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"AGGRESSIVE, INTENSE and raw," is how Davis describes the two-a-day, 90-minute, core-strengthening workouts he began doing six days a week at the Athletes' Performance Institute, in Tempe, Ariz. Over six weeks leading to the NFL combine, the regimen helped Davis lower his time in the 40-yard dash from 4.56 to 4.38, increase his vertical leap from 40 to 42 inches and gain nine pounds. The 49ers took him sixth overall. "We wanted to intensify Vernon's core strength by increasing his mobility and stability," says Luke Richesson, Davis's trainer at API. "He uses his overall power from the core to protect himself when he's going for the ball."
Davis does three or four sets of each exercise, focusing in turn on different muscle groups so he can work longer with less fatigue. The former Maryland star is an ideal pupil because he's a stickler for taking care of himself. "Eat right, get enough sleep and remain stress-free," says Davis, who sleeps eight hours a night and closely monitors his diet (box, opposite page). "If I'm groggy and stressed, I don't eat right. That's when my core gets weak."
Resistance Pull Up
DRILL ( Davis wears a weighted workout vest; the extra resistance, 100 pounds in his case, is optional.) Grip handles with palms facing inward, arms extended. Pull upward steadily, through a full range of motion so that chest reaches height of hands. Four sets of eight. CORE FACTS Keeping the body controlled--never swing or move abruptly--engages the entire core. The exercise also works lats and biceps.
1. Keiser Squat Machine
DRILL Squat beneath pads and grip handles (far left). Explode upward to standing position. Drop back quickly into squat and repeat. Four sets of six reps. Air resistance is set to the equivalent of 250 pounds on a standard squat machine. CORE FACTS Richesson (watching Davis) considers this the single best exercise for working the glutes and the entire core--a great way to enhance Davis's ability to break swiftly off the line or separate from a linebacker. The key is to do each rep at high speed. Davis prefers a machine to free weights because he can rise as quickly as possible with no fear of the weight shifting or the bar flying off his neck and interrupting his rhythm.
2. Vertimax Jump
DRILL Cinch belt around waist with bungee cords attached to a base for resistance. Crouch into sitting position, hips back, arms at side, torso straight up. Jump as high as possible, extending body so that it's straight, and whipping arms up overhead. Land in takeoff position. Four sets of eight; can also be done without bungee cords. CORE FACTS Works glutes, hips and entire core. Enhances ability to accelerate and leap.
3. Lateral Pillar Bridge