Hit Your Target

Dec 12 / Build Muscle

Jake Locker is at the 10-yard line of the University of Washington's indoor training field, whipping footballs at a speed that's audible. The sound can be heard over the deep, exhausted breathing of his teammates: a fizzzz and smack as the ball zips through the air and into his receiver's gloved hands. It sounds like a fastball down the middle.

Which is fitting. Locker may be the Huskies' star quarterback, a senior with his sights set on the NFL, but he also holds a six-figure retainer contract with the Los Angeles Angels that he signed in case his football ambition doesn't pan out. That's how good his arm is: A pro baseball career, the dream of millions, is this guy's backup plan.

"Preparation breeds success," Locker says, by way of explaining what he's still doing here on a college campus. He's an aw-shucks kind of guy, small-town and soft-spoken. But NFL scouts came calling last year, treating him with deference. If he left school, they said, he could make $50 million, easy. But he declined. He wanted to stay in college.

"Being the top pick would mean a lot, but you reach that point by preparing and not being greedy," he says. "Once you make it not about yourself and more about the process, that's when you have the most success. I knew I still had more to improve. Being first is not the goal. Being great is. I really feel that what I learn this year will make a big difference in having a long career."

Locker obviously knows the value of patience, of building strength methodically. His entire body is a testament to it. And it's why he's still following the same routine, even as his time at Washington is running out. "People don't just follow Jake because he's good," says Ivan Lewis, the Huskies' strength and conditioning coach. "People follow him because they know if you work as hard as Jake Locker, you're going to be a success."

Ready to follow? Here's what he's learned.

1. Anyone can build muscle
"When I was in high school, I was 6'1" and weighed 160 pounds soaking wet. I had no muscle. Just skin and bones," says Locker, who's now 6'3" and 226. He was so afraid of being laughed out of a gym that he worked out at home--and stuck to the same few exercises. "I struggled to gain weight for the longest time. But once I learned what I should be doing, it became easier to increase my strength and build muscle."

That began with a more effective strength-training program. If you, like Locker, want to pack on muscle, start a 4-day-a-week full-body routine, using multijoint exercises, such as squats, Romanian deadlifts, dumbbell bench presses, bent-over rows, and shoulder-stability routines. Keep your reps fairly low—5 to 8—and the weight heavy. Perform 3 to 4 sets of each exercise, and try to add weight on each set. You'll build lean muscle mass and decrease body fat, which is the key to having a balanced body.

2. Active rest speeds up recovery
What does Locker do on the days he's not working out? "My favorite activities are the ones that don't feel like work," he says. "When you don't feel like you're exercising but you're still huffing and puffing, there's no better feeling." For him, that means a lot of hiking, playing volleyball, and swimming.

But this is about more than having fun; it's about something called "active recovery." The human body is a finicky beast: You can't push it hard all the time, or your muscles won't have time to recover and you'll risk injury. But if you follow hard work with a day of light activity, you'll speed recovery by improving bloodflow to your muscles.

Read on for more fitness lessons from Jake Locker...

3. Better warmups build more muscle
The Huskies run the field. Then they bound, jump, and toss a medicine ball. But this isn't their workout--it's just the warmup. And it's why players like Locker are in such great shape. "A bad warmup prevents good workouts," Lewis says.

It's proven: Researchers at the U.S. Military Academy found that active warmups including body-weight exercises helped athletes run faster and jump farther; static stretch-and-hold warmups didn't. So modify your warmup to best fit your day's workout goals. If you're speed training, warm up your body to run. If you're doing a lower-body workout, warm up your legs, hips, and hamstrings with side lunges and inchworms. Before lifting a weight, Locker spends 45 minutes on warmup and stretching, and speed, agility, and core training. He won't begin a workout until he's sweating and out of breath. That way his workouts really count.

4. A strong core prevents injuries
The Huskies lost nine games Locker's freshman year. At the start of his sophomore year, he broke his thumb. That year, the team lost all 12 games.

"Sometimes going through the absolute worst is the only way to bring out your best," he says. "I learned that I needed to stay healthy, which meant I had to change my approach to how I take care of my body."

Locker's injury-prevention effort starts with building a strong core and shoulder mobility and stability--all of which protect his body when it takes a beating. "Many of his drills require nothing more than body weight or exercise bands," Lewis says. These low-impact routines, and not heavy movements like the overhead shoulder press, create the elasticity that allows Locker to sling the ball 70-plus yards downfield. Last year as a junior, he threw for 2,800 yards and Washington won five games, including victories over USC and California.

Try one of Locker's staple exercises, the clock drill. Assume a pushup position, and then hold your right arm out in line with your body. That's 12 o'clock; hold it a few seconds, and return to the starting position. Continue this pattern, hitting each hour on the clock until your right arm reaches 6. Then repeat with your left arm, starting at 12 and ending at 6. You're simultaneously challenging your core while improving range of motion in your shoulders. This helps prevent injury in the weight room and on the playing field.

5. Speedy lifts lead to faster gains
Locker recently ran the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds, faster than most running backs in the NFL. He moves on the field fast, lifts weights fast, and admits that his dinner disappears pretty fast, too. All of that (well, minus the eating) is at the urging of Lewis.

"Quick, explosive movements develop power and strength by allowing you to generate more force. And short rest periods build conditioning response," says Lewis. "Jake's total workout, including his warmup, weightlifting, and conditioning, are completed in less than 90 minutes."

Pick up your pace and you'll earn more from your workout by improving the quality of every set. Keep your rest periods between 30 and 45 seconds, and work as explosively as possible. Of course, you don't want to work so fast that you compromise your form--so once your rep speed slows down, stop and rest. Then dive back in.

6. You need goals to stay motivated
Locker knows how much his future depends on fitness, but when it's just him against the weights, it's still tough for him to maintain motivation. That's why he's always finding new challenges--anything to make the gym feel like less of a chore.

"Sometimes writing goals down is the easiest way to make them happen," says Locker. "I find something I haven't done before and use that as my trigger point to work harder. When you remind yourself why you exercise, it's easy to stay motivated. Your physical condition plays a big part in the success you'll have. It's how you look and how you feel. Really, it's everything."