ON ANY GIVEN Sunday (or Monday, or Thursday), 380-pound behemoths collide with 150-pound spark plugs in a visceral celebration of diversity of body type. In the NFL, survival of the fittest is about more than strength and weakness. It’s about adapting your playing style to your own unique strengths and weaknesses.
Every position has a prototype—and every position has stunning outliers who force us to rethink the conventional wisdom of strength and athleticism. These players can help us understand how to get the most out of our bodies. “Taller. Shorter. Skinnier. Heavier,” says trainer Travelle Gaines, who’s worked with scores of NFL players at his Los Angeles–based facility, Athletic Gaines. “Once you understand who you really are, that’s when you turn into who you really are.”
There’s nobody better to teach you that than these three uniquely built giants—and one undersized giant slayer. Steal their training secrets for next-level gains in strength and athleticism.
ON THE SURFACE, six-foot-three, 298-pound Sean Maginn seems like an average offensive lineman. But ever since his days at North Gwinnett High in Georgia, he’s battled one, um, short-coming. “I probably have the legs of a five-ten person,” he says.
As a freshman at North Gwinnett, Maginn played be-hind a long-armed, long-legged offensive tackle. The next year, he tried to play like him. “I was gonna copy everything he does,” Maginn says. “What I couldn’t copy was his six-five frame.”
At Wake Forest, Maginn learned he has other strengths.His short legs let him generate power more quickly than other large linemen, helping him push defenders backward. He maximizes that with his training. “I can maneuver myself around ifI’m pulling on an offensive play,” he says. “I’m not really in an uncomfortable situation.”
- The short-armed Maginn can’t hold defenders away, so he actively pushes them away. To build that power, he does explosive bench-press reps using a light weight: 3 or 4 sets of 2 or 3 ultrafast reps per set. Do this twice weekly for pushing power.
- Maginn hones hip mobility with the butterfly stretch. Several times a day, he’ll sit with his feet pressed into each other, then use his elbows to drive his knees into the ground. Hold for 8 seconds; do 3 to 5 reps.
YOU’D THINK THAT Kayvon Thibodeaux’s six-foot-five, 258-pound frame would be enough. But the second-year Giant, who essentially functions as a defensive end, weighs 20 pounds less than the average defensive end. “My calves are little; my waist is small,” he says.“That’s how people looked down on me.” Such criticisms ignore his athleticism—and his under-rated superpower: something coaches call “bendability.”
Thibodeaux describes this as “being able to create force and power in awkward positions.” He isn’t just quick; he’s quick with his shins nearly parallel to the ground, allowing him to change directions without losing speed. He harnessed that late last sea-son with three sacks in his final four regular-season games.
- To explode past bigger blockers, Thibodeaux needs major glute power. He develops that with classic kettlebell swings, frequently using a 90 pound bell. He’ll do 3 sets of 10 a few times a week during the offseason, focusing on keeping each rep super fast.
- You can hone bend-ability with a Hula-Hoop and a towel. Place both on the ground, towel near hoop. Sprint to the hoop’s right side, then around it to the left; as you do, grab the towel. Sprint back to the start. That’s 1 rep; do 3 sets of 2 to 4 per side.
IN THE WORDS of Cleveland Browns GM Andrew Berry, Dawand Jones is“human-orca big.” At six-foot-eight, 374 pounds, Jones, the Browns’ 2023 fourth-round draft pick, will be one of the largest men to ever play tackle in the NFL.
But bigger isn’t always better. The NFL’s last hyped orca-sized lineman, 363-pound Mekhi Becton, has barely played in his three years with the Jets. Gaines says Jones knows he must keep his weight in check: “He has to constantly manage and stay on his weight.”
Being an extremely large lineman comes with a rep for being clumsily slow, but Jones has always been surprisingly athletic: Before heading to Ohio State, he turned down offers to play Division I college hoops. He focuses his training on total-body quick-ness. “If you get first touch on the defense,” he says, “you can knock them off their path and disrupt everything.”
Especially when you’re Dawand Jones.
- Jones builds shoulder protecting back strength with alternating rows. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, torso at a 45 degree angle. Alternately row each bell to your hip, then lower it. Do 3 sets of 5 reps twice a week.
- Jones sets up with his feet staggered, knees bent, right hand on alight kettlebell. As he stands, he punches the bell into a pad. The exercise trains his shoulders and forces his hips to explode. Try it for 2 or 3 sets of 3 to 5 reps.
This article originally appeared in the September 2023 issue of Men’s Health.
Matt Gagne is a senior editor for sports at The Messenger. He previously worked at Sports Illustrated, SportTechie, and Men’s Health. He lives in New York.