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Monday August 12, 2013A Passion for Fitness: Preston Greene's Conditioning Program is There for Whole Program

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The music blasts, the metal clangs, the sweat pours and the voice booms.

"FOCUS!" chides Preston Greene.

It's summertime and the gym at the University of Florida basketball complex is bustling with grunts and groans at various stations. This is Greene's domain, so you train his way, at his pace. No wasted time.

No basketball players, either.

Over there is assistant coach John Pelphrey pumping dumbbells on the bench. There's video coordinator Oliver Winterbone jumping rope. There's Christine Donovan, spouse to a certain head coach, cranking out pull-ups.

[Full disclosure: As a sportswriter, one of my goals is not to look like a sportswriter. I'm in there, too.]

Greene affectionately calls it "Wives Club." It's his term of endearment, with a twist.

"I coined it to be derogatory and degrading to the guys, to be honest with you," Greene said. "But it's really my way of motivating them."

This time last year, UF's "strongman" workout became something of a YouTube sensation among Gators everywhere, courtesy of center Patric Young -- an "ESPN: The Magazine Body Issue" spread in waiting -- carrying a heavy bag, flipping tires and pulling a truck. A 2013 "strongman version" was posted just last week.

But Greene's gym (and time) is not just for players on the Florida basketball team. Members of the Gators support staff (and some family members, too) have a high-intensity training outlet, if they're willing to commit the time, effort and energy.

Lots of energy.

Welcome to Wives Club.

The genesis of the group was rooted in various individuals (non-student-athletes) looking to get in better shape.

"People always ask questions. 'What should I be doing?' It's a wide spectrum, and I was getting bombarded," said Greene, 35, who also trains the men's golf team. They all wanted to come and work out or get some kind of program design.

"It's hard enough to write programs for 15 basketball players and the golfers, and now you're throwing in another 10 or so staffers. That's very time-consuming, and our facility is not designed to hold a couple dozen people."

So Greene, along with his assistant Collin Crane and intern Brian Hudson, supervise a group of non-athletes three times a week for intense circuit-training sessions built around Greene's philosophy that emphasizes muscle training over aerobic training, with his rapid-fire body-building circuits doubling as cardiovascular workouts.

[The fact that Green's workouts have sent many a hardened UF player -- ask NBA lottery pick Bradley Beal, for example -- scurrying to put their head in a trash can, actually intrigued me.]

"It's completely changed my outlook on exercise," basketball office manager Tracy Pfaff said. "I used to walk into a gym, do a few curls, some cardio, then leave. Now, we knock this out, get our cardio while we're training, and by the end of it you're pouring sweat, winded and finished in like 40 minutes."

The group usually numbers around eight -- Pelphrey and fellow assistant Rashon Burno are regulars, when not on the recruiting trails -- that is split into groups of two or three, then assigned to one of the circuits.

There are rules in the gym, just like when UF's athletes are training: be on time; no talking; no iPods; no cell phones.

"If we're going to do it, we're going to do it right," said Greene, who often surrenders his lunch break to accommodate the club. "It's not social hour."

Here's a recent sample workout (weights varied depending on the individual), none of which are ever the same:

Series A (three exercises): Back squats (8 reps), followed by dumbbell lunges (10). Then it's out to the gymnasium floor where a weighted sled ("The Prowler") sits at one baseline. Push it to the other baseline, churning legs the entire 93 feet. Repeat the series three times (maybe four depending on Greene's mood). Move on.

Series B (three exercises): 45-degree dumbbell bench press (8 reps), followed by flat dumbbell bench press (10 reps). Then grab an end of the 50-foot battle rope and flail away for 30 or 45 seconds (again, depending on Greene's mood). Three or four times through. Move on.

Series C (three exercises): EZ bar curl (8 reps on crooked bar), followed by standing hammer curls with dumbbells (10 reps), then lift a 50-pound sandbag onto a waist-high shelf (5 reps to the left, 5 more to the right). Three or four times through. Move on.

Series D (three exercises): Lying dumbbell triceps extensions (8 reps), followed by EZ bar triceps press-down (10), then Burpees. If you have to ask, Burpees begin from a standing position; drop for a push-up (sometimes on a med ball), then pop upright into a jump with arms raised ... 15 times. Three or four times through.

Then done.


In between, the participants encourage one another; sometimes have some fun with one another.

[Christine Donovan, who is a fitness phenom, coached me up on my form on kettle ball swings. "You look like you're picking flowers," she said, then proceeded to instruct me on the proper technique. Embarrassing, but I'm doing it correctly now.]

"I think at the beginning we were kind of a pain in Preston's butt," said Tracy Pelphrey, wife of the UF assistant and a club regular. "But I also think that in the time since we began we've won him over. He's seen his own little creation among us and how we've progressed. And he's also seen the camaraderie among us. He makes it fun."

That last word ("fun") is probably not one Greene would choose, but there's a reason his pupils, a nice chunk of them approaching middle age (at least one already there), not only keep coming back, but hate it when conflicts force them to miss workouts.

[During the week of Gators hoops camp, the club had to alter its schedule, with Greene announcing via text that Monday session would begin at 6:45. My response: "Earlier = Easier, right?" His: "No chance."]

Gators coach Billy Donovan, who gets one-on-one attention from Greene, said he was in the best shape of his post-basketball career before his three-week venture earlier this summer to coach USA Basketball's U19 squad in the FIBA World Championships in Prague, Czech Republic. Donovan missed his workouts, but had plenty of chances to talk about them.

Just about every coach he saw asked what he was doing to stay in such amazing shape.

One of those coaches was Marquette's Buzz Williams, who was with Donovan during the USA tryouts in Colorado. After hearing Donovan gush about Greene, Williams flew to Gainesville to meet with Greene and get set up with exercise and diet programs.

How's it coming?

On a recent recruiting stop, Pelphrey ran into Williams, who opened a carry-on bag that was filled with fruit, nuts and protein bars.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett, who worked as Donovan's assistant on the USA squad, is the latest to call on Greene. Bennett is getting long-distance fitness counseling, also.

Clearly, Greene has a passion for what he does and cares when others care enough to seek his expertise.

"There's a difference between your job and your purpose," explained Mark Daigneault, UF's assistant to the head coach and charter Wives Club member. "His job is to train our players and he does a great job with that. But his purpose is a bigger-picture goal of health, well-being and fitness. The fact that he would go out of his way to train people and write programs and answer emails -- whether it be for coaches, managers, support staff, whoever -- shows that he serves a higher purpose beyond his job. To me, that his most admirable quality."

Wives Club participants aren't the only ones reaping benefits.

"I enjoy seeing you guys obtain results and seeing you change your lifestyle for the better," he said. "To me, that's rewarding."

The goal for Wives Club, he suggests with a shrug, is no different than it is for his basketball players or golfers.

Peak conditioning.

"We're going to have the best-conditioned support staff in the country," Greene said.

That such a goal can't be quantified doesn't matter.

Greene nodded.

"True," he said. "But we'll know."


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