Keeping The Edge

It wouldn't seem as if finely tuned athletes could get out of shape in just a few days off, but that's a danger, according to West Virginia Director of Strength and Conditioning Mike Joseph.

"Once you get to four or five days off, you start getting into deconditioning," Joseph explained. "There are a lot of things that can go into it. You have a lot of traveling, guys aren't hydrating well, they aren't eating well, they are sleeping in different beds, or they might be driving cars for extended hours. All that can contribute to soreness or stiffness, and you have to get all that worked out."

In that short amount of time, players can also lose a significant portion of muscle mass ad strength. Joseph said that some players are more susceptible to that than others.

"It can be kind of frustrating knowing that they have worked so hard to get to that certain point, and that they can lose it so quickly," Joseph admitted. "So, when they are away we ask them to stay active. If they are intelligent about that, understand their bodies and try to stay in a similar routine, they can cut down on the conditioning they might lose."

Joseph's year round program is designed to build strength and mass during the offseason, then bring the team into peak shape in terms of speed and explosiveness for games. He believes the team as a whole did a very good job in that regard this year, but there is still the final hurdle to overcome -- a week-long break followed by just three days of practice and conditioning to regain that edge.

"When you get to bowl preparation, school is finishing up, and you are limited as to how much access you can have to the players," Joseph said of the end-of-year routine. "Most guys did good in coming in on their own and getting lifting and running in. Then we had a good week of preparation before they were off for Christmas. There was good tempo, and a lot of good work."

At that point, however, the team disbands to head home for Christmas break, and are out of the control and influence of the training staff. The key then becomes personal discipline, and not just in terms of avoiding overeating. Players don't have to put in huge amounts of work, but need to keep up that regular schedule Joseph promotes.

"Just running keeps the legs in shape and cuts down on soreness when they get back and go back to practice," Joseph expanded. "They don't have to have the greatest workout equipment. Just going through some work and staying active is the biggest thing."

While there always seems to be a player or two who don't follow the system, Joseph is pleased with the way WVU has returned and practiced in preparation for the Pinstripe Bowl. In a game that could come down to mental toughness and conditioning in adverse weather, the ways in which the Mountaineers kept their edge last week could provide the path to victory at year's end.

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