Former NFL Star Tiki Barber on Training for Marathons Instead of Football, and Why the Giants Should Keep Eli Manning

Tiki Barber
 L: Ron Antonelli/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images, R: Jerritt Clark/WireImage

The New York Giants’ 2017 NFL season didn’t go as planned.

That might be the biggest understatement of the year.

After coming into the season with a team many thought could make a run at the division title, basically everything that could’ve gone wrong, did. Whether it was injuries to star players like Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard, bad game management, questionable coaching decisions, player suspensions, and the benching of two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback Eli Manning, nothing went right.

In short: This year was a nightmare for fans—including former Giants star running back Tiki Barber.

“This was probably the most disappointing season I can remember based on the preseason expectation for the Giants,” Barber tells Men’s Fitness. “There were Super Bowl expectations—not necessarily that they would win, but that the team would be competing—that this was a Super Bowl-quality roster after making the playoffs last year for the first time in four years.”

The team lost their first two games to the Cowboys and Lions while scoring just 13 combined points, and then they dropped their next two games in heartbreaking fashion—on last-second field goals to the Philadelphia Eagles and Tampa Bay Buccaneers—to open the year 0-4. Then, in their fifth game—a loss to the San Diego Chargers—any shred of hope the team had for a turnaround was lost when Beckham fractured his ankle. Beckham wouldn’t play another snap during the season, and eventually, the team fired head coach Ben McAdoo.

How the Giants can regain their momentum

Barber believes the team can turn things around quickly. There’s a joke in the NFL that the league’s acronym really stands for “Not For Long,” because of how rapidly standings can change. The 2017 season is the perfect example.

The Jacksonville Jaguars went from 3–13 to a division title and an appearance in the AFC Championship Game. Likewise, the Los Angeles Rams went 4-12 in 2016 and also had an amazing turnaround, winning the NFC West.

“Look at Sean McVay and the job he did with the Rams,” Barber says. “He was the right coach at the right time. The Rams destroyed the Seahawks in Seattle this year [a 42-7 win] and I never thought I would see Seattle get beat like that at home. The Giants will get their chance to reset, too.”

Barber also has some advice on how the Giants can make it happen—and it starts with keeping Manning.

“An offensive-minded coach can give the team what it needs to bounce back,” Barber says. “The Giants should keep Eli Manning, and draft a young quarterback who Eli can mentor and have take over once he’s done.”

Thankfully, the Giants now have that type of coach in Pat Shurmur, the former Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator who got productive years out of players like Case Keenum, Nick Foles, and Sam Bradford. Shurmur has reportedly said he wants to keep Manning as quarterback, but the upcoming NFL Draft will be pivotal for the Giants’ turnaround.

“The Giants need to make sure they draft the right quarterback—and a couple offensive linemen to help Eli out to make sure their defense is sound,” Barber says. “All of that can change the narrative right away, [which has] been so bad over the last eight or nine months. They need to reset and have realistic expectations going forward.”

Tiki Barber’s retirement training: running and yoga

Since the former running back hung up his cleats, he’s also been serving as co-host of Netflix’s Ultimate Beastmaster in Season 2, alongside comedian Chris Distefano. 

“It’s exciting, the athleticism is awesome to watch, and it’s very entertaining,” Barber says.

He’s also become a running enthusiast, having completed the New York City Marathon multiple times.

“My training now is definitely different from years ago, when I was actually on the cover of Men’s Fitness [laughs],” Barber says. “I was powerlifting then and doing a lot of deadlifts and functional movements. I was up to about 500-lb deadlifts, but when I retired I had all this excess weight and muscle that I just didn’t need anymore.”

Back in his football days, Barber took up boxing to improve his blocking, foot coordination, and agility. He found the workouts enjoyable and very effective—to a point.

“Boxing is all about striking and that’s a lot of what blocking is as well,” Barber explains. “It’s getting in front of a defender and being able to stun and shock him for a few seconds. I boxed for a few off-seasons, but the problem was it’s such a high-intensity workout that I’d lose too much weight. I needed to be big—around 210 or 215lbs—for training camp, so I ended up having to stop because I couldn’t keep on the weight. Now, the only intense exercise I do is yoga [laughs].”

It was a stark change, shifting from football to marathons. Rather than adding muscle to prep for 250-lb body slams from linebackers, Barber’s slimming down.

“I started running marathons on a whim after a friend asked me to do it for charity, and I ended up losing 30lbs,” Barber said. “Now most of my workouts are distance runs; when I lift, it’s usually all cross-training. So, instead of doing five or six max-effort reps, I’ll do reps at a more manageable weight. It’s funny: Now I really look like my twin brother [Ronde Barber]. He played his whole career at 180lbs because he was a cornerback, so it was easy to tell us apart.”

Going forward, Barber is excited to see what comes next for the Giants.

“The team has a chance to turn things around in 2018,” Barber says. “It can’t get much worse than it did last season.”

(We hope.)