At 6’2” and 240 pounds, his dreadlocks flowing effervescently from beneath his helmet, Steven Jackson is as imposing a figure as you will find at the running back position. He says, “If you look at my physique, I’m a very powerful person; I have a powerful demeanor.”
Just one thing: don’t label him a power back.
“Although my physique may say I’m a powerful back, I never limit myself to that,” Jackson continues. “I can do things that a 190-pound running back can do, and I can also do what a 250-pound fullback can do.”
Jackson isn’t big on limits, whether they come from critics, opponents or himself. That’s why he’s become one of the best running backs of his generation.
Watch Steven Jackson's workout to learn how Jackson trains to become the best.
Jackson was born and raised in Las Vegas—the Entertainment Capital of the World—just a few blocks from the famous Strip; and from an early age, he was aware of the potentially negative consequences associated with the temptations of “Sin City.” He says, “Temptation is out there, no matter what city you grew up [in], but as you can imagine, there is a lot more temptation in Las Vegas. The way I decided to stay away from that was to have a game plan: always focus on where I want to be long-term and short-term in life. I always knew I wanted to play Division I football. I wanted to get out of Las Vegas and make it to the NFL. I always kept that in the forefront of my mind to not succumb to living in the moment, so to speak.”
Hard work and religious faith were the cornerstone values of the Jackson family, and Steven embodied both to the fullest from a young age. The work ethic—instilled by his father, Steve, a U.S. Marine—served as his foundation for achieving success in the classroom and on the football field. In high school, Jackson would awake at 6 a.m.; shower, dress and make his bed by 6:20; and have enough time to eat breakfast before catching the bus to school.
“It was a routine that helped me understand that just because the sun is not up doesn’t mean your day is not started,” Jackson says. “My dad would always say ‘Marines do a day’s work before it’s even 12 in the afternoon,’ and I took great pride in that.”
His spiritual upbringing taught Jackson to have faith in God’s plan for his life, even in times of doubt or when faced with adversity. At age 10, he felt so strongly about his football destiny that he used the power of the pen to commit his plan to writing in the form of a poem titled, “I Am.” Says Jackson, “The basis of the poem was to write my life out, and it resonates now in a way where I can go back to it and see how far I’ve come to living the life that I desired almost 20 years ago.”
Jackson didn’t just write it out. He made it happen. As a prep star, he quickly became a college football coach’s dream with his businesslike approach to pursuing his own dream of becoming the game’s next great running back. As a senior at Eldorado High School, he rushed for more than 200 yards six times, including a pair of 300-yard games. In his junior and senior seasons, he totaled 3,976 rushing yards and 51 touchdowns on the ground. He was also a star in the classroom, becoming a member of the National Honor Society and graduating with a 3.8 cumulative grade point average.
Jackson starred at Oregon State University for three seasons, playing in 10 of 11 games as a true freshman. He is still the Beavers’ all-time single-season leader in rushing yards (1,690 in 2002, his sophomore year) and attempts (350 in 2003, his junior year). His college bio included hobbies like “collecting football cards and breaking records,” and he clearly focused on the latter.
The St. Louis Rams knew they had something special when they selected Jackson in the first round of 2004 NFL Draft. Former Rams DT Ryan Pickett, a teammate of Jackson’s from 2004-05, could see it clearly. “I was amazed that a big guy like him could move the way he did,” says Pickett, now a member of the Green Bay Packers. “He was almost 250 pounds and he could outrun the defensive backs.”
Jackson’s defining season occurred in 2006, when he recorded career bests in nearly every major statistical category, including rushing attempts (346), rushing yards (1,528) and rushing touchdowns (13). He also ranked among the league’s top 10 in receptions with 90, a mark that has not been topped by a back since.
Pickett says, “There was nothing he couldn’t do. He could catch the ball out of the backfield, he could run over you and he could run past you. He had no weaknesses in his game.”
In terms of skillset, Jackson was the most complete back in the league. However, there was work to be done from a physical standpoint, according to high performance consultant Stephane Cazeault.
Sure, some running backs are more than satisfied with career years. Jackson, however, is a different breed of running back, and he was constantly seeking out new ways to improve his performance.
“His overall strength was decent, but he had major weaknesses in the muscles of the posterior chain, quads and mid back,” says Cazeault, who started training Jackson at the Central Institute of Human Performance in suburban St. Louis during the 2007 off-season. “Those weaknesses were a limiting factor in the sense of structural balance and injury prevention.”
Cazeault, a Level 5 Poliquin certified strength coach, devised a training model to address Jackson’s muscle imbalances and to promote rapid strength gains. The program helped Jackson “achieve a very high level of strength, which enabled us to focus more on transferring that strength into speed,” Cazeault says.
405 and Some Chains
This past off-season at CIHP, the Rams all-time leading rusher demonstrated the training that powered his record-breaking, on-field performances while continuing to show that limits are irrelevant.
As if squatting 405 pounds isn’t enough of a challenge, Cazeault had Jackson add 45-pound chains to each end of the barbell, the purpose being to overload his body during the top portion of the Squat. As each link rises off the ground, the weight becomes heavier. Jackson blasts through a set of four, ending with a final set at 405 pounds plus the chains for one rep.
“We add the heavy chains because it works the explosiveness coming up from the bottom of the Squat,” Jackson says. “I always like to push my body to the limit. It feels good, especially when I’m able to lift the weight as easily as I was able to on that last set.”
The benefits of his approach to training extend beyond making him feel good. Like all running backs, enhancing lower-body strength and power is paramount.
“The Top Half-Squat with Chains is important to learn to accelerate a high load from a static position,” Cazeault says. “The Glute Ham Raise and Back Extension was to strengthen the posterior chain, which is key in speed development; and the Sled and Prowler work was a good way to help him transfer strength to the field while also developing his conditioning.”
Jackson’s training and discipline got him to this point, but it’s his dedication to the little things that keeps him among the elite. “Steven is an incredibly hard worker,” says Cazeault. “He pushes the limits every session, and he’s very serious about taking care of himself.”
Watch the full workout.
Jackson’s approach to his craft would have fit well in the early years of the NFL. He considers himself a classic player, one who would have been right at home wearing a leather helmet. “I feel like I could have played in any era, because I believe I do everything well,” he says. “I could play with the guys in the ’60s who were some of the toughest football players to this day.”
Jackson may not want to be known as a power back, but there’s no denying his power and strength. Nine years and seven consecutive 1,000-yard seasons later, he’s still working to get stronger and more versatile.
Jackson’s never been defined by anybody but himself, and when you combine his self-belief with his discipline in the weight room and his natural athletic ability, you get a special athlete. Anyone, in any field, would benefit from Jackson’s philosophy: believe in yourself, work your tail off and let everything else work itself out.
“You have to come to understand what you want to be,” says Jackson. “Don’t allow anyone to put you in a box.”