Trainer Marv Marinovich works out Steelers safety Troy Polamalu at the Sports Lab training facility in Orange County, Calif.
By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Troy Polamalu won't join his Steelers teammates Tuesday when they resume spring practices. He has returned to his distinctive workout routine in California, hoping to eliminate the kind of season that plagued him in 2007.
Polamalu will not return until training camp in July, banking on the recuperative powers he believes he can attain through alternative training that disdains most weights.
Coach Mike Tomlin's reaction? Go for it.
"It probably works for him because he's sold on it, and that's part of it," Tomlin said this week. "The reality is he's recovering from an injury, he's unable to participate in organized team activities, so it provides an opportunity for him to do what he feels good about."
Polamalu had knee surgery after a season marred by three separate injuries and a dearth of the types of big plays that brought him four Pro Bowl selections as a strong safety. He had no interceptions and no sacks in 2007. He missed five games because of injuries to his knee, ribs and oblique muscle in his abdomen.
"I was very much disappointed, individually," he said of last season. "I think there were a lot of plays I should have made, a lot of opportunities that I had to make plays that I didn't."
Polamalu would not blame his various injuries for what he considered a disappointing season. He thinks some injuries may have occurred because he did not train the past two offseasons with Marv Marinovich at his Sports Lab in Orange County, Calif. He has worked with Marinovich and followed his unique workout routines since his days at Southern California.
"I was just talking to him about it," Marinovich said, "and I asked if he felt he was in the best condition of his life when he was out here full time. He felt he was beyond where he was before and he needed to try to get that back.
"In his training now, we're really happy with the progression of where he is. I don't see where he's going to have a problem with it the way he's going now."
Polamalu attended the Steelers' three-day minicamp two weeks ago but did not practice.
Marinovich, co-captain of USC's 1962 national champions and a former offensive lineman and conditioning coach with the Oakland Raiders, has developed and used his unique training methods the past 40 years. He boasts on his Web site that he can add seven inches to an athlete's vertical leap, 10 miles per hour to a pitcher's fastball and cut 0.4 off a time in the 40. His site also promises that "with Marv's training you'll avoid the injury bug. No more pulls or strains."
Marinovich preaches to athletes to forget all the typical weight-training advice they've received in high school, college and the pros, because it often contributes to injuries and does not prepare them for the speed of their game.
"It's different from what everybody else does," Marinovich said. "What I found is the sports science in this country is not very good. Athletes succeed in sport despite what they do, not because of what they do.
"Myself, as an athlete, when I got into the NFL, I overtrained. I was a dominant high school and college guy, but I overtrained when I got into NFL. Looking back, I see now the mistakes I made; most of it was I overtrained and improperly trained."
Marinovich says he studied the science of it and "why other people haven't figured it out is beyond me." His various techniques work the muscles faster rather than the traditional weight-room regimen of working them slowly. Polamalu, for example, will run with weighted shoes. He does work with weights, but on a much lighter scale, using 10 pounds or 15 pounds in rapid-fire repetitions.
"There's speed/strength for instance, when you train against the inertia of the load rather than the load itself," Marinovich said. "When you train slow, it makes you slow. The thing I try to do now is train the nervous system and produce greater force faster.
"If you look at a track guy or a jumper, his foot is only in contact with the ground two-tenths of a second; it takes six- to eight-tenths of a second to create a maximum contraction in weight lifting. It looks good, but you can't use it. Your foot can't be on the ground that long. If you train slow, you're going to be slow. You have to train explosively fast."
Polamalu is unique, Marinovich said, because he came to him having used some of the techniques without knowing it.
"I knew something was going on there other guys don't have," Marinovich said.
Polamalu told him that growing up, he'd go to the swimming pool, dive to the bottom, push off and totally relax. He'd do that forever.
"That's a perfect exercise," Marinovich said, "going from relaxation to firing. He naturally did it, and it makes a lot of sense to me.
"I've never been around an athlete like Troy in all my years. In all aspects, it's fun for me just to be around him."
Polamalu said while he has some of the equipment at home in Pittsburgh to follow Marinovich's methods, it wasn't the same as training under him full time.
"Training, to be effective, you have to monitor every aspect of it," Marinovich said. "It's monitoring the effort and looking at the accomplishments."
Chet Fuhrman was the Steelers' strength and conditioning coach all 15 years under coach Bill Cowher, a period in which the team had the fewest starters lost to injuries of any in the NFL. He said he and Cowher took a similar approach to Polamalu's unique training procedure.
"We started off with him trying out what we did, but then went back to what he wanted to do," said Fuhrman. "I just felt if that's what he wanted and, in his mind, that's what's best for him, let him do what's best for him."
Fuhrman believes that athletes can put too much stress on themselves in the weight room. He saw some, like former guard Brenden Stai and running back Barry Foster, possibly shorten their careers because of it.
"I've seen guys come and go," said Fuhrman, who worked at Penn State before joining Cowher with the Steelers in 1992. "The majority of big weightlifters really weren't better football players. It's important to have strength, but it's not the only requisite to be successful."
He believes that athletes need to put force on the muscles and overload them in order to build them, and if they don't do it, they won't continue to be strong enough to play football.
"I told Troy once that by not putting stress and strain on his body, maybe he'll continue his career longer," Fuhrman said. "He said back then that 'maybe you're right and maybe at some point in my career I may have to lift and get involved to lengthen my career.' "
Polamalu is not the only one hoping he can reconnect in California and return to top form in 2008 and play without injury.
"You know, all the great ones usually have something that's a little unique," Tomlin said. "As a child, I remember watching Walter Payton running the hill in his Kangaroos. You know, Jerry Rice had his regimen. Everybody's looking for an edge. That's the reality of it. When I worked with John Lynch, he had a unique training regimen. That's something the great ones see.
"If Troy were capable of practicing, he would be here. He's not; it's an opportunity for him to do his thing."