By definition,the core is both a foundation and the center of activity. Trainer MarkVerstegen calls it an "erect pillar that funnels energy" through thebody. "Core strength is the key for athletes," says Verstegen, who runsAthletes Performance, a fitness center in Tempe, Ariz., that trains scores ofNFL players. "Your body uses the core for every movement." ¬∂ The coremuscle group is made up of the abdominals, the lower back, the obliques and theglutes (that is, the buttocks, hips and thighs). A powerful core enables theupper and lower body to work together fluidly, increasing agility andhead-to-toe power. The athlete who strengthens his core runs faster, reactsquicker and delivers more punishing body contact. Says the Falcons' DeAngeloHall, one of the league's most athletic players, "The core runseverything."
Focusing on thecore can quickly make even a superior athlete better. Texans defensive endMario Williams (SI, Aug. 7) weighed 283 pounds and ran the 40-yard dash in themid-4.7s when he began intense core training last January. Six weeks later hewas up to 290 pounds and his time was down to 4.66. He became the No. 1 draftpick. "[Training] is a lot different now," says Buccaneers strength andconditioning coach Mike Morris, noting that core work often includes drillswith physioballs and exercises rooted in Pilates, karate and boxing. The 49ers'Tony Parrish, 30, is one of a growing number of NFLers who practice yoga--theSteelers and the Seahawks offer yoga classes to their players. "[Ten or 15years ago] we thought about lifting [weights]," Morris says, "not aboutworking the inside first and working your way out."
That's what corestrength is about. It takes a strong will to stick to a program, and some needthe support of a group. In spring and early summer, dozens of former Universityof Miami players return to campus and follow an abs circuit devised byHurricanes strength coach Andreu Swasey that requires them, among othertortures, to do 250 reps of various abs exercises in seven minutes. ArizonaCardinals running back Edgerrin James swears by the circuit, and the value ofcore work. "There's no reason for me to walk around with my arms and chestswollen from lifting [weights]," says James. "I don't need all thatmuscle up top. I'd rather transfer it down to the rest of my body. That's wherefootball is played."
For expanded versions of NFL core workouts, as well asphoto galleries and an archive of SI Players stories and features, go toSI.com/players.
Parrish uses high-heat Bikram yoga to build his midsection. (Here he's movinginto Bikram's Triangle Pose.) He's persuaded teammates to join the growingranks of NFL players who practice yoga.