How to Exercise Like an NFL Pro

Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on February 05, 2013
From the WebMD Archives

You don't need to be a professional athlete to train like one. These seven tips from former players and pro trainers will help to keep you in top shape.

1. Do Plyometrics

To train like an NFL pro, “you’ve got to do plyometrics,” says Rob Livingstone, a Massachusetts strength and conditioning coach who has trained many pro athletes.

Plyometrics involves doing lots of jumping and explosive moves. You're "training the body to become better conditioned," Livingstone says.

By lifting your maximum weight in short bursts, you'll not only build muscle, you'll also improve your power.

2. Increase Your Speed

Run 10-yard sprints, says Vince Gabriele, owner of Gabriele Fitness and Performance in New Jersey.

Gabriele, who has personally trained NFL players, says short sprints with full recoveries are a safe and effective way to improve speed.

Start out with six sprints, and let your body recover for a minute between each sprint. Keep changing your starting position -- standing with your feet wide, lying on your stomach, kneeling -- to improve your reactive ability and upper-body strength.

NFL pros also lift weights to increase their speed. By lifting your maximum weight in short bursts, you'll not only build muscle, you'll also improve your power.

3. Stretch the Right Way

You need flexibility, as well as strength. But don't do it the old-fashioned way.

Your high school gym teacher probably told you to hold each stretch for 20 to 30 seconds. That's called a static stretch. But now, experts don't recommend doing static stretches before you're warmed up, for safety's sake.

Research shows that active stretches, such as lunges or squats, are better for improving range of motion. These quick movements that stretch muscles are also called dynamic stretches. Cincinnati Bengals safety Chris Crocker starts his workouts with a series of dynamic stretches.

Save the static stretches for after your workout, when your muscles are warmed up.

4. Build Muscle

You don't need to lift as much weight as a football player to build muscle. At the peak of his NFL career, Torrie Griffin, a former defensive lineman for the Tennessee Titans and a certified personal trainer, was bench-pressing about 485 pounds. A more realistic goal if you're not a pro is probably in the range of 150 to 175 pounds, Griffin says.

Go for one to three sets of six to 15 reps each. Don't overdo it.

"When you get through with a set, know that you've got maybe two to three reps left in you," says Barry Rubin, head strength and conditioning coach for the Kansas City Chiefs. If you train too hard, it can take a week or more for your body to recover, he says.

Rubin recommends gradually adding weight and reps each week for 3 weeks until you reach your limit. Then back off with lighter weights and lower reps during the fourth week to give your body a chance to recover.

Building lean muscle doesn't happen only in the gym. It also happens on your plate. "You can lift all the weights in the world, but if you're not putting the right fuel in your body, that muscle mass is not going to come," Gabriele says.

To build lean muscle, get most of your calories from lean protein, fruits and vegetables, and good carbs like brown rice and whole-grain bread.

5. Boost Endurance

You don't need to do as much sprinting, squatting, tackling, and throwing as an NFL player. But everyone can stand to improve their endurance, and one of the best ways to do it is with interval training.

Gabriele recommends pedaling hard on the bike for 30-second sprints, followed by a slower pace for a minute. Do three sprint sets to start, and then work your way up to more. If you don't like the bike, run sprints on the treadmill.

6. Get Lean

To burn fat, you need to do cardio.

Alternate aerobics with strength training moves that work several muscle groups at once, like squatting with barbells, Griffin says.

Rubin uses medicine-ball drills for conditioning, where players throw the ball against a wall for 200 reps or more. "It's great for core training and total body conditioning," he says.

7. Watch Your Form

A qualified trainer can give you a safe plan and show how to do each move right.

Gabriele sees a lot of mistakes in people working out at typical gyms. "I know many of them are not aware that their poor exercise technique will eventually lead to injury," he says.

Have your trainer watch you while you lift to make sure you're using the proper techniques.

Work within your limits. "A lot of people think that you have to push it to the limit every time,” Rubin says. "I disagree with that. That's how you end up getting hurt."

Show Sources


Rob Livingstone, MS, CSCS, SCCC, strength and conditioning coach, Williams College, Williamstown, MA; director, Livingstone Speed Academy; former head strength and conditioning coach, University of Georgia.

Meroni, R. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, January 2010.

Vince Gabriele, MS, CSCS, ACE, owner, Gabriele Fitness and Performance, Berkeley Heights, NJ.

Torrie Griffin, former defensive lineman, Tennessee Titans; certified personal trainer, owner, Fitness Love ATL, Atlanta.

Barry Rubin, head strength and conditioning coach, Kansas City Chiefs.

Chris Crocker, safety, Cincinnati Bengals.

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