TORRANCE, Calif. — While some veterans spend the middle of March sprawled out on a beach, enjoying the perks of the NFL offseason, Rams defensive end Chris Long is determined to get better.
The offseason might span nearly two-thirds of the calendar year, but anyone who is relatively familiar with the NFL knows that to sustain success, one must be committed year-round.
Long, 28, will play his seventh NFL season in 2014. He’s been working on correcting imbalances and fine-tuning his technique to maintain his grasp as one of the league’s premier defensive ends.
“My thing is I usually work really hard, but not really smart,” Long told FOXSports.com. “As I get a little bit older, I need to hone in on working smarter, building into OTA’s and being more cognizant of my workload. At the same time I want to get great workouts in. I’ve been able to do that by identifying some of my deficiencies and then working on them. I want to be more durable and more explosive.”
On this day, Long is entrenched in a very challenging workout at a local CrossFit gym.
Before the action begins, Long starts with some stretching using bands to isolate his glutes and other lower-body muscle groups.
After, it’s a brief warm-up on the row machine.
Then the main course of the workout, which consists of pushing a sled at a fast-and-furious pace, during a de facto shuttle run.
He is joined by free agent linebacker James Anderson and other notable athletes trying to best their times from the week before.
“This workout is very challenging because it’s our VO2 max threshold day,” trainer Gabe Rangel says. “He won’t be able to take in enough oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide fast enough, so you’ll see him hit his wall. This is going to help Chris on third downs.”
Amidst the cheers of his training staff and onlookers, Long is off.
The 6-foot-6, 273-pounder fires off like a bat out of hell, driving the weighted sled as if it were an opposing offensive tackle. The intensity of the workout steadily increases. It’s timed, so every wasted movement is valuable split-seconds off the clock. Once he crosses the finish line, his body shuts down. He hits his wall. Long is gasping for air, but he must slow down his breathing as he’s set to go another round in 180 seconds.
“This is working all speed muscles,” trainer Trippe Hale says. “It puts them in a good position to develop their quickness and acceleration for when they get on the field.”
The intense training would scare off just about anyone, but other CrossFit athletes jump in the rotation.
Before Long jumps in a cold tub to kick start his recovery from his strenuous workout, he steps in a BodySpec truck, which conveniently delivers him accurate information about the breakdown of his frame. After a 10-minute scan, Long is given a detailed report highlighting his bones, fat tissue and muscle mass.
“I learned that I had very dense bones, which wasn’t a surprise to me,” Long laughs minutes after receiving his report. “My body fat was at 15 [percent] and change. It was where I figured it would be at 273 pounds. Initially, I see that number and say, “Whoa,” but I’m used to people using the BodPod or the pincher. The pincher has at me 8 or 7 ½ percent , but this scanner has me a lot more accurate at 15. Getting those numbers was kind of a wake-up call because here I am, I’m feeling great, I’m lean as I think I can be and it’s actually 15.”
The BodySpec report notes where fat is stored and which region of the body needs to be addressed. While most defensive ends fit a certain height-weight measurable mold, it’s important to realize that everyone wears their weight differently.
Chris Long racked up 8.5 sacks in 2013.
“It doesn’t matter how much you weigh,” BodySpec founder Bryce Luken says. “What really matters is that body-fat percentage underneath. Players will try to target a body weight, but it doesn’t make any sense because everyone carries the weight differently. There are fats that contribute to performance like deep-tissue fats, but once you hit a certain level, you’re carrying a weight vest of fat and it’s slowing you down. If you’re coming around the corner, it’s going to take off that little bit of quickness. That’s why we say don’t pay attention to the weight number, pay attention to the fat.”
Long’s offseason conditioning regimen has been focused on shedding as much excess fat as possible, while adding lean mass. To maintain his weight, he needs to take in a high-caloric, low-fat diet to reach optimal results.
While Long has had a decorated career thus far, there are goals he still hopes to attain. That won’t be possible if he’s not on the field, producing at a high level. Long’s durability is unmatched as he’s never missed a game in his six-year career. It’s important to everyone on his team that Long maintains his health by taking precautions in the offseason.
“He’s a very high-tempo guy, so you want to make sure that he’s healthy,” Rangel said. “All I care about as a strength coach is if Chris can stay on the field for 16 games.”
Keeping everything in unison and making sure that his body is properly balanced is the job of his training staff. If Long continues to master this program, he should be set to have another elite year on the field.
“Chris used to kill himself and run hills every day,” Rangel said. “Now he understands he needs to strengthen certain areas so other muscle groups don’t have to make up for such deficiencies.”
This offseason is slightly different, too, because Long is focused on building a stronger base to add more explosion to his first step.
“I’m doing a lot less running and sprinting right now in March than I would have in every other year,” Long said. “It’s all about building that foundation. If I’m left to train on my own then I’d over train and I’d be all over the place. I’ve been really blessed to be a durable player in the NFL. I’ve set myself apart in that department, but to continue that I need to focus on working smart.”