At the end of an hour-long weightlifting session on a Friday morning in late April, Florida basketball strength and conditioning coach Preston Greene told the Gators he had a surprise waiting outside.
Sitting in the road behind the weight room were a couple of 600-pound tires big enough to fit a tractor. Greene instructed the Florida players to finish their workout by doing four sets of tire flips apiece for 50 yards as fast as possible.
"The first time we did the tire flips, my legs were wobbly, my butt was on my fire and I was gasping for air," said Patric Young, Florida's chiseled 6-foot-9, 250-pound center. "I was like, 'Oh my goodness, I don't want to do this again.'"
If the Gators thought the tire flips were tough, the strongman-style workouts only got more brutal from there. Each Friday from mid-April until August, Florida players would finish their weightlifting, walk outside and find Greene waiting with a sadistic new form of strength training torture.
Sometimes they pushed a sled loaded with weight up and down the street or did sprints carrying a 110-pound heavy bag over their shoulders. Other times they pushed a three-ton Ford pickup truck uphill for 75 yards or used a rope to pull a car hand-over-hand 100 yards up an incline. Worst of all was when Greene would combine four or five of these disciplines into one workout to create what he called a strongman medley.
"I swear he just made up some of the stuff on the spot," senior forward Erik Murphy joked. "It was a little unorthodox, but it was fun too. You weren't so much training for basketball as pushing yourself beyond what you thought you could do."
Strongman-style workouts are unusual training for basketball, but Greene believes they were perfect for preparing the Gators for coach Billy Donovan's relentless, up-tempo system.
They were quick, high-intensity workouts that required the same bursts of explosiveness as basketball does. They burnt fat and built strength and endurance without putting players at risk of stress fractures or other overuse injuries the way long-distance running would. And they instilled confidence among the Gators that they could achieve goals that once seemed impossible.
The idea of incorporating stuff like tire flips and truck pushes came from strength coach Charles Poliquin, Greene's mentor and a longtime proponent of strongman training for everyone from athletes to those in law enforcement. Greene had dabbled with strongman workouts at previous stops at Clemson and Stanford, but this offseason was the first time he had players do it regularly once a week.