TEMPE, ARIZ. — The massive men ran from one station to the next, barely taking a second to catch their breath between rounds of sit-ups, push-ups and throwing weighted balls against a wall.
They moved on to the weights next, easily whipping bars with multiple plates up to their shoulders.
The end of the session turned into a testosterone show, students watching from a perch above and shouts filling the room as the players took turns bending steel bars while squat lifting the equivalent of small cars.
Five days earlier, the scene was much more subdued.
Yes, the participants were just as sweaty, their chests heaving and hearts pounding just as much, but the weights were far lighter, the pace much slower, the crowd nonexistent — and they didn’t even have to go run 2,000 yards afterward, like the football players did.
Think you can handle a college football offseason workout? Good luck.
“There would be some people in some gyms who could probably do some of it,” said Shawn Griswold, Arizona State’s head coach of sports performance. “But what they don’t get is the tempo and the conditioning that goes with it. They (the players) don’t go home, get on a stepper or a treadmill. We get out and run and that’s where it becomes unique.”
When Arizona State invited a group of media members to go through a workout with Griswold, I figured why not. I like to think I’m in decent shape and figured I could make it through one workout.
But as the countdown started, the trepidation began. When you’re a middle-aged man who’s been told you have the back of a 70-year-old man, will eventually need knee replacement surgery and sometimes injure yourself while sleeping, the specter of being pushed to the limit by a professional strength coach will cause some anxiety.
The invite said Griswold was not going to take it easy on us. Only three of the 13 who signed up actually showed up.
Five minutes into it, I was wondering why I wasn’t among the bailers.
I work out daily and play basketball a couple of times a week, but those movements aren’t nearly as dynamic as what football players go through in games and their workouts.
So as we went through speed drills — stepping quickly in and out of a fabric ladder on the floor in various directions — did sit-ups and threw weighted balls against a wall, I found myself wondering where the defibrillator was.
Ducking under a series of hurdles, I felt like the Tin Man. Sidestepping with bands around my knees made my hips seize up. There were push-ups, pull-ups with bands as our feet hung in the air, and hurdle stepovers, too.
And that was just the warm-up.
Weights were next.
Clean and snatch was out of the question because of my back and squats because of my knee, so I got the pleasure of doing step-ups.
If you ever want to make your quads and lungs burn at the same time, step up onto a flat bench holding 25-pound weights, lifting your knee waist-high with each step. Oh, and I also doubled up with squat-downs on a machine, going straight from one exercise to the next.
The double sets continued with different exercises, jogging from one station to the next to alternate one-armed flat bench with back extensions, chin-ups with dumbbell Romanian dead lifts, shoulder raises and bent-over rows.
By the time we wound down and Griswold ran through what we just did, I was looking past him at the wall of refrigerators full of water, PowerAde and Muscle Milk, his words barely registering.
We didn’t do as many sets as the players, and Griswold and his staff stopped on several occasions to explain how they do things. And we didn’t have to run after it was over, yet it still was exhausting.
“What I put you guys through, I was just trying to give you a visual, a smidgeon of what they do,” said Griswold, who followed Sun Devils head coach Todd Graham to Tempe from Pittsburgh and Tulsa. “As far as the volume and intensity, it’s substantially different. We do more exercises, we do them faster.”
Offseason conditioning has changed drastically in the past 20-or-so years.
Used to be, players could work out on their own — some none at all — and get in shape at the start of fall camp. These days, players are expected to be in shape year-round so they can hit the ground running, so to speak, when practices go live.
Conditioning has become a bigger priority at Arizona State under Graham, who wants the Sun Devils to go-go-go all the time.
“It’s is vital considering how much the game has changed,” Graham said. “We now have up-tempo offenses and attacking defenses and the players have more explosiveness, power and strength. The game has evolved so much. The players have to be both mentally and physically tougher.”
Arizona State’s big fellas appear to be in good shape on both counts.
Through the speed drills, they looked more like running backs and receivers than linemen. The weighted balls looked like tennis balls in their hands. They lifted weights most people couldn’t bench up to their shoulders and the squatting session was an impressive display of power, the entire group gathered around as bars bent like rubber movie props under the weight of multiple 45-pound plates.
And that was only the halfway point.
Once they’re done in the weight room, ASU’s players go out to the practice bubble and run up to 2,500 yards, broken up into timed sessions. The upperclassmen have also taken it upon themselves to “echo” their runs at the end of each session, hitting their mark on, say, a 110-yard run, then turning around and doing it again without taking a break.
Griswold didn’t offer us a chance to take on that part of the workout.
My family and life insurance company thank him.