YOU PROBABLY guessed it, but Giants punter Steve Weatherford is a fitness freak. Weatherford's obsession with health has led to nine seasons in the NFL, and through Week 6 this season, he had grossed more than 1,400 yards, making one of the top punters in the league. Here, he breaks down what it takes to make his kicks lift off.
Photo from Dustin Snipes
Adam. K. Moussa: At what age did you realize that your physique was suited for punting?
Steve Weatherford: My dad got me into soccer at age 4. Soccer was always my avenue for kicking a football. I actually never touch a football until I was 15 years old. I got a late start on it, but I had a good foundation coming from playing soccer my entire life.
How is your physique fitted for punting?
I've got long arms, long legs and I'm pretty explosive. Having a long leg is kind of like having a long lever. I've worked really hard to be explosive. And that comes from my background in track. I started running track at age 10 and I ran in high school, and I was a decathlete in college.
What's the most important attribute for punters to possess?
Mental toughness, because you're only going to get four or five plays a game. There are 120 Division I college football programs with punters, and all of them would love to punt in the NFL. The difference between an elite college punter and an NFL punter is mental toughness and the ability to shut out distractions. It has a lot to do with being athletic, but the mental aspect is what separates guys.
What is the most essential exercise for punting?
For me, it's power clean. I'm a big Olympic lifter. When athletes get into professional sports, they shy away from that routine a bit. But for me, if you concentrate on technique and do it right, that's going to give you the best results as far as developing athleticism and explosion through the hips. A lot of guys don't do barbell dead lifts or front squats. But they help develop muscle mass around my legs, and power as well.
How does upper-body strength impact punting?
A lot of punters and kickers don't train their upper as much as I do. But for me, I try to eliminate all of the chinks in my armor. Overall body fitness is important. Do I need to be able to bench-press 370 pounds? No. But I don't necessarily need to be able to squad 450 pounds either. Being overall body fit is important because it is all to often that you hear about kickers and punters going in for a tackle and getting hurt. I don't want to be that guy.
What role does flexibility play in being a successful punter?
You can compare it to a muscle car. You might have 600 horsepower, but if you don't have the right size tires or a compatible transmission to apply that power, then it is wasted. There are several guys on my team that can squat and power clean more than I can. But they can't apply that power to punting because of flexibility and range of motion. Being able to apply the power that you attain in the weight room through training is critical.
How do you train to compete in cold weather?
I played three years in New Orleans and one year in Jacksonville. Now I play at a heavier weight in New York and that's helpful. When you're punting in 80-degree weather, I think leg speed is more important than power because you're not having to fight the wind, snow and other elements. Playing in New York, I've had more success playing at 220 pounds as opposed to 210 pounds because I have a little more weight behind the ball.
How do you train to improve your punting accuracy?
That's just repetition. Having a foundation of being a good athlete is definitely helpful, but it's just like anything else -- it's the 10,000-hour rule. Once you practice something for 10,000 hours, you can consider yourself an expert, and I've much exceeded 10,000 hours.
What role does rhythm play in punting?
It plays a huge role because by the time that I catch the ball on the snap, I have about 1.25 seconds to get the ball off, or it will get blocked. I have to have a body clock in my mind, and I have to go through the same rhythmic motion every time.
What aspect of punting don't many fans understand?
It's a lot tougher than kicking a soccer ball, that's for sure. The sweet spot on a soccer ball is probably five times bigger than the sweet spot on a football. You're kicking something that is oblong, in addition to having laces that you don't want to kick. A football isn't going to travel nearly as far if you don't hit a spiral, which is difficult to do because the sweet spot is so minimized due to its awkward formation.
What does your diet consist of throughout the season?
I'm uber-high protein, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that I train as hard as I do. A lot of guys don't train as rigorously as I do during the season, due to the fact that they are getting hit a lot. Their bodies are getting banged up a lot more than mine is. When you train hard like that, you have to have a lot of protein to be able to rebuild those muscles. I take in between 300 and 350 grams of protein a day. I try to keep my carbs between 150 to 200 grams, and eat a lot of vegetables. I don't eat a lot of fruit.
How do you assist your body in recovering after games?
I usually get in the cold tub for about 12 minutes, with temperatures between 37 and 42 degrees. I do acupuncture, massage therapy, and I stretch.
How long did it take for you to figure out what your body needs to train and recover?
It changes every year. This is my ninth year in the NFL. I never miss an opportunity to make my body better because I understand that as you age, your performance can decrease if you don't take care of your body. That's why I'm so maniacal about my diet, training and recovery.
What is the biggest adjustment that you have made during your career?
Paying more attention to my recovery, especially during the season. My training isn't going to be as intense during the season because there are games to play. During the season, I train my legs on Monday so that I have six days to recover for the game. Recovery is key, and that is one thing that has been adjusted most drastically during my nine-year career.
By Adam K. Moussa | ESPN.com | October 14, 2014