Few athletes have the raw talent and genetic make-up to play professionally. For those who are not blessed with natural ability and a “pro-level” physique, hard work in the weight room becomes vital for success. For some, this is a barrier to achieving elite status. For Thomas Jones, it’s a ticket to greatness.
Even at a young age, Thomas worked to morph his body into an imposing physical specimen. Under the tutelage of his father, Thomas and his younger brother Julius (also an NFL player) performed Push-Ups and Sit-Ups, which he says were the cornerstones of his athletic foundation. “At night, if I realized I forgot to do my Push-Ups, I’d get out of bed and knock them out,” Thomas recalls. “I loved working out and was passionate about it. When I’m done playing football, I’ll probably work out even more than I do now, because I just love lifting weights.”
Thomas’s fierce motivation undeniably stems from his childhood. Raised in a small town in Virginia, Thomas was inspired by his parents, who worked long, hard hours as coal miners to support their seven children. His parents’ dedication spawned Thomas’ work ethic and fueled his drive to succeed. “When I’m practicing, and it gets hard [or] I get tired [and] need some motivation, I just think about my parents working in the ground in the coal mine,” he says. “That’s why I have a tattoo [that says] ‘Coal Miner’s Son,’ because I’ll always be proud of that, and that’s what got me to where I am.”
In the Jones family, football was important, but not more so than academics. A household rule required the Jones kids to learn five new words every day. Each sibling had to read the front page of the newspaper before checking out the sports section. Thomas says, “Even if I had rushed for 300 yards the night before, I had to read the entire front page before checking out my stats or the article about the game. This made me understand that sports are a major part of life, but not what life is about.”
During his senior year of high school, Thomas was ranked second in the country at the running back position. His grades matched his talent on the field, affording him the luxury to select practically any elite school he desired. Of all the topnotch football programs eyeing him, Thomas signed on with the Cavaliers, confident that the University of Virginia provided the balance of athletics and academics that matched his values.
When Thomas arrived on campus, he rose to the challenge of playing Division I football by drastically altering his training program. His high school training had focused exclusively on upper body strength. Realizing that the college game requires a more complete and balanced athlete, Thomas keyed in on lower body training. He also developed a deeper understanding of training basics and the importance of nutrition, which enabled him to add 25 pounds of muscle during one off-season.
During his four years as a Cavalier, Thomas smashed numerous ACC and school records, leading to his selection as seventh overall in the 2000 NFL Draft. His on-field accomplishments are even more impressive considering that he earned a degree in psychology in just three years—a remarkable achievement in itself.
The 11-year NFL veteran continually develops his muscles to support his physical and powerful running style. Thomas focuses again on his upper body, because it helps him overpower opponents and protect his body from punishing contact. He says, “If I’m lifting a lot and getting pretty muscular, then I’m going to run a certain way on the field. My mentality is going to be more of a bully, because I feel stronger and more powerful than the next guy.”
Thomas’ shoulder and arm program centers on hypertrophy training—increasing muscle size by performing more reps instead of using heavy weight. “Big shoulders and arms are extremely important, because I’m taking a lot of hits and have to hold onto the ball,” he says. “It makes me that much more of a powerful player on the field, because I can stiff arm or block a linebacker, even if he outweighs me by 100 pounds.”
Although he’s not lifting at a high percentage of his max, incorporating high reps in a dropset and circuit fashion allows Thomas to fully challenge and fatigue his muscles with high volume and short rest between sets. Studies indicate that this method of training leads to the largest increases in muscle mass.
Thomas also performs multiple exercises for each muscle group, which adds another fatigue component by engaging the muscles from different angles and with different loads. This ensures that fibers left idle during some exercises are activated by others, leading to further exhaustion.
His training program drives Thomas’ consistent ratings among top NFL rushers. He thinks, though, that it’s critical to find a balance between training for size and performance. “The older I get, the more I want to back down a bit as far as heavy lifting and just maintain strength,” he says. “That way, I can stay elusive and still be able to break long runs.”
Thomas’ quest for a Super Bowl title comes to mind when you watch number 20—which he wears in tribute to his mother’s 20 years of work in the mines—barrel over opponents and rack up rushing yards. Although he’s proud of his football accomplishments, he wants to be remembered as the well-rounded man from a small town in Virginia who tirelessly worked for his success. “I’ve never been defined as an NFL player,” he says. “When I meet people, I want them to think that I’m a nice, normal guy.”
Warning: This workout will result in rapid increases in muscle size and mass. Perform periodically, and focus your other workouts on multi-joint, full body training.
1 Dumbbell Shoulder Dropset Circuit
Perform DB Shrugs, then immediately perform DB Shoulder Raise Dropset
- Heavy DB Shrugs x 10
- Single-Arm DB Lateral Raises x 6 each arm
- Single-Arm DB Front Raises x 6 each arm
- Drop weight 25 percent and repeat DB Lateral and DB Front Raises
Sets/Rest: 3x circuit with 30-60 seconds rest
2 Dumbbell Bicep/Triceps Dropset Circuit
Perform DB Alternating Bicep Curls, DB Reverse Curls, DB Overhead Tricep Extensions and Tricep Dips
- DB Alternating Bicep Curls x 6 each arm; drop weight 25 percent, perform 6 more reps; drop weight 25 percent and perform 6 more reps
- DB Reverse Curls x 6
- Single-Arm DB Overhead Tricep Extensions x 8 each arm; drop weight 25 percent, perform 8 more reps; drop weight 25 percent, perform 8 more reps
- Tricep Dips x 15-20
Sets/Rest: 3x circuit with 90 seconds rest between circuits
3 EZ Bar Bicep/Tricep Superset
Superset EZ Bar Bicep Curls and Overhead Tricep Extension with 30 seconds rest between supersets
- EZ Bar Bicep Curls x 10-12
- Overhead Tricep Extensions x 15
Sets/Rest: 5-6x superset with 30 seconds rest between exercises
4 Cable Bicep/Tricep Dropset Circuit
Perform Single-Arm Cable Bicep Curl Dropset then Single-Arm Tricep Pushdown Dropset
- Single-Arm Cable Bicep Curl x 6 each arm; drop weight 25 percent, perform 6 more reps; drop weight 25 percent, perform 6 more reps
- Single-Arm Cable Tricep Pushdown x 6 each arm; drop weight 25 percent, perform 6 more reps; drop weight 25 percent, perform 6 more reps
Sets/Rest: 3x circuit with 30-60 seconds rest between circuits
5 Decline Sit-Up
- Perform at the end of workout
- Control movement throughout set
- Keep abs engaged at bottom of movement
Check out the four-part video series of Thomas Jones’ muscle-building workout.