Preparing now for long haul ahead

Training camp will not open until mid-July, but many of the Green Bay Packers have used the last two-plus months preparing their bodies for the long haul by taking part in the team's voluntary off-season workout program.<p>

The program began March 24 and continues through July 4 in accordance with rules set by the National Football League and NFL Players Association. Players are allowed to use the team's facilities up to four hours a day, and teams are allowed to work with players up to two of those four hours.

If a player participates in at least four workouts a week, he is paid $100 per day. The cash is good for a free agent trying to get by financially and make the team, but the strength and conditioning is the program's biggest asset, preparing many for a season that can last more than six months.

While genes and a little luck help, players like Brett Favre, Marco Rivera and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila have rarely missed a game in their careers because of their off-season workout programs.

Barry Rubin, the Packers' strength and conditioning coach who coordinates the program, feels that 14 weeks of training will not totally eliminate the injury bug for a player, but it will help fend it off.

"If he gets hit hard enough or is in the wrong position, there's a good chance of getting hurt," said Rubin, who is assisted by Mark Lovat and former Packers running back Vince Workman. "But your odds are a lot better by working out real hard and staying with it, and during the season staying with it.

"When you get tired, there is a greater chance of getting hurt, so if a guy is in tip-top shape, you have a better chance of not getting hurt."

Rubin said that 32 players are participating in this year's program. Some, like Rivera, Mark Tauscher, Chad Clifton and Gbaja-Biamila, stay in Green Bay and participate in every session. Others visit Green Bay periodically for workouts, then work out on their own at their off-season residence. Rubin, Lovat and Workman have made personal visits outside of Green Bay at the homes of veteran players who do not participate in the program, mainly in March, to help establish a routine.

Those who participate in Green Bay focus mainly on strength training for the first nine weeks. After a week off, the players concentrate on functional training, or drills similar to the moves they make during a game, for the final five weeks. Every Friday is yoga day at Packer headquarters. A local instructor conducts a session that helps players with their flexibility.

"There's nothing magical in the strength and conditioning field," Rubin said. "There's not one magical thing. It's setting up a good plan and doing it. We do some Olympic lifting. We do some functional training. We do some strength training. We do some agility quickness drills. We do speed training. We do speed endurance training, conditioning, flexibility, biometrics, yoga ... We try to do a little bit of everything. Every little part has its place."

Rubin said Gbaja-Biamila has been a regular the off-season program since he was drafted by Green Bay in 2000. Gbaja-Biamila weighed in at around 240 pounds as a rookie, but has stuck with the program and now weighs between 255 and 260. Along the way he has developed into one of the top pass-rushers in the NFL and has only missed one game in three seasons due to an injury.

"I stay here knowing that we have a great strength program with Barry Rubin," said Gbaja-Biamila. "He gets me in shape. That's all I try to do – get in the best shape of my life. I've been here three years and I've gotten better each year."

Rivera has played in 67 straight games (70 including the playoffs) – the fourth longest active string on the team – and was named to his first Pro Bowl last year.

Since he was traded to the Packers, Favre has been one of the most loyal to the weight room. Though he does not participate in the program in Green Bay, he built a weight room at his off-season home in Hattiesburg, Miss., and continues to stay in shape.

"Brett, in his early years, he worked extremely hard," said Rubin, who has been with the Packers since 1995. "He still has great work ethics. He doesn't do probably as much as he did when he was younger, but he still does it good. Like during the season on Monday mornings, he's usually the first guy in here ready to work out. He probably lifts just as much now as he ever has. He probably ran a little bit more when he was younger, but he keeps fit and works out."

For example, the standard for most non-linemen in conditioning tests on the bench press is 225 pounds. Rubin said Favre was benching sets of 330 pounds as recent as three seasons ago during "the last week or two of the season."

Rubin said that many NFL players are not going to get much stronger than when they first enter the league because, "Most come from good college programs so you're not going to see big, huge strength gains like kids going from high school to college. When they come out of college, they're pretty much peaked out when it comes to strength. We're just trying to keep the strength levels up as long as we can because the older you get the tougher it gets."

In the NFL, only the strong survive. The Packers off-season workout program gives many players a running start.

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