A gym full of the NFL’s top talent sweats around trainer Todd Durkin.
To the right, a Super Bowl MVP drives his knee into the air as he skips across the floor. To the left, several Pro Bowlers wait their turn. The athletes are just days from the start of training camp. In case any of them needed a reminder of why they were there, at Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego, Durkin provides it with a single sentence.
“No one can stop time, but the great ones can slow it down,” Durkin says.
The Fountain of Football Youth
Take a closer look at the roster of athletes training and you might wonder if Durkin’s facility sits above a hidden fountain of youth. That athlete with the Super Bowl ring who’s intensely pushing himself through every move? That’s Drew Brees, age 37, preparing himself for yet another 5,000-plus-yard season.
The Pro Bowler close behind? That’s Darren Sproles, a running back and kick returner who, at age 33, is every bit as explosive and elusive as positional peers 10 years (or more) younger. In fact, nearly all of the players in the room are NFL veterans—most of whom come back to train with Durkin every summer.
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The athletes come back because the workouts get them in great shape, of course. But they also come back because they can. They’re still in the league. The workouts prepare them for the rigors of the season, and more often than not, they come out intact.
“From 20-plus years of training these athletes, you start to learn what imbalances football players develop throughout the season, and what their needs are,” says Durkin, owner of Fitness Quest 10 and author of The WOW Book. “This is a tried-and-true program.”
A big reason why the athletes enjoy such success is Durkin’s smart workout design. And it starts with a smart warm-up. The 35-move sequence hits on just about every modality an athlete could want before a workout. The combination of up-tempo moves, plyometrics and agility ladder drills mixed with focused mobility work prepares their bodies in every way they could want. By the end, to a man, their heart rate is up, core body temperature is elevated, and their joints are primed to perform.
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“This warm-up definitely gets you ready to go from feet to fingertips,” Durkin says.
How to Do Todd Durkin’s Ultimate Football Warm-Up
Now you can take a page from Durkin’s All-Pro playbook and use his warm-up before your workouts. But be ready: Durkin’s pre-workout sequence is tough.
“For most people, this quote-unquote ‘Dynamic Warm-up’ might be the majority of their workout,” Durkin says. “Because the tempo is fast, but it’s also working strength. And doing all of that while preparing the body to perform.”
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Durkin suggests following these guidelines to start:
- Beginners should spend 15 seconds on each movement.
- Rest for either 15 or 30 seconds between moves, for a 1:1 or 1:2 work-rest ratio.
- As you get used to the routine and make improvements, you can increase your work time and/or decrease the rest intervals.
- Gear you’ll need: agility ladder, yoga mat, Airex Pad, a small towel and a football.
- “I recommend my athletes wear a heart rate monitor,” Durkin says. “I like to see them get to about 70 percent of their max heart rate [during the warm-up].
Todd Durkin’s Ultimate Football Warm-Up: Exercises
Yup, just like you used to do in gym class. Relax your hands. Bend your elbows at 90 degrees. Jump your feet out to slightly wider than shoulder-width and back, flapping your arms like a bird as you move.
Jump your feet out to the sides and squat down. Bring your feet underneath you when you jump back up.
Mini-Hops with Hip Rotation
Take several small hops in place. Then rotate your hips side-to-side as you hop. If 12 o’clock is straight ahead, your feet will alternate between pointing at 10 and 2 when you land.
Mini-Hops with Hip Rotation and Squat Jumps
A progression on the previous move. After your feet land facing each direction once, land them toward the center and shoulder-width apart, so you can perform a Squat jump. The pattern is hop (left) – hop (right) – squat jump.
The signature move of Durkin’s guys (and Navy SEALS, too). You’ll see Drew Brees performing these on the field on Sundays before games during the NFL season. It’s just like a Jumping Jack, except instead of your arms being bent and lifting up toward your head, you keep your elbows straight and pull your arms out to your sides.
Forward and backward.
Downdog Walkouts, Look L & R
Now we move into the groundwork portion of the warm-up. The first move starts like a Downward Facing Dog.
Walk your hands out and lower your hips to the ground. (Call this position Upward Facing Dog if you want to stay with the yoga lingo.) Turn your head to the left and look over your shoulder. Then do the same to the right side.
World’s Greatest Stretch
Step forward with your right foot to move into a long Lunge. Lower your torso toward the ground and try to work your right elbow down toward the instep of your right foot. Don’t let your rear (left) leg be slack. Push out through your rear heel. Repeat on the other side.
Kneeling Cossack Stretch
Place your right knee on the floor. Straighten your left leg and lift it out to the side. Enjoy the stretch you feel throughout your groin. Rock your hips toward the ground, then back up. Switch legs and repeat.
Child’s Pose with Twists
Start on all fours. Rock your hips back over your heels and lower your head to the ground. Hold that stretch. Lift your torso slightly, pick your right arm off the ground, thread it beneath your left arm, and lower your torso back to the ground. Hold that twist for a five count, then switch sides. The tempo picks up from here, so enjoy these last few calm, slow, controlled breaths.
Time for some form running. You know how to do high knees. Do ’em. Hold a football while you do them. (Next season will be here sooner than you think!) Cover about 10 yards on each round.
High Knee Skips
Keep lifting that knee to your torso as you move, but switch it up by skipping as you move rather than running. On your second time through, lift your leg out to the side on alternating skips
Reverse High Knee Skips
What you did during that last round? Now do it while going backward.
Drum Major Walk (High Kicks)
Breathe. Slow down. This one is basically like a walking hamstring stretch. Keep your lifted leg mostly straight with a microbend in your knee. This is a walk, not a run.
Side Shuffles with Side-to-Side Lunges
Hold a football in both hands. Take two shuffle steps to the side, then drop between your knees and shift left-right so that your elbows and the football touch your inner thigh on each side.
Reverse Lunge with Overhead Reach
Step backward into a Lunge, lifting your hands overhead and leaning back on each step.
Agility Ladder Side Shuffle
Now we really kick things up. Start out with a side shuffle, tapping both feet inside each box in the ladder.
Agility Ladder 2 In, 1 Out
Start to the left of the ladder. Step into the first box with both feet. Then step your right foot out to the right side of the ladder. Lift your left foot forward into the next box. Bring your right foot into that same box. Step out to the left side of the ladder with your left foot. Repeat this “2 in, 1 out” pattern all the way down the ladder. When you reach the end, turn and run back to the start, taking your place in line behind your teammate. Hold the football tight to your body throughout. (You haven’t let go of that, have you?)
Agility Ladder Reverse 2-In, 1-Out
What you did during that last drill? Now do it backward. Yes, that will be tough. But you’ll get the hang of it.
Pitter-patter side-to-side through the boxes, rotating your hips when you step outside the ladder’s boundary and heading back to center.
Do two jumps into each box, alternating so that your left foot lands in the box while your right foot lands behind it, and vice-versa. Each foot should land in a box before you move on to the next one.
Single-Leg Hops, 1 Leg Down, the Other Back
Sideways hop on one leg making sure your foot lands in each box. On your second trip through, use your opposite leg and foot. Continue alternating throughout the allotted time.
Another little break for you to catch your breath. Get on the ground on all fours. Breathe in and lower your belly toward the floor, looking up as you do so. Exhale and arch your back toward the sky. Continue moving in this pattern with your breath.
Fire Hydrant Rotations
Stay on all fours. Lift your right leg. Keep the knee of your elevated leg bent at 90 degrees. Rotate that lifted leg in circles starting from your hip. Do 10 forward circles, then 10 backward circles. Lower your leg to the ground and switch sides.
Perform 5 Push-Ups with your hands in their typical position. Then do 5 move with your fingers rotated inward so they point toward one another. Finally, do another five with your fingers pointing out to the sides.
Side Planks with Hip Pulses
Move into a Side Plank, where your forearm is perpendicular to your body and flat on the ground. The only other part of your body touching the ground is your foot or feet. Stack ’em if you can, but place your top foot on the ground and slightly in front of your bottom foot if you must. Now pulse your hips, lowering them toward the floor and lifting them until they’re in line with your torso and knees. Do 20 pulses, then switch sides.
Start in a “top-of-the-Push-Up” position with your arms fully extended. Bend and lower yourself onto one elbow, then the next, so that you are in a traditional “Plank on Elbows” position. Place one palm on the ground and straighten your arm, then the other. Repeat as quickly as you can with control.
Squat down, then jump up explosively. Land softly. Repeat 16 times.
Start with your right foot in front of you, left foot behind you, and both knees bent. Push off the ground and jump. Switch legs in mid-air. Repeat until you’ve done 16 reps total (each jump counts as one).
Hop from side to side while landing on your outside leg. Bring your elevated leg behind your body on each landing.
Single Leg RDLs with Football on Airex
Ditch the shoes and go barefoot for this last part of the workout. Stand with one foot on top of the Airex pad. Hold your elevated leg straight. Hinge at the hips, lowering your torso toward the floor while lifting your heel behind you. Then stand back up. Perform 5 reps on each leg. The Airex pad will challenge your balance throughout.
Single Leg RDL to High Knees
Same as the last exercise, only pull your knee to your torso after you return to standing on each rep.
Single-Leg RDL with Rotation
You should know the Single Leg RDL pattern pretty well by now! This time, rotate your torso across your standing leg as you lower your torso and hinge at the hips. Drew Brees turned this into a passing motion, as if he were throwing a football.
3-Way Toe Taps
Stand on one leg on the Airex Pad and hold your other leg slightly off the ground. Tap the foot of your elevated leg in front of, to the side, and behind the pad. Three taps equals one rep. Do 5 to 8 reps, then switch legs.
One last balance challenge before it’s go time. Hold a towel in one hand while balancing on the opposite leg. Lift the towel overhead as if you were going to throw it like a baseball, then perform a throwing motion with the towel. As your arm moves forward, it will be challenging to maintain your balance. Do your best not to fall over as you repeat for 5 to 8 reps.