Watching professional athletes work out is guaranteed entertainment. That’s one reason they post videos of themselves grinding away in the gym on social media: They know we’ll watch.
Add in water, sand, ropes, stability balls or strobe glasses, and you’ll be sitting there on your couch with your mouth agape, wondering, “How the heck is he doing that? Why is he doing that? I really need to work out more.”
Let’s dig in to a few of these workouts we’ve seen go viral. For example, what does Oakland Raiders wide receiver Antonio Brown hope to gain by balancing on a Bosu ball while wearing strobe glasses and catching footballs?
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) July 10, 2019
According to Dr. Sharif Tabbah, who works with Brown at Athletix Rehab & Recovery in Davie, Florida, the outrageous-looking workout is a multipurpose approach that will accomplish quite a bit. “Check out this drill we have been working on to improve balance, hand eye coordination and strong arms attacking the ball,” Tabbah wrote on Instagram.
The goal of this particular workout is to obstruct Brown’s vision using strobe glasses to isolate his hand-eye coordination, all while using resistance bands on his arms to simulate defenders blocking his path.
Oh, not to mention, he’s doing all of this on one leg …
So while it might look outrageous, it is in fact a workout that will help make Brown more of a threat downfield.
Mike Atkinson is a performance trainer based in New York City who works with Black-Ops Basketball — i.e. NBA players only — which was founded by training guru Chris Brickley and Carmelo Anthony. In a recent Instagram post, Atkinson can be seen doing core work with Iman Shumpert that involves a basketball latched onto a resistance band.
But that’s not even the weirdest workout on his page. In April, he posted video of Cleanthony Early formerly of the New York Knicks and Kyle O’Quinn of the Philadelphia 76ers getting after it in a pool with medicine balls.
Atkinson said he sets up offseason training based on the individual needs of the player, and whether the player is healthy or going through rehab for an injury.
“What’s great about the pool situation is for a lot of guys, they’ll start in the pool because it takes off a lot of pressure off of their joints and the pounding. We can work on a lot of the conditioning aspects that they can do on the floor, get their heart rate up, but like I said again, limited pounding and really good for their joints,” Atkinson told ESPN in a phone interview. “A lot of our stuff is resistance based and range of motion, and as the offseason progresses, we’ll do more dynamic stuff in the pool with basketballs.”
According to Atkinson, the guys “really enjoy it.” We’ll take his word for it.
Another workout Atkinson puts NBA players through in the offseason is boxing, which is not only good anaerobically, but also helps to improve hand-eye coordination and hip movement.
He explains that it’s best for “limiting the pounding and the exposure to the contact of the hardwood. So they’re not jumping up and down, but they’re getting some similar movement patterns and also energy system demands that replicate the game.”
In Miami, David Alexander, owner and director of sport performance and development at DBC Fitness, trains professional athletes in a system of phases during their offseasons. The most distinctive workout he puts athletes through comes during “Phase 3” — the development and performance phase.
“Our NBA players will be stepping off plyometric boxes and landing on unstable surfaces to mimic and simulate possibly going up and landing on someone’s foot,” Alexander told ESPN.
Alexander says he believes the exercise helps to increase sensory, stability and balance. That way, when an NBA or NFL player lands awkwardly on the court or on the field, their bodies are trained and acclimated to do it safely and efficiently.
Alexander’s favorite workouts to throw at athletes are ones that challenge the senses — and those are definitely the ones that get the most clicks on social media.
“We use things like the FITLIGHT, blindfolds, Bosu balls … things that create unstable environments and challenge all their sensories,” he said. “You blindfold a point guard and then have him get used to dribbling a ball and touching certain things and catching certain things.”
When talking about Jadeveon Clowney planking on the two Fizio balls, Alexander describes how using a technique like this trains the body to work like a “glass of water,” saying that when you isolate various muscle groups to “pour it out slowly” because that’s when “it flows beautifully.”
And talk about the mental game involved there.
“When you teach your body awareness to be in tune with everything all at one time, it makes a more developed athlete,” he said. At the Bommarito Performance Academy in South Florida, there is something different for every athlete, as owner Pete Bommarito describes the 14 different “medical disciplines” he throws at athletes who train with him.
“It’s not just about what is their sport, what is their position, but it’s about how is their joint aligned. We do it every day. It’s all structured to the way their joints are aligned and what the goals are,” Bommarito told ESPN. And some of that training includes pilates and yoga.
“I don’t necessarily use pilates for flexibility. I use it for a lot of things: I use it for stability, joint mobility, joint stabilization,” he says. The athletes who train with him at a handful of his facilities in South Florida can be seen cycling through all of his “medical disciplines” throughout the day, Bommarito says. So this could entail pilates and yoga, pool work, field work, strength work or simply getting a massage.
One of his favorite workouts to put athletes through is speed training, which he calls his “specialty.”
“For me, just overall acceleration and absolute speed training. Speed is a premium. How do you maximize someone’s stride? We have a device called a Ki-RO core. It’s a vest that you can attach to different levels and different sides so while you’re sprinting full speed, if you have a light resistance or light assistance attached to this vest, you can stimulate the trunk muscles. We found a way to stimulate spinal rotation [and] trunk rotation isometrically during speed and sprint training,” he explains.
So next time you see that intense workout video on Twitter or Instagram, you’ll know every little thing has its purpose. But also that you probably shouldn’t try it at home.