Sam Hubbard is eager to make the jump.
After totaling six sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss during his rookie campaign, the Cincinnati Bengals defensive end wants to be a game plan-wrecker in Year 2. For his training this offseason, he hooked up with Patrick Coyne, owner of Black Sheep Performance in Blue Ash, Ohio. Hubbard's goals were ambitious.
"(Sam) wanted to be as strong and as quick as he's ever been in his life," Coyne told STACK.
Hubbard finished last season at roughly 260 pounds, and putting on quality mass was another priority. To devise a plan tailored to Hubbard's unique needs, Coyne needed a sense of his baseline. He quickly realized he had a near-indefatigable athlete on his hands.
"His threshold and work capacity is so high, I couldn't get him tired in the beginning," Coyne says. "The most complicated thing I've ever had with an athlete (was) trying to figure out (his) proper rest time and work load because the dude can run through a damn wall if you want him to."
Aware that Hubbard already had an amazing foundation of fitness, Coyne zeroed in on some small tweaks that would help him accomplish his goals in a way that would best carry over to the trenches. For example, Hubbard's uncanny flexibility is an ideal attribute for a pass rusher tasked with bending the edge, but getting strong in his maximal ranges of motion was key to weaponizing that trait.
"He's already extremely flexible, so we focused on making him strong at the biggest range of motion," Coyne says. "We did a lot of unilateral stuff. I do a lot of Bulgarian Split Squat, back leg up, full range of motion." Coyne also programmed a deliberate focus on slow, controlled eccentrics (also known as the "negative" portion of an exercise, such as lowering into a squat) before an explosive concentric.
"We spent a lot of time in that eccentric stage to create a really good base with those muscles, tendons and ligaments. A lot of eccentric range on Split Squat, RDLs, Loaded Box Jumps, even things like High Pulls, Pull-Ups, Rows, Landmine Shoulder Presses," Coyne says. "We like to stay in the 3- to 5-second (eccentric) tempo to where we can still get that concentric explosive move on the way up. I don't do the 10-20 seconds down. I'd rather cut that out and keep it 3 or 4, 5 seconds (at) maximum." Such tactics helped Hubbard go from being able to do two or three unbroken Pull-Ups in January to 12 or 13 when he left for OTAs in April.
Another new twist for the former high school lacrosse star was an increased focus on bare foot training. He executed Trap Bar Deadlifts, Bulgarian Split Squats, RDLs, Broad Jumps, Hurdle Hops and even Sled Pushes sans shoes. Multidirectional work and acceleration training were some of the rare occasions where Coyne had him cleat up. Football players often struggle with weak or immobile foot and ankle muscles due to them constantly being braced or wrapped during games and practices, and those issues can cause a ripple effect throughout the body.
"Where are we producing force? That starts with the foot. If I get someone without a shoe, I can immediately tell how strong or how weak some key points in the kinetic chain are," Coyne says. "I don't want any energy getting trapped in a shoe. I'd rather it go straight through his foot through the ground (and) back through his body. It's a lot more efficient to hit legs, produce force, when you don't have a 3.5-inch cushion on your foot. We do very heavy lifts (without shoes)...I want his feet to get stronger."
Hubbard's workouts often ended with a long-duration isometric. Coyne likes them as a way to build physical and mental toughness without being overly taxing on the nervous system—a perfect finisher when you've got another training session the next day. By the time he left for OTAs, Hubbard was knocking out marathon-length isometric holds that would last as long as five unbroken minutes.
"Five minutes is the extreme end…You're either gonna stop or you're gonna continue to go. If you can push through that, I think we're building really resilient athletes," Coyne says. "A Split Squat isometric is my favorite isometric of the lower body. It's where we spend a lot of time as athletes. We're never really in that bilateral stance with your feet right under you, so I'm going to split them out. You can do a long-duration Lateral Lunge, which can help prevent internal rotation for that ACL. But also I love Pull-Up isometrics and Dip isometrics."
The results were impressive. By the time Hubbard joined the team for OTAs on April 9, he'd packed on 7-8 pounds of lean muscle. He's up to 270 pounds now, yet his 10-yard dash is quicker than it's ever been. "He PR'd on everything. PR'd in all his core lifts, he's stronger than he's ever been. We made really good progress," Coyne says. Hubbard recently posted a photo of him single-arm rowing a 100-pound dumbbell at the Bengals' facility:
But he didn't work this hard just to show off in the weight room. He and Coyne will pick the program back up in mid-June with hopes that it can fuel a breakout campaign. Beyond just Hubbard's measurables, Coyne sees the mindset of a player with an infinite ceiling.
"He's always on time. Always eats proper meals. Recovers the right way. Always has his protein shake and banana for after (workouts). Just his will and want to be great, I really think that's what's going to take him to a 10, 15-year career in the league. I think he has a really good shot at being one of the great ones," Coyne says. "I think he's a lot more confident this year…I just think his ability to takeover a game is going to be showcased. I think that'll be the thing—he can really dominate a game. I think that's what's going to come to surface."
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