It’s no secret professional football players are some of the fittest men on the planet. Even their lackluster throws, runs, and catches are light years ahead of what any of the rest of us can do. And when they’re on fire, they make plays that no one would believe were it not for the footage.
While it would be foolish to deny these athletes were blessed with an absurd amount of natural talent, those abilities only get them so far. When it comes to workouts, these guys hit it hard. No shortcuts. No excuses. Want to know what it takes to get in such phenomenal shape? We’re highlighting six of the most sacred fitness rules NFL players live by, which you can apply to your own workouts. You probably won’t make the draft, but you’ll sure whip your body into shape.
1. Workouts must be measured
Some might snicker at the buff men in the gym who carry around a tiny workout journal and pencil to mark down their every lift, but those guys are the only ones doing it right. While you might think you know exactly how many sets you did and how much weight you used, it’s easy to forget the details. Maybe you cut your bench press short one day because you were feeling lousy. Perhaps you added an extra 10 pounds to your barbell as an experiment. If you don’t keep a record, there’s no way you’re going to remember those finer points on your own.
Football players are totally on board with the concept. Guys love to read and compare how many 225-pound repetitions their favorite players can bench or how quickly they can cover 40 yards, and the numbers are pretty impressive. If these athletes didn’t keep track, or at least have someone do it for them, we wouldn’t have a clue about any of those records.
Measuring your effort is just as important when it comes to cardiovascular fitness. The best way to keep track of how hard you’re working is a heart rate monitor, a device the Eagles swear by. Additionally, heart rate monitors can clue you in to when you should increase your intensity.
2. No season is off-season
Many high school athletes look forward to the end of the season as much as they do the big game, because they’re free to kick back after the final play. It’s fine to enjoy a little bit of celebration and get some rest, to a point. But continuing to lounge around just makes it that much more difficult to get back in shape when it counts. Why? According to AZCentral, an extended break leads to a loss of elasticity in your lungs, which makes breathing more difficult, and a decrease in blood volume, which forces your heart to work harder.
Instead of letting yourself slide, take a cue from the pros. For Greenbay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews, a typical off-season week consists of six days dedicated to training. He told Bodybuilding.com his workouts include everything from boxing to yoga. And Matthews isn’t alone. Back when he played for the Buffalo Bills, C.J. Spiller shared some of his off-season training tips with Men’s Fitness, including sled pulls, hill sprints, and MMA.
3. Leg day is just as important as arm day
We’ve all seen the buff guys strutting around the gym with legs that look like they belong on the body of a 12-year old. That simply isn’t an option for professional football stars. Back he played for the Vikings in 2013, Jared Allen told Muscle & Fitness, “I think the most important part of the game for any football player is leg strength. All your explosion comes from your legs.” That probably explains the brutal regimen that included squats loaded with 405 pounds.
Even if you don’t play much football, it’s still a good rule. Building strength in your legs is great for your overall fitness, and contributes to a greater overall calorie burn. Squats, lunges, hamstring curls, and calf raises are all good choices.
4. Working on flexibility isn’t optional
The word flexibility often brings to mind images of gymnasts doing the splits. Truthfully, staying limber should be something everyone works toward. For NFL players, it’s a key ingredient for good footwork on the field. Dana Santas, creator of Radius Yoga, who counts professional football players among her clients, told STACK she works with them to increase range of motion in areas like the hips and back. “From a performance standpoint, increasing mobility in these areas will increase the ability to rapidly change directions, which is a benefit for any position in football,” she said.
Players don’t just work on their flexibility in the studio either. NFL.com pointed out most players go through a series of stretches and dynamic moves just before the start of every game. Folks who sit at a desk for work will find these types of exercises just as beneficial since they often suffer from tight hips.
5. Cardio is a requirement
Lifting weights will get you strong and help increase the amount of calories you burn, yet those heavy plates can only do so much. Cardiovascular fitness is probably even more important for professional football players. Going for a mindless job isn’t going to cut it, though. Endurance, speed, and agility are all key components to becoming a stellar athlete, so NFL players rely on intense efforts to send their heart rates through the roof.
Giants punter Steve Weatherford includes some sort of cardio every time he works out, and it usually involves hill or sand sprints. Even regular drills don’t cut it for these guys. According to STACK, running back Chris Johnson performs high knees with a resistance band to increase his stride length.
6. Adequate sleep and rest are crucial
Hard work is just one half of the story for getting and staying fit. The other piece is rest. Without adequate recovery, no amount of time in the gym is going to yield results. Teams have curfews for a reason, and it’s not just to keep the players from getting into trouble. Pete Carroll credits the Seahawks’ success to prioritizing sleep, so it’s probably a good strategy for the rest of us.
More from Health & Fitness Cheat Sheet:
- 4 Things You Should Never Do Before a Workout
- 4 Workouts for Guaranteed Muscle Gain
- Why People Who Sleep Better Earn More Money