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Ronde Barber may have been in the Promised Land last February, on the winning sideline at the 2003 Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but there was at least one New York Giant who was just as excited. His brother, Tiki, a world-class running back and one of the best athletes in pro sports, was surely impressed with the way Ronde, the anchor of the Bucs defensive secondary, and his teammates swarmed and overwhelmed the highly-touted Oakland Raider offense en route to their 48-21 victory.
The Barber brothers' story is a rarity in the money-eclipses-integrity world of professional sports: two talented but undersized warriors relying on the old-school qualities of hard work and 100% commitment to achieve success. M&F traveled to Cave Spring High School in Roanoke, Virginia, where Tiki and Ronde went to school and fueled their passion for the gridiron, to meet the brothers on the site of their annual football camp for kids.
M&F: How did you guys deal with playing on the same high school football team? Were you competitive with each other?
RONDE: We were big into football from the time we were 8 or 9 years old playing Pop Warner. We played high school ball here in Roanoke, and Tiki and I have been coming back home to run a football camp at our old high school for the past seven years. Tiki was a running back — the fastest guy on our team — so he got all the touches. I was just another guy on the squad until sophomore year when I had the chance to start at defensive back. I was very comfortable as a cornerback, and that's where I made my mark.
The funny thing is that we've never been competitive in a negative way. I'm his biggest fan and he's my biggest fan. I'm his biggest critic and he's my biggest critic. We want to see each other do well. I've never wanted to beat him in front of other people — no way I ever want to see him fail.
TIKI: We always pull for each other. I've heard about so many sibling rivalries where brothers are filled with jealousy and hatred; we were never like that.
I don't know if we consciously avoided overt competition or whether our mom steered us away from that type of behavior, but we always played the same sports but different positions [in football] or participated in different events [in track].
RONDE: But if you put us in the backyard together for a whiffle-ball game or a flag-football match with the neighborhood kids, well, that could get pretty ugly and downright competitive.
M&F: How do you account for the fact that you're twins and yet Tiki seems a lot bigger?
TIKI: We were virtually identical in size until I started to train seriously with weights in high school and decided to try creatine. I put on about 20 pounds of muscle in five months, and I've been some 20 pounds bigger than Ronde ever since.
RONDE: Tiki has always had bigger legs and a bigger butt. That genetic predisposition to more lower-body mass helped him squat heavier weights in college [University of Virginia, Charlottesville].
Power-Packed M&F: Was the University of Virginia the origin of your serious strength-and-weight-training program?
TIKI: When you get to college, they hit you with a series of strength and conditioning tests to weed out the weaker guys and to figure out who's willing to work hard enough to be a success. John Gamble, the strength and conditioning coach at UVA [currently the strength and conditioning coach of the Miami Dolphins], changed my life by helping me pack on mass and strength with powerlifting movements — squats, bench presses and deadlifts — and Olympic lifts like hang cleans and clean and jerks. As a running back, you need the explosive strength you get from those power movements to generate short bursts and to break tackles in the open field.
RONDE: Tiki and I hardly touched a weight in high school. But before graduation I was only 159 pounds, and it dawned on me that I'd better add some mass if I was going to make it in college football. John Gamble was a former competitive powerlifter and he emphasized those power-building lifts. Young football players need to build a base of strength with complex, multijoint exercises like deadlifts and squats.
M&F: And these power-packed lifts changed your physique in a hurry?
RONDE: I put on the size I needed as a defensive back, going from 159 pounds to 178 pounds — my current playing weight. Tiki jumped ahead of me in size. He started getting bigger, stronger and able to lift heavier poundages, but he needed the mass more than I did. He takes a pounding as a running back, while playing cornerback necessitates speed and quickness.
TIKI: I'm a lot bigger than Ronde. I look at him on the football field and think: "Damn — he's tiny." But, of course, he's fast, lean and mean.
M&F: What exercises are most beneficial in making you a better football player, or at least in helping you meet the physical requirements of your position?
RONDE: I'm big on anything that isolates and strengthens my hip muscles, as I do so much turning and planting. Cornerback may not seem like a high-impact position for hips and knees, but trust me, I'm always driving and jumping for footballs, and that puts constant stress on the joints, tendons and ligaments. That's why power cleans are my favorite exercise — they help me to explode from the hips when I'm making a tackle.
TIKI: I don't need much upper-body lifting, though I do bench presses and dumbell curls for aesthetic reasons. The key bodyparts for running backs are quads and hams, so I'll do squats, jerks, hang cleans, and run steep hills to build strength and endurance. I'm a smaller guy [Tiki's playing weight is 194 pounds], so I need to do something extra to maintain a mental edge over the bigger guys trying to drag me down on the turf.
M&F: What's your view on sports nutrition?
RONDE: I'm really strict about my diet, and it never changes from off-season to in-season. I eat a lot of protein — chicken and fish with limited red meat, and my weight [178 pounds] stays the same 365 days per year.
M&F: A typical day?
RONDE: I'll drink a bottle of water right after getting up in the morning. For breakfast it's a protein bar or some egg whites and oatmeal. I train one hour after that meal, and eat fish with pasta and steamed vegetables for lunch. My wife cooks rice every night, usually with some fresh, grilled fish. Before bed, if I'm hungry, I'll have some yogurt.
Best 'Backs M&F: How important is physical conditioning for success on the football field?
TIKI: It all seems so easy in the first quarter, early in the season, and you have fresh legs; your body feels good and you're not tired. If it's the fourth quarter and fatigue overtakes you — man, you're in trouble. Fatigue will make a coward out of the bravest athlete. You have to condition your body and push yourself harder in the off-season so that point of fear never happens during the season.
RONDE: Conditioning is the single most important factor in being able to play football at the highest level without getting hurt.
M&F: Ronde, how good a running back is your brother?
RONDE: He's a great player. I always argue that he's the best running back in the NFL. All I hear about is Marshall Faulk, Edgerrin James and Ricky Williams, but Tiki Barber can do what they can do — and do it better.
TIKI: Of course he'd say I'm the best; he's biased. But I'd be the first person to tell you that Ronde is the best cornerback in the National Football League. We believe in each other and motivate each other, and that's a big part of why we've both been successful.
Jim "J.R." Rosenthal, senior writer at FLEX magazine, has written five books on sports and fitness, including Kiana Tom's Bodysculpting, Lee Haney's Ultimate Bodybuilding and Nolan Ryan's Pitcher's Bible.
Buc Power: Two Sample Workouts With Ronde Barber
Garrett Giemont, strength and conditioning coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, knows a thing or two about whipping elite athletes into top shape. Giemont has worked with the Chicago Cubs, Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the architect of the yearlong cycle that allows an athlete to peak on opening day and maintain strength throughout the long, cruel season.
Says Ronde: "Garrett Giemont's program is a mix of Olympic lifts and machines. He's the best strength coach I've ever worked with — the workouts suit my needs and are never boring."
>>PRO WORKOUT 1: "If the goal is to hit upper back, we'll do five sets (7-6-5-4-3 reps) of wide-grip pulldowns and seated rows. Then Garrett will take us outside to throw a medicine ball up against the wall — what he calls a hammer toss — to add a dynamic movement for the lats. We'll return to the weight room for two sets of 15 reps each of preacher curls and biceps curls. We'll do two sets of bench presses (10-15 reps) with a moderate weight for a pump, and finish with some dynamic, offbeat exercise like push-ups on an exercise ball."
>>PRO WORKOUT 2: "On a leg day, we'll do five sets (7-6-5-4-3) of squats with chains on the bar to make it heavier [as you rise up]. Then we'll do two sets (6-10 reps) of a plyometric exercise like box jumps, two sets (6-10 reps) of leg extensions with a basketball between the legs to work hip flexors as well as quads, then finish with 2-3 sets (6-10 reps) of leg curls for hamstrings."
40-Yard Dash Time: 4.41 seconds
BODYFAT PERCENTAGE: 4.7%
40-Yard Dash Time: 4.36 seconds
BODYFAT PERCENTAGE: 7%