JJ Watt's Unjury Could've Broken Him. Instead, It made Him Stronger
Watt, a three-time defensive player of the year, enters his eighth season a stronger, tougher, more vulnerable, and more loved man. Thanks to a herniated disc, the Houston Texans' J. J. Watt played in only three games in 2016. Then he fractured his left tibial plateau, the shinbone, in the fifth week of the season last year.
Watt, a three-time defensive player of the year, enters his eighth season a stronger, tougher, more vulnerable, and more loved man. Despite being immobile for two months during his most recent stint in rehab, Watt helped raise $37 million for people affected by Hurricane Harvey. “Being able to focus on something else, to help others, even though I was in a tough situation, definitely helped me channel my energy,” he says.
After six months of intense rehab and a grueling off-season regimen, Watt says he's as strong as ever. He's even leaned out a little, now carrying a chiseled 290 pounds on his six-foot-five frame. “I'm excited. People ask, 'Are you going to play the whole year?' ” he says. “All I care about is having a good practice tomorrow. That's it. I've learned that the best way to attack things is one day at a time. When you start thinking too far ahead or behind, that's when you hit trouble.” Here are the strategies that helped him come back strong.
\"The best way to attack things is one day at a time. When you start thinking too far ahead or behind, that's when you hit trouble.”
Hit Your Core Daily
Even before his back injury, Watt prioritized his core. Now he emphasizes it even more. His 20-minute program changes daily but involves lots of variations of planks (single-leg, single-arm, with a 45-pound plate on his back, with his feet elevated six inches) and dead bugs (arms only, legs only, with bands, with dumbbells).
To target his lower abs, Watt does body saws: Start in a high plank with your feet on a towel or wearing socks on a smooth floor, then slide your feet forward so your hips are in pike position. Slide back to horizontal. Lunge for Greatness
During rehab, Watt performed a range of single-leg exercises and drills. “It builds balanced strength and agility,” he says. He still does “tons of lunge variations,” lunging forward, backward, and laterally, often with a 125-pound dumbbell in each hand, sometimes held by his sides and sometimes held at his shoulders. He also does lots of single-leg Romanian deadlifts and Bulgarian split squats (with his foot elevated) to forge leg strength. He does one heavy leg day (for strength) and one volume leg day (for endurance).
Learn About Your Body
Watt tracked everything he ate for about a year, and that helped him get in tune with his body. Now he says he doesn't need to count calories. Instead, he eats when he's hungry, focusing only on portion size. He weighs himself daily to ensure he stays on track. It helps that he sticks to the same healthful foods almost every day: Watt's staples are eggs (8 per day), oatmeal, chicken,and brown rice, which are balanced and healthy. Reset Every Day
“It was devastating,” says Watt about his broken leg. “I worked so hard to come back from the back surgery the year before. My first thought was about all the work I put in, and all the work I was going to have to put in to get back yet again. It's months and months and months.”
Although the physical pain was challenging, Watt says the mental aspect of rehab is even harder. “It's constant. You have good days and bad days, and it's easy to wallow and pity yourself. It's not like I said, 'I'm going to attack every day.' I had very difficult days. I'm lucky to have incredible friends, family, and a girlfriend. They pick you up on tough days.” He's learned to take it day by day and approach rehab like climbing a mountain: Some days you progress rapidly, others you stumble and may even go backward, but you keep trying to make progress. Remember the feeling.
If anything, Watt's injuries over the past two years deepened his love for football. “You realize how much you miss the game and what it means. Even more than the actual games, it's the little stuff: being in the locker room with your teammates, the camaraderie, the inside jokes, the practice drills, the bus rides. It's knowing there are guys watching your back.”