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Position: Running back
Football is a big-man’s game. The larger you are, the easier it is to bully your opponent. Darren Sproles is having none of that. He stands at 5’6″ and weighs 190 pounds. “I heard I was too small to play in high school, in college, and in the NFL,” says Sproles. “It just made me work harder.” Sproles delivers smashmouth proof every Sunday. He’s faster, tougher, and slipperier than almost every player on the field. Statistically speaking, he’s a giant. During the 2011–12 season, he rushed, received, and returned kicks for 2,696 yards—the most all-purpose yardage ever. He can run around guys or over them. Fittingly, he has two nicknames: the Lightning Bug and the Tank. “Darren is maniacally focused and prides himself on outworking every guy at the gym, every workout,” says Todd Durkin, C.S.C.S., owner of Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego and Sproles’s off-season trainer.
Fire Up Your Thrusters
When the Saints find themselves at fourth and goal on the 1-yard line, they count on Sproles to launch into the end zone. He usually hits pay dirt, thanks in part to box jumps in the gym. “The explosive movement tests strength, stamina, and power through the hips, glutes, and calves,” says Durkin.
Hone Your Balance
Sproles needs to stay light, nimble, and on his feet. Durkin challenges his balance with single-leg barefoot drills. Try leg reach-forwards: Stand barefoot and balance on one leg—with that knee slightly bent—on an Airex pad. Then hinge at your hips and reach as far forward as possible with both hands. Hold for 1 or 2 seconds and then return to an upright position. That’s 1 rep. Complete 2 sets of 6 to 10 reps per side.
Shred Your Core
A strong midsection protects your body against the twists and jerks that can cause injury. That’s why all of Sproles’s workouts incorporate exercises that work his core, including plank-to-pushup sets (from a plank position, lift and straighten one arm and then the other so you’re in the “ up” phase of a pushup), running-man situps (pump your arms and legs back and forth as you alternate pulling each knee to your chest), and medicine ball lateral tosses off a wall (standing perpendicular to a wall, toss a 20-pound medicine ball laterally at the wall 15 consecutive times from each side). Plus, Sproles does Pilates workouts twice a week. “Pilates forces you to maintain core stability while mobilizing the joints above and below the spine,” says Durkin. “Put those things together and you have a deadly combination in any sport.”
All-Pro Agility Challenge
“ Most football plays occur within a 5-by-5-yard area,” says Durkin. “If you’re not elusive in a small space, you get tackled.” This box drill measures how quickly you can change direction.
Four-Cone Box Drill
Create a square (5 yards by 5 yards). Start at the back-right corner, sprint 5 yards to the front-right corner, shuffle left 5 yards to the front-left corner, backpedal 5 yards to the back-left corner, and then shuffle right 5 yards to the starting position. Then do the drill in reverse: Shuffle left 5 yards, sprint forward 5 yards, shuffle right 5 yards, and backpedal 5 yards to the starting position.