Everyone loves a comeback.
Whether it’s Peyton Manning coming back to win the Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos a few years after having neck surgery, or Adrian Peterson returning from a devastating knee injury to win the rushing title, there have been some amazing injury recoveries in the NFL.
Victor Cruz is one of those stories. The New York Giants wide receiver is making an impact on the field again after returning from what could have been a career-ending injury.
In a game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field during the 2014 season, Cruz went up for touchdown catch in the back of the endzone, but came down awkwardly and injured his knee. Cruz ended up tearing his patellar tendon—the structure connects the kneecap to the shin and what allows the knee to flex and straighten—one of the most serious injuries an NFL wide receiver can suffer.
Cruz faced a lengthy road for rehabilitation and long odds that he would be the same explosive player when (and if) he returned. Rehab for patellar tears can take 6 to 12 months and even after that there’s a possibility that the knee might not get all the way back to normal. Cruz had already overcome the odds while rising from undrafted free agent to a Super Bowl champion, but after the injury, everything was up in the air.
“Rehab is a long process—it's not just for two weeks and then you're done,” Cruz told Men’s Fitness. “It's months and months of it and gradual progression as you reach these goals after these months pass by. And that's the biggest thing that people have to understand is that it's not just the right now, it's over time how you excel and how you progress. That was the biggest thing about the rehab for me.”
Cruz worked extremely hard and made it back to the practice field during training camp in 2015 for the Giants, but after suffering a calf injury, he ended up missing the entire season. Cruz underwent surgery on the calf and more people around football wondered if he played his last snap for the Giants—or in the NFL.
But that didn’t stop Cruz and his determination to get healthy.
Cruz continued to work hard and used high-intensity training that was focused on lower-leg and single-leg workouts to get his strength back to where it was. He used a wide range of moves, including straight leg raises, hamstring curls, squats, and ankle mobility exercises. “Whether it was it was lunges, single-leg squats, leg presses, calf raises—all of that really built that foundation of strength I needed for the long haul,” Cruz said.
The University of Massachusetts product finally returned in 2016 for the first time in nearly two years when he suited up for the Week 1 matchup against the Dallas Cowboys. Cruz didn’t wait long to make an impact—he caught the game-winning touchdown for the Giants.
Cruz’s recovery process came full circle in Week 16 when the Giants visited the Eagles, marking the first time the receiver was in Philadelphia since injuring his knee. Naturally, Cruz had his best game of the season, making eight catches for 84 yards. Perhaps he buried his injury demons too after visiting the exact spot where he was injured in the back of the endzone before the game with teammate Odell Beckham Jr.
“It feels great man, to go through those tough moments,” Cruz said. “Obviously being on the couch or being in those hospital rooms and being away from the game for so long, to come back and to come back in a major way is a great feeling and it's a great thing. You just want to continue to build on that as each game goes on here. It's something that I'm excited about. The best part is my teammates. My teammates are excited to see me play and excited to see me out there, and that's the best part.”
Cruz’s return helped the Giants make the playoffs for the first time since 2011—when they defeated the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI—and he's starting to show the same quickness and agility he had during that championship season.
Here are 10 times Cruz shared the workouts, training, and exercises he used in his receovery on Instagram:
Cruz gets things going with a reverse sled pull, strengthening his glutes, quads, and hamstrings:
Cruz used single-leg workouts to help build back the strength in his knee:
Cruz said squats were one of the most important moves for him while working to get back from his injury:
Cruz gets back to work with box jumps, pullups, and dumbbell exercises:
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Cruz needed to get his knee healthy—but building power in his upper body was just as important:
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Cruz gets to work using his injured leg:
Men's Fitness has 15 of the best lunge variations you can use to build muscle in your lower body:
Cruz shows off the renewed strength in his legs with this quick resistance run:
Cruz works on improving his leg strength and balance after surgery:
Check out the 30 best leg exercises of all time from Men's Fitness and build muscle in your lower body.
Literally my one and only focus right now is being bigger, stronger and faster than I was before. If you want things in life, you fight for them and never take no for an answer. You fight until you can't get up off the canvas and you physically can't move. That's what I strive for #StriveForGreatness #RWTW #TheReturn
Cruz tests the flexibility and strength of his knee during a catching drill:
Nearly two years to the day after Cruz suffered his injury, he shows off what he can do:
Want to get a high-intensity workout without the cardio? Check out these 10 workouts to help you burn off calories.
Cruz gives an in-depth look at his training and recovery:
Want to prevent getting hurt while training? Check out the Men's Fitness injury-prevention guide for the best exercises to help avoid injuries.