Antonio Brown's training routine is the stuff of legend.
Not only can he be found in the gym at all hours of the day, but he also dabbles in disciplines like gymnastics, pilates and swimming. The 29-year-old Pittsburgh Steelers receiver is tight-lipped about his methods, choosing to speak mostly in platitudes. "This offseason I attacked it, working on little things. Trying to improve on it every day and continuing to grow. I surrounded myself with some good trainers, some good people that can bring out the best in me. This offseason was an opportunity for me to attack my weaknesses," Brown told Steelers.com in August.
Yes, he said weaknesses. The guy currently on pace to become the first receiver in NFL history to record 100-plus receptions in five consecutive seasons has weaknesses. That's the mindset it takes to achieve greatness. Brown's currently leading the league in receiving yards and Pro Football Focus ranks him as the top receiver in football. While it might seem like just another ho-hum season of dominance for AB, those who know him best see an even better version of the player who's long terrorized defenses.
For all his production, Brown has never been a freak athlete—at least not by NFL standards. At the 2010 NFL Combine, he ran a 4.56 40-Yard Dash. That's considered below average for a player of his stature. His game has always relied more on precise route-running and technique than pure athleticism, but it looks like he's added elite speed and acceleration to his repertoire this season. That's highly unusual for a guy who's almost 30. Bob Labriola, a long-time writer for Steelers.com, noticed drastic improvement from Brown during training camp. "Yes, Antonio Brown looks much faster, and he also gets to top speed more quickly. (He) spent his whole offseason—after getting a big payday—working on his game to the degree where I believe he's taken it to another level," Labriola writes. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley agrees, telling Steelers.com that "you see more burst, you see even better play speed" from Brown this season.
Eddie Omari-Rivers is one of the talented trainers responsible for that improvement. He was tasked with helping Brown build his body this offseason, and it didn't take long for him to realize AB's work ethic bordered on maniacal.
"Just because you're a pro athlete doesn't mean you're a professional. The way he approaches his job—he knows he's a football player. Very serious, intense focus and mindset. A lot of people say they lock in, but this guy locks in on a different level. His work ethic is second to none. I've been in the gym with this guy until 4 a.m., the camera man was falling asleep," Omari-Rivers says. "His work ethic is not to be questioned."
But just because AB is always grinding doesn't mean you'll catch him putting up powerlifter-type numbers in the weight room. As he approaches his 30s, longevity has become a priority for Brown. With that in mind, Omari-Rivers has helped him gravitate away from heavier Olympic-style lifts and more toward joint-friendly functional movements.
"There are days we go in the gym, and we don't use any weights. Just bands. Because that's what I truly believe in—I believe you can build a strong body without overloading yourself on weights," Omari-Rivers says. "We're not trying to squat 600 pounds. Because how long can you really do that for? At some point, with the workload he's getting during the season, the offseason, running routes—your joints will give out. So I tend to focus more on functional strength than brute strength, things that are really going to help him out on the field. I believe you have to be lean, you have to be explosive and you have to (master) functional strength and functional movements."
Clearly, the approach can still build plenty of muscle:
Omari-Rivers isn't willing to get too specific with the movements Brown focuses on, lest he divulge the "secret sauce" that helps AB stay ahead of his competition. But he does provide some insights that give us a general idea of what Brown prioritizes. He says unilateral movements and core training are the "bread and butter" of his programs.
Unilateral movements are single-limb movements—think a Single-Leg Split Squat as opposed to a traditional Squat. When programmed correctly, unilateral movements generally build greater core strength/stability than bilateral movements. Unilateral movements are also great for destroying muscle asymmetries (i.e., your left hamstring being stronger than your right), since the limbs are worked individually. "I believe we're all unilateral beings, whether you're an athlete or not. I believe if you can train unilateral, it makes everything easier," Omari-Rivers says. "A strong core equates to a strong body."
Brown referenced improved core strength and greater control of his body during the aforementioned interview. "I worked on my strength, (getting) full control of my body, I got my core right," Brown says. "That has been an asset." Omari-Rivers notes that one of the things that makes AB so special is that he doesn't just want to train what he's good at. When they discovered his core was a point of comparative weakness, Brown became laser-focused on improving it.
"He pays attention to the slightest details and he attacks it," Omari-Rivers says. "(We don't) really focus on what he's already great at, but we fine-tune and align and activate muscle groups that he normally wouldn't. We call that 'unlocking the secret sauce.'"
Brown isn't just making noticeable gains, but he's doing it in a sustainable fashion. Omari-Rivers says their program is "built for longevity," and AB's ability to recover freakishly fast between workouts is a great sign in that regard. You often hear older athletes lament their inability to bounce back between activities. "I don't think it's about how hard or how intense you train, but how you recover from these explosive and strenuous movements. He always bounces back and he's ready to go," Omari-Rivers says. "He makes work easy because he comes prepared to work."
Omari-Rivers believes AB is well on his way to becoming an "unstoppable athlete," but many NFL defensive backs will tell you he's already there. There's simply no way to defend against this:
— NFL UK (@NFLUK) November 17, 2017
That's just an absurd amount of body control. "I don't know how I came down with (that catch)," Brown told NBC Sports after the game. Maybe he doesn't know—or maybe he's just trying to keep his "secret sauce" under wraps for a little longer.
Photo Credit: Zach Bolinger/Getty Images
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