Get it!" one player yells as he spots another mid-bench press, sweat beading on his teammate's brow.

"A little different from a regular gym, isn't it?" observes safety Chinedum Ndukwe, taking in the weight room scene at a Bengals' offseason strength training session.

And of course, it isn't a typical gym scene "” machines hoisting 230+ pounds as they were kids' toys, a soundtrack of rap music keeping time to exercise reps, and a noticeable lack of female workout buddies.

It's April, and the Cincinnati Bengals have already been at it for a month, getting back in top shape months before their preseason games are even a blip on ESPN's radar.

The Downstairs Dynamic
For Chip Morton, head strength and conditioning coach for the Bengals, the workday starts at 6:30 a.m. "” and that doesn't mean coffee and the newspaper for this coach.

Morton, now in his 19th NFL season, preps the weight room, in-stadium basketball court, and either the stadium field or practice field with equipment before greeting the first group of players at 7:30. To build a team of champions, he starts with a training staff of champions: Assistant Jeff Friday, Carlos Woods and Bill Zenisek "” all of whom have worked on Super Bowl sidelines.

"I've never had a staff of full- and part-time people that were all championship coaches. That's pretty unique," Morton says. "I have people that have character, that are hungry, that are passionate, and have experienced it."

The so-called "downstairs dynamic" of strength and conditioning coaches, equipment maintenance and Coach Lewis is the extent of interaction for the players at this time of the year "” and it's the perfect dynamic for physical improvements.

Once the Bengals arrive at Paul Brown stadium, exercises run the gamut with sprints, stationary biking, weightlifting and stretching. Strength coaches troll the rooms, recording times, offering encouragement and giving advice based on players' individual needs.

For some, this is a shift in how they're used to training.

"It's a more independent type workout than in college, because there, everyone is the same age. Not everyone here has the same body structure, so you have to find your way to peak performance," says second-year safety Rico Murray.

Morton constantly considers the minimum effective dose, or the minimum amount of training, to illicit the maximum benefit.

Non-traditional forms of training are also effective for accomplishing conditioning goals. While the image of a 200-pound football player contorted in a yoga pose might illicit giggles, the reality is that more are finding the rewards of practicing some downward dogs.

"During the season there's very little time for training "” it's about maintaining what you build in the offseason," says quarterback Jordan Palmer. "For me, I'm big into core and balance, and bench pressing doesn't make me better, so I do Pilates and some mixed martial arts."

His brother, quarterback Carson Palmer disagrees. "My wife does Pilates," he says. "Pilates and yoga aren't really football workouts "” you can stretch on your own."

But in the eyes of Coach Morton, anything to increase mobility and strength is good, depending on individual players' needs. So while wide receivers Andre Caldwell and Jerome Simpson choose hot yoga classes, Morton doesn't sweat any training that improves his team.

As Iron Sharpens Iron
Out work, out run, out hit. One play at a time. As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Strength.

The phrases hover on the walls over the Bengals' weight room. They aren't just meant for decoration "” they're part of the motivational attitude the conditioning program employs.

"We want each player to reach a potential," Friday says. "So even if a guy is a Pro Bowl player or a Hall of Fame player, we still want them to be the best they can be."

In this program, that means motivation, not intimidation. "My motivation comes in the form of encouragement," Morton explains. "We try to run a pretty positive ship. Everybody's different, but in here we're not hollerers or screamers."

The coaches understand the personality quirks in the players and try to coach them based on these differences. For Bill Zenisek, the newest addition to the staff, it took some adjusting.

"The first couple of weeks I was here, I was trying to get to know who they were," he says. "Now that I kind of have a sense of how they work the best, then I can make them better than they were before."

But the players do have a common personality trait "” competitiveness. The coaches play off this in training. Putting an exercise as simple as a grip or sprint against the clock, but mainly against one another, makes everything improve: Effort, intensity and productivity.

One surprising byproduct of this competitive environment? Team bonding.

"It's good for the camaraderie," says safety Ndukwe. "The guys are a lot closer even than a few years ago. You really get to know the other players better in the offseason."

The Road Ahead
After hitting a high note in winning the AFC North Division Championship last season, the Bengals still haven't lost the aftertaste of disappointing seasons of the past.

It's too soon to tell what the months ahead may hold for the Bengals, but for now, the coaches at football's ground zero are optimistic. The team is returning 20 of 22 starters, plus many others who filled in for injured starters last season.

"Now, from the bottom up, our roster is full of seasoned players, so that's going to be exciting going into the season and seeing how we approach each game, how we handle each game, and how we put in our best effort," says coach Carlos Woods.

The training program has adapted to last season's challenges, with a focus on preventing injuries. After decreasing soft tissue injuries last year, now the trainers concentrate on reducing wear and tear through preparing the ligaments and joints, adjusting the amount of work, recovery, nutrition and resting.

It's a comprehensive way to condition "” not just for the sake of playing, but conditioning to compete.

"It's a special group and a special team. We see it every day," says Morton, like a pleased parent sending his kids to the first day of school. "We're proud of that. We're excited by it and encouraged by it."