It’s a long and tough road to get to the NFL for most players, but it might be an even more difficult task to get yourself mentally and physically “Ready To Play” in the NFL week in and week out. As we work our way towards the start of the NFL season, we’re speaking with a different NFL player each week and getting a first-hand account from them on how they get themselves ready for all of the rigors that come with competing at the NFL level. Here’s Kansas City Chiefs right tackle Mitchell Schwartz discussing how he gets “Ready To Play”.
I like to take about a month off following the final game of the season before beginning training again for the upcoming season. We’re so used to working out all the time that after a few weeks to a month of not working out, you start to feel a little out of shape and sloppy and not so good about yourself. So, I look at when I need to report for OTAs and then work my way back from there.
Luckily, I had my brother, Geoff, going through it as an NFL player as well so he had his own experiences and trial-and-error of what worked for him that I have been able to incorporate into my offseason as well. For me, I usually shoot for starting my offseason training about eight weeks before OTAs. Not that OTAs are over-the-top strenuous, but it’s another situation where I think you need to be in shape.
The biggest thing for me is to get to training camp already in shape. A lot of the smaller, nagging injuries and lack of performance I think come from a lack of conditioning.
If you show up to camp and get hammered by the conditioning test, then your body’s not feeling so great, you’re a little bit tired which can lead to a soft-tissue injury or you might just have dead legs early in camp and it’s hard to recover from that. That’s why I think the biggest component of being ready to play is being in really good shape when you get to camp.
The other thing that’s important early in camp is the maintenance work on your conditioning and training in that first week. It’s similar to what people say about hydration. When you’re thirsty, it’s too late. The same idea applies here, making sure that you stay ahead of the game and doing all of the little things to make sure your body is ready to go for the season.
For my training regimen, I largely stick to what the team sends each player as a suggested offseason workout plan. I usually work out at a gym by my home in Los Angeles and then run in the nearby park. The terrain at the park isn’t the smoothest so I like to think that helps me work on my ankle flexibility while I’m running. On top of the training regimen that the team sends, there’s always work that I put in on my own in terms of the pass sets and footwork needed to be a successful offensive lineman in the NFL.
Recovery is a big part of the game for any NFL player and in the last few years, I’ve really started to migrate towards using the NormaTech machine during the week in between games. Basically, it’s a set of full-length leg sleeves that you put on and it uses compression to flush the legs and aid in recovery. I got one of those for my house so that if I’m sitting on the couch watching TV I’ll put those on and get some good recovery in.
On top of that, I’ll foam roll when I can during the week, stretch out as much as I can and get massages. If I do get a massage during the week, I like to do it on Monday, the day after the game because usually, with a deep-tissue massage, you’re a little bit sore afterwards so doing it Monday gives you plenty of time to work through that soreness the rest of the week.
As the week progresses, Wednesdays and Thursdays are your longer practice days. Friday, it’s a little bit shorter of a day so you can do more recovery stuff after practice like contrast between the hot and cold tub. I tend to do that on Saturdays as well before the meetings and then, after meetings in the hotel room, I’ll put on the NormaTech again for an hour. I think that’s really helped in my recovery the past couple of years.
When it comes to the mental preparation for each game, film study is number one.
When you come in on Wednesdays, the coaches have the gameplan for the week. They’ve also seen some tendency stuff with your opponents so they’ll let you know, in this formation you can expect this blitz, this personnel group they might do this, or, if this safety lines up here, this is what they’re going to do. Early in the week, on your own in film study, you’re kind of getting used to the structure of the defense and how they play. Are they an odd team? A bear team? An under team? Are they two gappers or readers? Are the pass rushers speed guys or power guys? Those are all the questions you’re answering early in the week.
Then, once it comes to the latter half of the week, you start honing in a little more on the player specifics. As a tackle, I’m studying the guy’s pass rush. I like to be able to watch the film to get a sense of what he’s going to do and formulate a game plan that I can then practice during the week.
I’ll tell the guy that I’m going against during the week on the scout team that, hey, this is what I’m likely going to see from my guy this week do you mind throwing some of these moves at me and giving me some good practice for it? For me, film is the number one thing that gets me prepared mentally each week.
The interesting thing when it comes to my diet is that I feel like I actually eat better out of season, when I’m preparing my own meals, than I do in-season. The reason is, there’s just not nearly as much time during the season to prepare your own meals. That said, you’re not slamming pizza and burgers and fries every day during the season. As a whole, I think people would assume as NFL players that we eat better than we do. It’s a tough balancing act because, you know that you’re working out and consuming so many calories that you need a certain amount just to maintain weight.
We have these BodPods that tell us what our ideal calorie intake is and I think mine was something like 6,500 or 6,600 daily calories last season, which is hard to get to through the healthy just chicken or steak, brown rice and broccoli route. You just try to stay on top of your eating during the year and make sure your weight isn’t fluctuating too much.
Once game day comes, I like to get to the stadium and make sure that I get my ankles taped and slowly begin getting ready. Putting game socks on over taped ankles is probably the second hardest part of my Sunday. It’s awful. Once that’s out of the way, it’s a nice sigh of relief. Then you start warming up a little bit on your own and after that I like to go through my notes on my own. Just a final check list of all of the adjustments for the week.
Finally, about ten minutes before we go out, I like to do a little bit of visualization playing out all the different blocks against the guys I’ll be up against and try and see what they’re going to throw at me in my mind while visualizing how I’m going to react to it in my technique for the game.