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Posted on Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

Michigan football players reconnect with Mike Barwis for NFL draft preparation

By Kyle Meinke

PLYMOUTH -- The hip-hop pulses, a soundtrack to some of the country's finest athletes pushing themselves to the brink. The beats drown out everything but the loudest cries of pain, and cries for more pain, most of which are coarse.

"One more, you big bastard," is tepid, by these standards.

It's macho.

And Mike Barwis is riffing on Socrates.

"You ever hear that story by Socrates?" he asks, raspy-voiced, Jay-Z blasting from a speaker overhead. "A young man asked Socrates the secret to success. Socrates told the young man to meet him near the river. ... When the water got up to their neck, Socrates took the young man by surprise and dunked him into the water.

"Socrates was strong and kept him there until the boy started turning blue. Socrates pulled his head out of the water and the first thing the young man did was gasp for air. Socrates asked, 'What did you want the most when you were there?' The boy replied, 'Air.'


"This is a pain I never would inflict on someone else," former Michigan defensive lineman Mike Martin, above, said during a recent six-hour workout with Mike Barwis.

Melanie Maxwell |

"Socrates said, 'That is the secret to success. When you want success as badly as you wanted the air, then you will get it. There is no other secret.'"

That helps to explain why six former Michigan football players would subject themselves to four two-a-days a week -- and a six-hour session on a fifth -- with Barwis, whose reputation for laborious workouts precedes him.

"This is a pain I never would inflict on someone else," Mike Martin said during the second hour of a recent six-hour regimen.

Martin is joined by former teammates David Molk, Kevin Koger, Ryan Van Bergen, Mark Huyge and Steve Watson in enlisting Barwis to help them train for the NFL draft. That's every prominent NFL candidate from the Wolverines' outgoing senior class except Junior Hemingway.

The natural question, then, is why? It's common for seniors to remain on campus as they prepare either for the NFL combine or the team's pro day, training at the team's football facilities. Even former Michigan players already in the NFL would come back to work out.

Now, they're flocking to Plymouth to train with Barwis, the Wolverines' former strength and conditioning coach under Rich Rodriguez, who has opened his own private shop, Barwis Methods. This is an unusual arrangement.

For Martin, it's simple.

"We were in the best shape of our lives (when Barwis was at Michigan)," the defensive lineman said. "They know my body better than anyone, and I’m really close with these guys. It was the perfect fit."

Barwis said the players approached him about the combine workouts, taking him up on an offer he made to them after he was not retained by new Michigan coach Brady Hoke.

"I said, 'Guys, no matter where I am, I’m going to help you. I love ya, I’m going to take care of ya,'" Barwis said. "I had these guys for their whole career, really. I’ve known them since they were young, and they’re like my sons. I love them like they were my own sons, and I’d do anything to help them."

These six took him up on that offer, in part because of a comfort level that formed during Barwis' three years at Michigan.

"He was very big in my career, as far as mentoring and telling me different things outside of football and outside of weight lifting," Van Bergen said. "He provided guidance that I think you need when you transition into college, and when you struggle, because I wasn’t always where I am now.

"I was a backup, and you go through academic stuff, you go through girl stuff, you go through the ringer. We’re just like everybody else, and he was always there for me. He also was the kick in the pants when you needed it. He’d be the tough love guy, tell you to suck it up."

The voluble Barwis, his voice gritty like sandpaper, has a reputation for tough love. When asked for a G-rated sampling, Van Bergen says "it’d be a translation of: 'Your testosterone level is low, you need to re-engage the weight lift.'"

Yet, for all the tough talk, Barwis has maintained the soft interior that endears him to professional and Olympic athletes. More than 70 from around the country come to Plymouth to train with him, he said.


In this 2008 file photo, Mike Barwis is introduced to the media after following football coach Rich Rodriguez from West Virginia to Michigan. His system was praised for making players durable enough for Rodriguez's no-huddle spread offense.

File photo

That includes former Michigan football players such as Larry Foote, LaMarr Woodley and Brandon Graham, each of whom has attained NFL stardom. While the Rodriguez and Lloyd Carr camps have agreed on little since 2008, it appears Barwis has bridged the two eras.

A signed Mike Hart jersey is the last thing one sees before entering Barwis' gym.

Of course, there's more to Barwis' pull than his personality. His system, which centers on balance and functional movements, long has been considered progressive.

Barwis' combine prep is intense. Players have two-a-days Monday through Thursday. On this Friday, they had a single six-hour session.

Three days a week, players have lifting, drill stations, balance work, injury prevention, plyometrics, functional flexibility, conditioning and Olympic lifting. Two other days, it's all about speed and agility.

"Training for the combine and the pro day, it’s just like an exam in school, but the difference is you already have the answers to the test," Koger said. "You already know what drills you’re going to have to run, what you’re going to have to do. So, you just kind of focus on those drills. It’s kind of tedious, kind of monotonous, but you have to do it."

The NFL hopefuls begin each day early in the morning with a breakfast provided by Barwis' staff, and every subsequent movement is monitored. Not only does the staff govern what the players eat -- on this morning, it was peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast -- but how long before and after workouts they dine, and even the order in which they eat their food.

From there, Barwis monitors the players' supplementation, massage, ice baths and sleep patterns.

"I pretty much govern everything they do and eat for 24 hours, for the next six weeks," Barwis said.

Barwis has been presented with multiple coaching offers since he left Michigan. He declined to discuss whether Rodriguez, who recently was hired at Arizona, approached him about going to Tucson.

He did turn down an offer from Florida State that would have made him the highest-paid strength coach in the country.

Barwis has settled in here, his wife gave birth to the couple's fourth child a week ago and he is content with the stability afforded by getting out of coaching. For now.

"This has been great, but will I do this forever? I don’t know," Barwis said. "I don’t try to make anything forever. I let life and God determine that, and do my best to make things work."

Kyle Meinke covers Michigan football for He can be reached at 734-623-2588, by email at and followed on Twitter @kmeinke.



Thu, Jan 26, 2012 : 1:01 a.m.

We had a losing record under RR because our defense was poorly coached and the defensive X's and O's were horrible. It's not because we were poorly conditioned, OR, not big enough or strong enough. If the latter were the reason then Martin et al would not be singing Barwis' praises nor seeking his expert training. Give credit where it's due. And in this situation, people certainly need to credit Mike Barwis. Arguing any other way is pointless.

Matt Patercsak

Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 6:35 p.m.

Barwis certainly has an impressive resume. But I think the type of training he focuses on was more a fit for RR's spread option than power football. speed, agility and coordination, which are always paramount in football, seemed to be more important than moving the man in front of you. and we were dominated in the trenches. mixing aerobic with anaerobic training seems ideal for rugby seeing that you must sustain that energy and have the proper endurance for a full match. But in football, you need to explode, one play at a time. I'm happy with aaron wellman.


Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 12:53 a.m.

"we were in the best shapes of our lives" quoting Martin. Martin should know better than any of you. You guys can say what you want but your wrong. The reason we lost wasn't conditioning it was because Rich Rod sucked.

Ed daggett

Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 8:07 p.m.

Brandon told Barwis he would be S & C coach for Hoke & wanted him to meet individually with each player on team. After he met with each he was fired by Brandon. These M kids see the results of what Barwis has provided to many elite professional athletes--not just at M. Brandon Inge trains there as well. Appears that Barwis likes the area & could run a business and likely make a nice living. He can get his pick of colleges if he chooses to go back to that route. This business is opening up several other locations around the midwest


Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 7:03 p.m.

Just a comment from another amateur. Anyone that has gone through intense physical training knows full well that at a certain point your body begins to rebel or breakdown because of the extended training. For some it is only 2 or 3 weeks - for others it might be 7 or 8 weeks. But the breakdown does occur, and you know it when it happens, because your body lets you feel it and your achievement metrics begin to fall off. If one continues the exhaustive training beyond that point, such as with a team sport or a Marine Unit, in order to keep up with "the team" (you don't want to appear to be weak), you actually begin to injure yourself on the cellular level. Could this be why it appeared that the UM teams of 2008 - 2010 began to wilt in the latter stages of games, and the season? Is it possible that more and more of the players were succumbing to the "over-training" as the season progressed? Might it be a factor in why Hart, Graham and Woodley have all spent well more than an average amount of time on the Injury List during their NFL careers? I.m just sayin' . . .


Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 2:33 p.m.

like schultz on the million year old sitcom HOGAN'S HEROES "i know NOTHING" but isn't it a fact that the rodriguez system called on barwis to create a body for THAT system.? wellman now is trying to create a much bigger and not necessarily more mobile player------at least as for as the offensive line is concerned. but again-----all is surmise with a little conjecture mixed in.


Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 1:22 p.m.

I have several questions: (1) Are Martin, Koger et al truly former students? Or students with no more football eligibility remaining? (2) What restrictions, if any, does the NCAA impose on current football staff conditioning coaches assisting such people? (3) What restrictions, if any, does Hoke put on Wellman with respect to offering his time and the university's equipment to assist in efforts not related to the university? I honestly don't know the answers to any of those. I ask simply because there's this prevailing assumption those players are going to Barwis rather than Wellman. It may be the case the Wellman option isn't available based on NCAA or university rules.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 7:27 p.m.

listening to him talk at a recent football coaches conference he is a great motivator, leader, and friend to all of his players. He wants the best out of his players and wants to see them succeed. Even if he is still not in the Uof M system he wants to see these guys achieve their greatest results. He is a very passionate man.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 6:54 p.m.

AZ - "a former strength and conditioning trainer" give me a break! You're on the outside looking in & based on most of your previous posts you have either a) never looked at things objectively when it came to RR and the past 3 years, or 2) just hate on RR and continue to do so with anyone associated with that program. This will not be an argument or discourse on RR, his failures, internal forces working against him, etc.... We all know those teams had their problems and I think everyone from that era will willingly admit that, including RR himself. If you want to argue about our teams wilting away because of what you think is weakness and overtraining, lets look at the flip side of your argument. Our defense was on the field ALL day long and the offensive scheme was not working. If we - the armchair QBs, believe they wilted towards the end of games, what could be the reasoning 1) They've been on the field too long and are naturally gassed; 2) they're possibly demoralized and giving up, and your explanation 3) over trained. I tend to believe it is the obvious, which is most likely #1 and maybe a little bit of #2. What I do know is that these 5 players have put their NFL careers in his Mike's hands, that says something to me. Every recent hockey player that is now in the NHL have also put their careers in Mike's hands. NFL players, MLB players, Olympic athletes, have all done so as well. If your argument holds water, it would look like this in one of these pro-athletes minds "Mike trained me so hard I was great for the first half, first period, etc..., I can surely survive in a cut throat, no holds barred environment like the pros only playing half a game, can't I?" With all do respect, you can sit in your armchair and talk about the strength and conditioning at the high school, D3 school, or wherever it was you worked, but I'd much rather take the opinions and credibility of those getting paid millions to play their sport while you watch from


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 9:03 p.m.

@lindor: AZ made a great post, gave an informed and intelligent discussion, and didn't insult the former coach in his response. We all are armchair QBs (most likely) and anonymous. The only thing going for these discussions is honesty and opinion, and respect. (Respect for each other). I have asked the same questions--how else are we supposed to judge Barwis and the former coach except for results on the field? Barwis and even the old coach can talk all day about their principles, their ideas, why they are excellent, etc, but at the end, if they don't have results, what do they have? Only potential. Barwis's methods are different than what Gittleson did and different than what Wellman did. Who is better? All in the eyes of the beholder. I would take the other two guys results, where our teams held their own, won a bunch more, and outmuscled other teams. Even against VA Tech, we were outpossessed, outgained, outmaneuvered, but at the end, something gave and it was not just coaching. These players did not get totally gassed and fatigued at the end. It was a different team top to bottom. We are all glad for Barwis and the players, but that does not put Barwis above criticism nor discussion. And quite possibly, he may not have been the best for the football team, even if pro prospects and players like him.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 5:04 p.m.

I am not an expert on this...but, I remember thinner players who didn't seem to have the bulk to stop a team in the fourth quarter. However, I realize this isn't just because of fitness...our defense was on the field too much during the RR era. I can see Barwis being used in the capacity as this article states, as the players have the time to train; whereas while playing at Michigan they couldn't possibly have the time to train his way. This past season I liked to see our guys bigger and stronger...they needed it especially in November. Game speed was there as well... Maybe it's fair to say that Barwis is best at being a specialist rather than a coach. Good for him, maybe he found his nitch...look at the athletes that are clients.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 4:55 p.m.

Lovaduck: You are what separates Michigan fans from all others. Thanks for the comment.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 4:37 p.m.

I've read every dialogue of Plato and I never heard that story about Socrates! It's either apocryphal or it's from Xenaphon! Socrates was noted for his kindness and use of rational argument! I know, who cares; but I hate to see these "George Washington and the Cherry Tree" type stories proliferate. If it's really about old Sockie, let me know where it comes from! I KNOW its not the point of the article, but I'm really curious!


Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 1:23 p.m.

Get your reasoned, rational, logical, sensible and knowledgeable posts off this board! :-)


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 4:25 p.m.

Good for Mike! If I was a football player looking to get to the next level, I would do anything I could do to make my dream a reality and Mr. Barwis certainly is someone who knows how to train an athlete.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 3:48 p.m.

Hoke wanted his "own guy" in this position. Someone that agreed with his philosophy and would support him. Barwis was Rich Rod's guy. The seniors worked with Barwis for 3 years and feel comfortable with the methods and probably the image Barwis has created for himself. He is very charasmatic. He has a strong belief in his philosophy and methods. This attracts young football players.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 3:34 p.m.

He was a complete failure


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 3:16 p.m.

Oh yes, and the familiar comments about "on-field results" rear their ugly heads again. Look, all the Michigan seniors save ONE are going back to Barwis and placing their NFL hopes with him. They're not going to Wellman. They're going to Barwis. The WHOLE story is right there in front of you. These guys love Barwis and THEY feel that Barwis does an excellent job of conditioning them for football. You cannot possibly argue this any other way.


Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 9:04 p.m.

The key here is the relationship. These guys endured the worst years of Michigan football history under RR and Barwis was the guy that they connected with. That level of pain bonds people, that's what this is about. It's not a nagative concerning Hoke and Wellman, it's about this group of guy's and how they are working towards the NFL dream.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 11:09 p.m.

This is a unique situation with Mike Barwis remaining in the area. If Mr Wellman were the only S&C coach, they might remain. 1) It is better the graduates move on and focus on the new task at hand away from Schembechler Hall.. 2) Three years under Barwis is a good connection. Barwis stayed after RR left and deserves credit for remaining in this area.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 4:30 p.m.

MI improved for many more reasons than just hiring and paying a great DC. While I agree and think it is clear that Barwis is excellent at his profession, let's be realistic on why the team improved this year. Give credit where it is due. Hoke and staff and players improved the win tally this year. Barwis will improve these guys chances at being drafted. RR does not need to be attacked or defended based on this article.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 3:35 p.m.

I just told you. Look at the players flocking back to him for their S&C in advance of the combine. Michigan had poor defensive coaching and hired an all star defensive coordinator for more money than most D-1A head coaches are paid. This is why we improved. Period. End of story. Barwis was a very good S&C coach and it's evidenced by the guys that are going back to him with their NFL hopes on the line.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 3:28 p.m.

how else are we supposed to judge? By theoretical results?

roll tide

Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 2:29 p.m.

Mike Barwis has helped players get to the NFL in the past. Football players are going to train where they are comfortable.  Good luck, to the players and hopefully they all get drafted.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 2:25 p.m.

As a former strength and conditioning trainer, I can attest that there is certainly merit to virtually everything Barwis does. He knows WHAT to do, and has been paid handsomely to do it. Even his theory of drinking chocolate milk after a training session is perfectly valid as it rapidly resupplies glycogen and protein back into the body. My question, though, which remains the same question I had when he was at Michigan, is HOW MUCH training he does. I certainly have not seen one of his marathon 6 hour sessions and how he breaks up the day, etc, but in all of my training/schooling (3 nationally recognized certifications), these marathon sessions are simply too much. It takes a certain amount of training to build a body up and, once it reaches that threshold point, further training is counterproductive. It actually begins to break the body down. So, whereas you're training you're butt off and thinking you're making great results, you actually begin to fatigue in both your muscles and cardiorespiratory system more quickly. Again, I haven't seen Barwis' training first hand so I admit I don't know the specifics, but from what I have read of Barwis' Method and saw of Michigan on the field over the past three seasons, I suspect that over training is what I witnessed. Michigan would start seasons strong, even start games strong later into the year, but ultimately they would collapse by midseason and in the second half of games that they were in for two quarters. He's state of the art, knows WHAT to do, but seems to misapply the HOW MUCH aspect. Further, this type of training is okay short term (i.e. preparing for something an event coming up quickly), but will wear an athlete down over the long haul (i.e. a football season)...which appears (imo) to be exactly what happened.


Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 12:30 p.m.

The 6-foot-6 Van Bergen said his weight is the same — 288 pounds — but his physique has changed, evidenced by the fact he couldn't make his stomach protrude so he could show teammates his &quot;fat stomach&quot; look. &quot;I've lost 3 to 4 inches off my stomach, and my strength has gone up dramatically,&quot; Van Bergen said. &quot;And this is nothing against Michigan's strength program — this is a different kind of training. We're training hard.&quot; Molk said his agent initially presented him with options of training at elite locations in Arizona, Florida or Texas. &quot;The other places are resorts — you come here to work,&quot; said Molk, the Rimington Trophy winner who had surgery Jan. 13 and will be limited four months. Full Story: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>|topnews|text|FRONTPAGE

Brian M.

Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 11:31 p.m.

Because he was clearly doing six hour sessions with kids during the season.... come on, seriously?


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 11:03 p.m.

Thanks azwolverine for expertise in this matter. I am sure Mike Barwis is more effective with the more mature 22 y/o and over professional athletes who's body can withstand a little more of that kind of punishment. It reminds me of the 100 to 120 mile weeks I ran in college during the cross country season. I got diminishing returns after about three or four weeks. Race times not only fell off, but I felt more drained after the race than early in the season. It took a while to correct that. I can relate.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 5:27 p.m.

I would agree 100% with azwolverine. Having attended one of Coach Barwis' clinic in the past, the Barwis methods has its strong points. However, I believe that one cannot apply the same type of training for every sport. As a martial artist (retired nak muay) and fitness coach, I certainly use his methods in preparing my fighters &amp; recommend it to aspiring MMA's: boot camp style brutal preparation with sound and practical principles derived from the eastern philosophy of training (sport specifics) for a fight or two. On the other hand, it is (I will) NOT recommend it for long season sports such as football and basketball etc.. Hence, I would agree with &quot;these marathon sessions are simply too much&quot;. Regardless of sports - OVER TRAINING often results to failure as was evident on the performance of RichRod's players during the 4th quarter during the second half of the season. ... just a humble opinion from a 68 year old that cares about the sound principles conditioning.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 4:50 p.m.

AZ, finally someone with knowledge in the field speaks the obvious truth. I always asked myself why, if Barwis method is so darn good, why did our teams wilt in the second half. It seemed to me that our &quot;strength and conditioning&quot; coach knew very little about conditioning. Finally someone has the knowledge and guts to say the emperor has no clothes.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 1:48 p.m.

I don't know about strength coaches other than what I read in articles like this one. I can also make inferences by on the field win-loss results and observations about fitness ( I.e. Are the players gasping for breath?) I think Barwis must be good at what he does because of the apparent success his business is having and the respect that the players give him. But I would not trade the results that we had this year for the years that Barwis was in Ann Arbor, and it did seem to me that the teams were not in great shape under him given the results of getting physically beaten by other good teams like Iowa and Wisconsin, not to mention the typical fades we observed in the second half during all 3 years. There clearly is more than one way to train and I hope that Barwis continues to be happy and successful.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 1:34 p.m.

It's really interesting to me how Barwis is regarded as the best strength and conditioning coach in the country, yet he was fired from University of Michigan. I realize it's not something anyone in the current coaching staff wants to talk about, but why not ? Have you asked them about it Kyle ? I mean you have some of the best NFL, NHL, etc players in the world who have never worked out with Barwis before coming back to Michigan to use him based on what they've heard. VanBergen, Martin, Molk, Koger, etc all must think that Barwis is better than who Hoke hired as well because when their NFL future is on the line look who they go to. That says something right there. I'm really honestly not trying to put a rift between the current strength guy Hoke hired, but isn't it almost a fact that he's not anywhere near as good as Mike Barwis ? I don't think it's a stretch to say that it's a fact.


Mon, Jan 23, 2012 : 5:53 p.m.

Your example doesn't make sense. Dave Brandon waited to fire RR until there was no chance for kids/players to leave the Michigan football program (classes started) and also not allowing RR nor his assistants to find other jobs. (on purpose or not, I don't know). The article you referenced was dated AFTER Rich Rodriguez had been hired at Arizona, which was a year after Hoke had been hired at Michigan. Anyway, when Hoke came in he could have asked Barwis to sign a contract to stay with Michigan, but he didn't. I'm not saying whether that is right or wrong, I'm just saying that I find it interesting you have the best strength and conditioning coach in the business and you don't retain him even though Barwis says he would like to stay. Barwis then proves he wants to stay in the area and starts his own business since Michigan fired him. All I'm saying - it's interesting and I'm wondering why. If that wasn't the best article to make your case feel free to post another one.

Brian M.

Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 11:28 p.m.

It's kind of just a common suspicion. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> is just one example.


Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 11:10 p.m.

What are you basing that on ? Do you have any data or insight at all ? If it's just a wild guess you should mention that in your comment.

Brian M.

Sun, Jan 22, 2012 : 10 p.m.

i think they suspected he would follow rich rod wherever he went and so didn't want him on the staff for just a year. i doubt it has anything to do with his competence or reputation.