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AT THE URGING of his uncle Henry (Sugar Poo) Buchanan, a super middleweight boxer (14--0, 11 KOs), Merriman, last season's NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, began a boxing-oriented regimen. He calls the workouts "the best conditioning you can do," and his trainer, Thai boxing champ Melchor Menor, says, "Shawne never slacks." Beyond punch-throwing, Merriman, 22, does some unusual core-building exercises.
Crunches DRILL Standard crunch, but with the 160-pound Menor standing on Merriman's lower abdominals. Merriman does 50. He also does 30 as Menor pounds his belly with his fists. PURPOSE As opposed to a typical crunch, this isolates the lower abs--the pressure forces Merriman to focus on that region and also to breathe deeply and steadily.
TEAM: Atlanta Falcons
POSITION: Running Back
HEIGHT: 6 feet WEIGHT: 254
DRILL Assume push-up stance atop two physioballs, hands on the outside of the top half of the ball. A spotter can help stabilize the rear ball, but should not hold the ball unless it rolls. Two sets of 50. PURPOSE Exercises the entire core, which must work to keep balls from rolling. Helps train upper and lower body to stay aligned when hit.
THE FOUR-HOUR training sessions that Duckett endures six days a week each July in San Diego (home of his trainer, Doug Hix) typically lead to one thing. "I almost always throw up," Duckett, 25, says. "Throwing up means you're pushing your body to the limit." Duckett's regimen--which includes an hour of running, leaping and cutting on a beach to take advantage of its unstable surface--forces him, he says, to engage his core to maintain balance.