In the days following the Baltimore Ravens’ Super Bowl XLVII win, in Feb. 2013, linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo was a busy man. A visit to the White House, parades, ceremonies—the celebrations lasted a few days but, less than a week later, the then 37-year-old Ayanbadejo found himself at home, ready to relax and enjoy life. His wife had other plans.
“She did not want me to just sit around,” says Ayanbadejo, a three-time Pro Bowler during his 10-year NFL career. “She told me if I didn’t go work out or do something that I’d have to cook or do laundry or change diapers. I didn’t want to do that.”
So, after 30 straight weeks of football, Ayanbadejo walked into a nearby facility of Orangetheory Fitness (OTF)—a nationwide franchise that focuses on high-intensity training—to try a workout.
The 2013 Super Bowl would end up being the last NFL game of Ayanbadejo’s career, as the Ravens released him that April, but Ayanbadejo quickly found a new passion, trading Ravens’ purple for OTF orange.
While in Baltimore in 2009, Ayanbadejo had begun attending school at George Washington University and he completed his master’s degree in business administration in 2013 after he retired. He worked as an analyst for Fox Sports but decided that he wanted to make use of his education and took advantage of an opportunity to become an area developer for OTF.
“I do everything from cleaning toilets to coaching members to hiring staff,” says Ayanbadejo, who operates seven locations in Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and Los Angeles, counties in California. “The OTF team is similar to a football team—we’re always improving on a constant basis and I’m going to do everything I can to be my best and make my team better.”
An Orangetheory Fitness workout is a 60-minute interval training session that uses treadmills, indoor rowing machines, TRX suspension training and free weights to keep your heart rate in a target zone—it is designed to include 12 to 20 minutes of training at 84% or higher of your maximum heart rate. In addition to running and rowing, the workouts also involve other exercises, such as burpees, squat jumps and resistance training.
“I am arguably in the best shape of my life,” says Ayanbadejo, who also coaches classes at OTF. “I can’t run the 40-yard dash as fast as I could and I can’t squat as much as I used to when I was playing football, but I have run my fastest mile and fastest three-mile times, at the age of 39."
Ayanbadejo, who weighed 225 during his NFL days but is now at 215, his lightest weight since high school, has stopped doing some of the Olympic lifting movements, such as power cleans or snatches, which were standard during his NFL career. He says his focus is different from what it was during football, but the approach is exactly the same.
“I was a performance athlete, training for those five seconds every minute during a 60-minute game,” Ayanbadejo says. “Now it’s performance for myself but also for other people, for one hour, which then carries into their regular lives. I train like my members train. The focus is different from the NFL, but the strategy and principles are the same.”
Because of his work in the fitness industry, Ayanbadejo has helped changed the lives of many, including Brent Gilinsky, who found the answer to a long struggle with weight loss after participating in an outdoor workout with Ayanbadejo.
“Even though I came from a sports family, I never played anything and was never very athletic,” says Gilinsky. “When you have someone like Brendon, who is an elite athlete, pushing you, it’s a different level of encouragement. He is always giving continuous support and now I am at the pinnacle of where my body can be.”
Although he has aspirations to get back into sports in an athletic director role in the future, Ayanbadejo is content with his second career.
“When I see someone rowing faster times or a power walker running their fastest miles, it makes me feel good inside knowing I’m helping to change people’s lives,” says Ayanbadejo. “It’s the same as in football, when we would help the young players or help families in need. It’s the same joy and fulfillment you can only get from giving back to others.”