Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has always been built a bit like a bowling ball, but one look at the perennial Pro Bowler as he participates in training camp and you’d think you accidentally stumbled onto Muscle Beach. Wilson looks “yuge,” the way Bernie Sanders says it, especially in his arms, which more closely resemble the columns of a Greek temple than human limbs. I mean, look at this dude:
You have to stare at that picture for at least 30 seconds before you can accept that it’s really Russell Wilson. His arms are enormous, and he looks bigger, at least in his upper body, than he’s ever been. So what happened? How did Wilson find time between getting hitched and keeping all his other off-season commitments to turn himself into a pro wrestler?
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The answer is two-fold. First, Wilson had to rethink how he trains. As he enters his fifth season in the NFL, the physicality of the game started to take a toll on his body. Wilson, who turns 28 in November, has been sacked 164 times in his four-year career, and that’s not even counting the hits that have come from his 411 career carries.
Wilson’s longtime trainer Ryan Flaherty wanted to spend the summer focusing on prolonging Wilson’s career.
“This off-season, our real focus, as much as it was about keeping Russell in top shape and keeping him fast and all of those things that he wants and needs, it was also really turning the focus to injury prevention and saying, ‘Look, you have not missed a game in four years,'” Flaherty told ESPN. “‘You have not even missed a practice. We’re going to keep it that way.’ So we really turned the focus to keeping his body healthy, his mind right, but really implementing injury prevention as a big, big component into his off-season program.”
One of the biggest changes to Wilson’s workouts involved tempo—e.g., performing an exercise like the Squat and taking six seconds to go down and six seconds to come back up. His bigger muscles became fatigued, allowing his smaller, “stabilizing muscles,” the ones most important to preventing injury, to work harder and get stronger.
Wilson also got after it in the gym, strengthening his body in general, with a focus on his core, arms and shoulders. He documented one workout—spent with another one of his trainers, Gunner Peterson—on his Instagram. It shows him performing Single-Arm Ab Rollouts, Med Ball Slams, Physioball Planks, Sled Pushes and Banded Tricep Pushdowns, the last of which was meant to be done in high reps at the end of the workout to give him some serious muscle-pumping action.
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The results of Wilson’s work were evident during a recent training session on the USC campus with Trojans strength and conditioning coach Ivan Ross. The session focused on agility and footwork. If you squint hard enough, Wilson looks more like a running back than a QB, especially during the drill below, in which he simulated a quick change of direction during a quarterback run.
“Just trying to stay as mobile as possible, as strong as possible,” Wilson told seahawks.com of his off-season work. “Really take care of my body and getting the body work to make sure you are ready to go for another season. I think the biggest thing is to continue to push myself in the weight room, in the running and the strength work. I am doing a lot of shoulder work just to make sure my arm is ready to go and is stronger than ever, and it is definitely paying off. You just keep your head down and keep working.”
With the regular season just two weeks away, it will be interesting to see how Wilson’s new body impacts his game. Flaherty told ESPN that Wilson planned on playing at 212 pounds, the lightest he’s been in some time; but his increased muscle mass makes it hard to view that weight as realistic. With stronger shoulders, a live arm and a body better equipped to withstand injury, Wilson could have his most productive season ever in 2016. It will be fun to see how it all plays out.