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Position: Tight end
His first step might be a little slower now, and his 40-inch vertical may have lost some air, but Tony Gonzalez, 37, still beats his man. Last season he caught 93 passes for 930 yards, earning his 13th trip to the Pro Bowl. In part, his success is due to his football savvy. “I ’m smarter now with finding angles and using techniques to create separation, so I can go out on the field and exert a lot less energy and earn the same results,” he says. It’s also because he’s fit enough to go hard every down. “In the NFL, you earn or lose respect on every play: I’ve seen players go from dominating to dominated in a heartbeat.” He’s also extremely durable: Gonzalez has missed only two games ever—that’s from Pop Warner to the pros. Here’s how he trains to outblast—and outlast—his opponents.
Ignite Your Warmup
Gonzalez is fanatical about warming up for 20 minutes before his workouts and practices (and cooling down for 20 minutes afterward). It starts with jumping rope. In the off-season, he does 7 sets of 100 jumps with 30 seconds of rest in between. During the season, he cuts back to 4 sets. Along with the obvious cardiovascular benefits, jumping rope enhances your coordination and trains you to be light on your feet— a vital skill for running routes and catching passes. Gonzalez then does a series of bends and body-weight exercises, sometimes while holding light kettlebells. “Holding a weight helps me get deeper into a lot of stretches and makes me work my core harder,” he says. He also does his warmup and stretching routine on rest days.
Make Intervals Fun
Gonzalez hates running. But in college, he also played hoops—his Cal team made the Sweet 16 in 1997. Now in the off-season he plays three times a week, participating for an hour or two in a pickup game near his home in Huntingdon Beach, California, with high school all-stars and some college players. “Nothing gets you in shape like running up and down the court with younger, quicker guys,” he says. “It hurts that I can’t dunk every other time down the floor like I used to. But now I’m more like Michael Jordan in his later years—I pick my spots.”
Swing for Time
This off-season, Gonzalez did more kettlebell work than ever before. But don’t get the wrong idea: “I’m not one of those grinders who is in the gym for two hours,” he says. “I want my workout to last 45 to 60 minutes. Kettlebell swings give the best bang for your buck. They’re great for football because they build endurance, explosiveness, and athleticism—and you’re working your quads, glutes, and hamstrings and your balance.” One of his tougher drills involves doing timed swings to exhaustion: He sets a timer to count down from 10 minutes and starts doing swings as fast as he can with a 24-kilo bell. When his form falters, he does pushups, planks, and wall sits to stay active while he recovers. When he feels ready, he does another set of swings to failure. “By the end, you will be sweating. Heavily,” he says. To mix things up, he’ll do single-arm swings with a lighter weight.
All-Pro Endurance Challenge
The typical NFL play lasts only about four seconds, so “players need to be extremely fast in short bursts,” says Durkin. “However, guys have to be able to maintain that quickness over four quarters.” Durkin created this fast-pace, three-move circuit to test total-body muscular endurance.
Jump Rope: 50x
Kettlebell Swing (24 kg): 25x
Complete each move back-to-back with no rest. That’s 1 round. Complete 3 rounds as quickly as possible. If that’s too difficult, cut the reps in half, do star jumps instead of jumping rope, and use a lighter kettlebell.