Clark does heavy lifting for Bears

New strength coach emphasizes explosive, multi-joint movements to increase power

The difference in the Bears' strength program at this point is noise.

There is more of it.

That's the noise that comes from big plates crashing to the ground after an explosive lift. And the guttural sounds men make when they try to move heavy objects.

The difference in the Bears' strength program in September should be power.

There will be more of it if the program takes root the way new strength and conditioning coordinator Mike Clark envisions it will.

Clark comes to the Bears from the Chiefs with an emphasis on explosive, multi-joint movements that are designed to increase power, which he defines as mass times velocity.

It is a subtle shift from the previous strength program, which was more geared more toward sustainable strength and injury avoidance. And it also may be a little counter trend in the NFL, as some teams have gone away from this style of training in the interest of player preservation.

"There is a lot more emphasis on power and explosion — more hang cleans, power cleans, things of that nature, core work, things that are necessary to play football," said Bears offensive tackle Jonathan Scott, who has not been in a similar weight program since he was at Texas 2002-05. "I think it's going to be very effective. It's getting back to the basics of what football is."

Gone from the Clyde Emrich Weight Room are some of the benches and machines that old strength coach Rusty Jones preferred. In their places are more Olympic style platforms and multifunctional racks.

About 80 percent of the Bears' prescribed lifts now are done from a standing position.

"I like doing things with an Olympic base, so we are doing a lot more Olympic lifts," Clark said.

It's really a return to grass roots for the Bears. When Emrich became the Bears' first strength coach in 1971, he espoused the Olympic style of lifting he had used as a world class lifter.

Philosophically, Clark is the most closely matched Bears strength coach to Emrich since Emrich stepped down as full-time strength coach 22 years ago.

"They are lifting bigger weights and will be stronger now," said Emrich, who now works in administration for the Bears and also serves as an unofficial consultant to Clark.

"Clyde and I talk daily about techniques, lifts, and how things have changed," Clark said.

Like Emrich, Clark also has a background in competitive weightlifting. He was a power lifter who figured out over time that the most explosive athletes were Olympic lifters. So he incorporated their techniques in his lifting, and then in his coaching.

Before working in the NFL for the Seahawks and Chiefs, Clark spent 22 years as a strength coach at the collegiate level, including 14 years at Texas A&M.

During his time in college, he met an assistant strength coach at a clinic. The up-and-coming coach picked his brain and they talked about techniques, velocity training and organization of training. They visited in subsequent years at conventions.

When the assistant strength coach was a candidate for the strength coach position at Navy, he asked Clark to recommend him. Clark did so without reservation.

Twenty two years later, Clark found himself being interviewed by that man. And Bears general manager Phil Emery was thrilled to hire him.

At Emery's introductory news conference last year, Emery referred to Clark as "my mentor as a strength coach," and he admires him for more than his training knowledge.

"What really stands out about Mike beyond his vast experience and outstanding technical knowledge in the field is his coaching ability," Emery said. "He excels at gaining rapport and establishing a positive relationship with every individual on the team. Mike is outstanding at uncovering each athlete's needs and hot buttons and helping that athlete … push up his own level of performance while working with and toward team goals".

Clark appreciates working for a boss who has a grasp of Clark's challenges.

"It's really nice to have a man in his position as general manager who has lived in that room," Clark said. "He understands what we're trying to do and what it takes."

It seems like Bears players understand what Clark and assistant Jimmy Arthur are trying to do as well. The participation rate in the offseason lifting program has been well above 90 percent, Clark said.

"The guys have bought in," he said. "They get competitive and are pushing themselves."

Clark has the Bears working out in groups. After one recent OTA practice, he was pleased to see the offensive linemen go back to the weight room on their own for more, "running the rack" with dumbbells on biceps exercises and hooting and hollering all the while.

"It was as much about the banter as anything," Clark said.

Center Roberto Garza, whom Clark calls a "weight room junkie" has been one of the leaders. So has cornerback Tim Jennings, whom Clark jokingly referred to as an "ornery little nut."

Other standouts, according to Clark, have been defensive end Julius Peppers, defensive tackle Stephen Paea, new linebackers James Anderson and D.J. Williams, safety Craig Steltz and running back Matt Forte.

Clark said he is disappointed he hasn't yet worked with offensive lineman Gabe Carimi, who is training in Arizona.

"Hopefully he has been working hard and doing the things he needs to do and he'll be a solid player for us," he said.

When Carimi and his teammates show up for training camp, they will be tested.

One of the first orders of business in Bourbonnais will be a 300-yard shuttle conditioning test administered by Clark. Each player has to hit a prescribed time depending on his position.

Anyone who has been working in the program during the offseason should have no problem passing.

dpompei@tribune.com

Twitter @danpompei

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