Weight Lifting, Weight Training, Bench Press & Bodybuilding
September 1, 2014
Mike Kudla Breaks His Own Ohio State Football
Bench Press Record
Nov 5, 2005

Mike Kudla did it again. His record on the Ohio State football weight room wall already appeared not only legendary, but nearly impossible to repeat. So when he shattered his former lift of 555 pounds with a 610-pound press, it became another moment in Kudla's OSU career in which he had solidified himself as the strongest Buckeye.

However, countless hours in the weight room during the past spring and summer were not the only cause of Kudla's grandeur. Because of a shoulder injury he suffered during the 2004 season, the senior defensive end opted for a less traditional direction that would make him the top tackler on the defensive line in 2005.

"This summer, I worked out a little differently because I was coming off shoulder surgery," Kudla said. "Because of my injury, I was a little behind in my workout regimen. I couldn't really start working out with running or lifting until May. As I was rehabbing, I was trying to get myself back to a point where I was able to run and lift again. I asked some of my teammates and some guys in the NFL what they had tried and they opened my eyes to Pilates and swimming."

Mike Kudla Bench Press After interrogating his teammates about various exercise options that would quickly get him back on the football field, Kudla began tackling Pilates three times a week and the workout, along with the ensuing results were enough to make the Medina, Ohio, native a firm believer in the art of concentrating on the body's core. Pilates became a novel way for the three-year letterwinner to establish muscle control and after a summer of fresh strength training, Kudla quickly noticed an extreme difference in his movement and flexibility.

"I was so used to just running and lifting," Kudla said. "Getting into the different positions in Pilates forced me to work muscles I never knew I could work. It made me so much more fluent in everything I have done and I can tell a major difference from last year to this year. How I move, how I function and how I'm able to cover (the opponent) has improved."

Not only has Kudla seen a vast improvement in his game thanks to a craft nearly a century old, but his ability to bend and flex has halted any injuries that may have resulted had he not undertaken the innovative exercise. Kudla recalls a few moments after certain plays on the gridiron when he probably would have been injured because of seemingly unnatural body positions. However, because the game of football requires its players to step, run, throw, catch and block at any moment's notice, Kudla had to be prepared to twist and turn in various tangled-like poses. The skills developed from Pilates were going to be necessary if he was going to do what he was tabbed to do when he first came to Ohio State in 2002, which is cut short opposing offenses.

"Overall, I think the main thing I got out of Pilates is, it strengthened my core," Kudla said. "I'm able to move so much better now. I just have more control over my body and I can do things I was not able to do last year because of my shoulder injury. Pilates helped push me through. It was that next step for me."

Mike Kudla Bench Press To his dismay, Kudla encountered plenty of down time because of his injury following the 2004 season, but during that stretch he also utilized the advice of a few former Buckeyes who are currently making waves in the NFL. When four-time OSU starting defensive end Mike Vrabel makes his frequent return trips to Columbus, Kudla habitually grills the New England Patriot about his training routines. After studying under the tutelage of Will Smith in 2003, the two became fast friends and Smith, too, offers Kudla lasting football advice on overcoming injuries and adversity that are all a part of the package of playing one of the toughest sports on earth.

"The neat thing about having these guys back is you can just talk football," Kudla said. "When I was hurt last winter I asked Will what was the biggest difference for him after he had just been through his rookie year in the NFL. We sat on the indoor practice field and he explained some of the different techniques used in the NFL."

Aside from the Pilates and attempting to become the heir apparent to celebrated past members of the defensive "Silver Bullets," Kudla also looked to the swimming pool as a mechanism to increase his overall strength, while minding the fact he had a shoulder injury to rehab. It was at the pool where Kudla met up with Ohio State men's swimming head coach Bill Wadley. Wadley, who has coached the OSU swim team for 17 years, offered to assist Kudla in his training and a summer filled with clear water and chlorine resulted.

In his first training session with Wadley, Kudla showed off his basic stroke and from that initial evaluation, Wadley proceeded to teach the 6-foot-3-inch, 265-pounder swimming techniques that ranged from general lessons of improving his stride to more detailed sessions of taking five strokes under water and performing a quarter turn. For Kudla, the tutorials not only provided an avenue for him to rehab his shoulder, while simultaneously toughening his body, but if offered an opportunity for him to build an endurance that would easily transfer itself to the football field.

"Every now and then student-athletes will come over to the pool and do low-impact exercises," Wadley said. "When Mike came over, we started chatting and I asked him if he needed any tips. Working on his body position and swimming technique, I just tried to help him relax his shoulder and his body, so he could feel more natural in the pool. Focusing on the relaxation and the techniques gave him something to think about other than just swimming laps. A good, relaxed swimming stroke will take the pressure off the shoulder, so I wanted to make him feel comfortable in the water."

Setting realistic limits on the sort of workouts his shoulder could sustain, Kudla remained optimistic about the pending season after committing a few weekends in the summer at the pool. In conjunction with the Pilates, Kudla had developed a productive system of rehabilitation that would get him back to near 100 percent quicker than he expected.

Mike Kudla Bench Press "I knew my shoulder wasn't going to be as strong as it was coming into this season," Kudla said. "But I think swimming a couple times a weekend during the summer helped get me through the rehab even further. I can only do so much with bands and tubes. I think being in the water really helped further the motion of my shoulder. Before camp, I hadn't really tested it and when I did my first set of lifting at camp, I was amazed at how normal it felt."

With his shoulder in working order, a stronger core and a generally more flexible body, it seemed as though Kudla was tuned up for the 2005 season. However, there was a little bit of business he had to take care of first. Limited to minimal physical stress when first injured, Kudla would frequently make his way to the film room at the Woody Hayes Athletic Complex. While in the Mecca of OSU football preparation, Kudla noticed a small, although important flaw in his game; he was a little slow on his first few steps off the ball.

So with one last wrinkle to be ironed out, Kudla was thrilled when Ohio State welcomed former World-record holder and two-time Olympic medalist Butch Reynolds to the Buckeye football family. Who better than one of the fastest men on earth to mentor Kudla on both the mental and physical aspects of manifesting speed?

"The one area from watching film from my junior year that I knew I could improve was my first couple of steps off the ball," Kudla said. "If I could improve with that first step, I could really gain an advantage. Once coach Reynolds came on board I was ecstatic because I knew I could really use him to my benefit and he made an immediate impact."

Working with Reynolds day in and day out, Kudla picked Reynold's track mentality and soon was able to pinpoint the little mechanics that would increase his speed which would shift to increase trouble for an opponent's offensive strategy. Reynold's was able to help Kudla become subconsciously aware of his arm and leg placement, thus amplifying his speed. A guarantee of Reynolds when he first stepped into his duty as assistant strength and conditioning coach, his mantra is simple; if you think you're fast, you'll be fast.

"When I first got here, I met with different members of the team about a half a dozen times a week," Reynolds said. "Working with Mike, I found he is very athletic and possesses knowledge of power and strength. The fact that he was able to identify his problem and work to improve his speed goes to show his maturity and dedication to football."

For Kudla and his position, the sport of football largely is a mental game Kudla wants to win. With the "I think, therefore I am" mentality, courtesy of Descartes and coach Reynolds' similar philosophy, Kudla now holds an even stronger psychological capacity to out-think his opponents.

Wadley noticed the same drive in a young man who was determined to take the initiative and maintain his training schedule. The short-term goal for Kudla was simply to be healthy by the start of the 2005 season and his intense work ethic paid dividends.

"Although it was a short experience with Mike, the impression I got from him was he wanted to be on a regular routine," Wadley said. "Even though he was injured, he still wanted to be in shape and get over his injury as quickly as possible so he could prepare for the season."

In his fourth year with the Buckeyes, Kudla has had both good and bad times, but what he isolated as his biggest change from his freshman year in 2002 to his final year at Ohio State is his ability to lock in and focus on his task. His early OSU career consisted of many wide-eye gazes at the sport on the collegiate level and he tried to quickly familiarize himself with the more pressing expectations. A part of the defensive rotation his first two and a half years, then a fixture in the starting line-up beginning in week seven of last year, Kudla is comfortable with all facets of his game.

"With this being my fourth year, I have seen and experienced everything," Kudla said. "I have gone through so many reps and so many games, it has come to the point that I have to play my best my senior year. I took it upon myself to know I've been here before and now I have to take it to the next step."

For Kudla, the next step was not just getting back on the field, becoming a part of one of the stingiest defenses in the nation, but setting his mark in the OSU weight room. Even with the shoulder injury, the strongest of all the Buckeyes knew there was a good chance he would walk out of Ohio State with a jaw-dropping bench press record. He just was not sure he would accomplish the feat so soon after his injury. When Kudla started lifting again during the summer, he slowly worked his way back to handling 400 and then 500 pounds, which for Kudla was only a good start. Noticing his strength and stamina building, he would slide more weight onto the bar until he unexpectantly peaked at 610 pounds.

"The trainers and doctors did a great job of fixing my shoulder and pushing me through," Kudla said. "The way I push through my workouts are sort of unrealistic, but I was exposed to that work ethic at a young age. I am used to moving that kind of weight, so it is natural for me. 610 wasn't exactly a goal, but it would have been nice to hit 600 pounds before I left. I had a productive summer. I got 10 times faster and a lot stronger than I thought I would be."

It is hard to imagine Kudla could become stronger than the now-far-off era of a 555-pound bench press from his junior year. As he was nearing the relief of simply approaching the point of power and control that proved successful in 2004, he encountered a dramatic breakthrough that even shook him to the core with surprise. With 265 pounds of muscle and the capability to bench press more than double his weight, that is a lot of core to shake.


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