Ducks will stay fit off-season.

Mike Bellotti had an interesting observation regarding his team during spring workouts. Bellotti didn't think his team was as fast as it was last year, but he thought the speed problem could be corrected during off-season. How so Coach? <br><br> "It is an emphasis point for them (the players). They look at the lifts that can help improve their speed and look at the techniques of running," said Bellotti. "Under Coach Radcliffe's tutelage I think they can get better."

Jim Radcliffe is the man who could make the difference between Oregon being a national champion contender and a Pac-10 also ran this season, and it will be during May, June and July that his influence will be most felt. Radcliffe is the longtime strength and conditioning coach for the Ducks, entering his 20th season with Oregon. He is a nationally recognized expert on sports conditioning and has authored books (High Powered Plyometrics and, Plyometrics, Explosive Power Training) on the subject of conditioning by integrating plyometrics into workout routines.

Plyometrics is incorporated with weight, endurance and flexibility training. The athlete focuses on core strength development by executing various weight exercises including squats, bench press and power cleans. The program also calls for the athletes to do functional weight training, meaning the exercises are similar movements that a player might expect to use during a football game or practice.

In his book, Radcliffe describes plyometrics as a method of developing explosive power. Plyometric exercises can be as simple as jumping in place to more aggressive exertion with names such as pogo, squat jump, box, split, or star jump. It also could be sprinting, prancing, galloping, skipping, ankle flipping. A key to the success of plyometrics is stretching the muscles after the exertion allowing elasticity of the muscle group.

Redshirt freshman guard Josh Tschirgi, 6-4, 286 from Skyview HS in Vancouver, (Wash.) is looking forward to staying in Eugene for the summer to continue his conditioning routine. Tschirgi is obviously no stranger to the rigors of conditioning as he was a standout basketball and baseball player in high school as well as a first-team all-state selection by the Seattle Times and Tacoma News Tribune.

"All of our off-season training goes through Coach Jim Radcliffe, the strength and conditioning coach here," said Tschirgi. "He basically flat runs the show. During the winter we usually lifted four days a week and ran three days a week."

The big linemen will do lots of bench pressing, inclined pressing, power cleans and squats. The players will also mix in snatches and Olympic lifting. And they will do exercises with names like jerks and snatches.

What are jerks, snatches, power cleans and squats?

In the snatch, the bar is pulled in one explosive motion from the floor to full arm's length overhead. In order to make the lift easier to perform, athletes typically bend their legs quickly while the bar is rising in order to catch the bar at arm's length.

In the clean, the bar is raised (pulled) in an explosive motion from the floor to a point of rest approximately at the level of the shoulders, while the back remains flat to prevent injury.

The jerk consists of bending the legs and then extending both the arms and the legs to bring the bar to full arm's length over the head in one explosive motion.

A bench press is an exercise where a lifter lies flat on a bench and lifts a bar with weights. The weight is lowered to the chest near the nipple line (without touching the body) and pushed upward. An inclined bench uses the same technique as the bench or flat bench, however the lifter's head is elevated above the rest of the body due to the angle of the bench's slant. A declined bench is when the head is lower than the rest of the body.

"We do jerks; there are a variety of jerks -- split jerks, back jerks," according to Tschirgi.

A split jerk?

"A split jerk is when the bar is in the front (of the body), and you jump and catch (the bar as it is being pulled up) and split the legs," explained Tschirgi. "The flexibility goes on before and after every workout in the weight room. Flexibility is definitely something I have to get better at."

Why do the Ducks use these various kinds of exercises? Imagine the snap of the ball and linemen firing off from a stance. The snatch and power clean are similar movements. The strength built up from the Olympic moves translates to better practical performance. Another benefit from the Olympic style exercises is the explosiveness or fast twitch muscle development.

Endurance training is accomplished by using a number of exercises, including a combination of plyometrics, sprints and technique running or agility drills.

"Lining up and running 30 yards taking a 15-second break, lining up and running back," Tschirgi said when describing the kind of running he has been doing. "Doing it (the run) 10 or 12 times simulates a game like pace."

Tschirigi is enjoying his time both on and off the field at Oregon. He likes a writing class he is taking and someday would like to try writing for living. He is an articulate individual who is willing to put in the time and effort to be successful.

"We work six to eight hours a week in the weight room, five days a week," Tschirgi explained of his workout routine. "Everyday we do some explosive work, some power work. We do explosive work first, like power cleans and then squats, then supplement that with some smaller body parts exercises like shoulder presses and lateral-pulls. First we start out by warming up the core. Then the first thing we do is the explosive (moves) then power."

Tschirigi then grinned and said if readers really want to know more about Oregon linemen and squats, to ask the Kings of Squats, seniors Nick Steitz and Adam Snyder. Both Steitz and Snyder laughed when asked about the title and then went on to explain about their conditioning program. Steitz indicated that during the off-season, the offensive and defensive linemen lift weights together four times a week, usually starting around 3 p.m. and going until around 5 p.m. Many will stay longer, and some even will continue their workouts on their own at the student recreation center or commercial gyms like 24 Hour Fitness.

Steitz is considered one of the team leaders and is showing the way in the weight room His best in the squat has been 600 pounds, and he is able to lift 440 pounds on the bench press. Steitz believes this off-season has been good for the entire team.

"Looking back in the winter, guys were working hard and were focused and competitive in the weight room," said Steitz. "I really look forward to post-spring workouts, especially in the summer because we really turn the dial up."

Snyder smiled when asked about the Kings of the Squats. The big senior from Whittier, California, acknowledged that working on squats is crucial for the linemen because leg strength is so necessary to play the position, but what about the King of the Squats?

"I'm following Steitz's footsteps," Snyder grinned as he pointed to his friend Steitz.

The amount of weight each player uses varies on the individual's level of strength and development. It is not fair to compare one-athlete's lift with another. Certainly, it is dangerous to suggest that a football player's potential can be judged by how much weight he can lift. As a reference point though, many football players at Oregon start their bench press lifting routines for example, at 225 pounds. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata indicated he increases his weights during his routine up to 405 pounds. Ngata reportedly has a personal best of nearly 500 pounds, but it isn't likely that a training athlete tries to achieve a personal best daily. While recovering from his knee injury from last season, Ngata is at about 90 percent recovered and expects to be 100 percent by the start of fall camp in August.

The road to success for Oregon football is accomplished by the hard work the players put in both on the field and in the weight room. Those players willing to make the commitment and dedication to their team will be rewarded. The results of November will be a result of the sweat in May. The speed Coach Bellotti is looking for will be improved in the months from the Spring Game to the start of Fall Camp.

This article will appear in the summer issue of eDuck Magazine, due out in the middle of May.

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