FOUR YEARS AGO offensive tackle Ray Brown, now 42, realized he couldn‚Äôt bend the way he used to. When his wife, Ashley, told him he should join her Pilates class, he was skeptical. ‚ÄúI thought it was a gimmicky workout for women,‚Äù says the 6'5", 318-pound Brown, who‚Äôs in his 19th season and eighth with the Skins. ‚ÄúMy first session I was blown away. I didn‚Äôt realize it would be so strenuous. I was winded, my shirt was soaked. It was humbling.‚Äù Invented in England during World War I by German-born trainer Joseph Pilates, the exercises were designed to rehabilitate hospital-bound patients by strengthening their core muscle groups. Pilates came to America in the 1920s and worked with dancers such as George Balanchine and Martha Graham. Now 9.4 million people in the U.S. practice either ‚Äúmat Pilates‚Äù (shown here) or a variation that uses machines (called Reformers). Brown attends classes and also applies Pilates principles when working out on his own. ‚ÄúIn college I played intramural basketball to stay in shape,‚Äù says Brown, who hasn‚Äôt missed a game since ‚Äô97. ‚ÄúWhen I was drafted [by the Cardinals in ‚Äô86] I was into the whole ‚ÄòHow much can you bench?‚Äô ego thing. Now I haven‚Äôt bench-pressed in years. It‚Äôs about being flexible and balancing my body and finding stability through my core. Things that would have helped me throughout my career. Who knew?‚Äù --Lisa Altobelli
Benefits: Strengthens entire back and elongates the spine. Exercise: Extend arms and legs out straight and lift simultaneously. Hold for four-second intervals--inhaling two counts, exhaling two counts. Repeat six to eight times. Brown: ‚ÄúFor abdominal exercise it‚Äôs important to work the opposing muscle group--in this case the back. My two-year-old son, Trey, likes it because it looks like I‚Äôm flying.‚Äù
Benefits: Strengthens the obliques (side abdominals) and the lower abs. Exercise: Bring hand to opposite knee, hold one second and switch sides. Twenty reps, breathing out each time you do a rep. Brown: ‚ÄúPilates reveals your weaknesses. If one side of your body is stronger than the other, you know it pretty quickly. You need to correct that, and to do so you have to work at it.‚Äù
Benefits: Works the obliques, glutes (butt muscles) and inner thighs. Exercise: Inhale and raise both legs off the floor; then, exhaling, lower bottom leg two inches. Then raise it again. Fifteen reps on each side. Brown: ‚ÄúFor a small movement, this is harder than it looks. You feel it in your side holding the crunch that long.‚Äù
THE HUNDRED Brown, at rest here, raises his bent legs, then beats his arms 100 times by his side. It strengthens the entire core. ‚ÄúI do it every day with my wife,‚Äù he says.
Benefits: Strengthens and lengthens quadriceps (front of thigh) and works the lower abs. Exercise: Place one leg on ball and the other straight ahead for leg raises. Do 10 slow lifts with each leg. Brown: ‚ÄúI always make sure to do leg lifts because they help to get your hips nice and loose. And if your hips are tight, you really feel it the next day. We do a variation of these in team warmups.‚Äù
FOOD FOR THOUGHT RAY‚ÄôS BREAKFAST: Peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a cup of peppermint tea. Organic smooth peanut butter and grape jelly on wheat bread. ‚ÄúI only really trust organic food,‚Äù says Brown. LUNCH: Another PB&J sandwich. ‚ÄúI have water with it,‚Äù says Brown, ‚Äúor on an off day, a glass of Merlot. I believe red wine‚Äôs good for you. I adhere to that. I like trying new wine, and I love Merlot and the fact that you drink it at room temperature. DINNER: ‚ÄúSomething baked,‚Äù says Brown. ‚ÄúChicken or fish or pork. I have to take care of myself, eat like a guy in my 40s--I just happen to be in football. My wife doesn‚Äôt fry a lot of food. I love fresh tomatoes, broccoli, corn. My two-year-old loves corn, and I agree. I probably should take vitamins but I don‚Äôt. I get my vitamins the old-fashioned way--from fruits and vegetables.‚Äù
WISDOM OF THE ANCIENTS
JERRY RICE, Seahawks WR, age 42 ‚ÄúDuring my younger days I always felt like I could do more, so I would push myself harder,‚Äù he says. ‚ÄúNow I listen to my body. I think I have really learned how to work out and not kill myself. I use less weight and do more reps.‚Äù
VINNY TESTAVERDE, Cowboys QB, age 41 For years he has maintained a routine that includes a devotion to weightlifting that starts at the bottom. ‚ÄúIf you keep your legs strong, doing squats and powerlifts, you will have a strong upper body because of it,‚Äù he has said.
AENEAS WILLIAMS, Rams Safety, age 36 The eight-time Pro Bowl player lives by a simple credo: ‚ÄúProper exercise, proper stretch and proper nutrition.‚Äù He stretches for up to 30 minutes before games and says, ‚ÄúYour core is really important. I believe in a lot of ab work.‚Äù