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From Yoga to Resistance Bands, NFL Player Mike Daniels Shares How He Stays in Shape

NFL player Mike Daniels performing a split

Complex Networks

Key Takeaways

  • NFL defensive lineman Mike Daniels shares how he stays fit on and off the football field.
  • Cross-training, proper nutrition, and preparation help keep Daniels in top shape.
  • Rest days are key even for this NFL veteran.

With nearly a decade of play in the NFL as a defensive lineman, Mike Daniels has learned to keep himself fit for the field.

While he credits a competent medical team for help with proper training and nutrition, his personal dedication and holistic approach to physical and mental health is apparent.

At 31 years old, Daniels engages in a well-rounded exercise routine, including using resistance bands, weight lifting, yoga, and more.

“Doing lifts, squatting…using your body weight, jumping rope, using trampolines, calisthenics, yoga—you’re attacking parts of the body that you will not see no matter what type of training you get at the football facility,” Daniels tells Verywell.

He says the variety is constantly forcing him to discover new muscles he didn’t know he had.

“I’m stretching out parts of my body that I didn’t know needed stretching out. That’s where the variety comes in. It also increases blood flow at all times. When you got your blood flowing, that’s the best thing you can do for yourself,” he says.

Mike Daniels

Doing lifts, squatting…using your body weight, jumping rope, using trampolines, calisthenics, yoga—you’re attacking parts of the body that you will not see no matter what type of training you get at the football facility.

— Mike Daniels

Christina Brown, CPT, fitness expert and weight loss coach, says in order to reach fitness goals, variety in workout routines is necessary.

“Allowing for more variety allows us to consistently challenge our bodies and lessens the risk of injury, because it is less likely that we are overtraining one muscle group, which can lead to muscular imbalances,” Brown says.

For example, she says if you conduct an upper body strength workout on Monday and a lower body strength workout or cardio activity on Tuesday, this allows your upper body time to rest.

Yoga Translates to the Field

Daniels’ 6-foot, 310-pound muscular frame relies on yoga to help his game-time performance.

“On the field, a lot of the positions that I actually end up getting into are yoga positions,” says Daniels, a Cincinnati Bengal and former Pro Bowler with the Green Bay Packers.

The flexibility yoga gives him also helps with injury prevention.

While injuries often occur when the muscles are not able to support joints because of a lack of strength, Brown explains that focusing on strength training and keeping muscles strong allows muscles to better support joints.

“Flexibility training helps us maintain range of motion in our joints, thus lessening the risk of injury. Yoga helps us increase our flexibility and mobility and body awareness… Strong and flexible muscles and joints already ‘know’ how to be strong and flexible, so they can get back to where they were more quickly than tight and weak muscles,” she says.

Christina Brown, CPT

Strong and flexible muscles and joints already ‘know’ how to be strong and flexible, so they can get back to where they were more quickly than tight and weak muscles

— Christina Brown, CPT

Because yoga teaches focus and mindfulness, it helps to improve mindset, Brown adds.

“It also teaches us how to breathe, which can be extremely helpful in activities such as running and weight lifting,” she says.

Off the field, Daniels says yoga helps him with mental, spiritual, and physical connectivity, and it brings good energy into his household.

“My kids and wife do it with me as well. My wife’s done yoga through three different pregnancies, so it’s really a part of our life,” Daniels says.

For those intimated by trying out yoga, he says know it will take time to feel comfortable.

In fact, during his first few years in the NFL, Daniels tried yoga a few times, but it wasn’t until his fifth year playing that he committed to doing it every week.

“To everyone who isn’t an athlete, [yoga] helps people in different ways…You won’t see results immediately; if you stick to it and stay with it, you’ll see the true benefits. Everybody’s benefits are different, and it’s very viable. That’s why I still do it to this day,” says Daniels.

Home Is Where the Hard Work Is

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Daniels transformed his basement into a gym to prepare for the season.

Even though the home environment is different than the facilities he usually trains in, he is able to visualize and put himself in a football game while he trains at home.

“When I’m lifting weights, I’m visualizing myself on the field. When I’m using resistance bands, I’m visualizing myself on the field. Then it amplifies more when I step on the field because my mental game has strengthened so much,” Daniels says.

At one point, Daniels tied a resistance band around his waist on one end and to a tree in his yard on the other end while he pushed himself through foot drills. Getting creative with workouts gave him a new outlook.

“Preparing for the season is part of my commitment, but keeping a positive attitude helped me be Mike Daniels the tough on-the-field ogre [while also] doing it with a smile on my face. [Training at home] also helps me keep joy and compassion for what I do outside the glory things, like getting a sack or dominating an offensive lineman,” he says.

Mike Daniels

[Training at home] also helps me keep joy and compassion for what I do outside the glory things, like getting a sack or dominating an offensive lineman

— Mike Daniels

The pandemic taught people gyms are not necessary for reaching their fitness goals, says Brown.

“Almost every activity we do in a gym we can also do at home or outside! I love to tell my clients to head to the local park and play around on the equipment with their kids, and they always come back to me saying they got an amazing workout,” she says.

Even if you live in a climate where exercising outdoors is not always possible, Brown suggests creating your own home gym with minimal equipment.

“All you really need are some weights. These can be dumbbells or simple objects from around your house. You can use milk jugs or large laundry detergent containers filled with water, or even a backpack filled with books,” she suggests.

With no commute to the gym, you have one less excuse to forego exercise.

“You can simply roll out of bed, throw on some workout clothes and gym shoes, and start working out,” says Brown.

Even Pros Take Rest Days

Daniels schedules in every aspect of his workout regime, including rest days.

“I could train 5 days a week and get the same amount of rest I’d get if I didn’t train at all. Family, training, when to eat, phone time, [all] have to be planned out. You don’t have to be so strict that you stress yourself out, but at least have an idea of when you’re going to do it and stay committed,” he says.

Rest days allow the body to recover from the stresses of exercise, says Brown.

“Every time we exercise, i.e., stress our bodies, we cause microscopic tears in our muscle cells. This is a good thing because the muscle cells then repair themselves, and by doing so we get stronger,” she explains.

However, repair can only happen if muscles are given time to rest before they are stressed again.

“By allowing our bodies to go through the stress and recovery cycles, we become more fit,” Brown says.

Rest days are also important to help prevent injury.

“We can think of our bodies as gas tank. We need a full tank in order to really push ourselves. Once our tank is empty, we need to allow the tank time to fill up again so that we can push ourselves at the same level, otherwise we end up pushing less and less as our tank empties out and either we won’t see the results we are looking for or we burn out or we get injured,” says Brown.

Rest, self-care, and family days also help bring clarity to Daniels. After working hard, days off are rewarding.

“[When] you go to relax, you have no concerns…and now you have a sense of pride knowing I earned this nap or to binge watch this series, and you have a sense of accomplishment,” he says.

Nutrition Is Secret Ingredient to Success

For Daniels, nutrition is the “entirety of the battle.”

“You can train all you want, [have] variety in training…but without fueling your body, you will not get half the benefits you can get from having proper nutrition,” he says.

Daniels worked with his team of experts to determine which foods could benefit his body most. He brings his own food to work and while he travels.

“[Eating right] might be more important than my training because I can gain more from getting proper rest and a proper diet and maybe training two times a week than training four or five days a week,” Daniels says.

Devin Alexander, celebrity chef and New York Times bestselling author, agrees, noting that nutrition is everything.

“Yes, working out definitely helps your mental state (and thus can help crush bad eating habits some), but without adjusting your diet, it’s nearly impossible to lose weight,” she says.

Chef Devin Alexander

Yes, working out definitely helps your mental state (and thus can help crush bad eating habits some), but without adjusting your diet, it’s nearly impossible to lose weight

— Chef Devin Alexander

She lost 70 pounds, which she has kept off for decades, until she gained 5 pounds during quarantine.

“When I get super crazy busy, I can skip workouts for a bit and not see a huge effect. One night of serious overeating or a few days of being ‘sloppy’ with food and forget it, I’ve gained,” says Alexander.

If your workout consists of a lot of cardio, she recommends eating more carbohydrates because you’re burning more energy.

“But it’s still best to get them from complex carbohydrates, not simple ones. If you’re weight training, you definitely need to consume more protein to support muscle growth,” Alexander says.

When it comes to weight loss goals, she says avoiding diets is her best advice.

“Every day is a new day and a great opportunity to make great choices. When I ‘slip’ now, it’s just a slip. When I was struggling and I’d slip, it would lead to bigger slips because I made it a big deal in my head or plotted imposing even more restrictions,” she says.

Having an accountability buddy, prepping meals, and keeping sensible food choices on speed dial are also her go-tos to stay on track.

“So that lack of preparation doesn’t derail your choices out of hunger,” Alexander says.

You Can Do It

While not everyone has the athletic talent like Daniels, he says we all have the ability to plan for healthy change.

“If you want to make a resolution, it should be developed from September through the final quarter of the year with a full flushed out plan and written into your schedule. A lot of times we make a resolution to quit smoking or get on a diet without having a plan. Everything in life goes back to details,” he says.

And give yourself some grace and wiggle room.

“Everything in life is all about adjustments, so leave room for adjustments,” says Daniels.

What This Means For You

While not everyone has the athletic talent like NFL player Mike Daniels, anyone can benefit from his adherence to a solid plan and commitment to a variety of workouts. That mix of preparedness and flexibility is useful for anyone looking to get in shape.

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