Jonathan Allen spent the last four years establishing himself as a dominant force on the Alabama Crimson Tide defensive line, racking up 28 sacks and 152 tackles. Last year he earned the Chuck Bednarik Award and the Bronko Nagurski Trophy as the NCAA’s top defender on the nation’s best defense, with 69 tackles and 10.5 sacks. And now he’s a rookie member of the Washington Redskins after being picked in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, 17th overall. In other words, the guy knows what he's doing — and how to treat the game.
“The biggest thing is learning how to act like a pro,” Allen says. “That's what everybody says, ‘You're a pro now. You gotta act like it.’ It’s just taking care of business on the way, not having to have guys baby you and guide you through it, just being responsible and being able to take care of yourself. That's the biggest thing I've learned. I feel like it’s just my attitude and how I focus on work.”
Despite the NFL Draft process gauntlet of attending the combine, having a pro day, and flying around the country meeting with specific team coaching staffs, Allen still finds time to stay on top of his training.
“On an average week I spend 10-plus hours in the gym and run six to seven miles,” Allen says. “My favorite exercise is the back squat.”
Allen, a tech buff and a gamer when he isn't on the field, found a way to keep up his training and his screen time in a way that's patently 2017: Taking his workouts into the virtual world.
“Whenever I'm playing [in VR], I can never really play more than an hour, max, because you're standing up, you're moving around, you're starting to sweat,” Allen says. “It’s like, ‘Man, I need to take a break.’ You definitely get a nice little workout in if you do it right."
Even though Allen likes to throw around heavy weight (or hit the virtual plane), during this off-season he’s focused on cardio. With the flying around the country and meeting with NFL teams and doing press interviews at ESPN and other outlets, he’s maximizing his efforts in a 30-minute routine that’s designed to push him to the limit.
He focuses on the treadmill, which can be found at any hotel when he’s on the road. His go-to program: Five sets of three 20-second sprinting intervals, followed by 20 seconds of rest each, set on a Level 1 incline. On the fourth set he adds a Level 4 incline to the challenge, which mimics hill sprints — and for the final set he goes for broke, throwing in Level 5 and Level 6 inclines, taken at a full sprint.
But none of that training would matter without watching what he puts on his plate. “It's all diet,” Allen says. “If you want a six-pack, it has nothing to do with ab crunches, it’s all about what you eat. The easiest way to lose weight: drink nothing but water. If you drink nothing but water, that can melt easily 10 pounds off. People think working out is the biggest part of staying in shape, but it's what you eat. If you eat like crap, you're gonna feel like crap.”
It helps that Allen’s girlfriend is a nutrition major and a vegan.
“Whenever I do make food, it’s always turkey meat or lean meat,” Allen says. “I don’t eat white bread, it’s always whole grain. I don't eat candy, I don't eat pastries, I don't eat sweets. I mean, sometimes I do, but in moderation. And I drink tons of water. And that's always been one of the biggest successes that I've had.”
Maybe it's the diet or the intense perseverance, but Allen's managed to stay on the field despite some close calls with injuries. In college, Allen dealt with labral tears that required surgery in both of his shoulders and left him with moderate arthritis. But somehow that hasn’t impacted his on-the-field performance or worried his doctors. That’s in part thanks to Allen’s dedication to working out.
“I know a lot of people tell you to rest, but you just gotta get after it,” Allen says. “You gotta work for it. My shoulder didn't get better by me staying at home and doing nothing all day. I had to go out there and I had to grind. I had to work to get better, so that'd probably be the biggest thing. I know a lot of times I've had a lot of people skip rehab sessions. If you wanna get better, you gotta be focused and dedicated and do it day in and day out with no missed days.”
Allen says the biggest part of his workout regimen was recovering, so he always makes sure he’s hydrated and eating well.
“Those were the three biggest things I'd try to focus on, especially this last year,” Allen adds.
The 6-foot-3, 285-pound pass rusher ran a 5-second 40-yard dash, bench-pressed 225 pounds for 21 reps, and had a 30-inch vertical jump and 108-inch broad jump at the 2017 NFL Combine.
“I've had to crank it up, to be honest with you,” Allen says. “It's one of those things where you gotta take it to a new level. I'm competing against everybody around the world, with a select few that get to play in the NFL. I'm not gonna leave anything to chance. So every day I try to go in there and work my butt off and try to get better and compete. That’s what it's all about.”