Good alignment is a quality that few other pros, and even fewer regular
guys, care to cultivate. But Rodgers’s rise from obscurity to the top of
the Pack(ers) is instructive. Let’s watch and learn.
THE WORKOUT BEGINS. POLI HAS RODGERS LIE DOWN ON HIS
back. Bracing his feet against the wall, Rodgers moves his knees slowly to
the left and right. Then he arcs his arms in a snow-angel movement along
the floor for a dozen reps or so, followed by some isometric elbow presses
into the floor, squeezing his shoulder blades together.
Because alignment work reeducates muscles and nerves, perfect form
is essential, and even the simplest move requires multiple points of
focus, much like rubbing your belly while patting your head: “Rotate your
shoulders outward,” instructs Poli, who is accredited by the Interna-
tional Sports Sciences Association. Rodgers performs a standing version
of the snow-angel move. “Keep your chin tucked, eyes straight ahead.”
“So many things to think about,” mutters Rodgers. He’s game and
he’s focused, but after a while the slow, painstaking work starts to
remind me of Mr. Miyagi making Daniel-san paint the fence and sand
the floor: not a workout but a test of patience. “Where are the big
weights?” I ask Poli. The clouds of hand chalk? The tank-topped training
partners screaming, “All you!”
“His strength is already off the charts,” says Poli, who estimates Rodg-
ers’s bench press at over 300 pounds. “What’s going to help him more:
adding another 10 pounds to that or making him more skillful, mobile,
and aligned?” I don’t have a chance to answer the question, because Poli
is off again, back with his charge.
What he says makes sense, and I start to think about all the times I’ve
skipped over this kind of detail work in my own exercise program: the
dynamic stretching, muscle activation, and cooldown techniques that are
the nuts and bolts of basic alignment work. It seemed too unimportant
and time-consuming. And then I remember all the numerous tweaks and
nagging injuries I’ve endured over the years, not for athletic glory, but
simple vanity, and I realize my own alignment could probably use a little
adjustment. Sound familiar?
AS THE WORKOUT PROCEEDS, I SEE FLASHES OF RODGERS’S
athleticism. At one point he circles around a medicine ball on the floor,
tapping his feet alternately on top of it like a soccer player. Then Poli
starts firing footballs at him from 10 feet away, one after another. Still circling and tapping with his feet, Rodgers catches them one-handed, using
no more effort than a normal person would to catch a floating Frisbee.
With the same offhanded ease, Rodgers launches the balls back at Poli.
Behind his back. With a perfect spiral.
With scarcely a break, Rodgers shifts to a pushup position, and the two
continue their fast-moving game of catch. In this position—requiring
Rodgers to support himself with one hand while he catches the football
with the other—the drill is even more impressive.
Poli doesn’t take credit. “When he first came in, I had him throw footballs at targets taped to a wall. That was way too easy. Then I had him do a
drill where you bounce a tennis ball off the wall as fast as you can. He did
it so fast I couldn’t count the reps. Anything that requires coordination
and accuracy, he smokes it.” For a guy whose career average for passing
yards per game is over 250—fifth best in NFL history—tennis balls
against a wall just aren’t a big deal.
Much of Poli’s program refines Rodgers’s capacity for multitasking. He
must stabilize through his core while throwing and move his feet in precise patterns while staying attuned to the surroundings. Poli points out
that motor skills and coordination, not brute strength, are the keys to
building a great quarterback.
“I used to bench-press, squat, and power-clean in high school and col-
MUSCLING UP LIKE AN MVP
lege,” says Rodgers. “Now we sub in body-weight squats and exercises that
won’t overstress my shoulders. I need to take care of my body right now.”
Poli says a great workout is never about how much weight you use.
“If I put your muscles in a mechanically disadvantageous position, 10
pounds can feel like a thousand.”
Indeed, I find that the several benign-looking exercises Poli takes me
through are actually extremely challenging. At one point I’m standing
with my heels elevated on a pair of dumbbells and my back bracing a
Swiss ball against a wall. From there Poli has me turn my toes inward,
THESE EXERCISES FROM ANGELO POLI BUILD MUSCLE, IMPROVE YOUR
NEUROMUSCULAR EFFICIENC Y, AND GIVE YOU HEADS-UP ALIGNMENT.
PERFORM THEM AS A CIRCUI T FOR AN ADDED CARDIO CHALLENGE.
MEDICINE BALL TOSS
Lie faceup on a Swiss
ball, your feet flat on the
floor, holding a medium-
weight medicine ball.
Press the medicine ball
toward the ceiling and
contract your abs so
you’re in the top position
of a crunch. Using your
right hand only, toss the
ball toward the ceiling.
Catch it in the same
hand. That’s 1 rep. Do all
your prescribed right-
hand reps, and then
repeat the movement
with your left hand.
SE TS/REPS 3 sets of
20 with each hand
chest, and core strength
and stability, balance,
Use your upper back to
brace a Swiss ball
against a wall. Elevate
your heels on a two-by-
four and lean your back
into the ball. Then turn
your toes inward and
squeeze your knees
together. Maintaining this
foot position, squat until
your thighs are parallel
to the floor. Rise back up.
Too easy? Hold a pair of
SE TS/REPS 3 sets of 20
IMPROVES Hip and
PISTOL SQUAT /
Adjust the handles on
a suspension device to
about eye level. Grab
the handles and stand
on one leg. Lean back
until you are supporting
your weight with arms
extended. Now push your
hips back, bend your
knee, and lower yourself
as far as you can. Then
push back up as you
pull yourself forward,
squeezing your shoulder
blades together. That’s
1 rep. Alternate legs on
SE TS/REPS 3 sets of
16 ( 8 reps per leg)
leg strength, pulling
strength, and alignment
squeeze my knees together, and do squats (see “Muscling Up Like an
MVP”). Though I’m holding no added weight, the move is a killer: Twelve
reps in, my legs are quivering as if I’d just maxed out on the barbell version. Strung together, these moves provide a significant cardio challenge
as well: I’m sweating profusely, my heart’s pounding, and I’m grateful for
the brief rest periods Poli allows.
Typically, Rodgers’s own cardio work is limited to boxing drills, 400-
meter sprints between exercises, and brief, challenging intervals on low-impact cardio machines: stationary bikes, elliptical trainers, and the
buttery-smooth Concept2 rowing machines that are lined up against the
wall at Poli’s gym. Distance running, a great cardio option for smaller
people with less demanding day jobs, has no place in the program. With a
big guy, it simply stresses the joints too much. And anyway, by his own
admission, Rodgers hates running. Hates it.
AT THE END OF THE WORKOUT, AS IF TO REWARD HIS CLIENT
for committing to all the detail work, Poli turns up the heat. He holds
focus mitts while Rodgers throws flurries of one-two punches. Then he
turns to footwork exercises on an agility ladder and core stabilization
moves on a Bosu ball. As a surprising, intense finisher, the two men jog
outside, where Rodgers repeatedly shoves Poli’s nearly 3,000-pound
BM W Z3 across the parking lot as if it’s made of plastic. Between rounds
of car pushing, he does walking lunges with a pause at the bottom and
picture-perfect farmer’s walks with 65-pound dumbbells.
At the end of it all, Rodgers is sweating but satisfied. He’s put in some
serious work, but he seems to be enjoying himself. Where did his work
ethic come from? “Rehab,” he says, sipping a protein shake. “Four hours a
day after I injured my knee in college. Hobbling around 30-degree hills on
the Berkeley campus. That taught me what a real work ethic is.”
Rodgers displays the patience and the wisdom to sweat the small stuff.
He knows that greatness grows from the cumulative effects of a thousand
tiny actions, executed faithfully, day after day. Those hours of painful
rehab. The years of practicing in obscurity, waiting his turn. The tiny
scapular rotations, arms held in perfect external rotation. Making sure
everything works together.
Head up, eyes on the horizon. j