Athlete's Performance, a facility in Phoenix, Arizona, has been training NFL prospects since 2001, with many of the top overall picks working out of their weight room. Nick Winkelman, Director of Training Systems and Education for AP, spoke to MF about the process of getting these guys ready for the league. Here are his five tips to help get yourself motivated for your own workouts.
Use a Line of Questioning
You'd think that every NFL prospect is intrinsically (or internally) motivated. But that's just not the case. The guys at AP are talented, but even the best of the best need to be pushed every now and then. Even though prospects know that they're supposed to take a plunge in a cold tub and grab a post-workout shake after sessions, some are reluctant. "Every single year," says Winkelman, "we struggle with certain guys who don't want to get in the pool." And often, the guys who skip the extra work are the guys out of the NFL in 2-3 years.
Everyone needs a little extrinsic (or external) motivation now and then. "When I look at extrinsic motivation, it's trying to shove a concept in their head from your viewpoint," says Winkelman. "That's not what I try to do. I try to create a concept from their viewpoint." Winkelman will walk guys through a specific line of questioning, using pointed statements to help them see how choices can benefit them.
For you, think about your physique goal. Then break it down into smaller goals, like getting to the gym 3 days a week for a certain number of weeks. When you can't find the drive on a particular day, ask yourself questions like, "will skipping this workout help me or hurt me?" You know the answer already, but having to admit it will help you refocus on the smaller goal you need to achieve on your way to the larger goal.
The type of training the prospects do at AP is very different from on-field football work. They're trained as sprinters to get faster times in tests that they'll take at the combine. Some guys get bogged down by the logistics of the program, but overall the staff at AP doesn't have to do too much to keep them motivated. "I'm not a big fan of hooting and hollering," says Winkelman. "I will let them know when they've done something great, but I will not come down on them hard when they've done something wrong." That positive reinforcement helps the athletes focus on things they can change, rather than waste time and energy being upset.
In your own training, reframe the way you think about success and failure. Instead of beating yourself up about missing a lift, think about the things you've done well like, at least, getting into the gym that night and build on those things. Simply thinking in a different way will help you realize how effective positive reinforcement can be.
Hold Yourself Accountable
Winkelman mentioned former Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones as one of the most athletically gifted players he's ever been around. In one test, the prospects will run three sprints. "As we train them over the time, their best sprint should be #1, #2 should be the same or 5% slower, #3 should be 5-10% slower, if they're giving 100% effort," says Winkelman. That means it's normal to expect your production to drop off, slightly, when you're giving maximum effort for a certain amount of time. Jones didn't, because he's a rare athlete with outstanding genetics.
When you fall a little short, think about how you could have done something different. If you don't know your own potential, you'll never reach it. You won't even come close. But pushing yourself each and every day will help you figure out how good you can be.
Work on Your Work Ethic
For Winkelman, who has been with AP for five years, there's one single characteristic that he sees in all the guys who train at his facility that go on to have successful NFL careers. "Work ethic, 100%," he says. "The ones who will work without being told, the ones who you have to tell to stop doing extra work, they're going to be the ones that historically have the best careers." That may seem cliché, but it's true.
Lots of top prospects were better than their opponents in high school and college because of their natural ability, or because they were just bigger or stronger than the guys on the other team. But in the NFL, everyone is natural gifted. It's the same for you at the gym. You might have good genetics, and maybe you can still see your abs despite a few weekends of drive-thru and too many beers. But it won't stay like that forever, and the way you can make sure you succeed at staying fit is continuing to work hard in the gym, and in the kitchen.
Know Your Goals
Plenty of MF guys love training, but we suspect some of you guys like to go through the motions and call it a day. And that's fine, if you don't really want to get results. If you want to lose weight, focus on that. If you want to gain muscle, focus on that. You can do both, but it's harder to make progress when you divide your attention that way.
For the guys at AP, their nutrition is tailored to meet their needs. Those looking to lose weight will get most of their calories in breakfast and lunch, and they may not be supplementing with creatine. There's a specific percentage of carbs to protein to fat that the guys eat at each meal. "They'll usually just drop calories more than changing the percentages," says Winkelman. For those looking to gain weight, safely, without adding a ton of body fat, they'll take in more calories around their workouts.
For you, decide what you want to achieve before you get to the gym and start warming up, and make sure you're eating the right way at all your meals. Otherwise, you'll have a hard time seeing changes in your body.