STRONGER THAN EVER

Five NFL Vets Demonstrate What They Go Through to Prepare for Training Camp: The Toughest Off-Season Workouts
August 07, 2005

Donovin Darius

TEAM: Jacksonville Jaguars

POSITION: Strong safety

HEIGHT: 6'1" WEIGHT: 225

NO ONE OUTTRAINS Donovin Darius. The Jacksonville Jaguars' strong safety is his own fitness guru and taskmaster, having created the punishing workout regimen that helps him thrive as a bone-rattling hitter. (His 790 career tackles is a team record.) A workout obsessive since his days at Syracuse, where he got a bachelor's degree in exercise science, Darius, 29, experiments with new exercises (training with an ultimate-fighting champ led him to add martial arts--style punches and kicks to his routine, for example) and jazzes up old ones. Here's a guy who, when he hits a heavy bag to improve stamina, enlists a workout partner to bombard his midsection with a 20-pound medicine ball as he strikes the bag--thus simulating being blindsided on the field. "I've known guys who've trained with Double-D," says Jaguars linebacker Akin Ayodele with a laugh. "Most come back saying the same thing: 'I ain't ever doing that again.'" Darius, who says his training "helps build the confidence I need on the field," worked out five days a week 9 a.m. to 12:30. p.m. for much of the off-season (weekends he rested). A drill-by-drill look at a day in his weekly regimen is on page 44.

SI.com > For Darius's complete five-day workout go to SI.com/workouts. Also posted are the regimens of the other NFL players on the following pages. You'll also learn how cutting-edge trainer Kurtis Shultz whips the Minnesota Vikings into shape and how Detroit Lions nutritionist Mark Skamiera gets his players' weights up (or down).

RESISTANCE DRILL

ONCE A WEEK

AS PART OF the speed drills Darius does at the start of each week, he harnesses himself to a 35-pound steel sled on which he stacks weight then drags it along the grass. "I can add as much as I want," he says. "I can lighten up the weight and sprint or put added weight on it, which makes it like running up a hill." Here's a typical pair of drills for Darius.

1 TEN 40-YARD DASHES No resistance. Twenty-second rest intervals.

2 FOUR SLED PULLS Drag 125 pounds (including sled ) for 200 yards. Three-minute rests.

" Everybody is fast, talented and smart. It's the details that set you apart."

Oh, No--It's Friday!

QUICKNESS

LADDER DRILLS Similar to running through tires, these drills improve footwork. The primary goal is to pick the feet up and put them back on the ground as quickly as possible. Darius will do as many as five variations, including a backpedal, doing each drill 10 times.

SPEED

400-METER RUNS Darius makes three runs, taking only a 60- to 90-second break after each. If doing this with a partner, he treats it like a relay: As soon as one person gets to the finish line, the other starts.

STAMINA

JUMPING ROPE He jumps for 10 minutes, without rest, doing various maneuvers and footwork drills such as crisscrossing the rope, jumping on one leg and running in place as he jumps.

HEAVY-BAG DRILL (box, opposite page)

HAND-EYE COORDINATION

CATCHING FOOTBALLS Using a Juggs throwing machine, he catches 100 balls. He'll cover phantom receiver routes, going as far as 40 yards downfield, or stand 10 yards away and catch balls fired at 60 miles an hour. "I started doing this after the 2003 season," says Darius. "I realized I needed to create more turnovers. My kids [he's holding Zakee, below left] feed the machine, and I pay them a couple of dollars."

STRENGTH

WEIGHTLIFTING (45 seconds rest between each set) Power clean Two sets of five repetitions at 185 pounds; two sets of five at 225 pounds; two sets of five at 255; two sets of five at 275.

Squat Two sets of five at 275 pounds; two sets of five at 315; two sets of five at 345; two sets of five at 365.

Single-leg press Six sets of 10, each leg, 360 pounds.

Leg extensions(seated) Three sets of 15, each leg, 160 pounds.

Leg curls(lying on stomach) Three sets of 15 with each leg, 130 pounds.

BLOCKING-SLED DRILL

ONCE A WEEK

1 HAVE A PARTNER stand as shown on a blocking sled--in Darius's case the partner is 251-pound linebacker Akin Ayodele.

2 CROUCH IN A DEFENSIVE BACK'S STANCE, about one foot from the face of the sled.

3 EXPLODE TOWARD THE SLED, knees and arms bent. Hit sled with palms and extend arms upon impact.

4 DRIVE SLED 15 YARDS. When training without a partner, drive sled 40 yards.

5 DO SIX TO EIGHT repetitions with one-minute rest intervals.

"It's important to stay as low as possible in this drill," Darius says. "If I do that, I'm working on my ability to accelerate."

LEAPFROG

ONCE A WEEK

1 GRIPPING a 20-pound medicine ball, spread feet slightly wider than hips and squat; hold ball in palms between feet.

2 JUMP STRAIGHT UP, striving for maximum height and also raising knees as high as possible.

3 LAND IN a squat position and repeat. Two sets of 10. Increases explosiveness and vertical leap.

HEAVY-BAG DRILL

TWICE A WEEK

PURPOSE This exercise helps Darius with his strength, endurance, flexibility and hand-eye coordination. He trains for five to seven rounds at 90 seconds per round with 45 seconds of recovery time between rounds.

TECHNIQUE Stand on balls of feet, which are slightly more than shoulder width apart. Keep body weight centered and balanced.

PUNCHES Straight strikes, hooks and roundhouse blows (all with both arms). In a defensive-back stance (bump-and-run position), pepper bag with six-inch jabs, then chop the bag with the sides of the hands.

KICKS Roundhouse and straight-on.

TWIST A workout partner throws a 20-pound medicine ball at Darius's midsection while he's punching and kicking. "I'm trying to concentrate while being blindsided," he says. "It happens on the field all the time, and you have to stay relaxed and focused while the wind is getting knocked out of you. Football is physical, but this drill is also about mental toughness."

Walter Jones

TEAM: Seattle Seahawks

POSITION: Left tackle

HEIGHT: 6'5" WEIGHT: 325

Here's the secret for staying strong, free of injury and in Pro Bowl form: Get yourself a nice set of wheels

WHEN THE SEAHAWKS asked Walter Jones to attend the team's off-season conditioning program this year, he said no thanks. He'd worked out on his own for three summers, and after making the Pro Bowl each season he wasn't going to change. The key to his workout? Pushing an SUV around a parking lot near his home in Harvest, Ala. When he played for Aliceville (Ala.) High, Jones and the other linemen sometimes had to push small cars in preseason workouts. These days Jones is up to a three-ton Escalade. Twice-a-week truck pushing is the only lower-body training he does, and Jones says it's an excellent substitute for squats, which hurt his back. The work in the parking lot also translates well to the field. "The hard part [about playing offensive line] is staying low for that long," he says. "After doing this, it doesn't bother me if I'm stuck in my stance for a long time. I also feel like I finish off blocks better." Other elements of his self-training regimen: weightlifting, abdominal work and sprints. "I run short sprints, because a lineman's game is about short bursts," he says. "I can't work out like a wide receiver or a defensive back. Those guys have to run all day." --J.C.

"I can't work out like a receiver or a defensive back. Those guys have to run all day."--JONES

HOW TO PUSH A TRUCK

By Walter Jones

1 YOU NEED A DRIVER to put the truck in neutral with the brakes on. You should be on pavement with a very slight downward slope.

2 PUT BOTH HANDS on the back bumper and bend your knees at an angle of about 90 degrees. As you lean into the truck, keep your back straight and your arms nearly extended (elbows slightly bent). Put one foot forward--whichever one feels most comfortable to you--and the other back.

3 YELL "GO!" After the driver releases the brakes, start pushing immediately and continue for 25 yards.

4 REST FOR 90 seconds. Do it 10 times in all.

HURRY-UP DIET

FOUR WEEKS before training camp opened, Jones was told by Seattle to report at no heavier than 329 pounds. Weighing 340 at the time, he went on a strict diet that was designed by his wife, Val. He skipped breakfast, and every lunch and dinner consisted of half of a boiled or baked chicken along with a healthy side of either steamed vegetables or a salad with ranch dressing. He made the weight cut with pounds to spare.

> For Jones's five-day workout, including upper body and cardiovascular training, go to SI.com/workouts.

Tiki Barber

TEAM: New York Giants

POSITION: Running back

HEIGHT: 5'10" WEIGHT: 210

Driven by big ambition and a big man, he does the heavy lifting that has made him a more powerful ballcarrier

TIKI BARBER WANTED to get stronger. Much stronger. "For a couple of off-seasons I was boxing to get in cardiovascular shape," he says. "It's a phenomenal workout, but I wasn't getting strong. I had fumbling problems. I needed something different." Enter Joe Carini, 46, a former competitive powerlifter who won New Jersey's Strongest Man competition six years running in the 1980s. Since February 2004 he has been training Barber in a spartan West Paterson, N.J., gym, and the eighth-year NFL vet has gained 18 pounds of muscle. Carini's philosophy is to do low reps of very high weight, with little rest in between. "When he's on the field, it's one shot," Carini says. "If [the Giants] are marching down the field, he doesn't have time to recuperate." Carini also incorporates unconventional exercises into the routine, including the "Tiki bag" and the "yoke carry" (box, right). Has the regimen worked? Let's just say Barber has become one of the NFL's most explosive rushers. Last season, his first after training with Carini, Barber ran for a career-best 1,518 yards. As for the fumbles, Barber had only five--down from an average of nearly nine a year the previous four seasons. --Bill Syken

TIKI TAKES FIVE

1 LEG PRESS Two to six sets of two reps. High weight: 950 pounds. Builds leg drive.

2 SAFETY BAR SQUAT (above) One squat per set. High weight: 750. Improves explosiveness.

3 STIFF-LEGGED DEADLIFT Bar held overhand with hands slightly more than shoulder width apart. Two to four sets of three reps. High weight: 405. Strengthens hamstrings, lower back.

4 YOKE CARRY (inset) With 400 pounds on barbell, carry yoke on shoulders 10 yards, turn and walk back. Strengthens hips, knees and upper back.

5 TIKI BAG Lie flat on back clutching a 130-pound weight bag on chest. Rise to a standing position, keeping bag in place. Throw down bag. Works abdominals and lower back.

> For Barber's day-by-day workout, and a video of him training with Carini, go to SI.com/workouts.

Donovan McNabb

TEAM: Philadelphia Eagles

POSITION: Quarterback

HEIGHT: 6'2" WEIGHT: 240

The fun-loving All-Pro turns a grueling two-week session in the desert into a good time for all. He even plays tag

WHO SAYS OFF-SEASON training can't be fun? Each summer Donovan McNabb heads to Phoenix for a two-week romp. An exhausting, muscle-straining, four-days-a-week regimen--McNabb leads sessions that last month included Redskins running back Trung Candidate, NBA players Richard Jefferson and Luke Walton, plus college and high school athletes--but a romp nonetheless. No one is spared when McNabb starts joking and trash-talking. "Donovan makes it so much fun," says Jefferson, "it almost doesn't seem like work." It is, though. The workday features four to five periods that run 60 to 90 minutes each and includes 15 minutes of cone drills to improve acceleration and deceleration, and another 15 minutes doing 10- to 25-yard sprints to quicken the first step. There are specially designed exercises such as a footwork drill that uses a bungee cord and lacrosse balls (above). Then there's an exercise that comes straight out of elementary school gym class: a game of tag. "We do so much change of direction during games that your knees and ankles and leg muscles have to be strong enough to handle that," says McNabb. --J.C..

FANCY FOOTWORK

1 WEAR A HARNESS connected to a 10-foot-long bungee cord with a partner holding the other end of the cord.

2 GRIPPING A BALL and facing the partner, drop back three, five or seven steps, as if preparing to throw out of the pocket.

3 MOVE RIGHT OR LEFT as directed by the partner, who holds the cord taut. Keep moving as told until the partner yells, "Fire!"

4 PLANT YOUR BACK FOOT and release the ball.

5 DO 10 REPETITIONS, then have the partner hold the cord from behind (left) and repeat the drill.

STRETCHED TO THE LIMIT

TWICE-A-WEEK sessions with stretch therapist Ann Frederick give McNabb the flexibility he needs. She straps down one of his legs and begins tugging, rotating and generally contorting McNabb's body into the extreme angles it gets wrenched into during games. In a one-hour session she never lets up except to unstrap one leg and strap down the other. "I want to make him feel like the parking brake is off when he's competing," she says. "I try to give him 20 percent more range of motion than he's used to, so when he goes down, he can withstand the strain."

> For all of McNabb's agility and speed drills, go to si.com/workouts

Donald Driver

TEAM: Green Bay Packers

POSITION: Wide receiver

HEIGHT: 6 feet WEIGHT: 192

A little-known draft choice has made a name for himself, thanks in part to a 40-minute routine focused on speed

FEW EXPECTED Donald Driver to last seven seasons in the NFL, let alone put together an 84-catch, 1,208-yard season, which he did in 2004. The Packers took a flier with their seventh-round pick in 1999, drafting the sinewy receiver out of Division I-AA Alcorn State based on his athleticism. That quality serves him well to this day, and he maintains his edge by following his own routine in lieu of Green Bay's off-season conditioning program. He works out three days a week, only 40 minutes a session, but the former track standout who qualified for the '96 Olympic trials in the high jump, is faster than ever. Clocked at 4.45 in the 40 when he came into the NFL as a 174-pounder, Driver says he's down to 4.37. "When I was younger, I didn't feel myself running by people," he says. "I can do that now. I've developed that extra gear." Driver's workout includes ladder drills and a variety of sprinting exercises (around cones, above). The relative brevity of the routine hasn't cost him stamina, largely because he has virtually no rest between exercises. Says Packers assistant strength and conditioning coach Mark Lovat, "He can run all day. He leaves people behind." --J.C.

QUICK ON HIS FEET

1 STAND BEHIND one end of a five-foot-by-seven-foot mat that has 12-inch diameter dots in each corner and one in the middle; feet shoulder width apart.

2 USING A one-two step and moving constantly, place both feet on the near-left dot, then step back to the starting point; move both feet to the near-right dot, then on to the middle dot, far-left dot and far-right dot.

3 REPEAT 24 times. Says Driver, "A key factor in my success as a receiver is how many moves I can make in a small amount of space without wasting time."

"Once you feel like you're about to throw up during a workout, you know you've done something." --DRIVER

DRIVER'S U

1 SET UP EIGHT CONES, five yards apart, in the formation of a U.

2 STAND IN THE CENTER of the formation, equidistant from every cone, with a partner at the open end of the U.

3 WHEN THE PARTNER points to a cone, open the hips, turn and sprint to that cone. After you touch the tip of the cone, race back to the center, high-step in place and wait to be pointed to another cone.

4 TOUCH FIVE CONES. Do three sets, with a one-minute break in between.

> For Donald Driver's complete workout go to si.com/workouts.

TWO COLOR PHOTOSPhotographs by Bill Frakes COLOR PHOTOPETER AIKEN/WIREIMAGE.COM (ACTION) THREE COLOR PHOTOSPhotographs by Michael J. Lebrecht II/1Deuce3 Photography TWO COLOR PHOTOSphotographs by Al Tielemans COLOR PHOTOWALTER IOOSS JR. (ACTION) COLOR PHOTOJOHN BIEVER (ACTION) FOUR COLOR PHOTOSPhotographs by Al Tielemans COLOR PHOTODAVID DUROCHICK/SPORTPICS COLOR PHOTOPhotograph by Al Tielemans TWO COLOR PHOTOSPhotographs by Al Tielemans FOUR COLOR PHOTOSBILL FRAKES (LADDER DRILL, JUMPING ROPE, HOLDING ZAKEE, LEAP FROG)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)