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Performance Gaines: What do conditioning tests really tell you?

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Travelle Gaines looks on at his new Performance Gaines facility. (Doug Farrar)

We're pleased and proud to announce that Travelle Gaines, who trains many of the NFL's current players and has worked with more first-round draft picks than any other trainer in the last three years, will be writing about specific football strength and conditioning for Shutdown Corner. Travelle just opened his new studio, Performance Gaines, in Los Angeles, after several years with Athletes Performance. In his first post, Travelle talks about the actual value of training camp conditioning tests, which have been in the news quite a bit of late ... especially with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. New Bucs head coach Greg Schiano believes that these tests indicate a minimum standard for his team, but not every NFL head coach and strength coach would agree.

Neither, as it turns out, would Travelle.

Of the 30-plus NFL players training at our facility through the offseason, I didn't have any players coming in and saying that they had to train specifically for conditioning tests. What we did have was a lot of guys saying, "Hey, Travelle -- I have to make sure that when I show up at the team facility, I pass this test." Those could involve 10 110-yard bursts, or six half-gassers, or three full gassers -- I had to make sure they could do that.

So, every Tuesday and Thursday, whenever we went out to the field at Fairfax High in Los Angeles, Tuesday would be our 110 day. We worked up to doing twenty 110s for all the players. And that was with the skill players (receivers, defensive backs) running them in 14 seconds, the mid-skill players (running backs, linebackers, tight ends) in 16 seconds, and the big skill players (offensive and defensive linemen) running them in 17 seconds. That's what we did on Tuesday, after the guys lifted and did all their agility stuff. Starting in June, we started off with eight in Week 1, and worked our way up to 20 by week six. And the reason we did 20 was that the most we knew of a team doing was sixteen 110s -- i.e., the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

On Thursdays, we would run the gassers, alternating between half-gassers one week, and full-gassers the next. A half-gasser is a 107-yard sprint in which a player will run 53 1/2 yards, and run back to the starting point. I was having all of our guys doing these in 12 seconds. A full gasser is 53 1/2 yards and back, 53 1/2 yards and back -- doing it twice. And we had all our guys do these in under 28 seconds. Weeks 1, 3, and 5, we went from four, to six, to eight half-gassers. In Weeks 2, 4, and 6, we did two, then three, then four full-gassers.

In the end, and this is something I'm very proud of -- all of our athletes passed their tests. Not only did they pass their tests, but many of them were pacesetters for their teams. Our players took a lot of pride in pushing each other -- there was one day where Stafon Johnson of the Redskins had just a brutal day. He did 90 minutes of MMA training with Jay Glazer in our gym, then 90 minutes strength and conditioning and agility, and then he went outside to run the 110s -- we were up to 16 at that time. He got to about 14, and he just couldn't do it anymore. Then, Dashon Goldson and Terrell Thomas and Ryan Mathews, they all said, "Hey -- you've got to go and finish this -- you're fighting for a roster spot." He knew they were right, and he immediately went out there and ran those last two 110s.

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Travelle talks with Chargers running back Ryan Mathews before the gassers begin. (Doug Farrar)

It's funny -- Eric Wright and Orlando Scandrick told me that they take so much pride in not only representing themselves, and Performance Gaines, but also the group of guys they train with, especially in the conditioning portion. The goal is that when an NFL coach knows that his guys are training at Performance Gaines, he doesn't have to worry about them.

Some NFL teams, like the Seattle Seahawks, don't invest a lot of time in the concept. Chris Carlisle, Seattle's strength and conditioning coach, recently told Shutdown Corner that "We don't run a conditioning test. [The other NFL teams,] it's up to their choice if they do, but we don't. Why should you run a test? These are professionals. When we got here in the first year with Coach Carroll [before the 2010 season], we ran a few agility tests just to see where the players were, because the coaches and conditioning staff hadn't seen the players. When we bring an Antonio Bryant or a Braylon Edwards, they're expected to be in playing shape. Of course, their reps are probably limited because they're new on the field, but that's about it. These guys are professionals, and they come in ready to go."

Head Coach Pete Carroll agreed. "We hold our guys so accountable throughout the process that they don't get out of shape. I was a little concerned with the big guys. When we came back to mini-camp, you know our big guys were big. And they came back a little less big. They did a great job. But I think it's the overall system and approach that we have always counted on. You know it's a year-round approach to how we keep them in shape, how we work them, and our expectations and our ability to monitor. Chris Carlisle has done an incredible job. I mean, we've been together for a long time. He gets these guys right. So that one-day event is not a big factor to us.

"If they can't go, they can't go. There a plenty of guys that can. It is a big, big message that guys send you when they are not in condition. Basically for us, it's when they are in condition. Our guys reported, though, in great shape and they are ready to rock-n-roll."

My opinion on the NFL conditioning tests is very similar to Coach Carlisle's and Coach Carroll's. I believe that if a guy shows up for training camp and he's not in shape, he should be cut. They're not taking their jobs seriously. Your job as a professional athlete is to keep your body in pristine condition, and if you can't pass the test that the 90 other guys out there are set to pass, you should be gone. There should never be a time, especially as a professional athlete where you have six weeks off in an NFL offseason, where you can't stay in shape. This is something that the average American can't carve out enough time in their day to do, but you can. So, if you can't pass the test, you should be cut on the spot.

I think a lot of it is mental. When I was at LSU, I worked with Tommy Moffitt, the greatest strength coach in America. He had the team doing up to thirty-two 110s, which from a physical standpoint, does not even make any sense. It does nothing for you physically -- it's all mental. I don't know if it's a psychological thing for some coaches, where they want their players to know that they can't party too hard, or they have to work to a certain level when they're away from the facility.

It all comes down to every team's philosophy. Coach Carroll is one of my favorite coaches -- I love his mentality and the swagger he brings to the team. He has a firm understanding with his guys -- you do what you've got to do to be great on game day. Whereas a lot of other coaches  say, "These are the rules; this is what we ask you to do." It's based on the mentality of the coach and the organization.

Personally, I don't think there's a right or wrong answer. If I was an NFL strength and conditioning coach, I probably wouldn't have conditioning tests. If you show up out of shape, you're cut. I would put more of an emphasis on their playing weight -- if you're supposed to be 200 pounds, and that's you're playing weight, you'd better show back up at 200 pounds, and it had better be the right kind of 200 pounds. Don't show up at 210 and use camp to try and get into shape. Camp is a time to start learning, and to start getting ready for the preseason games and Week 1. That's how I would address it.

There's no time to sit on the sidelines getting in shape while everyone else is learning. Every day you miss learning in the NFL is an eternity.

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