Take one look at me and you’ll immediately see that I do not belong on an NFL roster. At 5’8″ and 175 pounds, maybe I could pass for a wide receiver or a defensive back—if I were significantly faster, had more fluid hips and could change direction in a tenth of a second. And yet, over the past decade, I’ve worked out with a who’s who of NFL stars, including Dwight Freeney, Terrell Suggs, Drew Brees, LaDainian Tomlinson and Larry Fitzgerald.
I collect these workouts like badges of honor. I spend as much time trying to survive as I do learning, watching and understanding what allows these incredible athletes to push their bodies beyond all limits so they can compete and entertain us all on Sundays.
Which is why it was a great honor to add one of my favorite players to my workout Hall of Fame this summer: Clay Matthews.
If you’ve watched Matthews on the field (as a diehard Bears fan, I’ve seen him squash my team’s hopes all too often), you’re aware of his success, which started with a strong rookie season. But it’s his imposing presence—which matches his performance—that makes him one of those freak-type athletes who appear superhuman. And after training with Clay, I can confirm: the man is superhuman.
We worked out together at ProActive Sports Performance in Westlake Village, Calif., where Clay works with trainer Ryan Capretta. While I gasped for air and watched Clay press 140-pound dumbbells with ease, I learned a few things about the Green Bay Packers’ Pro Bowl linebacker. Highlights of my interview follow:
On his off-season training program
“After the season, I take a few weeks off to help me physically and mentally overcome the rigors of the season. Losing is never a fun deal, so you take some time off and hopefully get away a little bit to re-focus on coming back for next year [and] set new goals for what you want to accomplish. For me it’s been very much the same off-season—working out, dedicating myself to the weight room and field work in the hopes of bettering my game.”
On his personal goals this off-season
“My personal goals are always to improve upon my game from the year before; to improve statistically—sacks, tackles for loss, interceptions, whatever it is. At the same time, I try to better myself as an all-around player—being a leader, being more vocal as well as making big-time plays to really make an impact on the field.”
On studying the game vs. working out in the off-season
“It’s understanding where I am in my career and where I need to be as a leader, especially with the turnover we’ve had in Green Bay. Fortunately with my new contract extension, the coaches and organization have shown that they believe in me in being a leader and leading this defense. Now it’s time to continue to raise the bar and continue to make plays out there even more so and be more vocal and be a leader.”
On working to get even better after two All-Pro selections and four Pro Bowls
“It’s a commonly asked question: ‘How do you stay hungry?’ It’s not just about the individual accolades. Fortunately for me I was able to win a Super Bowl in my second year, and it’s been a blessing and a curse: a blessing in that I’ve been able to accomplish the ultimate goal in football at an early part of my career, yet at the same time, every time you don’t make the Super Bowl, you lose in the playoffs or don’t make the playoffs, it’s a disappointment of a season. For me, it’s working toward the ultimate goal of winning another Super Bowl and along the way trying to outdo myself from years prior. In 2010, I was runner-up for MVP, so maybe it’s winning MVP. It’s always trying to find things to work toward.”
The author (left) with Clay Matthews at ProActive Sports Performance in Westlake Village, Calif.
On a typical day in the off-season
“I work out six days a week, Monday through Saturday, with Sunday being my day off. My days consist of everything from field work to being in the weight room, mixing in yoga and pilates, boxing and sometimes MMA. [See the full Clay Matthews workout, below.] We’re always mixing it up. We’re always developing our craft and improving upon our training technique.
“I always start off the day with a big breakfast—eggs, bacon, oatmeal, fruit. In between workouts, I’ll have a snack, whether that consists of some type of fruit, cottage cheese, nuts, Muscle Milk bar or Muscle Milk shake. I get lunch almost immediately following to refuel my body. I try to eat six meals a day—breakfast, lunch and dinner with snacks in between, which seems to be a good recipe for what I ask of my body during training sessions.”
On counting calories versus doing what feels right?
“I kind of do what feels right; you kind of know what’s good and bad for you. I try and stay away from the fast food, as well soda and candy, but at the same time, I’m not going to sit here and say that I count calories when I go to the store. I try and eat what is deemed healthy or what I perceive to be healthy.”
On his favorite workout or variation of a workout
“My favorite day is Saturday, where I’m just in the gym. But I understand that there’s so much more than just being in the gym and lifting weights—whether it’s field work, working on my explosion, pass rush, changing direction—or working on my core, glutes and flexibility with yoga and pilates. Boxing and MMA help to work on my hips, full body, feet and my hands, which correlate directly with being a pass rusher. They’re all so beneficial, but I think every football player loves being in the weight room.”
On Yoga. Do you wear yoga pants when you do yoga?
“Ha! I don’t wear yoga pants—I just wear what I normally train in, which is just shorts and a T-shirt.”
On his feeling about the team coming into the season
“I always feel good about our team, especially with the players we have: arguably the best QB in the league and a fantastic offense that has broken many records. Our defense has shown that we have the capability to be a Top 5 defense, and over the past four years that I’ve been there, we’ve made the playoffs each and every year. It’s about winning games when it counts, a