How Football Players Train

Even before Sunday rolls around, the players have been put through The Gauntlet.

When the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos take to the gridiron on Sunday for Super Bowl 50, that accomplishment alone will have been more than a sum of passing yards and field goal accuracy. The season itself is a war of attrition. Staying on the active roster is a 24-hour-a-day undertaking involving workouts, sleep and nutrition. We tackle the first in our three-part series. 

When you think about an NFL workout, tackle dummies, scrimmages, taped-up ankles and pumping iron are only part of the story. “It’s an extremely long season, which is why their off-season training and how they treat their bodies is so important,” says Manning Sumner, Miami-based trainer and owner of Legacy Fit. “Everything from strength and conditioning, nutrition and proper therapy techniques are all crucial for them to play at a high level the entire season.” And he should know: Sumner is the guy behind a host of professional athletes, including Charles Johnson of the Panthers, and Branden Albert and Dallas Thomas of the Dolphins. Even though the game has been around for years, the training techniques have evolved. Here's how: 

Competitive Conditioning: “It’s hard to motivate anyone to do something if there’s not a prize or award,” Sumner says. Plus if you’re thinking ahead to the off-season, it’s mercilessly short. This means their trainers need to find ways to get the guys in shape fast to start strong come opening game. Sumner’s solution: Shuttle runs. “It’s a great method of general conditioning and I usually have three or four guys do it together so it becomes a little competitive,” he explains. “Football is a team sport, so you look for ways to bring out their competitive nature off the field.”

“The Gauntlet”: That’s what Sumner calls it. Kettlebell farmer carries, lugging around medicine balls and weight plates: “It goes back to Old Greek times, picking stuff up and carrying it.” It taxes more than lungs and muscles, too. “There’s a lot of mental things that happen when you’re pushing a 250-pound sled, your legs are burning like crazy and it gets in your head that you want to quit,” Sumner says. “When they’re third down and 8, and they have nothing left, they can draw back to the time when they were pushing that sled.”

Pro-Bowl Workout: Assemble some training partners for Sumner’s Pro Bowl Workout. After you’re done, it’s ok to lay on the ground for a few minutes. Then, recover like the pros: stretching, massage, even cryotherapy. 

Warm-up: 10 minutes of light jog, jump rope or low-impact cardio machine.

Conditioning: Mark off 25 yards with two cones. Complete a total of six sets of 150-yard shuttle runs. Run 25 yards down and back 3 times, finishing in no more than 30 seconds and resting 90 seconds between each set. The goal is to beat your previous time on each set.

Rest 4 minutes.

Thousand-Yard Gauntlet: Using the cones you’ve marked off, complete 4 total sets, one of each exercise in this order. 50 yards = one rep.

A) Walking lunges: Start with feet shoulder-width apart. Keeping head and chest up and core tight, step forward with right leg and drop left knee until it barely touches the ground. Drive through right heel and return to start. Repeat, alternating legs, down and back.

B) Kettlebell Farmer Carry: Holding a heavy kettlebell in each hand, power walk down and back. (Note: Take care to use proper form when lifting kettlebells, picking them up in squat position with head and chest up.)

C) Sled Push: Keeping upper body low, core tight and maintaining fast feet, push a 100-lb or more sled down and back.

D) Olympic Plate Overhead Walk: Keeping core tight and maintaining a slight bend in elbows, hold a weight plate overhead and walk down and back.

E) Medicine Ball Carry: Squat to pick up a heavy medicine ball (or weight plate) and hold it beneath chin with arms around ball. Keep core tight and back straight, and walk down and back. 


See more Super Bowl coverage here.