic. They lead by example. They are just the total package."

[Saturday and Sunday I will have a Q&A with two football players who will discuss the Friday workouts and a couple of other new things they are doing under Coach Balis.-Gene]

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.

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