Ah, the annual HIT debate. Well, it looks like this is one season we won't have you to kick around, as sources are saying that John Thomas has been relieved of his duties as Strength and Conditioning coach at Penn State.
HIT, or High Intensity Training, had been the conditioning method of Penn State football players since Thomas' hire in 1991. Critics pointed to the larger, stronger football players at rival schools as evidence that the program simply didn't work to its desired effectiveness.
Since the good majority of the writers on staff here know little to nothing about weight training and conditioning, we asked a familiar face to provide some commentary. What he wrote for us was actually going to be featured in the John Thomas "Meet the Coaches" segment in about 10 days. But since that is now gone, this will have to serve as a goodbye post to John Thomas at the HIT debate.
Ahhh, High Intensity Training. Sound fun? It’s not. Atall. Unless of course you like throwing up or not being able to stand after doing several minutes worth of leg presses or wind sprints. Which in that case, you’re one of those workout weirdoes or a Navy Seal. Good for you.
You ever see that SNLskit with Farley, Carvey, and I think Emilio Estevez was in there…"How Much ‘Ya Bench?". It’s funny. HIT doesn’t think it’s funny. HIT throws the notion that max bench press matters out the window.
Would you believe me if I told you that as a multiyear starter in the Big Ten I never benched over 315 pounds? It’s true. BUT, I repped 315 pounds 9 times once and could rep 225 in the high 20’s. HIT focuses on getting muscle groups used to, or close to, complete failure (i.e.: not having the ability to even use that muscle anymore temporarily).
Think about that. Think about doing 20 repetitions on a leg press machine, not being able to do any more, then your spotter takes 20 pounds off so you can squeeze out a few more reps, then 20 more pounds off, and so on, until there is no weight on the bar and you can’t even extend your legs.
There are two main reasons to train this way; first, it’s safer. Strapping on as much weight as possible and "maxing out" puts undue stress on the joints and muscles. HIT uses lower weights in a more controlled fashion. Second, HIT is designed to get muscles conditioned to perform over longer periods of time. This is the old "we don’t get tired in the 4th quarter" mantra that football teams and trainers love. Except for the rare physical freak of nature like Kareem McCenzie or Levi Brown, you don’t see too many 310+ pounders coming out of PSU.
Joe Paterno loathed overweight linemen. The worst thing that happened to me was the Broncos winning those Super Bowlswith 280-285 pounders and Joe was vindicated (I struggled staying at or around 290). I remember killing myself one summer and reported at like 288 pounds. Joe walked around the stretching line with his weigh-in sheet, paused at me and said "288, huh? Imagine how good you’d look at 280…" I’ve never wanted to hit a 70+ year old in his gigantic testicles before, but I digress. Our S&C program is designed to have fit, strong players who can go the distance.
But now, that era is gone. John Thomas is out, and will hopefully be replaced on short notice by Bill O'Brien. Winter workouts are very important to the strength and conditioning of a program, so a new coordinator is needed ASAP. There are a few names being thrown about at the moment, but we'll bring you a new "Meet the Coaches" posts as soon as we learn who the next strength guru is at Penn State.
Ed. - Contributing to this post was a former Penn State offensive lineman, who signed with the Washington Redskins and also played in the XFL. Suffice it to say, this man knows what he's talking about. Many of you know him, as he is a frequent contributor in the comments section. However, he has asked us to keep his identity relatively anonymous. Please respect these wishes if you are familiar with this man.