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In Depth: Lawson's Wheel of Success

BearcatLair.com recently got the chance to sit down with Dave Lawson, Cincinnati’s Director of Strength and Conditioning, to talk about a variety of topics. Here is Part II from that interview.

Dave Lawson (photo credit: University of Cincinnati photo)

Lawson’s “Wheel of Success” shows the eight components that comprise the core of his program. They include strength/power, agility/skill development, nutrition, mental toughness, speed, flexibility, conditioning, and injury prevention. The ultimate goal is to develop a “total athlete.”

“Those are all things that improve athleticism, and if you are a better athlete, you’ll also be a better football player,” said Lawson. “But players also have to take what we’ve done in here out to the practice field and apply what the coaches are telling them. If they don’t, it doesn’t really matter what we do in here.”

Because of Cincinnati up-tempo style of play, the athletes have to be in great shape, and that means there is also a good amount of running. Most football players (especially the big men) hate to run, but Lawson believes everyone runs the same amount regardless of position or size. He explained why.

“If you look at our system, the linemen probably need to be in better shape than the wideouts. When the ball is snapped, they (o-linemen) are always hitting someone for three or four seconds and driving him. Then they need to run downfield and get to the second or third level for another three or four seconds and maybe have more contact before they have to hurry back to the line of scrimmage. It’s not unusual for a lineman to have to run 15 yards downfield, return to the line of scrimmage and then do it again. The receivers and running backs may not have contact on every play, but the linemen always do.”

Like most good leaders, Lawson tries to prepare his athletes for every possible scenario his athletes may face.

“Pead might break an 80 yard run, but what happens if there’s a clip on the play? The offense has to come back, and they need to run another play. If my guys are not used to running that amount of distance, we’re in trouble.”

Lawson explained a technique he uses called “game time conditioning.”

“Players have to get on the line (of scrimmage) and run to a disc or cone (which simulates a play). Then they may take a pass set for five yards and sprint downfield for ten yards. The next play they may need to run twenty yards. We can set it up any way we want, but we want to vary the distances because every play in a game isn’t the same.”

Dave Lawson (photo credit: Brian Baker/Lacking Focus Photography)

One of the most dreaded days is Thursday when players are timed during 110-yard sprints.

“We have to take them out of their energy system a little bit,” said Lawson. “What happens if they have that in a game and have to continue a four or five play drive? Their bodies will breakdown if I only give them three, four or six second energy systems. You have to run hard to get in shape.”

His predecessor, Paul Longo, quite often used a sand pit that was dubbed, “Longo’s Beach,” which put the players in an unstable, soft, padded surface, and Lawson also uses the technique to vary his workouts.

“It would actually be better if it were a little bit deeper,” he said. “But we use it every Tuesday coming off a leg day. We’ll have two players do 35 yard sprints in there. We make it competitive.”

Fans love to hear about 40-yard-dash times, and although Lawson has his players running that distance, the runs are never timed because too many could push themselves to injury in trying to post an impressive time.

“We don’t time them because we don’t want to lose a guy because he hurts his hamstring,” said Lawson.

Varying the type of workouts is also key to keeping them fresh, and Lawson still has some “team building” tricks up his sleeve as the squad nears summer camp, but he wasn’t yet ready to tip his hand publicly.

Since this is the second time Lawson has been part of replacing the Brian Kelly staff, he knew players would resist the additional running his program requires, but he also firmly believes it’s a necessity.

“I knew running was going to be an issue because we run them more,” said Lawson. “Our system requires the players be able to run, and if I don’t get them up to the necessary volumes, how will they survive four days of practice?”

Once the season starts, there is no more need for Lawson’s running since the practices themselves serve as the primary conditioning tool.

However, Lawson didn’t always preach so much conditioning. When he worked for Don Nehlen at West Virginia, the players didn’t have to do nearly as much running because the system was different. He said no offensive linemen were less than 300 pounds and some exceeded 350 pounds, but they would invariably run the play clock down to a few seconds in-between plays so the big men had time to recover. That’s not the case with Cincinnati’s style of play and the ever-increasing opponents that are utilizing a fast-paced spread offense.

Lawson along with his assistant Mike Szerszen could never be accused of being unprepared.

“We’ve already looked at today’s workout three times,” said Lawson. “We have every movement, every angle, every set, every rep for every workout we’ve done since we got there. We constantly go to other programs and know all the other (strength and conditioning) guys, and we’re always comparing notes.”

No one would argue that the Cincinnati Strength and Conditioning Program is challenging. Not even Lawson. But those that completely buy in see the tangible results of their efforts.

“For us to get our kids ready for games, we have to do more than the average team,” deadpanned Lawson. “Some kids are thinking that it doesn’t feel good, and they don’t want to do it. However, they will then start to see a change in their body. Kids tell me the system is challenging, but about the time they want to give up, they start to see results. And those results speak for themselves.”

BearcatLair.com will be continuing to provide those results in July as we continue our exclusive “Workout Warriors” series.

PART I: IN DEPTH: DAVE LAWSON'S PHILOSOPHY

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