"I never had any major injuries because I always focused on mastering the most basic exercises, like pushups and squats," said Eli Manning, star quarterback for the New York Giants. Smart move: Those exercises train big muscles (like your glutes and those in your back) and smaller stabilizers (like the ones in your rotator cuffs). That balance is vital to excel in sports—and avoid injury.
When the season ends, Manning doesn’t jump right back into training. "When you recover correctly, it allows you to work that much harder and helps you push yourself to new levels," Manning says. He resumes with conditioning exercises, like light running, circuit training, and intervals, and then added weight training with progressively heavier weights. This allows his body to adapt, improving his strength and durability.
Touch your toes
"My father [former NFL star Archie Manning] always stressed stretching when we were younger," said Manning. "It's the main reason I'm able to stay healthy." Manning combines regular stretching with foam rolling to keep his body primed during the season. To build Manning-like durability, grab a foam roller and work your hamstrings, quads, calves, back, and shoulders for 30 to 60 seconds each. For instructions, check out MensHealth.com/foam.
You've heard that athletes visualize plays before they make them—but Manning goes further than that: In the gym, he pictures lifts before he does them. "You have to mentally prepare for everything. The more you focus, the more intense you become; and intensity leads to great results." Do the same and focus on your routine, especially before complex moves, said Mike Robertson, C.S.C.S., co-owner of Indianapolis Fitness and Sports Training. Visualizing details leads to better form, he said.
Create your own support team
When Manning is in New York in the off-season, he works out with friends and teammates. When he's on vacation, he grabs anyone he can. Really. He's recruited guys off the street. "Anyone—even if they can't train at your level—can make an activity somewhat competitive and help you push yourself harder," he said. Science agrees: Researchers at the University of Oxford found that men who trained in a group tolerated pain significantly better than those who exercised alone.