When Todd Herremans became the Philadelphia Eagles’s offensive guard his second season in the NFL, he assumed he needed to pack on extra pounds to transform into an immovable beast. At 6-foot-6, Herremans wasn’t a small man by any means, but the coach at the time had a motto, “Mass kicks ass”, and encouraged him to size up for the new position. So in 2006, the then-23-year-old from Michigan tipped the scale at his heaviest weight to-date in his pro career: 350 pounds.
“It used to be that the heavier you are, the better. Offensive linemen were big, monstrous and fat,” says Herremans, who played for the Eagles for 10 seasons before joining the Indianapolis Colts in March. However, the 32-year-old’s recent photo shoot for ESPN The Magazine’s annual Body Issue tells another story. In the July 2015 issue, Herremans reveals a slimmer, built, bare-naked body, weighing approximately 315 pounds. He’s not the only NFL player to go from bulky to buff. Among the new lean linemen on the football field are San Francisco 49ers’ Joe Staley, Dallas Cowboys’ Tyron Smith, and free-agent Evan Mathis. Colt teammates Jack Mewhort and Anthony Castonzo — who posed with Herremans in the Body Issue — also share a similar slim-down, muscle-up philosophy.
“Offensive linemen need to keep up with defensive linemen who are getting fitter, faster, and stronger. If we want to get in their way and block them, we need to be more conscious about what we eat, how we lift and our cardio,” says Herremans. “The game is moving at such a fast pace right now that you have to be in good shape whether you’re a kicker, offensive lineman, quarterback, or receiver.”
The emergence of more athletic NFL players has been a long time coming. “From what I’ve seen the last 15 years, it pays to have more muscle than fat and to be stronger, faster, and more explosive,” says trainer Steve Saunders, the founder of Powertrain Sports who has been working with Herremans for the last six years. “It’s not like back in the day when it was just bodyweight for leverage’s sake. When I first started working with Todd, he was a skinny fat guy with no muscle tone. Guys, like Todd, are realizing that if they want to keep their position, they need to take better care of themselves,” adds Saunders, who owns 20 facilities across the country.
Keeping their high-paying jobs for longer is most definitely a huge motivator to eat steamed veggies and chicken, instead of, say, steak and fries. “It’s in the player’s best interest to do things just a little differently and train a little smarter to stick around and keep getting as many contracts as they can,” Saunders says.
That’s not to imply that NFL players are shrinking. “You can get bigger now and not be a fat slob or have a big belly hanging over your pants. You can put on good weight and still be heavy enough to play the offensive line,” says Herremans, who dropped to 300 pounds in the off-season and wants to add 10 pounds of muscle. While he admits he played well at 350 pounds, he knows that for optimal performance, he needs to be closer to 300. “When you’re bigger, your knees ache a little more, your ankles hurt, and you can’t sink quite as low. When I’m lighter, I feel a tremendous difference on my joints. I can play lower and more explosively and I don’t have many issues with knee or ankle pain. I think part of that is not lugging around extra weight,” says Herremans, who hopes this training strategy will lengthen his career by up to five years. “If I can still play at a high level, there’s no reason to shut it down.”
Offensive linemen need a very strong base — the kind of solid foundation that a demolition ball would bounce off of. With this in mind, Herremans’s fitness regimen focuses on building muscle density and explosive power in his lower half. “This way, it’s not as easy to push you around and you have a little more drive in your legs,” he explains. Here are a few of Herremans’s go-to strength training moves that he works into his fitness plan every week.