It’s not easy staying on top in a major sport. Injuries, age and increased competition have destroyed even the greatest athletes, but the desire to perform at the highest level has some pros training in very unorthodox ways. From torturous diets to bizarre workouts, these unconventional techniques are helping some athletes to step their game up — and making others look like maniacs.
Troy Polamalu might look like he can bench press a Buick, but the Pittsburgh Steeler does not touch a heavy barbell when he’s preparing for the NFL season. Removing himself from the regular training camp, the six-time Pro Bowler works out at the Sports Lab in California where he undergoes an intense regiment of workouts known as iso-kinetics. Focused on building faster muscles instead of bigger ones, the exercises put an emphasis on balance and quickness in an attempt to literally change the nerve system of the body. So instead of clean-and-jerks, Polamalu will do light squats while balanced on a BOSU ball. The idea is that the safety’s muscles will react so quickly that his hits will be more explosive. The highlight reels speak for themselves.
Mixed Martial Arts
The recent MMA success of former NFL players like Matt Mitrione and Herschel Walker has proven that the fight game is a viable career option for guys who have burnt out on the gridiron. So it’s no surprise that some current pros are stepping into the cage pros are stepping into the cage to improve their tenacity. One such player is Baltimore Raven Brendon Ayanbadejo who has trained in mixed martial arts with former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Rashad Evans. For the linebacker, this grueling workout helps improve his stamina and endurance. After all, a play might only last a few seconds in a football game, but an MMA round is five minutes long if you can go the distance. For Ayanbadejo, getting slammed in the Octagon has made him better at slamming opponents on the field.
Growing up dirt poor on the streets of the Philippines taught Manny Pacquiao how to be tough, but it takes more than a rough upbringing to survive the punching power of opponents like Miguel Cotto or Juan Manuel Marquez. That’s why the southpaw utilizes a bizarre training technique to harden himself before a big fight — he allows himself to be beaten with sticks. In order to prepare his body for the pummeling it’s sure to take, Pac-Man lets his coaches pound his chest and arms repeatedly with thick wooden batons. Clearly agonizing, Pacquiao says the harsh treatment allows him to familiarize his body with pain so his mind can stay focused during a fight. With dedication like that, it’s no wonder he hasn’t been knocked out in over a decade.
For the majority of professional wrestlers, the most important part of their training is hitting the weight room to achieve a superhuman physique. But a young WWE star named John Morrison relies on more than just saying his prayers and eating his vitamins to perform at the top of his game. A high flier who spends most of his matches leaping off the top rope, Morrison has gained attention for utilizing parkour in the ring. First popularized in France and now an international craze thanks to YouTube, parkour is a form of acrobatic running that focuses on using skills like vaulting, jumping and climbing to overcome obstacles. When done properly, the discipline can be used to run up and over walls and has helped Morrison fly higher than Koko B. Ware’s bird.
You’d think a massive 270-pound defensive end like Dwight Freeney would rely on a high-protein diet to maintain his serious size, but you’d be wrong. Instead, the Indianapolis Colt is a devout follower of an eating plan known as “Sari Mellman's Dietary Progression.” Designed to figure out precisely what foods make Freeney more powerful, the diet is specific to the point where he can eat Fuji apples, but he can’t eat Granny Smith. Every few months, blood is drawn from the big man to identify what effect this food is having on his body at a cellular level. This way, Freeney knows what grub his body feeds off of and what it rejects. It may sound crazy, but the Pro Bowler is so serious about following this plan that he won’t even change the type of toothpaste he uses in the morning.