Will he do the same against a stout, stingy offensive line when the Niners face the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday? Bet on it. Willis is arguably the greatest middle linebacker in the NFL today—and he’s still trying to get better. “I know that I’ve been blessed genetically,” Willis told Men’s Health in 2010, “but I also know that I need to work hard to maximize my potential.”
Willis says he seeks to improve every day, every play, every repetition. His workouts focus in equal parts on speed, agility, and strength; they’re heavy on multimuscle exercises, with low rep counts. “I do squats and bench presses at weights that will help me on the field. So for bench, I’ll rep out weights similar to the offensive players I’ll have to handle. I’ll do 225 pounds for 6 reps—that’s a running back. Then 275 pounds for 5 reps—a big tight end. Then finish with 315 for another 4 reps—that’s my offensive lineman. I take a similar approach to squats.”
But Willis chalks up his explosiveness, agility, and strength to the stability that comes from his core. The 28-year-old does a variety of drills every week that activate his core in different ways: V-ups, hanging leg raises, and hyperextensions build toughness, and bicycle crunches and Russian twists boost rotational strength. And then there are the planks and side planks that Willis performs to hone endurance. “I hold the planks for as long as possible,” he says. He’s not kidding: Willis can hold a plank for 4 minutes.
Are you as fit as Patrick Willis? Maybe not yet—but few men are. Instead, the average guy should be able to hold a basic plank for 60 seconds, says strength coach Nick Tumminello, whose workout DVDs include Strength Training for Fat Loss & Conditioning. If you want to move closer to Willis’s neighborhood, you should be able to do a more challenging version of the plank in the same amount of time. Try this test:
You’ll need something long, solid, light, and straight, like a broom handle or dowel. Assume a basic plank position, with your weight resting on your forearms and toes. Your body should form a straight line from neck to ankles. You want your feet hip-width apart and your elbows directly below your shoulders. Have a friend set the dowel along your back. It should make contact at three points: the back of your head, between your shoulder blades, and your tailbone. Hold that position. Stop if your body loses contact with the dowel at one of these three points.
If you can hold your position for 60 seconds, stop and rest for 2 minutes. Then do the plank with your feet on a bench. (You won’t be able to use the dowel, because it will slide off.) Nailed it? Rest 2 minutes and try this version: With your feet back on the floor, move your arms forward so your elbows are beneath your eyes instead of your shoulders. If you can hold this one for 60 seconds, congratulations: You’re Men’s Health Fit—and you’re one step closer to hanging with Patrick Willis.
Want more Men’s Health Fit Tests and workout secrets from other elite athletes? Download this FREE PDF!
Reporting by Adam Bornstein
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