Offseason Program Pushes Rams Forward
Wearing a black “Fahgeddaboutit” kitchen apron Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo and coordinators Ken Flajole, Pat Shurmur and Tom McMahon served up a special lunch on Monday afternoon.
That quartet formed the wait staff for “Maria’s Café,” an impromptu Italian restaurant set up in the back lobby of the Russell Training Center and run by the coach’s wife, head chef Maria Spagnuolo.
Twelve players were able to partake in the extensive menu, which included meatballs, lasagna, friend chicken, baby back ribs and a variety of other dishes. And though the spirit of the event was done in fun, it was actually a reward for many hours of sweat given over the past couple of months in the team’s offseason conditioning program.
“I think it’s good for the guys to see the coordinators and head coach serve them,” Steve Spagnuolo said. “That added a little twist to it and I get to see my wife on a Monday. And they can pick on the waiters so it worked out pretty good.”
After a major makeover to their weight room and offseason conditioning program brought on by strength and conditioning coach Rock Gullickson was a big hit with Rams players last year, the Rams continued to look for ways to build on the bonds formed in last year’s program.
Technically, the offseason conditioning program – which began on March 15 – is optional. But you’d never know it from the amount of participation the Rams have had during the past month and a half.
Spagnuolo estimates that the Rams are right in the range of 90 percent participation among the players on the roster, not far off from the number they posted last year. The few that haven’t been around have been working out on their own, have been in and out because of other commitments or recovering from injury.
“I think it’s been great,” linebacker James Laurinaitis said. “Guys have been getting in here and working hard and this is a big part of what we do. I’m a big believer in the saying that failure to prepare is preparing to fail. I think everyone has come in and done a great job.”
Before last year, the Rams’ weight program underwent a major overhaul under Gullickson and assistant strength coach Chuck Faucette. That included a complete revamp of the weight room itself as well as a shift in philosophy.
In recent seasons, the Rams used a strength and conditioning program that was more geared toward specific movements with less emphasis on strength training and building muscle and bulk.
Under the new regime, the emphasis has shifted to power lifting. That means more Olympic style lifts such as hang cleans, squats, dead lifts and a variety of heavy presses.
The average week for a Rams player during the offseason consists of four workout days, each with a specific area to work on.
Mondays start with a complete upper body workout. That can include chest, arms, shoulder, neck and core body exercises.
On Tuesday, the players work the lower body, doing a variety of leg lifts that hit on all parts of the leg and foot.
On Wednesday, the heavy lifting is set aside and the team does what is called a “functional” day. On that day, the team heads to the indoor field and do functional movements like ankle stability, joint stability, hips, shoulders and stretching.
Thursday is the final workout day of the week and a little of everything from the previous three days is incorporated to that day.
“We stuck mostly to what we did last year,” Spagnuolo said. “We kept that mold because I thought it worked out pretty good. And I think Rock and Chuck do a great job with the players. We haven’t had has much football intertwined, not as much team installation in these offseason period because we have OTAs coming up and we didn’t want to burn them out. There has been a lot of individual football and a lot of weightlifting and conditioning.”
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Rams program, if there wasn’t room for innovation and creativity.
Most athletes are always on the lookout for something that can break up the monotony of the usual weight room and football field workouts.
And though MMAthletics offers just that for players in search of an edge, it actually provides training techniques that are old school in practice.
The Rams received their introduction to the ways MMA fight training can translate to the football field as Fox Sports football reporter Jay Glazer and MMA star Jay Hieron have brought their unique workouts to the Russell Training Center.
“More than the average guy I already appreciate the discipline, toughness and technique that goes into what they do,” end Chris Long said. “When you play a sport with a lot of technique, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know you have to learn every detail of your sport. This has exceeded my expectations.”
Glazer and Hieron arrived in St. Louis early last week. Hieron, a UFC and Strike Force veteran holds a 19-4 record in the welterweight division and has fought some of the most notable athletes in the sport, including George St. Pierre.
Glazer and MMA superstar Randy Couture teamed up to develop the company back in 2006 with the idea that many of the hand techniques and requirements to succeed in the fight case can be effective tools on the football field as well.
Long, who was already in contact with Glazer, contacted some of his teammates and told them about the opportunity that would be available this week.
After completing their normal football workouts, Long says he and his teammates spent 90 minutes the first day learning the basics.
“Even the warm-ups are tiring because you are using muscles you don’t normally use,” Long said.
After that, the players spent about 20 minutes shadow boxing, working their hands, stretching their hips and core with kicks and other exercises.
Then, the workout really begins as Glazer and Hieron teach various disciplines such as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay-Thai, boxing and submission fighting.
As the week went on, more curious Rams poked their head in and wanted to get involved.
“It’s good to mix it up,” Long said. “We think Rock and Chuck do a great job and they know athletes are always looking for opportunities to train different ways and mix it up.”
By the end of the first week, the Rams had to be broken into a variety of groups to accommodate everyone. Each group is given a curriculum based on position
That curriculum is about teaching ways to attack opponents and ultimately “impose your will” on them, according to Glazer.
Some of the benefits of the MMA training include loosening up the hips and core of the player, teaching the player to add strength and violence to their moves and teaching them about the importance of leverage.
“You can bench press 500 pounds but if you can’t move somebody, what good is that?” Glazer said. “It gives them a huge advantage in the game.”
While the MMA workouts are optional, it’s been a hit with many of the players including tackle Jason Smith, who said he never knew he had a breaking point until he began doing those workouts on top of the workouts he was already doing.
“It was a way to make something available to them, strictly voluntary,” Spagnuolo said.
“Some of the guys really jumped on board and they love it. It’s another way to condition, it’s another way to get your body right and anytime you can put something a little different in there to get rid of the monotony of just going in the weight room and getting out on the field and running, I think is good.”
As much as anything, Spagnuolo hates being stagnant. He is constantly moving and looking ahead to the next thing.
In the next couple of weeks, the Rams will finally get the opportunity to move out of the offseason conditioning program and on to the football stuff. That includes 14 Organized Team Activities and a weekend-long minicamp that will feature five more practices.
With so many players coming off serious injury, it might have been a concern about what type of condition the team would be in when those practices start but with nearly every recovering player, the reports have all come back glowing with many even deemed to be ahead of schedule.
“(Head athletic trainer) Reggie Scott and his crew in there have done a great job,” Spagnuolo said. “I think overall guys feel like they are ahead of schedule. Everybody wants to get back in. The Roger Allens, the Bradley Fletchers, the Chris Masseys, they want to get back out there.”
It was no coincidence that those were three of the players invited to Maria’s Café on Monday afternoon.
Three weeks ago, Gullickson tested the Rams in a bench press contest in which players were divided into three groups according to size. The three players who did the best earned invites to lunch.
Soon after, there was another test meant to challenge how quickly players could perform a bench press exercise. Three more players earned the right to have lunch served by Spagnuolo, Flajole, Shurmur and McMahon.
“It’s nice to be rewarded for working hard,” defensive tackle Gary Gibson, who was partial to the meatballs, said. “It was a good reward right in the stomach. We had no idea; Spags dropped it on us last week.”
It’s the work that’s been done in recent weeks that has Spagnuolo and the rest of the coaching staff excited about what they’ll see.
“I think the guys are bonding as a team which is what you want in the offseason,” Spagnuolo said. “That’s part of the reason you get them all back here. I think the second time around, the guys all understand what is expected, where we are trying to get to.”
The next place the Rams are trying to get to is May 18, the first day of the OTAs and the first opportunity for the returning players, the new free agents and the rookie class to come together under the Rams’ banner for workouts.
And for as much as Spagnuolo enjoyed dishing up food to his players, there’s nothing he likes more than being on a football field doing what he does best.
“We are itching for it,” Spagnuolo said. “All of us, players, coaches, everybody involved. The game is played on the field. We are anxious to get everybody here, the rookies and the vets and really get a look at what the 2010 team is going to start to look like.”
Re: Offseason Program Pushes Rams Forward
Great article. Very happy with the results. I would love to see the Rams scrap a couple of wins late in games next year just to show that working hard in the offseason pays off.