Jerry Rice, 2010 NFL Hall of Fame inductee, played a remarkable 20 years as a pro, collecting more than 1,500 career receptions, 197 touchdowns and three Super Bowl rings.
Whether it was late in the fourth quarter, during one of his Super Bowl appearances, or in the latter stages of his career (post-49ers), it didn't matter: #80 never shut down. He would race past double teams, outleap corners on jump balls and shed tacklers to break free into the end zone. And he did it for two decades!
Rice's secret? "The Hill" at The Edgewood Park & Natural Preserve, the covert training destination for the playmaking wideout and running back Roger Craig during the golden age of 49ers football.
Hill training is wildly popular among both high-performing athletes and fitness enthusiasts, but Rice and company were the originators. Hitting the rugged hills is what the NFL legend attributes his body of work to—as well as his finely-tuned body.
Rice would run insane distances uphill—2½ miles nonstop—each and every day during the off-season.
"The main thing for me was conditioning, and it started with this hill," Rice told us this past summer during our visit to the park where he put in some of his finest work. "We did this, and it's what made us capable of outdoing everybody else during the football season. It was about being able to put your body through pain."
His cool down—ten 100-yard "Easy Stride-Outs" up the first leg of the hill—were more intense than some players' entire workouts. "I was always surprised," he said, "because there were a lot of professional players that would wait until training camp to work themselves into shape."
Not Rice. "I would take two weeks off during the off-season, then go right back into my regimen."
We joined the great #80 for the cool down portion of his hill runs this summer. (Yes, he's still doing his thing at 48 years of age.) From a starting point at the bottom of the hill, we ran approximately 60 yards up to a slight bend in the path, turned and ran back down. After a 20-second breather, it was back up the hill—repeatedly, in work-to-rest fashion, ten times.
After a few light laps around the gravel lot at the base of the hill, it was back to work for ten "quick bursts," as Rice called them. Same thing, but working for an explosive start. We sprinted 20 to 30 yards uphill, focusing on pumping the knees and driving the elbows forward and back.
Rice's advice for hill training newcomers: "Leave your ego at the bottom of the hill. The type of conditioning that goes into this, it's something you have to work at every day."
If you're not doing it, hill training could be the missing link in your routine. Get started today, and maybe one day you'll find yourself sprinting uphill for the same remarkable distance and at the same remarkable pace that Jerry Rice once did—and still does today.
We've got plenty more from Rice, so be on the lookout for future interview content from the all-time great. Meanwhile, view the following NFL Films video highlighting his legendary hill training:
Special thanks to the good folks at Nike for setting up the hill run with Jerry Rice.
Photo: Larry Luk for standardatl.com