The man behind the muscles

Colonial athletes agree – there is no such thing as an easy day in one of Mark Bearden’s workout sessions. But there is no such thing as a bad day, either.

When the athletic department hired Bearden to be GW’s strength and conditioning coach last year, athletes learned right away that training would never be taken lightly again. And by looking at the men’s basketball team, the results of Bearden’s intensive program are evident. While Bearden’s agenda is strictly organized and disciplined, junior men’s basketball player Tamal Forchion said the results are worth it.

“When it comes to working hard in the weight room and how much weight you put on, don’t show him that you can do it, because he’ll push you to the extreme,” he said. “But you know what? You can’t complain about it, because it shows results in the end. His whole job is to push you hard so you’re prepared, so you can’t complain.”

Before Bearden came to GW, the weight room was old and contained relatively little equipment. He said assistant men’s basketball coach Darrell Brooks did not want him to see the shabby facility until after he accepted the job but that GW was willing to give him whatever he needed to improve it.

“Now, when recruits come, we can’t tell them we have the biggest room in the A-10, but we have the best one,” Bearden said. “It’s efficient and effective. When you walk in there, it says something.”

And when people walk out of there, it also says something. His effects are visible in athletes’ physical improvement and in their attitudes.

Many athletes said going through one of Bearden’s workouts is unlike anything they have experienced before. Players said he will never let anyone quit, put on less weight than he thinks is enough or say “I can’t.”

“Even beyond the physical aspect, he pushes you past the limit that you don’t want to go (to), to the point where you want to quit, but you can’t,” Forchion said. “He doesn’t let you. When it comes down to the games, that is going to help us a lot.”

Bearden learned how to turn athletes into “little Arnold Schwarzeneggers,” as T.J. Thompson calls the players, by learning from his own experiences playing sports.

“The best coaches I had pushed me out of my comfort zone,” Bearden said. “They forced me to a level that they knew I could become. I took all that and I put it in a package that I knew I could implement at GW. I simply don’t allow anything but being positive. We work too hard and sacrifice too much to do anything but win.”

Men’s basketball head coach Karl Hobbs said he was looking for someone to prepare his team physically and mentally. But he wasn’t sure if Bearden was right for the job.

“He was technical; he understood his profession,” Hobbs said. “My only concern was that I thought he was a little mild-mannered. I wasn’t sure he’d be tough enough. And boy, was I wrong there.”

Now, Hobbs said, he is very pleased with the results and knows Bearden affects the players both mentally and physically.

“He’s done as good a job as I’ve seen any strength guy do in terms of preparing guys and getting them ready for a season,” he said. “More importantly, the transformation of our guys from last year to this year, physically, has been incredible. He’s given them confidence. They feel like they’re stronger, and that’s all a credit to him.”

A 1997 Oklahoma State University graduate, Bearden was initially a civil engineering major but then decided that he wanted to be a training coach and gained experience during his college years. When he was offered the job at GW, he left Oklahoma and moved to D.C. in less than two weeks.

But the men’s basketball team is not the only one Bearden works with, as he also trains the women’s basketball, soccer and lacrosse teams. He said the women participate in the same workout regiment as the men because all athletes should be treated the same.

“The most important values that he has instilled in us are those of respect and discipline,” junior lacrosse player Jamie Lee said. “Before he started working with us, lifting was not quite a joke, but almost. We all lifted when we could, so it was separate and there was no team aspect to it. Now we lift as a team. We struggle through hard workouts together and push each other.”

The team aspect can be seen by anyone who walks by the weight room. It is louder now than in past years, as teammates, wearing the same uniforms, cheer for each other.

For the upcoming season, Bearden and Hobbs have worked side by side to get the team into peak condition. Each one stays out of the other’s business but cooperates to meet the same goals, they said.

“He’s been the difference,” Hobbs said. “I’m not sure what we’re going to do this season, but whatever it is, he has been a major part of why we will be successful.”

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