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Core Values

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Parrish uses high-heat Bikram yoga to build his midsection. (Here he's moving into Bikram's Triangle Pose.) He's persuaded teammates to join the growing ranks of NFL players who practice yoga.
Parrish uses high-heat Bikram yoga to build his midsection. (Here he's moving into Bikram's Triangle Pose.) He's persuaded teammates to join the growing ranks of NFL players who practice yoga.
Robert Beck/SI

Jumping routines. Resistance bands. Yoga. In an ongoing workout series that begins with this week's look at 49ers safety Tony Parrish, SI will show how NFL players toughen their cores. It's not just six-pack abs they want: A solid core can be the difference between becoming a star and losing your job

Feeding The Fire
Parrish doesn't stick to a strict schedule, but he does eat every three to four hours -- and he has a definite sweet tooth. Here's a sample of his typical meals.
BREAKFAST One bowl of hot cinnamon oatmeal or one bowl of cold Quaker Oats cereal but with water instead of milk. "I don't really like dairy," says Parrish, "except for cheese."
LATE BREAKFAST Six to eight egg whites. A handful of grapes or slices of pineapple.
LUNCH Green salad with Italian vinaigrette. Either chicken or turkey breast, salmon, sea bass or mahimahi off the grill. "I'm a huge barbecue guy," says Parrish. "Whatever you take straight off the grill, I'll eat."
DINNER Penne with pesto sauce and parmesan cheese. Or a 10-ounce New York strip steak with either white or brown rice or a baked sweet potato. Sometimes a green salad as well.
Sweet Sensations
DRINKS Raspberry iced tea or pineapple, guava or apple juice. "I'm a juice guy -- no soda," says Parrish. "Since preschool when I would get apple juice and graham crackers for a snack, I have been hooked."
SNACKS Red Vines licorice, Smoothie Mix Skittles, tropical Starburst or raspberry sorbet.
DESSERTS Apple pie or bread pudding. "If I have dessert, I always eat it before my meal," says Parrish, who doesn't eat chocolate. "Otherwise it usually feels too rich to me. I'll feel sick for the rest of the night."

By definition, the core is both a foundation and the center of activity. Trainer Mark Verstegen calls it an "erect pillar that funnels energy" through the body. "Core strength is the key for athletes," says Verstegen, who runs Athletes Performance, a fitness center in Tempe, Ariz., that trains scores of NFL players. "Your body uses the core for every movement."

The core muscle group is made up of the abdominals, the lower back, the obliques and the glutes (that is, the buttocks, hips and thighs). A powerful core enables the upper and lower body to work together fluidly, increasing agility and head-to-toe power. The athlete who strengthens his core runs faster, reacts quicker and delivers more punishing body contact. Says the Falcons' DeAngelo Hall, one of the league's most athletic players, "The core runs everything."

Focusing on the core can quickly make even a superior athlete better. Texans defensive end Mario Williams (SI, Aug. 7) weighed 283 pounds and ran the 40-yard dash in the mid-4.7s when he began intense core training last January. Six weeks later he was up to 290 pounds and his time was down to 4.66. He became the No. 1 draft pick. "[Training] is a lot different now," says Buccaneers strength and conditioning coach Mike Morris, noting that core work often includes drills with physioballs and exercises rooted in Pilates, karate and boxing. The 49ers' Tony Parrish, 30, is one of a growing number of NFLers who practice yoga -- the Steelers and the Seahawks offer yoga classes to their players. "[Ten or 15 years ago] we thought about lifting [weights]," Morris says, "not about working the inside first and working your way out."

That's what core strength is about. It takes a strong will to stick to a program, and some need the support of a group. In spring and early summer, dozens of former University of Miami players return to campus and follow an abs circuit devised by Hurricanes strength coach Andreu Swasey that requires them, among other tortures, to do 250 reps of various abs exercises in seven minutes. Arizona Cardinals running back Edgerrin James swears by the circuit, and the value of core work. "There's no reason for me to walk around with my arms and chest swollen from lifting [weights]," says James. "I don't need all that muscle up top. I'd rather transfer it down to the rest of my body. That's where football is played." -- Jeffri Chadiha