How To Train Like An NFL Star At The Highest Level, According To Panthers TE Greg Olsen

New Era

Very few armchair football fans realize what it physically takes to compete at the highest level in the NFL. It takes guts. It takes gumption. It takes determination. It takes a constant daily grind in the gym with very few off days, from rehabbing and rebuilding your body in the off-season to re-conditioning yourself on the field.

10-year NFL veteran Greg Olsen knows what it takes. At this point in his career, Olsen has his conditioning routine down like clockwork.

“We’re kind of in a critical phase now,” he tells BroBible. “We’re revving up these last few weeks. Pretty intense high-volume, high-intensity workouts before training camp starts.”

Courtesy of New Era, we chatted with Olsen about how he trains in the off-season to compete at the highest level come September. Here’s a very specific breakdown of how the Carolina Panthers TE rehabs, diets, and conditions before each NFL season.

How do you train in the off-season? What do you do to stay in shape so you’re entering training camp prepared and competing at the highest level come September? 

In the pre-OTA (Organized Team Activities, per the NFLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement) days, you were kind of on your own in February, March, and the beginning of April. Before we go back for organized team stuff, you’re kind of doing two things:You do a good de-brief at the end of the season and you’re putting your body back together. You say here’s how I felt. How are my injuries? Where did I feel like I could have been better? Where did I feel during the season I broke down the fastest? You get a good debrief.

The first phase is really just addressing those things: The maintenance stuff. It’s a lot more prehab and rehab. You’re getting your body back to a position where you can start layering on workouts and layering on training. You don’t just jump right back into training — your joints and your body are not ready to absorb those forces. So you’re breaking down your body.

We start from the ground up, from our feet all the way up to the top of our head, and we really isolate each part of your body and making sure it’s working at its optimal level as possible.

So what happens next?

And then that takes us into the next phase — The being the organized stuff, where we actually work out as a group with the coaches, with the trainers, with the staff.  Then we start layering together some more traditional running and weight-room specific programming. And then that takes us all the way up through mini-camp. A

Then there’s a final phase — the five or six week period between the end of mini-camp and the start of training camp. In my opinion, it’s the most critical time. You get acclimated to the weather, especially the heat. You really rev up the intensity and the volume of your training, both on the field and in the weight room. And you really just try to make sure that you’ve kind of reached your max and kind of peaked right here at the start of training camp.

That’s the big, ten thousand-foot view of how NFL players approach the off-season in phases.

What does your routine look like in camp?

We’re pretty specific. We’ve had a template of a program that we’ve really modified and really honed in on over the last five or six years that really works well for what I need. There are a couple of us who work out together and we all follow the same program. But it looks like this:

Mondays: We always start on the field, if possible. We start on the field with a basic movement prep, a lot of that stuff. Barefoot, ankle mobility, foot mobility, kind of activating those muscles, getting those joints to move. Starting everything from the ground up. Get through our mobility type prep, whatever the day entails. Some day it’s hurdle based stuff, some days it’s just movement prep. And then we’ll get into our actual workouts.

Mondays are always change of direction And agility based drills. So small volume, not a lot of ground to cover, but fast movements, footwork based movements. And again, we have a variety of different programs that we can alternate through on Mondays to get that change of direction footwork type component done. And then on Tuesday– and then in the weight room Monday, with that lower volume field day, Monday is always our lower body day. So it’s our lower body, two feet on the ground, like double leg type platform stuff. So we do a lot of plyometric stuff, a lot of jumping stuff, but everything is two foot. Back squats, front squat, box jump stuff. We do a lot of clean to box jump interval training on a set time, where we’ll do hang cleans-to-box jumps. And we’ll bounce back and forth 15 or 20 sets of those on a timer. And then we’ll do front squats.

The point of the story is everything on Mondays is two feet on the ground. So double leg jumps, double leg squats, double leg movements.

Tuesday is always our linear speed day. That’s always our more high volume, more distance covered, high end, very technical speed type training, whether it’s over speed training or an acceleration based training. But it’s always our linear speed. And then in the weight room, it’s always our upper body day. So little higher volumes, but normally an upper body day with our high volume

Wednesday is sort of a re-gen day. We do body work. Do jugs machines. Do low impact, low volume, recovery based stuff, technical skill based stuff. Catching work, body treatment or whatever, just kind of a day to kind of collect yourself after the two heavy volume days, both in the weight room and the field.

Thursday, we go back on the field. That’s always our sport-specific day. So each guy does a program tailor-made for their specific position. So could be for me it will be route cuts, different route patterns, different footwork cuts that I want to work on — different angles, different rounds, whatever the case may be, but very position specific. In the weight room, it will be our single leg, lower body day. We’ll also put in some plyometric components. But every thing will be a single leg oriented lift, movement, activation, plyometric, whatever it is. It’ll be very single leg oriented.

Friday is just our straight conditioning day. So it could be a variety of different program templates, but it’s always just volume conditioning or play drive conditioning. But just straight traditional conditioning. Not very technical, not very specific, but just a good end to the week after a full conditioning program. And then to end Friday, we always end with our final upper body series.

So that’s our five-day. It’s four days of work over a five-day template with a weekend type recovery at the end.

Can you tell us a little bit about your work with New Era, especially with the new training collection?

This is the truth: I’ve worked out in New Era product, especially their hats and their beanies, for a very long time, well before I started working with them in any official capacity. So to have the opportunity to go work with them now and do some stuff together has been an awesome experience for me.

And it seems like a great fit just because since I can remember: I haven’t done a workout without my New Era beanie. Whether it’s 110 degrees or 20 degrees, I have it on. It’s just something that I’ve always done since my Chicago days.

This is your 10th year in the NFL. What’s it like to mentor new guys just entering the league, especially in such a critical phase of their careers in pre-season?

I have always approached these young guys the way I was approached. And I was very lucky. When I got drafted to Chicago we had an established veteran tight-end named Desmond Clark. They were coming off a Super Bowl. He was a very productive veteran player. And from day one, he never viewed me as a threat. He never viewed me as somebody coming in to try to disrupt his game. It was always what he could do to help me. What advice he could give me to develop and help this team and help myself. And that always stuck with me.

Whether it’s a tight-end or another player at another position, it’s a very scary transition for a lot of these guys. There are a lot of unknowns. You’re learning a lot. Everything’s being dumped on to you. And sometimes it helps for an older guy who’s been there to put his arm around you and just give you a piece of advice or give you a little dig just helps calm your nerves. It helps you feel a little bit more part of the team. It doesn’t feel like too long ago I was on that other side of the conversation. So I know I appreciated it then and I try to return that favor now.

Is there a particular moment in your career, looking back, when you felt like you really needed that extra motivational push, if you will?

I don’t know if there was just that one thing comes to mind. I just remember being a young player. A rookie first year or second year and you’re just trying to find your way. Obviously, I was fortunate in that I knew I had ability. I was drafted high. But very few guys in our league just hit the ground running like that.

There are going to be some ups and downs. It’s a lot harder to deal with those ups and downs as a young player because you walk into the locker room and you don’t know how guys are going to react and you know you feel like everybody’s looking at you and you let them down. And you learn over time that a locker room is a very forgiving place and that guys take turns being the one who makes the mistake. You’re kind of at your safest place inside that locker room because guys in this league learn fast that you’re eventually going to all take your turn. As fast as you can fault at a guy for making a mistake, you know that very well could be you in no time.

Thinking about camp, are there any drills that you absolutely love and are thrilled? Anything that you despise and hate to do? 

That’s actually a good one. That’s actually a good question. We do a lot of one-on-one stuff, obviously. As a tight-end there’s a lot of one-on-one type match-ups throughout the day, in a lot of different areas. We pass block, we run block, we run routes, all those things. And then we’ll do a lot of those one on one type based drills in camp.

The one that always is fun is the one-on-one pass receiving stuff where they have a safety and you’re a linebacker. You have the entire field at your disposal and you’re just running routes off one guy. And they have no help. They have nobody over the top. They’ve got nobody helping double team. And it’s nice. You kind of run around on the whole field.

And then you kind of get the other short-end of the stick. We do a lot of one on one pass protection type based drills. The same thing goes for them. They know it’s a pass. They’re in their stance, rocking off the ball. You’ve got no tackle, you’ve got no back help chipping you. You got no ability to surprise them. It’s just straight up them coming off the edge and you’ve got to pass block them. So you those are two drills on the complete opposite side of advantage, but they’re ones that we do a lot of, so you got to make the best of it.

What about in the weight room? Everyone has *that thing* they love and hate in their fitness routine. What’s that look like for you?

I really enjoy the field work. I’m good in the weight room. I’m not overly strong or overly big. I’m functional. I can do what’s necessary. I can maximize how my body responds and program it where I can get as much out of it as possible. But I really enjoy the field stuff. I feel like the field work is what I’m able to do to kind of separate myself from a lot of people, especially at my age to continue to be able to move and be functionally efficient and dynamic.

I really enjoy the speed stuff on the field and the very technical work that we do on the field. I’m just a big believer in that. I’ve done in my entire career and I’m just a big believer that. It can really make a huge difference in your off-seasons and your ability to not slow down and not start to go down the backside of your career.

As much as I enjoy the speed program and the mechanical stuff, on some days where you go out there and do that high-volume conditioning and it feels like you’re just running forever and just running with no real purpose except to build that baseline conditioning foundation. That’s not really my thing.

I’m just not really made to do all that kind of stuff, but it is a necessary part of what we do.

Let’s talk a little bit about diet and nutrition. What does your diet look like right now, going into pre-season?

Yeah! Every off-season we do a de-brief and reset. Every year I have my blood drawn. I do a food allergen type scan and a screen to see what foods my body reacts well to, what foods my body does not react well to. It’s just kind of a baseline foundation for making decisions on this or that and those big high-level diet decisions. And then we also do a different blood screen, which is a little more micro-nutrient type based, to see what we may be deficient in, what your body could use a little extra of — whether it’s vitamins or any sort of mineral based stuff, or whatever. There’s a thousand different things that the test screens for.

You can make a lot of those corrections through your diet and you can also make it through supplementation. So that’s always something that I do every early off-season to just set the bar and then try to execute that plan throughout the off-season. And at times, you execute it really well. And like anything else, there’s probably times where you’re not so disciplined. But as long as you have that overarching concept laid out in front of you to know what’s good, what’s not, what your body responds well to, what it doesn’t, it could at least serve as a good guide to try to execute your meal and dietary plan, accordingly.

Great. What about cheat days? What does a cheat day look like in your world?

My kids love pizza. So Friday Night is always pizza night for us. So not the worst cheat day in the world, I guess, but it’s something that the kids really like. We got a local little pizza spot that has a local feel to it and it’s always something that we enjoy doing. So I’m from New Jersey, so pizza is a big thing back where I grew up, so it’s kind of brought those family traditions now down South.

Looking forward to the season obviously, given the amount of time that you’ve been in the league, who do you look forward to at competing against this year? Who are you sizing up and looking forward to being matched against on the field again?

That’s a good question. To be honest with you, I guess the easy answer is obviously our divisional opponents. Especially when one of your divisional opponents goes to the Super Bowl like the Falcons and had our number last year, beating us twice. So you always try to kind of rewrite that ship. But to be honest with you, we don’t get really too wrapped up in the schedule and who we play, in what order at home and away.

There’s too many games and I’ve played too many teams and I’ve played too many different stadiums. It all just kind of starts blending together at some point. You really attack each team for who they are this year, not so much what team they play on. I really like to hear up each week to try to attack them appropriately. And then you turn the page and you go to the next team. It’s 16 really short individual games that we try to approach it as.