Entering his first season with Indianapolis last year, Jonathan Taylor had a lot of unique challenges to face. Not only was he dealing with a new team, plays, and environment—plus a dramatically shortened training camp—but his fellow running back Marlon Mack was injured during their first game. That placed the majority of the backfield responsibilities on the rookie’s shoulders. He rose to the occasion, racking up an impressive 1,169 yards with 12 touchdowns.
Despite having the third most rushing yards in the league, Taylor still saw room for improvement going into this season. “This isn’t high school or college ball anymore—you’re now playing against the best in the world,” says Taylor, who was drafted No. 41 overall by the Colts. “Every little edge you can find matters. Now that I got to have a proper off-season training period, I wanted to make sure I showed up ready from day one.”
In order to find that edge, Taylor turned to his trainer Adam Boily at The System 8 and a very unique cold weather experience with Under Armour performance expert Paul Winsper. Men’s Journal spoke with the 226-pound record smasher about his competitive drive, personal strategies, and the workouts that got him game ready.
Men’s Journal: How would you sum up the physical toll of being an NFL running back?
Jonathan Taylor: Every position has its challenges in this sport—physically and mentally—but being a running back you have no idea what you’re gonna be running into each play. Depending on the call, you could have a 300-pound defensive lineman falling on you, or a 250-pound linebacker with a running start who you need to block. Maybe you have your hands open to catch a flat route—and that same linebacker is coming at you while your head is turned the other way.
The kinds of hits we take for the team are unique. Coming out of the backfield you have to be able to run between the tackles and sometimes break through them. That means strength, power, and conditioning. Those 15-play drives take a toll if you don’t have it in the tank.
After you were drafted, did you lean on anyone for advice?
Being in the league was always my dream. Once I had that moment, the next goal became living the dream as long as possible. So how do I do that? That’s the first thing I asked the real veterans on the team. Guys like Xavier Rhodes, Justin Houston, and another fullback Roxie Nix, who recently retired. I asked a lot of questions, including with the players I share the running back room with—Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines, and Jordan Wilkins. I listened to them, applied their advice to my routine, and kept what worked. Whether it’s a drink they’re having, a stretch they’re doing, or an exercise they’re hitting every week. Then it was time to find my own roadmap. That’s where I am at now.
There were some great plays out of you last season. Is there one you’re especially proud of?
It would have to be against the Packers in Week 11. That one truly went down to the wire. There was one drive where we were trying to put the game away and every play was a run. We were grabbing five or six yards a run, but getting penalties that brought it back. That can be disheartening, but I remember telling myself to see it as an opportunity to get more yards. That drive could’ve broken us, but we were able to fight back mentally and physically to get that win.
What were your goals going into this 2021 season?
I wanted to be able to play my fastest from the start. Last year was a strange timeline, and there were nuances that couldn’t be learned until we were throwing real bullets—so I wasn’t able to play full speed right off the rip. This time I wanted to. From this point on, my goal is to come back each season bigger, faster, and stronger.
You trained in an extended “cold weather camp” with Paul Winsper at Under Armour. Sounds chilly. What were the benefits?
Growing up in New Jersey and playing for Wisconsin, I’m not too sensitive when it comes to temperature. I enjoy winter actually. But doing this cold weather training was an entirely different experience. Being in the mountains with these Navy SEALs was eye opening. The chill doesn’t really change, but your mindset can—so I took it as an opportunity to grow mentally. Because when those double-overtime games come, the team that’ll win is the one that isn’t breaking mentally or falling victim to that constant pressure to perform. When those moments happen some players are on the sidelines waiting for the game to be over and others don’t care if they have to put in seven overtimes. They just want to win. That’s the kind of player I want to be.
What led to your training with Adam Boily at The System 8—and what worked for you?
I met Adam in Fort Lauderdale during college spring break. I was there with Melvin Gordon and Garrett Groshek who I was on the Badgers with. We only worked together for a week, but I remember thinking if I wasn’t going to be able to get into the Colts facility under normal circumstances this was the guy I needed to go back to.
Adam’s program is really tailored to me and the needs of my position, A lot of trainers will try to throw you in the mix with other players at other positions. I know guys who like to focus on heavy weights, and there’s merit to that. What I like about training with Adam is the inclusion of banded movements. It gives you that push-pull resistance with every movement, and that explosive power from all angles. That explosion is what a lot of players lose over the course of a season.
Last season was a heavy one. What do you do for recovery during and after?
After a season like that you have to spend a lot of time getting your body back into a state where you can actually train. Everything that I do in the off-season is geared to mentally and physically prepare myself for those challenges ahead. Beyond that, the first thing that I’m paying attention to after a game is my recovery. I’m consistently one of the last ones to leave the locker room. Most players get off the field and go home. But I think right after all that strain is the most important time to address how the body is reacting. That’s when I do my cold plunges or stretches. The veterans told me it’s important to really enjoy those days off, but I’ve been getting that itch to compete again so I’m glad that the season is here.
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