WHEN FALCONS linebacker Keith Brooking arrived at the team's training facility for one of his four-days-a-week workouts this off-season, he bypassed the physioballs, the elliptical machines and the Nautilus equipment and went straight to the free weights. There the 29-year-old followed the same lifting regimen that athletes were doing a half century ago--and that he abided by while starring at Georgia's East Coweta High and at Georgia Tech. "There's no sense trying other methods," says Brooking, who has played in the last four Pro Bowls. "I've seen the advantages it's given me on the football field and the shape it's gotten me into every year."
At the heart of his classic workout are Olympic-style lifts--cleans, snatches and squats--that Brooking says build the hip strength and explosiveness he needs to run in quick bursts and get through blocks to make tackles. The Falcons' strength coach, Al Miller, says those lifts can help any athlete. "Whether you're a baseball pitcher, a javelin thrower, a jump shooter or a linebacker, you push into the ground to get movement," says Miller, 58, who was Bear Bryant's strength coach at Alabama before coming to the NFL in 1985 and to the Falcons in '97. "The harder and faster you do it, the more explosive you are."
These kind of lifts, though, aren't for everyone. They can be hard on the knees and back, and Miller says many players aren't right for it--either because of their injury history or their body type. For example, he says, some players have narrow backs that shouldn't handle a lot of weight. "A lot of guys don't like these lifts," the 6'2", 245-pound Brooking says. "It's tough for them to take the pounding. But my body's made so that it can take this kind of stuff."
At right is one of Brooking's typical workout days--which also includes the dumbbell rows pictured above.
POWERING UP THE DEFENSE
COMPLEX In sequence, with a 105-pound barbell: an upright row (above) to a snatch (bar flipped and held shoulder height), to a squat press, to a bent-over row. In one complex Brooking does the sequence six times without putting down the weight. He does three complexes.
SQUATS He starts at 225 pounds and works up to 500, doing four sets of two. For this exercise Brooking uses a weight belt to support his back.
PULL-UPS Four sets of 10 with hands facing body (above, left). Strengthens the back, the lats and the biceps.
BICEPS CURLS On a Hammer machine, both arms curling at once, with 90 pounds (above, right). Four sets of 10.
Brooking also does Power Cleans, in which he lifts a barbell from a six-inch platform to chest level. Four sets of three, starting at 242 pounds, going up to 318. Last, he does Striders, in which he runs the length of a football field, walks the width of the end zone, then runs the length back. Running at about 80% of full speed, he does five sets.