Vikings make changes to lifting and conditioning program

New coach Mike Zimmer hired new strength coaches who have changed the way the Vikings prepare physically for the upcoming season.

Brian Spurlock/Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — When a new coach comes to a team, he likes to instill his own way of doing things. One rarely revealed aspect for NFL teams is the strength and conditioning program.

Like many other parts of preparation for the Minnesota Vikings, new coach Mike Zimmer hired new strength coaches who have changed the way Minnesota prepares physically for the upcoming season. The Vikings have been together for two weeks for the first phase of the offseason program, with nearly the entire roster taking part in the voluntary workouts at Winter Park.

When they went into the weight room, they were greeted by several stations of free weights, replacing the mostly machined-based lifting program under the previous regime.

"Just the fact that football is so explosive, we want to make sure our guys are doing things that are explosive," new Vikings strength coach Evan Marcus said Tuesday. "I think football is made for strong guys, we have to do things to make our guys stronger. That’s really our focus, make our guys as strong, as explosive, as dynamic as they can be."

Surely there are similarities in varying programs and there are free-weight based programs throughout the NFL, but Marcus — who spent the past three years at the University of Virginia after four prior years as the head strength and conditioning coach for the Miami Dolphins and Atlanta Falcons – wanted to institute a program designed with explosive movements in mind and set out with these changes after being hired in February.

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"Coach (Zimmer), the general manager, really, have been on board with how we wanted to do this thing," Marcus said. "They were very supportive of getting the weight room changed out. Very supportive about how we were going to go about doing it. They knew it was aggressive, they knew it was dynamic. They wanted that mentality here. They liked the big group setting. They liked the fact we’re developing guys. So this was a perfect situation for me."

Change has been a constant for the Vikings since Zimmer was hired in January and they have embraced the possibilities and optimism that comes in April.

"It’s really a mentality, just buying in and just putting this new stuff that we’re doing to work," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "It’s not new to any of us. It’s just some of us have done it more recently than others, but it’s a great program. It’s great for power, speed and quickness. Just a little bit different than what we were doing, but in a sense it’s just a different way to get the job done."

A brand new weight room with new equipment is a big change. Marcus and Zimmer hope the move from machines to free weights will manifest itself on the field.

"With machines, there’s only so much power you can generate on a machine that’s basically — you’re isolating a muscle," Marcus said. "We’re trying to do total body movements. A lot more ground-based stuff, because they play on their feet, we’re doing things that they’re standing up and driving power into the ground."

Defensive end Everson Griffen concurred: "This is football. Everything that we do is going to translate to the football, you know. Very explosive movements, quick movements, just allowing us to get better, allowing us to work with what we’re going to use on the football field."

The workouts are voluntary per collective bargaining agreement rules, but Marcus is one of the first coaches to apply his philosophies in a tangible manner in accordance with the rules. Players are also meeting with other coaches to learn the offensive and defensive schemes.

"They’re getting their point across right away with the type of people they want on this team, type of people they want in this building and mentality we should take while we’re in this building," Greenway said. "I think once you get the point across early, you set a foundation for what you want to create during the season."

The foundation begins with the strength and conditioning program. Minnesota started its offseason program last week, one benefit of having a new coach. The Vikings were one of seven teams able to start their offseason two weeks earlier after hiring Zimmer.

Marcus sent out information to each player before the program began to introduce them to the types of workouts they would be doing.

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"Some of these guys haven’t done in it awhile but it’s going back to the basic developmental stuff that they did in college," Marcus said. "My job is development. Our strength staff, our whole philosophy is about developing the athlete. I think whether they’re 22 or 32, they can always improve and still develop, even at that age. So our focus is on development of the guys."

Greenway noticed the "college" environment, including larger groups for workouts.

"Maybe the biggest difference is we’re all working out together in bigger groups, so it makes it a little bit easier just to be around your teammates during this time, when we’re getting meetings and learning the defense together and going through the schemes together," Greenway would say. "It’s a little bit more of a college atmosphere I would say."

Bigger groups — offensive line, defensive line, linebackers, fullbacks and specialists were in one group together Tuesday while the media was allowed to watch — increases the competitiveness and accountability.

"I don’t know if that’s the focus, that’s just the way I’ve always done it," Marcus said. "When you’re in that big-group setting, guys get competitive, they’re seeing each other. There’s accountability because if you’re not a good worker you’re going to get called out in a group. We’re trying to build accountability, teamwork, guys working together to build an energetic environment. I think you can do that through the larger group setting. But yeah it’s a little bit of a college environment because the music’s going and the guys are getting after it.

"That college environment where it’s all about development, why not transfer that over to here?"

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