Kevin Zeitler: How I Trained During the Off-Season

Cincinnati Bengals guard Kevin Zeitler shares his off-season training regimen to improve his physical, mental and positional performance on the field.

Kevin Zeitler

I've always lived by the quote, "The best athletes are made in the off-season." At every level, I strove to do more physically and mentally than my competition during my time off the field. I truly believe this is the only way I made it to the NFL.

The off-season is the only time when athletes can separate themselves from the pack, or catch up to others. It all depends on how serious you take all of the little things—and how great you want to become.

My goal now is to be the best guard in the NFL, and I will do whatever it takes to make it happen. I will not waste any days, and I will take advantage of every opportunity. (Try this off-season football workout.)

Since it's my first NFL off-season, things have been a bit different than in previous years. The season was much longer, and the competition I faced was the best in the world, so I have to prepare for next season accordingly.

To start, I decided to take a complete break from football for two weeks. This allowed my body to recover, and I had the chance to mentally recuperate with family and friends. (See the Value of Rest and Recovery.) I took only two weeks off, because I wanted to stick to Jerry Rice's schedule. His work ethic was unparalleled, and I hope that mine is somewhat comparable.

I moved back to Wisconsin to train at NX Level with Brad Arnet, who formerly was head strength coach at the University of Arizona. Arnet uses a holistic approach to training. He covers everything, including nutrition, physical therapy, strength training, conditioning, flexibility and explosion; and he helped me get a scholarship from the University of Wisconsin. Several NFL athletes train there, including DeAndre Levy (Lions), Bill Nagy (Lions), Bradie Ewing (Falcons) and Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt (Texans).

During my two weeks off, I did a lot of self-reflection. I focused on what I needed to improve in the areas of physical development, positional development and mental development. I found things in all of these areas that needed to be addressed, and Arnet developed a plan to improve these areas of my game.

Physical Development

Looking back on the season, I decided I needed to focus even more on lower-body strength this off-season. The main lifts we perform are Lunges, Trap Bar Deadlifts, Single-Leg Squats and Box Step-Ups. We developed each leg individually, then transitioned to regular Squats as the off-season comes to an end.

Positional Development

I wanted to put a lot of work in on footwork—both running and passing. To do this, we did position-specific footwork before breaking into ten-yard bursts for conditioning. We also put a giant elastic band around our waists and did position-specific footwork against resistance from multiple directions.

Mental Development

I feel like I gained a good understanding of the offense as the year went on. However, I occasionally had what I can only call a "short circuit." This is a moment during a game when I didn't hear a change in the cadence, or a switching of the play. I reviewed my playbook throughout the off-season, and I am working to get it to a point where a "short circuit" will never happen again.

After completing eight weeks of training at NX Level, I headed to Athletes' Performance in Arizona for two weeks. I trained there for the NFL Combine the year before, and enjoyed it so I wanted to return.

Other than the major weather change, the workouts were quite different. There was a big focus on running form, the lifts were very explosive and the conditioning was intense. The change up was a great way to end the training cycle, and it left my body craving a little time off before OTAs started.

This is a general overview of what I did this off-season. You may not have the same approach or the same needs, but I encourage you to commit to making yourself better in the off-season to have a chance of meeting your goals. Now that the off-season is over, I am feeling good and ready to get back to football.

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