The trend of NFL players training in MMA isn’t new, but Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen is the one who started it all.
Before the UFC was filling arenas and selling millions of pay-per-views, Jared Allen was an avid fan of the sport. He decided to dabble in MMA in 2006 to see what kind of workout it could give him, and six years later, MMA training is Allen’s favorite way to get ready for the brutal NFL season.
“I’ve always been a fan of MMA,” says Allen. “I did some amateur boxing in college, but it was nothing too crazy. About six years ago, I decided to give MMA training a shot, and I loved it right away. I don’t even run in the offseason now—I strictly do Muay Thai and jiu-jitsu, which is amazing for my cardio training. For me, MMA training is cool because it’s so exciting. I’m constantly thinking about my footwork and my technique, while getting one of the best anaerobic burns ever.”
Allen’s competitive nature drives him to continue to find the edge that allows him to blow past offensive lineman and sack the quarterback, and he believes that he has found that by doing mixed martial arts in the offseason. The results speak volumes. Over the last five seasons since he began his MMA workouts, Allen has registered 77.5 quarterback sacks, made the Pro Bowl four times, and led the NFL in sacks two times. Allen says the MMA workouts and training have helped him on the field when it comes time to ply his craft of putting the quarterback down.
“The hip flexibility you get with jiu-jitsu and kickboxing—being able to turn your hip over—and the hand-eye coordination and hand fighting in grappling and jiu-jitsu translates into rushing the passer,” says Allen.
Recently, Allen began training for his offseason NFL workouts at Power MMA & Fitness, the Arizona gym that is owned and operated by UFC stalwarts Ryan Bader, Aaron Simpson, and C.B. Dollaway. But don’t think that just because Allen is an All-Pro defensive end in the NFL that his trainers at Power MMA & Fitness take it easy on him. He’s in the trenches on the football field, and more often than not, he’s taking a beating on the mats as well.
“I tell them to train me like I’m going to be the next world champ—I just don’t fight,” says Allen. “That’s how I train. I know what I have to do to get ready for my sport, but I’m training like I’m getting ready for theirs. And that’s what I love about the fight game—you truly break down your own barriers. You’re really only as good as you’re willing to push yourself. Every time I think I have it licked, my trainers throw a new challenge at me.”
Over the last few years, several NFL players have begun working out in MMA gyms, and the numbers are growing. Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews and San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis are just two names amongst dozens of players who have found the benefits of MMA training.
“I’ve been through all the offseason programs before in the NFL, and you can do all the running and lifting you want, but I still feel MMA workouts are harder than any I’ve ever done,” says Allen. “The mental aspects give me a little swagger on the field when I’m tired and need to push myself. Plus, it never hurts to think that I’m capable of head kicking a dude and knocking him out.”