NFL Training: Todd Gurley’s 5 Essential Exercises for Explosive Strength

Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams
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Former Los Angeles Rams star Todd Gurley is helping to redefine the running back position in the NFL. The 6’1”, 227-pound workhorse has a combination of power and speed that makes him one of the hardest players in the league to tackle.

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Whether he’s speeding untouched through the hole for a massive gain, hurdling over opponents to avoid a tackle, breaking through defenders for touchdowns, or tossing Packers linebacker Clay Matthews aside with ease, Gurley has shown that he is a force to be reckoned with in the NFL. And while the former Georgia Bulldog is key player for the Rams in LA, he’s not taking anything for granted. Sure he’s got the ability. But he also trains five to six days per week in the offseason and has an intense focus when he’s in the gym.

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“We mix it up quite a bit—upper body, lower body, leg workouts,” Gurley says. Gurley uses a range of exercises to get himself strong and stay in shape, including barbell back squats, deadlifts, box jumps, and glute raises.

“My favorite exercises are squats and my least favorite to do is upper-body stuff,” says Gurley. “I’m always squatting when I work out. I try and switch it up every week, but I do a lot of quad exercises, leg extensions, deadlifts, and hamstring curls to help build muscle, my core, and gain stamina. Lower body, always do lower body—never skip a leg day.”

Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams
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Gurley spoke to Men’s Journal about his training and revealed some of the essential exercises he uses to dominate on the field.

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Barbell Back Squats

What to do: Do 3 sets of 7-10 reps. Use a weight that is comfortable for you. Increase the weight if you find it too easy to do.

How to do it: Stand in a shoulder-width stance and rest the barbell at the top of your body. Grip the barbell with a steady grasp, stand up, and carefully remove it from the rack. Keep your back straight and head up while lowering your body down, bringing your hips just below your knees. Try not to let your knees go in front of your toes. Lift the barbell back into starting position to complete the rep, making sure to fully extend your hips.

Why Gurley does it: Squats are a key exercise for Gurley (and his favorite) in building his lower-body strength and power. The exercise helps improve hip flexibility and strengthens his core, quads, calves, hamstrings, and glutes. The added strength to those areas helps Gurley decrease the likelihood of suffering injuries, and helps with his vertical jumping ability by increasing hip strength and flexibility.

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What to do: Do 2-3 sets of 6-8 reps. Use a weight that feels comfortable for you, or try one of these deadlift variations to find what works best for you.

How to do it: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart in front of the bar with your mid-foot just under the bar. Squat down and take the bar in an overhand grip, hands just over shoulder-width apart. Push your chest out as you begin to stand up, pressing from your heels while coming up. Keep the bar as close to your legs as you can, then finish the movement and stand straight with the bar at groin level. Reverse the motion to your starting point and continue for the number of reps.

Why Gurley does it: Running backs need strength in their lower body and muscle to break through tackles. This exercise helps Gurley build both. It helps with explosive movements and increases testosterone. The deadlift hits numerous muscle groups, including your glutes, hamstrings, legs, back, and core strength.

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Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams
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Box Jumps

What to do: Set up a box in front of you that’s high enough to give you a challenge to jump onto it. Do 3-4 sets of 6 reps. Increase the height if you find it too easy.

How to do it: Stand in front of the box in an athletic stance, feet hip-width apart, then bend your knees and hips in a quick movement. Swing your arms as you jump up and land on the box. Hold the landing, then step back off the box onto the floor and repeat for the number of reps.

Why Gurley does it: Box jumps build power in your lower body and can help increase agility and quickness when making explosive cuts and movements. The movement helps build power throughout your legs and they increase balance and stability.

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Exercise Ball Hamstring/Leg Curls

What to do: Do 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps for this movement. You can do this using an exercise/physio ball.

How to do it: Using a ball, start by laying on your back with your feet on top of the ball. Put the ball far enough so that when you extend your legs, your ankles are on top. Raise up your hips off the ground, then flex your knees, bringing the ball as close to you as you can, feeling the work in the hamstrings as you move. Hold the position for a moment, then return to starting position.

Why Gurley does it: This exercise helps add strength, flexibility, and durability to Gurley’s hamstrings, glutes, and calves, key for keeping him healthy and on the field. The stronger his hammies are, the less likely he is to tighten up while rushing the ball for a touchdown.

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Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams
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Power Cleans

What to do: Use a weight that’s comfortable to you and increase if needed. Do 2-4 sets of 5 reps.

How to do it: Start with your feet shoulder-length apart, bend down, and grab the bar with an overhand grip. With your head up and shoulders back, drive upwards and fire your glutes and legs to explosively lift the bar off the floor. When your legs are fully extended, bring your body under the bar, moving your elbows forward, so the bar rests on your shoulders. Return the bar to the floor and then repeat the movement for the number of reps.

Why Gurley does it: This exercise primarily taxes the posterior chain: glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. The movement helps with explosiveness and jumping ability, two things that translate to the field for Gurley and other athletes.

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