Seven years ago, Detroit safety James Ihedigbo was an undrafted free agent who played college ball at UMass Amherst as a walk-on. Today, the 30-year old NFL veteran has a Super Bowl ring and two AFC Championship wins, with a resume that includes stints with the Jets, Patriots, and Ravens. Now that Ihedigbo is with the Lions, he says he has higher expectations of himself than ever before. “I’m a firm believer in preparation,” Ihedigbo says. “And I’ve been preparing like heck.”
Part of that preparation includes a few rigorous workouts in the weight room that have helped chisel Ihedigbo down to be one of the most physically sculpted safeties in the league. “I have the mindset of always trying to outwork my competition, so I’m always trying to do more,” he says. “If someone wants to be great at their craft, I think they’d be doing the same thing.”
Clearly, though, not every safety is doing the same thing, as few can boast eight-pack abs like Ihedigbo. Here’s how the Detroit player gets them.
30 years old
Training grounds: Detroit and Houston.
Body fat: 6 percent.
Hours spent working out per day: Up to three hours. “That’s mainly the off-season. In season, it lowers down to an hour and a half based on how much we’re practicing. During season, I usually just work on my core and overall strength.”
Days spent working out per week: Five. “I usually do Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and a light cardio workout like stadium stairs on Saturdays.”
Hours spent in the weight room per week: Up to 10.
Go-to workout: A twice-repeated circuit of weighted high-pulls, alternate dumbbell benches, bodyweight pull-ups, and a 90-degree pull-up hold for 30 seconds. “It really works on your core strength, your upper body, and your lower body, as well. I’m a firm believer in total-body workout. The days of loading up 315 [pounds] on a squat have passed. It’s more fundamental for me as a safety on the football field. Pound to pound strength is what I’m looking for.”
Secret workout: Metabolic Friday. “I don’t want to give too much of my secret away because someone might steal it, but here’s what I do: It starts with banded squats with as many reps as you can do in 30 seconds. Then I go on the bike and pedal for 30-second revolutions with resistance. Then I do banded pull-downs, when you’re on your knees and the bands are attached overhead. I do as many of those as I can for 30 seconds. Then I repeat the circuit three times. It’s really high-intensity cardio, as well as strength training. You’re building up your heart rate, you’re building up your strength, and you’re working every muscle. What I really like about it is that it doesn’t put pressure on your joints and knees.”
Biggest physical challenge: Pushing to be an aerobic animal. “I’m constantly pushing myself to make sure I’m in tip-top shape. I like to run all day, and I never want to be in a position when I’m on the field and I’m exhausted and I can’t go anymore. So I try to push the envelope and push myself to a new level every day.”
Best recovery tip: Acupuncture. “It’s often painful, but my body is 80 times better afterward. Every week I see [my acupuncturist] and get a massage after. I feel like a brand new person come Monday.”
Calories consumed per day: 3,000 calories. “I’ve never really been a big eater. I’ve never been one who has to load up on carbs. I really stick to eating meats and vegetables.”
Favorite pre-game meal: French toast with strawberries and scrambled eggs. “I’ve had the same [pre-game meal] since college. I don’t know if it’s superstition, but I’ve always managed to play real well. So if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Favorite post-game meal: Whatever he wants. “Post-game is the opportunity to treat myself to all that good stuff, whether it’s sweet or pizza.”
Celebration meal: A porterhouse steak. “The night before a game, I have to have a steak. I’ll go out to dinner with my teammates, and I’ll order a porterhouse, medium-well. And that’s what I’d have after winning the Super Bowl, too. It’s just so good, so flavorful.”
Typical dinner: Grilled salmon or chicken, with asparagus, baked broccoli, or a big salad. “That’s the consistent [meal] that I eat every night.”
Dietary vice: Ice-cream sandwiches. “If those are in the house, forget about it, I don’t care what day of the week it is. I’ll tell the wife, ‘Don’t even buy them, because I’ll eat them all.’”
Alcohol of choice: “What don’t I like? I’m more of a Johnny Walker Black kind of guy, and I try to drink only once a week after a game—a celebratory drink.”
How his Nigerian background has influenced his career as an athlete: “If you look, there are a lot of Nigerians who play [in the NFL]. But other Africans, like from Cameroon or Algeria, you don’t really see that. Maybe it’s a testament to the work ethic you see from our parents or the desire to accomplish whatever you set your mind to. So many people said to me that I’d never make it to the NFL. But when I saw my parents come from nothing and get their PhDs in the States, that told me I could accomplish anything.”