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July 31, 2013

Leading the Summer Work - Part 1

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Truth be told, Oregon State strength and conditioning coach Bryan Miller occasionally wishes the school joined most major universities throughout the country and switched to the semester system.

If it did, organizing summer workouts for the Beavers football team would be less complex - and flow more smoothly - for him with simply a pair of neatly packaged four-week sessions in June and July divided by the Independence Day holiday instead of the stop-and-start schedule compelled by the quarterly system.

"The honest to God truth is I've already presented that to the AD," Miller told BeaverBlitz recently when asked whether he preferred a semester-based calendar.

Unlike most major Division I programs, offseason preparations for the Beavers' preseason camp starting on August 5, actually began shortly after the spring game held at Reser Stadium concluded on April 26.

The Beavers spent most of May and early June in the weight room and running sprints outside while spring quarter classes continued on campus.

"The month of May is one we really utilize. It's almost like another month of an offseason," Miller said. "We do just enough conditioning so when we start up the summer program, they're not in bad shape. It's typically like January, February and March. We're trying to reach maximum strength and speed during that month."

The players were off during final exams week (June 10-14) and then permitted to travel home for the week of June 17-23 following commencement exercises on the OSU campus.

Conditioning workouts resumed June 24 when summer school started and lasted a total of four weeks. The full 11-week summer session runs from June 24-September 6 in Corvallis, though separate four week (June 24-July 19; July 22-August 16) and eight-week sessions (June 24-August 16) are integrated into the summer schedule as well.

Workouts in late June and the first three weeks of July coincide with the initial four-week stretch of classes on the Corvallis campus. Fall quarter classes officially begin September 30.

Maneuvering past the unique challenges presented by Oregon State's distinctive academic calendar is often daunting, Miller explained.

"Most teams are starting their true strength and conditioning summer programs that first week of June," Miller said. "We actually start up for about two weeks of our program and then we have to shut down for finals week. Then the following week (June 17-21), one of their options is to get some free time out of here or they can stay. We had about 45 guys that stayed for that week, so it was about a 50-50 split."

Upon conclusion of the final day of summer workouts on July 19, the Beavers were awarded with two weeks off until the start of preseason camp.

"It is a little tricky because from a training standpoint, nine days off is a little too much," Miller said.

The players, though, understand that they are expected to keep working out on their own during that two-week stretch (July 20-August 4), but just as practices differ from games, matching the intensity in individual workouts with campus workouts overseen by Miller is difficult.

"After summer school is done in that second week of July (week of July 15-19), these guys get real antsy to get out of here," Miller said. "They leave and go home because they didn't have that month of May off like most other players have. The give and take we have is we do everything possible to encourage them to stay for the remainder of the summer conditioning program (in July). So, we give them nine days off before camp, where most programs give four or five days.

"There are about three weeks in there (in the summer) where they're off campus. I'm sure they're doing what I tell them to do. But their conditioning for fall camp is nothing what it was when they left here. So, that's always been the struggle, the tail end of summer when there is no summer school because we give them a little more off time at the end of the summer than most programs do."

Because the summer workout schedule might not be entirely to his liking, Miller takes advantage of every minute he spends with the players, up to a maximum of eight hours per week as mandated by NCAA rules.

"We find out what the last day of summer will be and then build backwards," Miller said. "That's where we start. One of the things we have to do here is our conditioning levels have to stay high almost year round. So, when we get into the summer, the conditioning work we do is very demanding. But it's not overwhelming because they're exposed to a lot of it."

Nine days off between July 20 and August 4 meant the final week of summer workouts was extremely intense, Miller said.

"The last week, we pushed them so hard to the point they're almost over-trained," Miller said. "So when they have these nine days off, they really need nine days. That's the give-and-take with the training we do and the science we apply to what we're doing."

What are the workouts like? The most important principle Miller faithfully follows is each drill under his watch must be 'applicable' to what the Beavers will do on the football field starting August 31 in the season opener against Eastern Washington (3 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).

Football players are not marathoners. Instead, they engage the opponent in four or five second bursts of action in which speed, strength, power and agility are paramount. As a result, summer workouts are designed around upgrading those skills.

"What they do has to apply to what they're going to be exposed to during August camp as well as the season," Miller said. "So, you have to make sure they do certain things at top end speed and at a high velocity. They must have a high metabolic demand.

"We also want to have things that are measurable. We want to be able to determine if our players are making progress and if at the end of the summer they truly are physically prepared to go into camp. And they want to have that information as well."

Promoting competition within the Beavers and each position group has proven to be one of the best methods of assuring progress. When workouts are in session, Miller reserves Fridays for competition-based drills.

Miller divides the team into three primary groups - skill positions, middle-sized players and big guys (linemen). Each specific group is further broken down into smaller teams that compete ferociously against each other in various drills.

Since Miller had a maximum of eight hours per week to supervise workouts, the players work out four times a week in two-hour segments - Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

Typically, Miller said, Mondays involved improving straight ahead speed and acceleration with emphasis on short sprints and sled sprints, including 'flying 25s', and conclude with a 100-yard shuttle.

"That adds in a metabolic demand and some change in direction work," Miller said. "Day one of running is really demanding."

The second day of running during the week features 100-yard 'tempo' runs in order to accelerate the players' ability to recover rapidly, Miller said.

"We got up to 22 (runs) this summer, so that's 2,200 yards of technical running,'" he said.

Players usually had Wednesday off before turning to the demanding 300-yard shuttle run on Thursday.

"Guys hate that day the most because it's the hardest day to run," Miller said. "But they also understand that it's the most productive day for them. If there is one thing they'll tell you that best prepares them for football season, it's doing all those 300-yard shuttles."

Miller focuses on short sprints and agility drills on Friday, with everything accomplished in a group competition setting.

Don't miss Part 2 tomorrow as Miller reveals who earned the title of the "Strongest Beavers", who is pound-for-pound the strongest player, and who was the undisputed leader of the summer workouts.

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