Not just for kicks: Off-season training with Bucs punter Michael Koenen
After swiping at his iPhone to zoom in on the training script sent by Tampa Bay’s strength and conditioning coach, Buccaneers punter Michael Koenen starts in on the free-weight dumbbell bench. He starts light. Soon, though, the 10-year NFL veteran is lifting 95 pounds. Per arm. Then 110. And 120. The weight rack didn’t have anything heavier.
“These are the jersey-filling lifts,” Koenen deadpans to a SI.com reporter standing alongside. “I’ve got to be stronger than the kicker [teammate Patrick Murray].”
While Koenen may be no Brad Weatherford—“He’s yoked, says Koenen in admiration”—the punter has muscles far beyond his booming right leg. Indeed, while his livelihood may rest on his kicking leg, Koenen works his upper body plenty hard too, falling in line with the same exact workout script sent to every Tampa Bay player weekly in the offseason. But he also takes care of that leg.
Starting off an early weekday workout—so Koenen can get home in time to eat breakfast with his family—with a bike warmup at The Locker Room gym in Ferndale, Wash., the gym he co-owns with fellow Ferndale High alum and former NFL quarterback Jake Locker, Koenen says training for the NFL year is about seasons.
“The team does a good job of breaking down each time of year,” the 32-year-old says while clad in full Tampa swag. In the summer, you’re building and making sure you improve upon your spring work, leading into the intense pre-season camps.
Koenen, standing 5'11", works off the same information sent to every Tampa Bay player, but adds in plenty of his own things. “Over 10 years, you pick up a lot,” he says. For the specifics it is mainly about “thinking through the punting motion and the muscles you use and need to build.”
Kicking remains a part of his summer routine, but the focus stays on weights. He wants to balance his leg muscles, not letting that all-important right leg throw him off. He’ll do plenty of kicking in training camp too, so he puts a focus on his left side in the spring and summer to get everything equal.
For summer, he’ll hit the weight room four days a week in the morning, handle some yoga two days, and kick on three or four afternoons—Koenen owns a beef farm outside of Lynden, Wash., and enlists the help of his kids to shag kicks for him in the spacious field, even if they’ve learned not to try and catch the booming balls. He makes sure to continue his all-important stretching routine pre- and post-kicking. During the off-season he’ll strike 40 to 50 balls a day, working on everything from hang time to distance to location. During training camp, that number usually falls to around 30.
“The way I see it, OTAs are a time to wear out, press and build and once training camp starts, I’m aiming for Week 1,” he says. “I set my buildup to be good [for that week] and focus on reps and limit reps. I’m building balance and base to hit training camp hard.”
As his career has progressed, Koenen says he feels different from when he started out of Western Washington University. “Honestly I feel stronger and I’m definitely getting smarter,” he says. “You figure out your body each year.”
Now the father of five eats gluten free and doesn’t eat sugar, with his “cheat” peanut butter on apples. “I’m a businessman and my body is my tool, so I have to take care and get it in the right place,” he says.
When his career started, he was simply eager to find his spot in the league, so excited for the opportunity. But he started to glean ideas and wisdom from older kickers—Jason Elam, among others—to help him focus on longevity. One recent small change, for example, has Koenen wearing compression tights whenever he trains, something he found a few years ago did help him with circulation and recovery.
For Koenen specifically, working his abs prove a major part of his focus. He also wants to get in tons of squats to work his glutes and power through gobs of lunges. He loves anything that works his hip flexer and is always stretching his hamstrings and quads, something he’s started doing more and more as his career evolved.
During the season, Koenen hits the weights just like the rest of the team, as consistency with workouts keeps him in form. With travel and games, working out can get difficult during the season, but setting a schedule keeps him on track. “If not, you get to freestyling,” he says. “The schedule is important.”
“The biggest thing you see is guys get so invested in how much weight [they lift],” he says. “You get more work if you lighten it up and focus on form. The weight pushes you, but doesn’t take you out of form and you can get after it from there. Otherwise, you get hurt and start pulling stuff.”
While Koenen was a triple-threat kicker for a few games early in his career, handling punting, kick offs and field goals, he focuses on just the two now, even if he says he practices placekicking often in case he’s called up during a game. Plus, for a kicker who nailed a 58-yarder during his rookie season with the Falcons, “I like to mess with the kicker,” he says. “I tee it up with him. I still got it.”
With 753 kickoffs and 748 punts in his career, the motions are different, with more twisting required for kick offs. That necessitates more stretching to keep from getting “twisted up.”
“You need to build muscles in a balanced way,” he advises. “You rely on your body and how you trained and you need your muscles to be there. You have to focus on coming through fast and strong.
“I want to be prepared for any situation and that changes the way I practice, the way I train,” he says between sets. “I always try to be stronger and faster than before. I want to be fit and strong. Sometimes it is a pain, but it is necessary.”
And it fills out a jersey quite well.
Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and gear for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.