NITTANY NOTES: Station to Station

A rough overview of what Penn State's winter conditioning program entails. Get the lowdown on how the Lions work on their wind and speed leading up to spring ball.

In the past, we've offered general overviews of what the Penn State football team does in the off-season to stay in shape. But some people have asked for more details.

So we touched base with several sources to present a better feel for how the Nittany Lions prepare for the upcoming season even when they are only allowed limited workout time with the coaching staff.

The most important thing to remember is that the NCAA limits players to eight hours of supervised football activities per week in the off-season. The position coaches are only permitted to be on hand for two of those hours.

That leaves six hours per week per player for the strength and speed coaches to do their things, which, if you consider it, is an extremely tight window.

But at Penn State, strength coach John Thomas is in his 19th year on the staff and speed coach Jeremy Scott is in his 13th year. So they have been able fashion and then tweak their off-season routine so it makes the most of every available minute.

Workouts are spread out over six days per week at one hour per day, with the bulk of the work being done on weekdays.

Lifting sessions are Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Conditioning sessions -- or station drills -- are conducted Tuesday and Thursday, starting at 6 a.m. The conditioning sessions, which begin the first Tuesday after the players return from semester break and continue through the start of spring ball (minus spring break, of course), are completely scripted well in advance.

Saturday is for “recovery” work, which entails things like stretching, cold bath and sauna to allow muscles to "recover" from the tough work during the week. Other lifting and running work is optional on Saturday. For any player unwise enough to show up late for a weekday workout, though, Saturday could well mean a session of brutal “awareness training.”

In the rest of this update, we will focus on the conditioning sessions, or station drills. We'll get into the general particulars of the lifting sessions in a future update.

Players say the first few Tuesday-Thursday sessions after the semester break are usually the worst because, besides normal stretching, they focus entirely on two machines -- the treadmill and VersaClimber. The VersaClimber, which you've likely seen the Lions using in the annual Lift For Life Challenge, is a contraption that requires an athlete to simulate climbing a mountain by using his arms and legs.

Players must do a 12-minute run on the treadmill and then go 15 minutes on the VersaClimber. They must meet different distance standards based on their “group.” At PSU, workout groups are broken down as follows.

A: Receiver, running back, defensive back.

B: Quarterback, fullback, tight end, linebacker, specialist.

C: Offensive line, defensive line.

Spending the first few conditioning sessions on the treadmill and VersaClimber allows the players to “ease back into working out and to begin the winter with a mental challenge,” one source said. In other words, the workouts are low impact but very demanding in terms of conditioning. “It's a good cardio workout.”

After the first few Tuesday-Thursday sessions, the action moves to Holuba Hall for the “stations.” Generally, three different stations are set up, and the different player groupings rotate through them.

The three stations vary but typically include some combination from a group that includes: plyometrics (focusing on explosiveness), ladder (footwork), acceleration, sprinting mechanics and -- when they are not recruiting -- drills with position coaches. The first couple of Tuesday-Thursday workouts are conducted at three-quarters speed so players can focus on technique. After that, it is full go.

While there are prevailing themes throughout the off-season station work, no two days are alike. Each session begins with a dynamic warmup/stretch, but beyond that things vary significantly.

This week, for instance, we were told the Tuesday session included the following stations:

1. Ladder, where players honed their footwork by taking different paths through a “ladder” laid flat on the ground. (It is not an actual ladder, but looks like one when rolled out.)

2. Positional work with coaches (who are not allowed to be on the road recruiting now). Agility work was also done at this “station.”

3. Acceleration, where they focused on different starting techniques.

Thursday morning, meanwhile, included the following stations:

1. Plyometrics, where players jumped over small Nike training hurdles and then track hurdles.

2. Position/agility.

3. Acceleration, where the drills included players running while pulling parachutes.

Former and current players alike say the most dreaded part of the Tuesday-Thursday sessions is always toward the end fo the day. Again, no two days in a row are alike. But most of them include some form of exhausting sprints. These can include 40-yard sprints (as many as eight of them), standard gassers, 20-yard shuttles and 60-yard shuttles, to name a few.

Like nearly all Penn State workouts, the Tuesday-Thursday workouts are closed to the media. But last spring, as A.Q. Shipley, Gerald Cadogan, Mark Rubin and Lydell Sargeant were preparing for NFL mini camps, we had an opportunity to see them go through many of these same drills.

To get a better feel for what Penn State's off-season station work is all about, check out this video:

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