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How Melvin Gordon Gets His Competitive Edge - and You Can, Too

By Ian Dille | October 24, 2016 | Rally Health

When we envision a football workout, many of us imagine players hitting padded sleds, bench-pressing heavily loaded bars, and gorging on buffet-style meals. But this is the nostalgia of decades past. In today’s NFL—the country’s national sports obsession and a multibillion-dollar industry — there’s no place for convention. The athletes that compete on the modern-era gridiron represent the peak of human athleticism, working with the world’s best human performance experts, nutritionists, and physical therapists. With millions in contract dollars and endorsement fees riding on every touchdown or fumbled ball, they strive to perform to the peak of their natural ability on every game day.

After completing his football career at the University of Wisconsin in 2015, Rally® Health Ambassador and current San Diego Chargers running back Melvin Gordon began adapting his workout regimen to train as the pros train. Gordon, a famously hard worker, says he’ll do anything to get that “little edge” to beat the competition. As for the rest of us, learning about his training philosophies can help improve our own health and fitness routines — whether we aim to become better athletes, or to simply live a healthier lifestyle.

Train smarter, not harder

Gordon grew up as an athlete — as his mom, Carmen, says, “I had him doing Tae Bo alongside me when he was nine.” So he’s well acquainted with structured workouts and focused practice. Yet when Gordon signed up with an EXOS training facility in San Diego in preparation for the 2015 NFL Combine, where pro teams evaluate prospective draft picks, he gained an even deeper understanding of sports performance.

EXOS, which trains hundreds of prospective NFL draft picks every year, takes a uniquely holistic approach to physical fitness. The company’s philosophy rests on four core principles: mindfulness, nutrition, movement, and recovery. Gordon had already made headlines for his strong work ethic at Wisconsin (often taunting his teammates with Snapchats of his early-morning workouts), but at EXOS he discovered more does not always equal better. Workouts were tailored to deliver a specific outcome, and coaches made sure the athletes understood the purpose of each exercise.

“We put the ‘why’ behind the ‘what,’” says Roy Holmes, who oversaw Gordon’s training at EXOS. “Our guys always tell us, ‘The workouts seem simple, but they smoke you.’”

The takeaway: Understand what you’re trying to achieve, and tailor your workouts accordingly. And remember, more is not always better.

Stay healthy

“The NFL is a violent game,” says Holmes. “It’s bursts and bursts of violence over and over again.” Thus, for players like Gordon to play at their best on the field, it’s critical that their bodies are as healthy and mobile as possible. The EXOS coaches work in close collaboration with physical therapists to create exercises that increase mobility and don’t exacerbate injuries.

“These athletes come into the NFL already at an incredibly high level,” says Holmes. “We show them how much better they can be if they don’t have a certain mobility restriction.”

 For Gordon, this means incorporating low-impact exercise like swimming into his fitness regimen. To ease the strain on his knees, “I’ll often swim up to a mile,” he says.

The takeaway: Incorporate low-impact exercises and other mobility enhancing techniques like yoga into your routine, and be mindful of your physical state. Don’t try to push through injuries.

Work with the best

Gordon has a simple strategy for finding the right trainer: “I want to see what everyone else is doing,” he says. Since entering the League he’s worked with two different training centers in Southern California, one in Florida, and he also traveled to Alabama to train alongside Oakland Raiders receiver Amari Cooper. And that’s not all.

During the past off-season, he went to Houston to work out with one of the NFL’s best-ever running backs, Adrian Peterson, and Peterson’s longtime personal trainer, James Cooper. Cooper is well known for his out-of-the-box athletic training. He’s incorporated mixed martial arts training into Peterson’s workout regimen, and in one exercise this summer he had Gordon and Peterson performing flips over a rolling agility ball.

“Everyone has their own tweaks and methods,” says Gordon. “Whoever I like the best will be the trainer from here on out.”

The takeaway: Feel free to shop around until you find the trainer, gym, or class that’s right for you.


Gordon has never shied away from an athletic challenge. In fact, he actively seeks a grueling head-to-head duel. At EXOS, Holmes says, “Melvin pushed everyone around him. If he saw someone running faster times than him during a workout, he would go line up next to them and try to beat them.”

Gordon’s penchant to push himself through competition is certainly shared by other top NFL players. Adrian Peterson’s coach Cooper told ESPN, “Adrian probably doesn't want to hear this, but yes, Melvin is faster.” Yet, as the repetitions wore on, Peterson’s years of experience and stamina helped him gain an edge. “I believe that’s what Melvin is learning,” Cooper said. “He’s being sharpened.”

The takeaway: Find a friend or workout partner who will push you to work harder.

Eat right

In college, Gordon says, “You just eat whatever is front of you, fast food or whatever.” Between practice, classes, and studying, he had little time to focus on how he fueled himself. But since entering the NFL, he’s come to understand the importance of nutrition. Now, he says, “I eat a lot more salad. I never did that before, believe me.” He even hired a chef at one point to cook him easily reheated healthy meals.

The takeaway: Exercising isn’t an excuse to neglect your nutrition. The two go hand-in-hand.

So where did all this lead? Just seven weeks into the NFL season, Gordon had already scored 10 touchdowns and was leading the league. Scoreboard! Now imagine what applying some of these techniques could do for you.

Ian Dille is a freelance journalist based in Austin, Texas. He has written for Outside magazine, Bicycling, and Texas Monthly, and is the author of The Cyclist’s Bucket List (Rodale, 2015).
Ian Dille
Rally Health