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Training Day: Working with the quarterbacks, and not breathing

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Try not to breathe...

Up through the NFL draft, Shutdown Corner's Kristian Dyer will be training at TEST Football Academy Powered by Parisi Speed School in New Jersey along with roughly 20 players. All of these athletes are prepping for the NFL combine, different pro days and of course, the NFL draft in April. A former college soccer player, Kristian was a playground legend at quarterback back in middle school but never played a down of organized football. He will be blogging about the life of training for the NFL draft and a career in the league as he lives it firsthand.

MARTINSVILLE, N.J. — Last week, after being tested at the one-month point of the training process and showing progress, shedding nearly two-tenths of a second off my 40-yard dash and adding three inches to my vertical jump, I was feeling ready to take the next step in my draft preparation process. I was ready to begin positional work.

I was going to start training like a quarterback.

For nearly four weeks, I had been pleased with my results at TEST Sports Clubs' Football Academy, where I was working with draft prospects under the watchful eye of trainers Skip Fuller and Geir Gudmundsen. I was also working out at Parisi Speed Schools, where Terrence Fabor was putting me through workouts to help lower my 40 time. Everything, Fabor told me, "was geared towards the combine and being explosive."

All I knew was that the 90-minute circuit workouts with the 20 or so NFL draft prospects had my body ready to explode and not always feeling "explosive" like Fabor said. Surely working with the quarterbacks was going to be easier; after all, on upper body workouts they were separated from the linemen and the rest of the "big boys" for the bench press segment of the routine.

After the kickers, it is the quarterback position that is most often the butt of jokes in the football locker room. They are often the pretty boys of the team and rarely as big or as cut as many of their teammates. Let's be honest, those fluorescent colored "Don't Hit Me" jerseys in practice don't help either. And now as I got ready to bench press with the quarterbacks, I figured it'd be a lot easier than two weeks before when I benched with the running backs where it was a lot of heavy weights and maximum lifts.

But as Dan DiLella, a quarterback out of Albany, told me "the quarterbacks are where the real strength is." That's because their routine isn't based on heavy weights and maximum bench presses. It is a test of sustained strength.

"We need to be careful with our quarterbacks because they are going to make their money off of their arms and shoulders. We do not want to risk injury or affect their shoulder mobility by lifting too heavy," said Parisi Speed School powered by TEST Sports Clubs' program director Mike Baker. "We do not bench the quarterbacks, but we do a lot of single arm movements with them to increase mobility and flexibility in the arms and shoulders. We also do a lot of internal and external rotational exercises to strengthen the rotator cuffs."

So rather than throw 225 pounds onto a barbell and begin benching, my routine was controlled. After working my way up from 30 pounds, I was holding two 60-pound dumbbells and pressing till exhaustion. I got some approving head nods from the quarterbacks after putting up 23 repetitions. The next closest quarterback had 30 repetitions.

DiLella put up 50 repetitions to pace all the quarterbacks. There was work with the cable machines between sets, all designed to strengthen the quarterback's shoulder and rotator cuff.

I also got some fine turning on my form. One important technique the athletes use when teaching the bench press is to keep the shoulder blades down and back on the bench. This allows the back muscles to act as stabilizers and causes the chest to sit higher off of the bench. This decreases the length the bar needs to travel for a full repetition.

I was also told that when I hit the bench press, to not breathe. Wait, say what? I had always been taught to exhale at the top of the motion. This new concept is called the "valsalva maneuver" and it went against everything I had ever been taught about weightlifting.

"Basically we want the guys to set a basement number that they can reach while holding their breath. By holding their breath, intra-abdominal pressure increases resulting in a significant increase in blood pressure. This causes blood flow and oxygen to rush to the area of the muscles being used, increasing strength and explosion," Baker said.

It also leaves me breathless for the upcoming session with Scott Brunner, the former New York Giants quarterback who was the mentor to Baltimore Ravens Pro Bowl quarterback Joe Flacco.

Follow Kristian R. Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer

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