Strength and Balance

According to WVU strength and conditioning coach Mike Barwis, West Virginia's football team is in the best shape overall it has ever been during his tenure. However, as he continues to ratchet up the intensity of his program, he also has to make allowances for the newcomers to the program.

"This is the most physically developed team we've had since I've been here," Barwis said of the team as it began the summer program. "I've been able to make the load more difficult, because their bodies can handle more. As a whole, I've been determining where the team is physically, and I've been able to take the program to new extremes, and make the routines more demanding."

Just reading a list of the different types of training Barwis puts the athletes through is tiring. It's a multi-faceted approach designed not only to keep the players' interest, but also develop all of the different skills necessary to perform at peak efficiency.

For example, the team has phases of work that include Olympic style, balance, injury prevention, core strength, flexibility, and explosiveness. Each set of exercises and drills helps the team achieve the goals Barwis sets for them, and falls into the one-year plan that he lays out and develops in advance. The pace is more grueling and demanding than ever, but Barwis believes his charges are up to the challenge.

Although the intensity may have increased, there aren't many new drills or wrinkles in this year's plan, as Barwis is, for the most part, pleased with the results he saw from a year ago.

"The progression of everything we do is pretty similar to last year – only it will be more difficult," Barwis promised. "With the improvements that have been made, the guys are ready to handle more."

While returning veterans continue to make improvements in their condition and progress up Barwis' ladder, there's also the question of freshmen and newcomers to consider. These players, who don't have the benefit of two or three years in WVU's strength and conditioning program, are obviously far behind those veterans that do. They have a lot of work to do to catch up, and will require a reduced workload in their initial time in the program.

"We call that ‘anatomical adaptation'," Barwis said of time that newcomers need to build themselves up to the level of work the veterans undergo. "The freshmen will start with about half the volume of the returning players, but they make big gains early on – even more than you might think. We start them out with higher repetitions but lighter weights and workloads for the first 4-6 weeks, but by the time we get into the season we can start putting them into a standard strength cycle with the rest of the players.

"Steve Slaton last year is a perfect example," Barwis continued. "He came in during the summer and worked hard, and by the midway point of the season was ready to start working at the level of the rest of the team.

Barwis is also quick to point out that his system isn't a magic formula. It requires dedication on the part of the participants, and has been successful mostly due to the character of the players on the team.

"You have to give a lot of the credit to Coach Rod and the staff for the types of kids they have been getting," Barwis concluded. "We are getting guys with tremendous attitudes and work ethic, and that's why we are where we are today."


In addition to his busy summer schedule (many players are in working now, and all scholarship newcomers are expected by the beginning of the second summer session on July 3), Barwis is also squeezing wedding planning onto his busy plate. Barwis and Associate Director of Strength and Conditioning Autumn Speck are set to be married on June 30.

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