DeMarcus Ware is out of breath. His hands are firmly on his hips, and sweat is rolling off his giant, gleaming head, disappearing into his white shirt below.
"I thought you were too old for this!" someone yells from the small crowd that's gathered to watch the Dallas Cowboys defensive end train at Impact Performance and Fitness, Ware's personal gym in Southlake, Texas. Ware turns his head and smiles.
"Don't tell anyone I'm doing this," he says coyly. "Let's keep it a secret."
Calling someone "old" when they're approaching 31 years of age seems ludicrous, but when you've played eight years in the NFL (as Ware has) and are coming off shoulder surgery and your lowest sack total since 2006 (as Ware is), people start throwing the "O" word at you.
But old people take walks around the block holding 3-pound dumbbells. They do not flip 300-pound tires with an effortless flick of the wrist, like Ware does. They do not pull a rope attached to a 280-pound sled as if they were towing a mound of pillows like Ware, a 6'5", 260-pound behemoth of a man, has been doing all morning.
Ware hasn't missed a game in his NFL career, and he has recorded double-digit sack totals in each of the past seven seasons.
DeMarcus Ware is not old, but that hasn't stopped media and fans from saying otherwise.
That's why the 2013 season is so important to Ware. He made headlines earlier this year by saying he and his Cowboys teammates need to "put up or shut up." He's not only out to hush critics, he's attempting to return from a shoulder injury that contributed to his sack total dropping from 19.5 in 2011 to 11.5 last year. He's also making the switch from outside linebacker to defensive end as Dallas changes its defensive formation from a 3-4 to a 4-3. That's why he's at the gym bright and early—alongside women swishing on ellipticals and guys with weighted vests doing Pull-Ups—putting his body through a myriad of intense endurance exercises.
"As you get older, you usually don't use as much of your strength. You use your smarts the majority of the time. Once you get to 31, you're as strong as you're going to get," Ware says. "I work on more of my cardio instead of tearing my body down and using a lot of heavy weights."
As a mix of hip-hop and heavy metal trickles out of the speakers above, Ware, wearing a white tank top, black shorts and red-and-black Reebok ATV 19s, moves to a VertiMax machine. After fastening resistance bands to his wrists, ankles and torso, Ware works through a series of box jumps and speed ladder movements. He calls it "instability work"—lateral and horizontal movements that mimic his motions on the field.
Earlier, Ware worked on his core by lying on a physioball and kicking his feet out one at time while holding a bag of water above his head. The exercise helps his balance, preparing him for the awkward positions he'll find himself in while rushing the passer.
"You still have to maintain your strength, but the main thing is staying in shape the whole time, because as you get older, you get out of shape very fast," Ware says.
If there is anything truly "old" about Ware, it's the wisdom he's gained about how his body works and what it needs to thrive. Whereas a younger player might follow the training instructions he's given without question, Ware can jump from talking in detail about his training to reciting his in-season nutrition regimen, which consists of five meals a day and roughly 5,000 calories, allowing him to indulge in his favorite dish, chicken with broccoli.
His workout finished, Ware wipes beads of sweat from his brow as his massive frame nestles against one of the machines in the gym. He looks exhausted, but that's the point. Ware gets 40 seconds or less to recover before sprinting after the quarterback again. He trains to exhaustion so he can look (and play) a little bit younger during another season of high expectations for America's Team.
The "Put Up or Shut Up" Workout
- Physioball Cable Rotations
- Physioball Stability Leg Switches
Lie back on the physioball, holding a weighted bag or bar above your head. Bring your right leg up until it is straight out in front of you, then lower it back down to the ground. Repeat with left leg. Continue alternating legs.
- Cable Resisted Physioball Crunches With Resistance
- Tire Flips
- Resistance Box Taps on VertiMax
Place a box on top of the VertiMax machine. Stand behind it with resistance bands attached to your waist. Jump and tap your right foot on top of the box, then your left foot. Continue in a fluid motion.
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