How do NFL players stay fit

Football Fitness: Less Nutella, More Cucumber

When will it be like it never was before? I often have the title of Joachim Meyerhoff's best work in my head when I stand in front of the mirror in the morning.

As a student, I was athletic, muscular, and blasé enough to be nicknamed “Beast Mode” on my university soccer team's shirt. The name got caught on some of my buddies, I was called "Beasty". Beautiful time.

"Beast Mode" is actually Marshawn Lynch's nickname. This is a retired American football player. He justified his name in January 2011 when he ran 67 yards into the end zone during a game and threw off numerous opponents who clutched him like annoying burdock. The cheers in Seattle were so great that seismographs registered an earthquake. This tremor of the Pacific Northwest was christened Beast Quake and even got a German Wikipedia entry.

Fitness test in Friedrichsfelde

Such a quake does not threaten Friedrichsfelde. It is a cloudy Sunday afternoon in the east of Berlin when I step onto the track of a small sports club. Today I will test myself, challenge myself. Do the exercises that otherwise well-trained athletes from US colleges have to do before they make their way into the toughest football league in the world.

There are exactly the five exercises that I was able to observe up close during my report at the Rostock Griffins: the 40-yard dash, the standing long jump, the 3-cone and shuttle-cone drill and the bench press.

1. The 40 yard dash

The exercise: The 40-yard dash is a short, crisp sprint over 36.57 meters. The test shows how quick an athlete is. The fastest footballers are more nimble on the first 40 yards than some world athletics champions. This is also because responsiveness is not that important with the 40-yard dash. The athletes don't start when they get a signal, but when they feel ready. A light barrier automatically detects the start.

The times in comparison:

Fastest time ever run in the NFL Combine: 4.22 seconds

Slowest time ever run in the NFL Combine: 6.0 seconds

My elapsed time: 5.73 seconds

Even if it sounds strange at this time, it is much better than expected. I've never been a sprinter because I've always been too clumsy. I only got up to speed from sixty or seventy meters. My legs rather like the steady, fast running over medium distances.

Another problem: the fear of the next case. Once in school, I fell so badly that I broke my right collarbone twice. The individual bone fragments pushed on top of each other when trying to get up, quite painfully. I came to the clinic with an ambulance and flashing lights. The worst thing is still that my mom's Königsberger Klopse waited in vain for me that day.

2. The standing long jump

Where we are with childhood trauma. In first grade I made it onto the hero board of my elementary school. I jumped a fabulous 2.95 meters at the sports festival, no, what do I say: flown. At that time the widest sentence in my year.

A year and six weeks later on vacation with my grandparents, I plopped like a meatball into the sand pit of the sports complex. Less than two meters. The sports teacher, who had watched the hopscotch in shock, judged sharply: "Less Nutella bread, more cucumber."

The broad jump is one of two tests in the Football Combine in which observers measure the athletes' jumping ability. The vertical jump up is also tested, but in Europe there is usually no equipment for this.

In Friedrichsfelde I treat myself to three attempts for the broad jump. The usual rules apply. It is measured where my first part of the body touches the ground. Ideally, these are the feet. However, on my first try, it's almost my butt that's suffering.

The second jump is my best flight. My 97 kilograms land after 2.32 meters. That is not so pathetic at all. Just to compare: Orlando Brown, an NFL player for the Baltimore Ravens, delivered one of the worst broad jumps in football history in 2018: 82 inches, a little over two feet. Okay, Brown weighed over 50 pounds more than me, but I don't care.

The record holder is Byron Jones with 3.73 meters. Unfortunately, if that Jones is a kangaroo, I'm just a decrepit bison. But at least that bounces further than my colleague Brown.

The times in comparison:

Longest standing long jump in the NFL Combine: 3.71 meters

Shortest standing long jump in the NFL Combine: 2.08 meters

My width: 2.32 meters

3. Shuttle drill

I notice a sweetish-sour-tasting liquid rising in my throat, press my lips together and draw air into my lungs through my nose. I'm dying for a minute. So the Shuttle Drill feels exactly the way it sounds.

It's only a damn 20 yards, or almost 18 meters, that I cover. But they hurt. 5 yards forward, 10 yards back, again 5 yards forward. Each with a ground contact at the turn. This exercise makes you dizzy, it shakes my guts like a bartender shakes a pina colada. And I fail miserably. 5.4 seconds. That's pretty bad. But luckily there is Damien Mama. The offensive liner took 5.51 seconds in the 2017 NFL Combine. Mama mia!

This exercise reveals what the 40-yard dash showed me: I urgently need to work on my agility. Does yoga help?

The times in comparison:

Fastest shuttle drill in the NFL Combine: 3.82

Slowest Shuttle-Run-Drill NFL-Combine 2017: 5.51 seconds

My time: 5.40

4. 3-cone drill

Perhaps the hardest drill, the famous 3-cone, is waiting. In the 1980s, a professional scout invented this agony in order to record the athletes' agility, cadence, sense of balance and sense of space in one exercise.

Unlike the professionals, I don't have any cones with me and mark the way with parcel tape, as with the shuttle drill. The three stripes form an L on the slowly fading red of the tartan bottom. I run five yards forward to the first strip, then five yards back to the start. Then it goes around the outside to the third strip and there after the renewed turn back to the starting position. A total of almost 30 yards, or about 27 meters. With my generous turning circle, I need just under ten seconds. That's bad, in fact a lot worse than the value of my new favorite footballer Damien Mama. It took 1.5 seconds less than me - 8.51 seconds.

The 3-cone drill is one of the most exciting disciplines because it puts even top athletes in an awkward position. For example DK Meltcalf, a wide receiver and model athlete with a toned 104 kilograms at 1.93 meters. Meltcalf ran the 40 yards in the style of a cannonball in 4.33 seconds and also achieved terrific results in the jumps. But with the 3-cone drill he needed 7.31 seconds. That is a miserable figure for professionals.

The best value for the 3-cone drill is currently 6.28 seconds. The magical limit that very few super athletes overcome is the 6.50 mark.

The times in comparison:

Fastest 3-cone drill in the NFL Combine: 6.28 seconds

Slowest 3-cone drill in the 2017 NFL Combine: 8.51 seconds

My time: 10.02 seconds

5. Bench press

Off to the gym. I do that five times a week. Today it finally works.

A quick look back: During my first Combine report, I watched Mario Baierl from Rostock as he pressed the 100 kilos towards the ceiling of the hall 36 times. An incredibly good value. That would make him one of the better ones in the NFL. Since the NFL Combine began, only 18 athletes have been able to do more than 40 repetitions.

Before, around three years ago, I was incredibly proud of my chest muscles. So proud that once at three in the morning I let myself be carried away by 75 push-ups in front of a discotheque to win a free beer bet.

But the body pays its tribute to an office job. As soon as I enter the gym in the east of Berlin through a pivoting door, I know that today I will push the dumbbell 36 times less than Mario. 100 kilos or a Neukölln bus in rush hour traffic - it makes no difference to me today. I push and push and nothing moves. Pretty depressing.

The times in comparison:

Most bench press reps of all time: 51

Fewest bench press repetitions in 2018: 4

My repetitions: 0

Combine: Finally new motivation

A sobering day. In any case, I can't call myself “Beast Mode” anymore. But in every failure there is also the potential for motivation. And today I saw a builder's helping of it.

The good thing about the fitness evaluation in the form of an NFL Combine: It is versatile. It shows how strong or weak I am, how fast I can run and how well the muscles I need for strong jumps are trained. I shouldn't skip leg day in the gym. And I definitely have to do more coordinative training, for example balance exercises.

Above all, it's the values, i.e. the numbers, that appeal to me. I now have them in black and white and can measure myself against them. For example, every three months with a comparative training session.

Reach your goal with a new training plan

Bonus argument: This performance test is also cheap and uncomplicated. You don't need more than one partner with a stopwatch, a tape measure or a folding rule, parcel tape and, ideally, a gym membership.

The results? The Combine experience gave my training plan new contours. Yoga once a week, a consistent leg training session and regular interval and sprint runs enrich my training program from now on.