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This is what it's like to workout with the Michigan football team

Michigan football players practice in the spring of 2016 at Ford Field.
Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0
Michigan football players practice in the spring of 2016 at Ford Field.

A few years ago I had the chance to work out with the Michigan football team, for a six solid weeks. I lifted more weights than I any writer should, followed by an ungodly number of sit-ups, pushups and pull-downs.

Just 15 minutes into my first work out, I was sweating like a pig, and panting like a dog. You could have taken my pulse by touching my hair.

It wasn’t long before I was running to the trashcan to get rid of my breakfast.

After these workouts I could barely walk, stand, or sit. I was going through something called “hypertrophy,” which is when you push your body so far past its limits, the rapid expansion of your muscles makes it hard to do the simplest things, like brush your teeth.

Former strength coach Mike Barwis told me, in his famously raspy voice, “It’s basically a catastrophic event to your body, like a car accident.”

But after three weeks of weight training, I was beginning to think I might just make it, until one day Barwis announced I’d be joining the rest of the team for 30 minutes of laps, sprints, and suicides after each work out.

Barwis told me, “If you’re going to go around claiming you did this, you have to do all of it.”

We ran in two groups, the "speedsters" and the "fat boys."

We ran in two groups, the “speedsters” and the “fat boys.” Barwis put me with the fat boys, of course, but I couldn’t even keep up with the long snap center, who was recovering from a broken toe.

Near the end of our next workout, Barwis told us that we had to run the width of the field and back, three times.

“Y’all got to finish in 50 seconds,” he said.  “Bacon in 60.  But Bacon, if you don’t make it, everyone else has to run again.” 

I figured if I didn't make it, they'd kill me.

Now, I hadn’t come within ten seconds of that time before, but the menacing glares the players gave me were all the motivation I needed. I figured if I didn’t make it, they’d kill me. On the other hand, if I tried to finish under 60 seconds, I’d probably die trying. But at least that way, they could say, “Man, that guy gave his all for his profession.”

When Barwis blew his whistle, I took off like I was being chased by a tiger. But with one lap left, I was only on pace, not ahead of it, and I was running out of gas.

This was not good.

I knew I had to find something extra. After the players finished, they came back to yell at me, huffing and puffing. “Move that white ass, Bacon!” 

I dug deep, and pulled and lurched and thrashed every limb of my body toward that finish line. It was not pretty. But when Barwis yelled, “Fifty-six! Fifty-seven! Fifty-eight!” and I finished, I knew I had made it.

The players cheered and walked up to high-five me, but I ran right past them straight for the trash can, puked again, wiped my mouth, and got back on the line for more sprints. After just four weeks working out with the Michigan football team, my threshold for – well, just about everything, had doubled.    

Afterward, Barwis told me, “That’s the first time I saw you run, when I didn’t want to punch you in the jaw.”

It doesn’t get any better than that. 

John U. Bacon has worked nearly three decades as a writer, a public speaker, and a college instructor, winning awards for all three.
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