They say you can judge a man’s character by the way he handles defeat. But you can learn just as much about a man and his heart by looking at how he responds to success and the accomplishment of his ultimate goals.
We’ve all witnessed a Super Bowl Champion fall from grace after earning his title, never to reach that pinnacle again. Blame it on complacency, or point to the dismantling of his talented supporting cast. Either way, the brand of effort and hard work that produced the hero’s championship run somehow got lost during his visits to the White House, TV appearances and victory parades.
Football analysts around the country are waiting to see if Super Bowl XLI MVP Peyton Manning succumbs to one of these post-championship tailspins. We didn’t want to sit and wonder. So we asked Peyton straight up if hard work has taken a back seat to a long, gratifying victory lap. Firmly, he reminded us how he refused to rest on the laurels of his record-breaking 49 TD passes in ’04, or dwell on disappointment after the Patriots and Steelers ended his seasons prematurely in consecutive AFC Championship games. So why would he let himself lose focus now that he’s on top?
“I got some advice from Derrick Brooks, the great linebacker from Tampa Bay who finally won a Super Bowl in his 10th or 11th year,” Peyton says. “He told me to enjoy this experience and not hurry to put it all behind me, but still work as hard this off-season as I did last year. I’ve done that and then some.”
Taking Brooks’ advice, Peyton has relished the glory that comes with a Super Bowl victory, but the less-publicized rewards are the ones he cherishes most. “This has been a very enjoyable off-season for me, but the best times have been with my teammates—the guys who helped us win Super Bowl XLI,” Peyton says. “Whether I’m out to dinner with Dallas Clark and Jeff Saturday, or lifting weights with Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, there’s always that moment, between sets of bench press or just sitting in the restaurant, when we make eye contact and know what we accomplished last year and how hard we worked to accomplish it.”
Hungry for more, Peyton and his teammates recognize the level of effort they need to match last year’s success. “We’ve been working a long time for this; it was nice to finally accomplish our ultimate goal,” he says. “And once we did, it made us want to go out and do it again. We know what it takes.”
And don’t expect to catch a glimpse of Peyton’s Super Bowl ring while he’s working for the next title; it’s not his style. “I won’t wear [my ring] out much. I’ll probably lock it up somewhere safe,” he says. “When you win the Super Bowl, you know it in your heart and mind. You don’t have to wear something that tells everyone you did it.”
In previous seasons, Peyton used his uncanny focus and hard work to battle through the most gut-wrenching disappointments. These same qualities—nurtured during his youth in New Orleans—are now guiding him through his post-championship existence.
Growing up under the tutelage of storied NFL quarterback Archie Manning taught Peyton more than just passing skills. “My father always told me, ‘If you want to accomplish anything in this lifetime, you’ve got to have a strong work ethic and never lose sight of your goal,’” Peyton says. “That applied to school, sports or trying to make myself a better athlete. I always had to take care of my schoolwork and other responsibilities before sports.”
Although born into a football family weighing 12 pounds, Peyton was not immediately handed a pigskin and sent off to practice. “I grew up in a football environment, but I was fortunate that my dad never pushed me into sports,” he says. “He encouraged me and my brothers to play sports because it teaches you to overcome challenges, work with teammates and take coaching, but it was never a pressure situation. Our philosophy was that if we wanted help, we had to go to him and ask for it. That was a healthy way to do it.”
By the age of three, Peyton apparently knew his athletic destiny, as he was waddling around the Manning family’s backyard and heaving passes to his brother. About a decade later, when he reached the age of competitive play, Peyton sought the help he knew was available. “When I was in junior high, I wanted to be the quarterback on my middle school’s seventh grade team,” Peyton recalls. “I had this great ex-quarterback in my house, so I milked him for as much knowledge as I could. I asked for help, and he started coming to watch my brother and me work out on the field.”
This NFL-caliber coaching, combined with his QB pedigree, had coaches drooling by the time Peyton entered high school. Heading into his sophomore season at Isidore Newman, he was handed the reins as starting quarterback, although his older brother Cooper was slated to call plays for the Greenies that year—his senior season. Making a potentially bad situation positive, Cooper moved to wide receiver and became Peyton’s favorite target. Peyton recalls the experience with fondness: “When Cooper became my wide receiver, we’d go out and work on the field. I really miss those times in high school and all the great memories.”
While Peyton possessed big-time skills as a passer, his body was not exactly up to speed. “I grew five inches in one year in high school,” he says. “I was tall, skinny and slow. I don’t think I could run out of sight in a week.” So Peyton began intense weight lifting sessions in addition to watching hours of film. From that point on, his dedication to his body never dwindled, and he remained well ahead of the competition and other quarterbacks.
At the University of Tennessee, it didn’t take Peyton long to solidify his reputation as a workout freak with his teammates. Eventually, he became the Volunteers’ best QB of all time, literally rewriting the record books. During his senior campaign, Peyton set UT’s single-season mark for completions , passing yards [3,819] and touchdowns —the triple crown of passing.
After nine seasons with the Colts, Peyton has finally shut up his critics, who had been clamoring that he couldn’t win the big one. Now, besides being the best quarterback in football and the leader of the best team in the league, Peyton still possesses the work ethic that turned his awkward body into a 6’5”, 230-pound rocket-armed passing machine.
Peyton first met Will Bartholomew, president and CEO of D1 Sports Training, at the University of Tennessee. “I was trying to recruit Will to play football for Tennessee,” Peyton says. “It wasn’t a hard sell since his daddy and grandpa went there. I think he’s been a Volunteer since birth.”
While Peyton gained fame as a QB, Bartholomew blazed a stellar career as a fullback, eventually captaining the squad in 2001. As the two pushed through excruciating weight room sessions together, they gained a mutual respect for each other and realized a common interest.
After an injury-shortened stint with the Denver Broncos, Bartholomew set his sights on helping other athletes reach their goals, giving birth to the D1 Training philosophy. Shortly thereafter, he brought Peyton on board. “Will approached me about three years ago about his philosophy and ideas about helping athletes get better,” Peyton says. “Will and I were always doing everything we could to make ourselves better athletes on the field and in the weight room, so it seemed like a natural fit.” By 2005, Peyton was a member of the D1 family as the co-owner of one of the facilities; he now owns three.
With strong faith in D1’s philosophy, Peyton turns his body over to Bartholomew and his staff every off-season. “Will named it D1—not because he can guarantee that you will become a D-I athlete—but because he will train you like one,” Peyton says. “They hold you accountable for yourself, and you’re truly part of a team here. I wish I had something like this when I was 14 years old. Back then, I saw some crazy exercises on TV and would go do them in my backyard. I had no idea what I was doing. We would lift weights, and then have to drive across town for a field to run on. Here, they have weights and the field.”
D1 has helped countless athletes reach their ultimate goals through improved athleticism; and their most notable client is no exception. “Peyton has really evolved over time with his movement in the pocket,” Bartholomew recalls. “If you watch him on Sundays, you can see how powerfully and quickly he gets back on his drops. No one can drop back and get rid of the ball quicker than him.” Peyton agrees: “I am a much quicker, faster and stronger athlete as a result of my work here.”
“We don’t guarantee anything, but most of our athletes can expect to drop their 40 time by at least two tenths of second throughout our 12-week cycle,” Bartholomew says. That’s on top of an average weight increase of 25 to 30 pounds on strength staples, like the Bench Press.
Although he’s at the top of the football world, Peyton is still looking for ways to improve his game at D1. “I’m going into my 10th year in the NFL, and I’ve always tried to work harder each year to be a better athlete, quarterback and player than I was the year before,” he says. “As I get older, I have to work a little harder to get better, and that’s what I’m doing here.”
On this particular day at the Chattanooga-based facility, the D1 staff keeps Peyton moving from the second he steps out of the locker room. “This is a different kind of training than what most people are used to,” he says. “When I’m working out at D1, we have the same training intensity and tempo I had back at Tennessee.”
The workout begins with a quick core and flexibility session that has Peyton drenched in sweat almost immediately. Then, after he’s loose and solid through the core, the real improvement takes place in the form of rapid-fire agility drills and old-school iron pumping—the meat of the training. As Peyton moves from station to station, it’s clear that he has no plans to relinquish his championship any time soon. Here is his plan to defend it.
Bartholomew – Peyton works his core because he takes a lot of hits; a strong core helps him absorb them, and allows him to throw at the high velocity that he does. The most important things about training your core are using proper form and not rushing through the exercise. If you get going too fast, you won’t strengthen those muscles, and you can cause injury.
Perform each core exercise immediately followed by a flexibility exercise. Continue supersetting for all exercises in each category.
Seated Overhead Med Ball Throws
• Sit with knees bent and heels just off floor
• Without changing position of upper body, receive ball from partner over head; throw back
• Repeat for specified reps
Partner Med Ball Rotation Throws
• Assume athletic stance with partner five yards in front of you
• Receive ball from partner, rotate right, then throw ball back to partner with maximum force
• Perform next rep to left side
• Continue in alternating fashion for specified reps
Sets/Reps: 1×8 each side
Lateral Partner Med Ball Rotation Throws
• Assume athletic stance with partner to left of you
• Receive ball from partner, rotate right, then throw ball back to partner by pushing with right hand
• Repeat for specified reps. Perform set on opposite side
Sets/Reps: 1×8 each side
Med Ball Toe Touches
• Lie on back with legs straight up, pointing toward ceiling
• Hold med ball in front of chest and crunch up until ball touches toes
• Lower with control and repeat for specified reps
• Sit on ground with knees bent and heels just off floor
• Holding med ball at chest, rotate left until ball touches floor outside left hip
• Rotate right until ball touches floor outside right hip
• Repeat in controlled manner for specified reps
Sets/Reps: 1×10 each side
Have partner bring each stretch to a point of slight tension, then hold. Perform directional stretches on both sides.
Reps/Duration: 1×15 seconds
Bartholomew – We like to get a nice, quick stretch with Peyton as part of his warm-up. We are opening his hips and really stretching his hamstrings so that when he goes on to his agility work, he doesn’t pull anything. Since this is prior to working out, we don’t hold the stretches very long—about 15 seconds, instead of 30 to 45 like we would after a workout.
Reactive Tennis Ball Shuffle
• Assume athletic stance facing partner who’s five yards away
• As partner rolls tennis ball left and right, continuously shuffle in each direction
• Lower hips and retrieve ball; throw it back to partner
Sets/Duration: 3×15 seconds
Technique: Keep hips low and don’t allow feet to come together
Bartholomew – This improves agility and strengthens the hips and core, which help Peyton explode out of any situation and react to anything that might happen on the field.
Pass Drop with Overspeed
• Perform pass drop with partner providing resistance from behind with bungee
• Upon setting up, step up in pocket against resistance
• Shuffle from side to side like you’re avoiding pass rush
• Simulate pass downfield
Bartholomew – The overspeed allows Peyton to get back into his drop faster than he could normally. This helps him communicate speed and quickness to his muscles and mind. Peyton can get back faster than anyone, because he can plant on the back foot and get the throw out.
Pass Drop with Bungee Resistance
• Perform pass drop with partner providing resistance from front with bungee
• Upon setting up, step up into pocket, keeping eyes down field
• Shuffle from side to side like you are avoiding pass rush
• Tuck ball and sprint toward partner
Bartholomew – Make sure you get full stride distance and push off with that front leg on each step. This improves speed and power in a five-step drop.
Mini Hurdle Shuffle
• Set up eight mini hurdles in a row, each a foot apart
• With back to row of hurdles, assume pocket stance with ball high, knees slightly bent and eyes downfield [over left shoulder for right-handed QBs]
• Without allowing feet to come together, shuffle backward with small steps in and out of hurdles
• At end of row, repeat forward
Advanced: Have partner stand downfield providing visual cues. Change direction as he points to his left or right
Sets/Reps: 4×5 changes of direction
Technique: Do not allow feet to come together and keep hips low
Bartholomew – This is great for Peyton, because in the pocket, he wants to keep his feet spread at all times, so he can throw the ball as soon as he sees the open receiver.
Straight Run: One Foot
One foot in each box
Straight Run: Two Feet
Two feet in each box
In hopping fashion, land both feet simultaneously in each box, then both feet simultaneously outside each box
For second rep, perform drill in every other box
Ickey Shuffle Video
Two feet in each box, one foot out in diagonal shuffle
Reps: 2x each drill
Technique: Get knees and toes up so that you land on the ball of your foot when it comes back down
Bartholomew: This works foot quickness. It’s so important that Peyton can move with short steps laterally, forward and backward, because that translates directly to what he does in the pocket. The ladder is all about how fast you can hit it and get out. So he does a lot of reps really fast so he’s really turning over the steps.
Superset the following exercises: Back Hypers with DB Bench, and Hamstring Curls with Tricep Pushdown.
• Lie with back on bench; hold dumbbells near front of shoulders
• Keeping elbows tight to ribs, drive dumbbells to ceiling until arms are straight
• Lower dumbbells to start position with control; repeat for specified reps
Bartholomew – This is a great exercise for any QB because it strengthens their arms independently. Peyton is dominant with his right arm, since he is always throwing with it, but this ensures that he strengthens his left arm, too.
• Assume position on Back Hyper machine with legs locked into place and body bent 90 degrees
• Raise upper body until chest is parallel to ground
• Lower with control; repeat for specified reps
Bartholomew – This strengthens Peyton’s back, glutes and core so he has enough strength to withstand any kind of blow or awkward movement.
Tricep Pushdown Dropset
• Perform 10 Tricep Pushdowns keeping elbows tight to ribs
• Decrease weight 10 to 15 pounds; immediately perform 10 more reps
• Decrease weight 10 to 15 pounds; immediately perform 10 more reps
Bartholomew – This is great for strength and endurance in the triceps. Make sure to keep proper form throughout the dropsets.
Hamstring Curl with Single-Leg Negative
• Lie on Hamstring Curl machine with legs locked under pad
• Explosively contract hamstrings by curling both heels to butt
• With right leg only, lower weight with control until leg is straight
• Repeat for specified reps. Perform with left leg
Sets/Reps: 2×5 each leg
Bartholomew – This explosively works the hamstrings on the way up, then works strength as you slowly lower the weight with one leg. This helps Peyton fire his hamstrings explosively with speed, power and strength when he’s running.