Walter Payton's off-season training

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By Josh Staph

Although he stood 5'10" and weighed only 200 pounds, the greatest running back of all time had thunderous legs that could both punish and outrun defenders. Sweetness and his hard-running legs gained 16,726 yards over his career, a then-NFL record. Although naturally muscular and strong in both his upper and lower body, Payton was successful primarily because of the grueling workouts he put himself through in the off-season.

Payton's off-season training routine was so challenging that it became legendary among other professional players. In addition to lifting, Sweetness pushed his already-fatigued body with daily gut-checks in the Mississippi heat. He found a sandbank by the Pearl River, near his hometown of Columbia, and laid out a 65-yard course, which, by his own estimate, equated to 120 yards on hard ground. He ran countless sprints through the course and back, because he believed that the sand made his legs stronger and allowed him to cut better at full speed. To make things even tougher, Payton purposely ran during the hottest hours of the day. The air was warm and thick, and the sand was so hot that he couldn't stand still between sprints without blistering his feet.

Describing those workouts, Payton once said, "You get to a point where you have to keep pushing yourself. You stop, throw up and push yourself again. There's no one else around to feel sorry for you."

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