Is Strength a Weakness for PSU?

David Macklin.

Penn State's strength and conditioning program is the topic of much debate in the Nittany Nation each off-season. For years the controversy has revolved around whether Penn State's program, which uses the high intensity training (HIT) approach, is better off staying with HIT or moving to the Olympic training approach, which focuses on the use of free weights.

To answer the question, we talked to the people who have used PSU's program and now play in the NFL. We went to these players not only because they experienced the HIT approach at Penn State firsthand, but also because they have experienced a variety of strength and conditioning programs at the professional level, so they have a good point of view to make comparisons.

The HIT approach makes a more widespread use of machines at a higher intensity to build strength. The theory is that the machines provide the players with correct form, and hence a greater chance to avoid injury while conditioning.

On the other hand, the Olympic approach is based on the use of free weights. While the chance of injury is said to be greater, it is also widely believed that this approach puts more demands on the player's body and provides a greater workout to more muscle groups. In other words, the player does not have the benefit of a machine to supplement his exercise reps.

We looked a solid cross-section of players from different years at Penn State and different programs within the NFL. Among the Lions we spoke to were Kyle Brady, Brandon Short, Anthony Adams, Brad Scioli, David Macklin and Justin Kurpeikis. We also spoke with some former player out of the game to get their perspective on the topic.

Brandon Noble, Washington Redskins: Noble shared his thoughts on the program, saying, "Just surviving one of John Thomas' workouts is enough to let you know you can pretty much survive anything."

Justin Kurpeikis, New England Patriots: Although he recently joined the Browns, Kurpeikis used a combination of HIT and Olympic style training during his time with the Patriots. As he said, "I think [the program] prepared me phenomenally. People say things like that as a knee-jerk reaction. They want one simple answer to point to which is rarely the case. JT [John Thomas] is awesome. He is someone who helped me tremendously and I will never say a bad word about him. I learned so much while in the program. Let me tell you this, the rigors they put me through at Penn State were so intense, I have not seen the likes of the program since. They push you so hard that you are more than prepared for the next level. At least I feel I was. The strength program is not an issue for Penn State."

Brandon Short, Carolina Panthers: Short has used both the HIT and Olympic approaches in the pros, explaining, "The program helps build both muscles and endurance. It is important to come out strong and fast, but the goal of the program is to get players to have that same level of play in the fourth quarter. The PSU program is very difficult and rigorous. It tests your physical and mental toughness. I always say if you can make it through JT's program you can make it through anything. It is a big reason why I am here today. I owe that program a lot."

David Macklin, Arizona Cardinals: Macklin, who has seen time with the Colts and Cardinals, has also worked out in both approaches. As he said, "All I can say is John Thomas is awesome. He does a great job getting guys in peak condition and ready physically to compete out there. He knows what it takes to get players to the next level of play and that helps a lot. It helped me. Just look at all the guys he has helped get to the pros. I attribute a lot of Penn State's success and reputation in the NFL to the strength and conditioning program."

Anthony Adams, San Francisco 49ers: According to Adams, "It [Penn State's performance] has nothing to do with the HIT method. It has more to do with the character of some of the guys. We use HIT here in San Francisco and it has worked well for me. That is what I am used to and I think the program works."

Brad Scioli, Indianapolis Colts: Scioli talked about his experience with the programs, explaining, "It is a tough program. It is a good college program. The issue is you have so little time [in college] with classes and so many players that their approach is really the best way you do it. In the pros you have so much more time to focus on the HIT approach than you do in college. You need that time to really get the benefits out of it. Personally, I like to use a combination of HIT and free weights for better development."

Kyle Brady, Jacksonville Jaguars: Kyle still uses the HIT program with the Jaguars, saying, "The system minimizes injury and, I feel, builds your endurance. HIT goes against the power-lifting approach. That approach prepares you for the NFL combine when you need to see how many bench presses you can do, but far as overall conditioning and preparation of on the field, I like the HIT approach."

Despite the wide spectrum of former players we have spoken to on the topic, we have yet to come across a player who has publicly denounced the strength and conditioning program.

That is certainly not to say that the program doesn't have it's critics among NFL alumni. Players like All-Pro lineman Marco Rivera of the Dallas Cowboys has questioned the effectiveness of the program. However, the many PSU pros we have spoken with have not painted a negative picture based on their experiences at PSU and in the NFL.

We'll continue to ask the question, though, as we continue to talk to the NFL Nittany Lions.

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