April 21, 2011

Sultans of Sweat: Prehab, All Guts-No Glory Days and Teamwork in The Swamp

by J. Jude Hazard | LaxMagazine.com

Brittany Dashiell, then a freshman, gets hang time in the University of Florida's strength and conditioning complex during a workout last year. The Gators' physical maturation from year one to year two has helped them to a No. 3 national ranking and ALC regular season championship.

© UF Communications

High atop The Swamp is the summit of Gator Mountain. It's there -- 90 steps above the field at Florida's Ben Hill Griffin Stadium -- that strength, speed, endurance and teamwork are built on the efforts of Karin Werth, Florida's strength and conditioning coach who works exclusively with the Gators' women's lacrosse and women's soccer teams.

Werth has helped build Florida women's lacrosse (14-1, 5-0 ALC) into a championship contender in just the program's second season. The Gators are ranked third in this week's IWLCA Division I poll and captured the regular season American Lacrosse Conference title with an upset win against Northwestern last week.

"Karin has been such an asset to our program," assistant coach Erica LaGrow said. "She is one of the biggest reasons that our kids have been so successful. It makes coaching lacrosse so much easier when they're so physical and so strong."

Florida's approach to athletic training begins before players even step on the field for their freshman year or take to the stadium steps at The Swamp. Each player on the team participates in what Florida calls "Prehab," a comprehensive cataloging of the player's strengths and weaknesses from a physical, nutritional and conditioning perspective.

Werth reviews the results of that analysis with athletic trainer Anna Hale and customizes drills for the team that address overall common needs. Werth and Hale also develop an individual plan for each player to maximize their physical ability and conditioning.

"If someone has weak quads, they're going to do extra quad work. They design an overall strength and conditioning program for the sport of lacrosse, and then go a step further so it's specific to each player and each individual," LaGrow said. "You can definitely see from year one to year two how much stronger they're getting."

The team's nutritionist reviews the results of the "Prehab" analysis and assigns appropriate dietary supplements to players based on their individual needs. For example, an iron deficiency is common among female athletes, according to LaGrow.

To build strength, Werth employs Olympic lifts and other power workouts in a comprehensive, three-phase fall training program. The training also involves sprints in quick succession, speed and agility drills and the "All Guts-No Glory" Friday workouts. (See "How to Build a Contender" below.)

The All Guts-No Glory Fridays include drills up and down the stadium steps at The Swamp. In one drill, players carry a six-foot long chain up the 90 stadium steps. Each player is required to hold the chain above the ground, so once everyone reaches the top of the 90,000-seat stadium, the combined chain lengths seemingly form one long chain from the first player to the last, symbolizing the teamwork required for success. In another drill, teammates are paired up with each other, one running up the stadium steps wearing a weight vest with the other helping if needed. Once they reach the top and descend back to the bottom, they repeat the process with the other wearing the vest.

Kitty Cullen, the nation's leading scorer, is Florida's fastest player with a 4.9-second 40-yard dash.

© Jim Burgess

"It's physically grueling, but they learn to get through it. They learn to work hard for each other," Werth said. "There's a lot of teamwork that goes on in those hard workouts."

Werth conducts a number of drills that require all players to successfully finish before the team moves on to the next exercise. If someone is slacking behind, the rest of the team has to motivate her to complete the drill, or the team may have to repeat the exercise. Werth's regimen is designed to build speed, strength and endurance all at the same time. She limits running drills to less than 400 yards, but repeats those drills with little or no break. Not surprisingly, the team's fastest player is sophomore Kitty Cullen, who leads the nation with 4.47 goals per game. Cullen clocked a 4.9-second 40-yard-dash time this year using electronic timing. Overall, the team's average 40 time improved by about a half a second from year one to year two, LaGrow said. The starters' average time is 5.1 seconds.

"This team that we have now have all contributed on the positive side, and they all worked hard to stay up because they all wanted to be part of this team," Werth said. "This team really bought into working hard, and now they're seeing the fruits of their labor."

How to Build a Contender

The Florida women's lacrosse team's fall training program:

Phase 1
* Six-week cycle of strength, agility and conditioning.
* Total body lift Monday and Wednesday: Jump training, squats, snatches, bench press, pull-ups, etc.
* Conditioning Tuesday and Thursday: Dynamic flex with leg swings, running sprints.
* All Guts-No Glory Friday: 6x, 8x and 10x stadium sprints with chains or weight vests, strength activities at top.

Phase 2
* Five-week cycle of power, agility, practice and games
* Total body lift Monday and Wednesday: Jump training, squats, snatches, bench press, pull-ups, etc.
* Conditioning and agility Tuesday and Thursday: Timed running sprints with full gear, agility drills.

Phase 3
* Six-week cycle of power, speed, strength and conditioning
* Total body lift Monday and Wednesday: Jump training, squats, snatches, bench press, pull-ups, etc.
* Conditioning and agility Tuesday and Thursday: Speed development drills, partner hip stretching, quick succession sprints.

Phase 4
* Three-week cycle of winter break workouts
* Individualized three-week training session that focuses on conditioning, agility, strength/power, speed, nutrition and flexibility.

Conditioning Test
Each player is tested upon return from winter break.

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