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The Magical Treadmill

Aug. 28, 2011

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By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

Something’s different when you step into the weight room in the Zelnak Center — where former Georgia Tech basketball players B.J. Elder, Lance Storrs, Moe Miller and Gani Lawal were all in various stages of workout the other day – and current player Nate Hicks is cranking up on a treadmill to this soundtrack:

“Now Nate, the way this works is by the time you’re finished with this I want you to feel like you’re almost going to puke.”

That was new men’s basketball strength and conditioning coach Mike Bewley, who worked previously with new Tech coach Brian Gregory at Dayton.

The 35-ish Louisville native is bringing some science to his job. Gregory and his players will soon be able to read some of that every day.

During all Tech practices and workouts this season, players will wear monitors around their chests that will enable Bewley to beam vital information onto the walls in the gym or workout room. Heart rates, breathing rates, “effort” rates, it’ll all be up there. No hiding. Nobody will be able to fake hard work.

So with Hicks, Bewley was continuing to test the aerobic capacities of all players on the men’s team, seeking information that will let him know who is capable of what with regards to cardio-vascular capacity and the ability to quickly move oxygen from the lungs and into the system to aid in both exercise and recovery.

Establishing baseline data for each player will let Bewley (and Gregory) know where they are in terms of conditioning, what areas they most need to work on, who can tolerate more, now can tolerate less, etc.

“I can map out practice,” Bewley said. “At the end, it will give coach a score – it’s kind of arbitrary to anybody else – and he knows we need to be at this particular score 72 hours out from a game, and this score 24 hours out. Being able to manage those stress loads we’re able to better play our best basketball at the end of the year instead of at the beginning.

“More importantly, it puts guys in situations where they become more accustomed to what hard work is because you can say, `I’m working hard,’ but until you have empirical data . . . you’re not.”

Hicks survived without incident.

His turn on the treadmill lasted around 10 minutes, with Bewley dialing up the tread speed, adding incline, and recording data all the while.

This is not a new idea (the Orlando Magic are among organizations that have put similar programs into practice), but it’s not common at the college level – at least not yet.

Bewley, who worked at Georgia Southern before Dayton, brings a resume.

He earned a Master’s degree in education leadership from Nevada, and is certified as a strength and conditioning specialist and as a nutritionist. He is a USA weightlifting Level I Olympic club coach to boot.

But where he worked with the men’s and women’s basketball and golf teams at Dayton, and built programs for 11 sports at Georgia Southern, his focus for the time being is on the Tech men’s basketball teams.

He’s proud to say the Flyers went 8-2 in postseason games after he installed this program with Gregory’s Dayton squads three years ago. Not that Gregory was initially convinced.

This is some different stuff, and Bewley’s beliefs were born as much from results he was seeing in women’s teams as from men although he sees plenty of value in monitoring all student-athletes.

“I got into a situation where I thought we were over-training and the coaches thought we weren’t. I really wanted to know,” he said. “I worked with the women’s team . . . we started getting a lot of stress fracture reactions. I instituted the program, and it was a learning curve for everybody.

“[No coach] wants anybody to come into practice and say, `We have to change what we’re doing.’ I just want to maybe change a cluster of exercises. For instances, he might say, `We’re always going to do these exercises.’ That’s fine, but instead of doing all four together, let’s break them up, maybe throw some free throws between the first two and give them some recovery.”

Bewley said it was common in previous years when testing student-athletes after the season to see a big drop-off in capabilities when compared to baseline results taken at the beginning of the season.

This was a scientific representation of what you would call wear-and-tear.

“Throughout the season I do a power test. [Intuitive information might be gleaned by something] as simple as a vertical jump. When guys’ verticals are dropping , or when I see guys losing weight . . . and just by watching guys,” he said. “It’s a little subjective, too, like if a guy is not running and jumping like usual.

“Guys would probably drop off 10-12 percent in their physical re-test at the end of the year. Since we instituted the belt, guys are staying the same or actually improving over the course of the season. Ideally, that’s what we want.”

That means that if a student-athletes numbers begin dropping too quickly, his workload might be dialed back, or the type of work he’s asked to do might change. With training, Bewley has learned to read data something like a health wizard.

“The big epiphany that happened in Dayton was one instance where we had an athlete who was in phenomenal shape. He always scored right where he needed to be; just incredible shape,” he said. “One day, [he] left practice early, and didn’t stay after and do training table.

“[He] jumped in a car and goes four hours, gets inducted into his high school Hall of Fame, jumps back in the car, comes back the next day, and practices. At the end of practice, [his] numbers are off the charts, over-training off the charts.

“I show that to the team, and there’s an understanding that [he] didn’t recover correctly. Why? I didn’t get the proper foods back in my body, didn’t get enough fluids in my body, didn’t get enough sleep.”

A poorly prepared body is a body less equipped to build, or even maintain, strength and conditioning.

Bewley also told of a time at Dayton where the entire team was working on spin cycles (in part as a way to address conditioning while at the same time sparing wear and tear on joints) and all that data was on the wall.

Somebody was dogging it; failing to work up to and within his range of capability. So, the entire team was made to work longer, and everybody could see from the data on the wall why that was and who’s fault it was.

“Especially for freshman who are coming into an environment where just about everything is new . . . we can modify programs to bring them up to speed as quickly as possible,” he said. “There’s also a team dynamic.

“We can shoot it up on the wall . . . heart rate, breathing rate, real-time effort [a complex calculation made by, `People in lab coats who are smarter than me,’ Bewley said.] Through this, guys can learn to be accountable to each other, and to communicate.”

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