With another Super Bowl in the rearview mirror, the NFL offseason begins to fall into place for the players. Most will take a few weeks off to let their bodies heal after 16 regular season games (and, hopefully for them, playoff games as well) but then start to get back to the gym for their offseason conditioning programs.
What position they play mandates what will be included in their training regimen. For instance, the skill position players tend to do a vast amount of cardio and speed drills, while the lineman concentrate on the Olympic and explosive lifts.
“I do a lot of bungees, chains and resistance drops,” Kaepernick says. “And a lot of ladders. I was even doing some track workouts for a while.”
Known as a dual threat with his arm and legs, San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick personifies the pistol offense quarterback that is becoming more and more popular around the league. So when he incorporates unconventional training methods such as running track, the results speak for themselves.
Compare that to the type of routine that Justin Pugh does, one that concentrates on compound movements for strength. The New York Giants 6’5”, 301-pound offensive lineman recognizes the two exercises that are the most helpful to him on the gridiron and in the trenches up front opening holes for Big Blue’s backfield.
“Hang cleans and bench presses,” he says matter-of-factly. “I go up to 385 pounds in my last set on the bench and can max out with that same weight for one rep with the power cleans.”
Utilizing chains for squats and bench press gives Pugh and advantage by needing to push harder as the resistance increases. This emulates keeping a defensive lineman at bay and then one last shove for a pancake block.
Playing across the line of scrimmage against guys like Pugh is Robert Mathis, who was the NFL sack leader in 2013. The veteran Indianapolis Colts outside linebacker/defensive end goes about his training with a different philosophy, one that keys in on ground based movements for explosiveness so he can get through the wall of humanity to corral the opposing quarterback or running back.
“I can’t stress enough of the importance on lower body strength,” comments Mathis. “It keeps you up for the long haul. In the weight room, (I do) power cleans, lunges, step ups and squats.”
The six-time Pro Bowler is also conscious of keeping his knees healthy as he gets older:
“I don’t do deep squats anymore,” says Mathis, 33. “I do a lot of machine or single leg squats and they put the emphasis on strengthening the quads and getting that teardrop to them.”
Hitting your legs hard is the name of the game when you’re a punter and no one in the league does it better than Steve Weatherford. The nine-year veteran is an all-out gym rat and rarely takes any time off from training. Now that the New York Giants season has concluded, Weatherford works his lower body with precision by doing a complex workout.
“I prefer to do front squats and work my way up from 135 to 305 pounds in five sets of four reps in each,” explains Weatherford. “I then do walking lunges with dumbbells, power cleans, leg extensions, leg curls and calf raises.”
When it comes to playing in the secondary, you need to have a set of skills that include speed, jumping ability and being able to stop on a dime and change direction. Cornerback Ike Taylor has won two Super Bowl rings as a starter with the Pittsburgh Steelers, recording seven tackles and an interception in the 21-10 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in SB XL. To stay on top of his game, he makes sure to do position-specific exercises and not be concerned with putting on muscle mass.
“I don’t want to get bigger,” says Taylor. “And I want to make sure to stretch and flex a lot, too. When you play corner, there’s a lot of twisting and turning, so I make sure to do exercises that include one-leg plant offs, one-leg and one-arm movements and a lot of abs. “I also run every day and lift weights at least three days a week.”
Pushing himself past his limits is something that Brandon Flowers is familiar with, as the San Diego Chargers cornerback needs to stay one step ahead of the players he is assigned to cover every Sunday.
“The receivers are bigger and stronger now, so I have to do a lot of vertical, explosive lifts and exercises for endurance,” he says. “I also do push-ups every night, even after I hit the weight room. If I get my hands on you, I can do a pretty good job then.”
Some players have chosen to introduce some esoteric activities into their offseason training to change things up a bit and also as a challenge. It doesn’t get any more challenging than what Arizona Cardinals running back Stefan Taylor did during the 2013 offseason and it is something that he intends on continuing this year.
“I did kick boxing with my cousin three times a week for about six weeks,” the Stanford product says. “We started out doing five rounds of three minutes and worked our way up to 12 rounds. It helped make my core stronger and was something different and fun, too.”
Taylor also tries to mimic what he would be doing on the field in the weight room and gave the following example:
“I like to do close grip flat bench presses because it has a similar arm position like when I’m pushing off an opponent and blocking him.”
Playing on either offense or defense is one thing, but special teams are an entirely different animal altogether. The coverage and return units consist of players always looking to make an impact and take an opponent’s head off, so these handful of plays in each game can be the most dangerous of all.
To become a special teams standout and make the Pro Bowl not once, but twice, from your work on those units is not the norm in the NFL. But that is exactly the case for Montell Owens, who is a running back by trade but receives accolades for his accomplishments on specials.
“I’ve done all kinds of workouts,” the well-traveled veteran and current member of the Chicago Bears says. “With trainers and without. Olympic lifts, bodyweight, machines, Physio ball…all of the movements work together and there’s not one that’s superior.”
There is no secret formula to training like an NFL player. There is any number of methods and combinations that prepare these modern day warriors for battle, one yard at a time.