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'Every day is competition' in Auburn's strength program

June 16, 2014

Dee Ford was one of the workout kings last season

By Charles Goldberg

AUBURN, Ala. -- The big screen wasn't on ESPN or showing a replay of one of Auburn's football wins last season. The big screen featured photos of the most successful participants in Auburn's strength and conditioning program. 

Not from last year. Not the leaders of the summer program. 

But from this one single day. 

You do well, you get your photo on the big screen You do really well, you're a Stage 3 guy. Corey Grant and Reese Dismukes are Stage 3 guys. Dee Ford was one, too. 

"A lot of that has to be with being a leader, having a championship mindset, coming in with a we-get-to attitude… 'We get to come into training, even when we don't have to,'" says Auburn director of strength and conditioning Ryan Russell. 

In Ryan Russell's world, competition is an every-day adventure held at a fast pace to match Gus Malzahn's vision of football. Success is rewarded, and he says there's been a lot of success, whether last season as Auburn rushed to the SEC title, or through this summer where things are going smoothly. 

Russell, in his second summer running the strength and conditioning program, says Auburn is farther along this summer than last. 

"The culture was set since January a year and a half ago, and it's been great," Russell says. "They always said culture is contagious, and even the new guys we've gotten this past January and now this summer, the culture has set in with them. It just trickles down. 

"There are certain ways of doing things, as far as standards we set as a staff, and that the older guys help enforce it. 

"They have an idea of what we're trying to do after last summer when everything is new. But the biggest thing is the culture. It doesn't run itself, but to a certain extent it does. It's great to have older guys police it and say, 'We've built this thing.' The way the environment is, they're not going to let that slip. I tell every new guy that walks in, 'you're not changing what my staff and the guys before you helped establish. Trust me. You better raise your level up to us.'" 

And you better do it fast to keep up with Auburn's quick ways of doing things. 

"We take that into consideration, especially with our conditioning," Russell said. "We manipulate the work-to-rest ratios where we're trying to mimic game and practice tempo. In the weight room you'll see our guys moving quick between sets and reps and jog back and forth where they're going. To me, it helps in their conditioning in Coach Malzahn's offense. But that's how you need to attack your training no matter what your system you're in. 

"But, mainly, it's the conditioning. We try to gear what he does." 

Russell pauses. "We're not trying to reinvent the wheel. The kids have done a great job." 

And they're reminded of their success. 

"We're always talking about competitive excellence and competing in everything we do. Loving to win. Hating to lose," Russell says. "Not only does that mean when you're conditioning, you want to be the first guy at your position, but your personal best every time. That means if your squat is 400 pounds, your personal best of 410-415 by the end of the summer is huge. They're going to be fired up about it. Every day they walk in here there's going to be some sort of competition, whether it's going to be against themselves or their teammates. They understand they're going to compete. That carries over to the field on Saturdays." 

The veterans get it. The newcomers will. 

"They're wide-eyed. They're not used to working out at the tempo we work out at. But they progress. They'll come up to our standards," Russell says. 

And there's the break-in period. The newcomers work out as a group in the summer. Then, they'll work out with the rest.

"It's been fun. It's been fun to say the least."

Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter:
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