Check back for Part II tomorrow, which focuses on Notre Dame's speed training and the importance of a training table.
At the end of every year, Notre Dame strength and conditioning coach Ruben Mendoza sits down and tries to figure out ways to get better.
"We're always evaluating the things that we can improve in what we do in here," Mendoza said on Friday night. "My staples are Olympic movements, developing power and explosion, power lifting exercises in the sense of the squat and the bench and of course we do other lifts in the sense of supplemental to balancing what we do."
While Mendoza does not get away from his principles, he is always open to new things to do in addition to those principles.
"The things that we tweak and what we look at is more the aspect of maybe adding a little more variety to our program so our program is not stale and we're always changing the supplemental exercises to keep it interesting," he said. "The body adapts quickly to what we do and stimulating muscle growth and you've always got to do variations of what we do."
This year's variation was definitely outside the box. Mendoza bought several DVDs and books on Yoga to help his offensive linemen.
"Just develop more flexibility in the hips, especially for the big guys. Those are the ones that I really concentrated on and actually some of the skill guys jumped in there," he said. "I think it's more of a relaxing state of mind as they do it and I think they got something out of it and they want to continue doing it, so I'm definitely going to continue doing that."
Mendoza did make some adjustments to make the discipline more acceptable to the football players.
"Some of the names of those poses are kind of feminine so I kind of reapplied and did some different renaming on those things to make them more aggressive," laughed Mendoza.
So gone were the pigeon and frog poses and the soft music that is associated with yoga was replaced with acid rock. And despite the laughter from physical education classes inside the Gug, Mendoza is going to do it again.
Mendoza has Charlie Weis' full authority in running the strength program, but the head coach does have some input and gave some during the offseason.
"One of the things that we've done is really concentrating on more position specific stuff," said Mendoza.
Last year, the goal was to add bulk to the offensive line and this year Mendoza is trying to take it one step further.
"I still wanted to put some size on and I wanted to keep some weight on our bigger kids, but at the same time developing our strength and our power outputs," he said. "We ended up doing more, with the offensive and defensive lines, more drills to aid them in the sense of in their position. We did a lot of combative type stuff, hand drills, grip strength, competitive type drills."
Some of those drills are simply tests of manhood.
"Every Friday we do King of the Ring, who can last the longest? We want to develop some toughness in some of those kids," said Mendoza. "We go for two-minute bouts. The whole objective is to push somebody out of the ring and they got pretty competitive. At some point, some of those kids developed some bloody noses somehow."
Mendoza pointed to veterans like Sam Young, Eric Olsen, Dan Wenger, Raeshon McNeil and Kyle McCarthy as the leaders in the weight room, but added that young guys like Hafis Williams, Ethan Johnson and Michael Floyd also have voices.
"This is probably the best class that we've had in the sense of overall leaders. We've got a lot of guys really speaking up and talking," he said. "Like Hafis Williams really talking, if somebody's messing up, he'll speak up. Ethan Johnson does a great job, even though he's a young guy I think he's going to be a natural leader for the defensive side.
"Some of those guys have been quiet, but I think they're finally taking ownership of this team and holding people accountable."
Notre Dame's quarterback has also taken a leadership role in the training room.
"Jimmy Clausen has definitely spoke up and stepped up. I think he had a great offseason for us in the sense of taking that leadership role," said Mendoza. "If something wasn't right, he'd definitely speak up. There's a lot of guys that are finally understanding that it's their team."
Clausen enrolled at Notre Dame in the early months of 2007 as a 194-pound freshman, but boosted his weight to 203 pounds last year and now fluctuates between 215 and 218. Clausen was not tested during his first semester on campus because of an elbow injury, but has seen steady growth in his strength since last year.
A year ago, Clausen's bench press was 255 pounds, his squat 315 and his vertical leap 21 inches. Clausen has his bench up to around 300 pounds, his squat is up to 375 and his vertical jump is 26 inches. The weight training is evident when looking at the quarterback on the field.
"You can see his shoulders are broader, his arms are bigger, his legs are bigger," said Mendoza. "His attitude has changed in what we're doing in here and he understands what this aspect will do for his career."
Mendoza keeps on close on eye on the team during the season and spring practice to make sure that he is not pushing anyone too far.
"I don't want to wear anybody down," he said. "I'm out there in practice all of the time and I watch basically every position. I feel that if his body is getting worn down then we have to back off what we're doing in here."
The younger players typically have the largest jump because they have the most room to grow. Ethan Johnson came to campus as a freshman in August and benched 345 pounds and hang cleaned 245. Those numbers have gone up to 365 and 285 in less than a year.
Mendoza also offered the most recent tests from the projected starting offensive line. Olsen benches 485 pounds, squats 655 and cleans 325. Paul Duncan benches 475, squats 550 and cleans 335. Chris Stewart benches 485, squats 585 and cleans 300. Wenger benches 405, squats 600 and cleans 305. Young benches 425, squats 550 and cleans 335.
Young's bench is lower than the others because at 6-foot-8, he has to lift the weight much farther than his peers. Mendoza has worked with Young about getting a wider grip on the bar, but added that the lineman is used to having his arms inside when he is on the field.
"He almost has to push it twice as far," said Mendoza. "Every pound he gains of strength, he definitely works for because of his long extremities."
Mendoza also offered some numbers to support the growth in strength of the team since his arrival in 2005.
When Mendoza came to Notre Dame, two guys were benching 400-plus pounds, now he has 24 guys at that weight with another 18 close. Back in 2005, eight guys were squatting 500 or more pounds and in 2008, Notre Dame has 34 players squatting 500 or more with another 13 close.
Two players were able to hang clean 300 pounds when Mendoza was hired and now 25 guys can carry that weight with another 19 on the verge. Just one player vertical jumped 34 inches four years ago and now 23 athletes can do it with another 11 close.
"Every year I've had steady increases in those numbers," said Mendoza. "We definitely improve every year we train."
Mendoza gave much of the credit for the increases to his staff.
"I have a large strength staff. We basically assign each position a coach that basically takes them throw workouts personally, so they're going to get better there's no question," he said. "We just don't give them a workout and turn them loose and say, ‘Here, get better.'"
Mendoza takes great pride in his position in the Notre Dame football program.
"That's the only way we're going to get better as a football team being on them all of the time and pushing them," he said. "Sometimes it's hard love, sometimes it's just a pat on the back."
The staff tests each player at the end of April and gives them workouts to do during their five weeks away from campus in the summer.
"Most of the kids in the past have done great in their conditioning because when they come back I test them on their conditioning test just so that I know they've done something at home," said Mendoza.
Mendoza concentrates on building strength over the winter, but he only gets six weeks with the team in the summer prior to preseason camp, five weeks to train and a week to test.
"My whole emphasis in the five weeks that we train in the summer is to get these guys into shape to go into summer camp," he said.