Jared Allen: The Rambo of the NFL

The Vikings' defensive end discovered what "in shape" really means when he trained with his military buddies (turns out, "in shape" means "looking pretty scary").
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The Vikings' defensive end discovered what "in shape" really means when he trained with his military buddies (turns out, "in shape" means "looking pretty scary").
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The Vikings' defensive end discovered what "in shape" really means when he trained with his military buddies (turns out, "in shape" means "looking pretty scary").

Most of us know Jared Allen as the NFL’s fun-loving, steer-roping, boar-slaying, ’80s-worshiping quarterback killer. But the All-Pro defensive end (398 tackles, 84.5 sacks) has a serious side, too. Two years ago, after a USO tour through the Middle East, he was inspired to found Jared Allen’s Homes for Wounded Warriors, a nonprofit organization that raises cash to build or modify homes for injured veterans. “If somebody’s seriously hurt, one thing that should not become a stress is where they’re gonna live or how they’re gonna get around their house,” he says. “It’s nice to give people that peace of mind. There’s no better way to say thank you.”

Last summer Allen and three other NFL superstars had the chance to spend more time with our Armed Forces, participating in training exercises with a group of Marines, Navy SEALs, and Army Rangers—an experience that opened Allen’s eyes to the level of fitness elite soldiers maintain. “I didn’t realize how absolutely crazy in shape our military are,” he says. “Those guys push their bodies to the extreme. It’s gnarly.” Afterward, while traveling in Botswana during the lockout, Allen and his trainer-slash-workout buddy Boomer Grigsby (a former teammate from his time on the Kansas City Chiefs) took an old-fashioned military approach to their routine—and, according to Allen, it produced the best results he’s seen yet, inside a weight room or out. Peep the hardcore regimen and read more about Allen’s experiences with the military on the next pages. U-S-A!

The workout you and Boomer did this summer was so basic—it requires no specialized equipment and can be done anywhere. Did it really work? Honestly, it got me in the best shape of my life. When I got back from Africa, I’d dropped 15 pounds, and my body fat had dropped immensely. Then, when I got into the gym, all my lifts were at a higher norm because using my own body weight had really strengthened my small muscle groups. I was shocked at the kind of condition you can get into with just the basics of push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, squats, plyo jumps, step-ups, and stuff like that, for an hour a day.

Is there something in the routine that you dreaded doing?

Absolutely. I hate everything on that list.

You could be the next Herschel Walker, who did only push-ups and sit-ups.

Yeah, dude was a monster, and supposedly he never touched a weight. Did 1,000 push-ups a day or something like that. I doubted it before, but now I definitely see that you can get jacked off it.

You can crush our skulls with your bare hands, yet you had sort of a rude awakening when you and some fellow NFLers trained with SEALs, Marines, and Rangers. What did you do with them?

We were in the desert for 48 hours, mostly doing tactical positioning work and shooting. At the end we did a simulated wartime exercise with shells and blanks. We came in on a helicopter, and there were black powder bombs going off all around us. It was intense. Then you’ve got a guy pretending he died, and you’ve gotta carry him out. I was thinking, Oh, I’m in great shape, I’ve been working out. I made it 20 yards and then fell down.

What did you in?

Adrenaline and emotions get the best of you. You’ve had no sleep, you’re running, you’ve got gun-powder in your nose, you can’t breathe, your legs and arms are shaking ’cause you’re so excited. Things are poppin’ off everywhere so fast. You’re trying to listen to the platoon commander yelling at you and just trying not to mess up, because somebody could die. The last thing you think about is dead weight. You’re like, Oh, 180-pound dude, no big deal. Then you get him on your shoulders and it feels like 400 pounds, and the lactic acid in your legs builds up and they collapse on you.

Sounds like it felt real to you.

We were all pretending it was absolutely real to get the most out of it, and it was emotional. I was thinking, If this was really war, I would have gotten shot trying to carry this dude 100 yards to the chopper. I mean, Larry [Fitzgerald] couldn’t carry him. [Clay] Matthews couldn’t carry him. We had big dudes dropping out after 10 to 20 yards. Finally, one of the little Army Rangers put him on his shoulders and ran 50 yards with him, and I was like, What the heck? Those guys have incredible strength, and they know how to use their bodies differently and preserve strength in those situations. Whereas we’re spending all this energy trying to meathead through it. They also really talk about controlling their emotions. It’s cool to see. They’re not only training physically—they’re training the mind to work together with the body.

Do you have to control your emotions in football, too?

Sure. In football adrenaline can work for you in certain situations, but it can also exhaust you. I had a teammate throw up a few months ago in a preseason game. He was all jacked up before, super excited, and when he got out on the field he was exhausted. If you keep your emotions balanced, you know when to use that adrenaline to get that little extra something you need to make it through a series or a play.

Were you trying to impress the military guys?

Absolutely! These are top-notch soldiers, so I was trying to impress strength-wise, conditioning-wise, and with my shooting skills from hunting and having grown up in a military family. My grandfather was in the Corps 26 years, one brother and an uncle are Marines, and another uncle is in the Air Force.

Of the NFL guys there—you, Larry Fitzgerald, Clay Matthews, and Drew Brees—who came out looking the best?

We all failed.

Thanks to hunting, you’re experienced with guns. Did you pick up any shooting tricks?

I’d never heard of following through on your trigger pull. A lot of people just pull the trigger and think that’s it. In actuality it’s like a golf swing, where a guy’s head stays down as the ball’s hit. You want to hold that trigger for a split second to allow the bullet to clear the muzzle. When I got the hang of it, the difference it made in accuracy and being able to put multiple shots together in a tight pattern was amazing.

Did you ever think about enlisting?

If I didn’t play football, I probably would’ve put in at least four years. It’s always on my mind because of my family history and because of how much I love this country and the men and women who serve—especially since I got to go overseas to Iraq and Kuwait to see our troops. You realize the sacrifice they make to be away from their families for a year, and the little things we take for granted, like just being able to come home on a daily basis. I think it takes a special person to answer that call and put their life on the line for their country. It’s probably the most unselfish thing you can do.

Have you stayed in touch with anyone you met on your USO tour?

Yeah, I made a few friends. A couple of guys came to my wedding. I e-mail with a few people who keep me up on how things are going with the troops. A SEAL passed away recently, and I was able to give the family a call because of the connections I made in Iraq.

Any plans to head to the Middle East again?

If I get an opportunity to do another tour, I definitely will. It was the most eye-opening, humbling experience to see our men and women in action and say thank you face-to-face. I started to see the sacrifices of the people who have wives and kids back home and have been over there for 15 months. Or the people who’ve been there three and four times. They’re in infantry camps where they’re literally living in tents in the desert for years. Dirty. Tired. You see the expressions on their faces, and it really makes you realize that a bad day here is better than any good day over there. To gain that perspective was priceless to me.