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FOUR YEARS AGO offensive tackle Ray Brown, now 42, realized he couldn?t bend the way he used to. When his wife, Ashley, told him he should join her Pilates class, he was skeptical. ?I thought it was a gimmicky workout for women,? says the 6'5", 318-pound Brown, who?s in his 19th season and eighth with the Skins. ?My first session I was blown away. I didn?t realize it would be so strenuous. I was winded, my shirt was soaked. It was humbling.? Invented in England during World War I by German-born trainer Joseph Pilates, the exercises were designed to rehabilitate hospital-bound patients by strengthening their core muscle groups. Pilates came to America in the 1920s and worked with dancers such as George Balanchine and Martha Graham. Now 9.4 million people in the U.S. practice either ?mat Pilates? (shown here) or a variation that uses machines (called Reformers). Brown attends classes and also applies Pilates principles when working out on his own. ?In college I played intramural basketball to stay in shape,? says Brown, who hasn?t missed a game since ?97. ?When I was drafted [by the Cardinals in ?86] I was into the whole ?How much can you bench?? ego thing. Now I haven?t bench-pressed in years. It?s about being flexible and balancing my body and finding stability through my core. Things that would have helped me throughout my career. Who knew?? -- Lisa Altobelli
Benefits: Strengthens entire back and elongates the spine. Exercise: Extend arms and legs out straight and lift simultaneously. Hold for four-second intervals--inhaling two counts, exhaling two counts. Repeat six to eight times. Brown: ?For abdominal exercise it?s important to work the opposing muscle group--in this case the back. My two-year-old son, Trey, likes it because it looks like I?m flying.?
Benefits: Strengthens the obliques (side abdominals) and the lower abs. Exercise: Bring hand to opposite knee, hold one second and switch sides. Twenty reps, breathing out each time you do a rep. Brown: ?Pilates reveals your weaknesses. If one side of your body is stronger than the other, you know it pretty quickly. You need to correct that, and to do so you have to work at it.?
Benefits: Works the obliques, glutes (butt muscles) and inner thighs. Exercise: Inhale and raise both legs off the floor; then, exhaling, lower bottom leg two inches. Then raise it again. Fifteen reps on each side. Brown: ?For a small movement, this is harder than it looks. You feel it in your side holding the crunch that long.?
THE HUNDRED Brown, at rest here, raises his bent legs, then beats his arms 100 times by his side. It strengthens the entire core. ?I do it every day with my wife,? he says.
Benefits: Strengthens and lengthens quadriceps (front of thigh) and works the lower abs. Exercise: Place one leg on ball and the other straight ahead for leg raises. Do 10 slow lifts with each leg. Brown: ?I always make sure to do leg lifts because they help to get your hips nice and loose. And if your hips are tight, you really feel it the next day. We do a variation of these in team warmups.?