PERHAPS YOU'RE aware of Adrian Wilson's athleticism. An 18-second YouTube clip in which the 6'3", 230-pound Cardinals strong safety takes three steps and jumps over a bar set 66 inches above the ground—and lands cleanly—has been viewed more than 4.5 million times. "We started at 50 inches and went from there," says Wilson of the video, which was shot two years ago. "At 66 inches I said, 'If I get over this, I'm done—I have to go pick up my kids.'"
"I call him Freak," says John Lott, the Cardinals' strength and conditioning coach. "God's been very good to him." To supplement his natural gifts—he could dunk a basketball as a 5'9" 13-year-old—Wilson trains obsessively to improve his explosiveness and strength.
In addition to exercises such as "plyometric push-ups," (on each push-up Wilson propels his body high enough to tap the top of a six-foot stack of weights) and "hang cleans" (he lifts a barbell loaded with up to 365 pounds into the clean position while jumping a few inches), Wilson's workout involves stackable wooden boxes, 12 inches high and 24 inches wide.
Wilson, a Pro Bowler, has been doing the box drills since February, after Arizona hired Lott. He says they help on the field—he's got 41 tackles and two interceptions this year—and just might lead to a YouTube sequel. "I've never gotten around to it," says Wilson, "but I'm pretty sure I can do 70 inches." Here are his main box exercises.
To warm up, he takes a running start, jumps and lands on two stacked boxes (four reps). Lott stacks another box, and Wilson jumps and lands on it (four reps). He adds the fourth box, which Wilson first jumps on (four reps), then over (four reps). One minute between each jump.
Builds fast-twitch muscles fibers, especially in the ankles, hips and shoulders, which you have to throw upward to propel yourself. "Five or six guys on the team can jump over four boxes—it's a lot harder to clear a 24-inch wide box than a bar," says Lott. "Adrian could do five, but it's risky. It's a long way down." The drill builds explosiveness, which, says Wilson, "translates to every part of being a football player: running, tackling, intercepting the ball."
Lott positions a line of 10 boxes at about 15-foot intervals. Standing on the first box, Wilson propels himself off with his left leg, lands on the ground on his right foot, then explodes onto the next box, propelling himself with his right leg. He switches his starting foot for each box and does the 10-box line 10 times. When Wilson started doing this exercise, the boxes were at five-foot intervals—a reasonable spacing for any beginner.
"This teaches you to drive with your shoulders and legs and to transfer your weight horizontally," says Lott. "It increases the power in your hips and butt. Calves have nothing to do with running. Adrian's got my mom's calves, but he's big and strong elsewhere. He has football speed—he seems faster on the field than in the 40. That's because he transfers his weight better than most."