Austin Ekeler has nearly 25 million reasons to stay in peak shape for his fourth year in the NFL. Coming off a breakout season in which he recorded 92 receptions (second behind only Carolina Panthers star Christian McCaffrey among running backs), he signed a four-year, $24.5 million deal to return to the
San Diego Los Angeles Chargers. With former top backfield option Melvin Gordon off to the Denver Broncos, and longtime quarterback Phillip Rivers headed to the Indianapolis Colts, Ekeler is about to become a focal point—if not the focal point—of a revamped offense.
Ekeler was already planning on a weight room-heavy offseason, and he’s had to adjust to the coronavirus pandemic. Here, he explains his unorthodox workout regimen, streaming his workouts like a gamer, and how he's training for an NFL season in a moment of social distancing.
GQ: There are obviously far more pressing matters with this outbreak, but for NFL players, how are COVID-19 and social distancing affecting the offseason?
Austin Ekeler: Right around this time is when Pro Days would be going on, and a lot of under-the-radar players would be getting the opportunity to show their skills. I was one of these players. I needed the Pro Day to show to scouts that I could play.
How are you managing to get your workouts in now?
Finding a gym is nearly impossible. I can run, but I need to keep up my weight—not through eating, but by lifting. I have some small weights at home. It’s not the type of training I’d like to be doing, but I’m still engaging my muscles.
I saw you’ve been live-streaming your home workouts on Twitch. What was behind that idea?
I actually started my Twitch stream a while back to make people aware that I’m also a gamer. But more recently I wanted to stream the workouts to have a different interaction with fans and people around the world. My game of choice is League of Legends. I don’t play sports games or shooters, although I may try a shooter game if this quarantine lasts a few more weeks.
What’s one exercise an NFL running back would recommend to esports players?
Run [laughs]. I’d say run just because you’re sitting down so much, and that will engage your entire body. I wouldn’t say lifting would be absolutely necessary. I would think you’d need more aerobic-type activities.
Take us through one of your workouts.
My girlfriend Taylor [Frick] is a personal trainer, and she’s been coming up with these aerobic, full-body workouts, using lots of core holds and different athletic movements. We did one the other day, and my legs were like Jell-O. You’re pushing it the entire time. When I got done I was dripping in sweat.
We did burpees, different types of lunges, pushups, and engaged our core, all for 30-second intervals. She also loves to do different types of jumps—star jumps, some twist jumps. Those are good, functional workouts that will get your heart rate up after about 30 seconds. They kind of fit into the aerobic type of movements I should be doing as a football player.
Is it true you like to wing it when you hit the gym?
I have a loose plan about what the day’s workout will be. Like, I know if my workout is going to be lower-body, but that’s it until I get to the gym. I’ll switch it up, shock the body in different ways. For example, I’ve recently been working with a trainer on lower-body workouts. He’s a CrossFit guy, so we’ll incorporate lots of volume. But I won’t know the exact movements until I’m at the gym. I’ll set up different equipment, try different things to keep my body guessing, kind of like simulating the uncertainty on the football field. It’s a unique way of working out, but it’s something I’ve always done.
What’s your favorite exercise?
I love squats. I’ll squat every week. Most of my weight is in my legs. People will look at me and ask, “You weigh 198 pounds?” I have a squatty body. It’s also the move where I can push the most weight. People are like, Damn! Look at this kid! I get some excitement out of that.
Take me through one of your leg routines.
I’ll hit squats for volume, doing four sets of eight, and build up to 405 pounds. Then I’ll go to a trap bar, hit some explosive pulls using medium weight, then combine that with some type of jump. I’m trying to get my hips going and trying to get my off-the-line speed going. From there I transition to some type of core explosion, like a combination forward-lunge medicine ball throw against a wall. So, heavy volume on the legs, and the quick twitch muscles at the same time. I usually end all my workouts with some sort of arm exercise and core work.
Do you have any gym fails?
Sometimes I’ll try and get too creative. Recently I had an idea to try an explosive overhead medicine ball slam against a concrete wall at my gym. But the ball was a little too bouncy and it just started to ricochet all over the crowded gym. There are definitely limitations.
Your social media is full of crazy strength moves, like those one-arm pull-ups. Where did you get the idea for that?
At this point my body is pretty compact, so sometimes I’m like, hmm, I wonder what my body can do. With the one-arm pulls, I wanted to test myself. I’ve never done any strength tests like that. I was able to do pull ups holding a 100-pound dumbbell with my feet for five to seven reps. So I started doing one-arm pullups, pushups with Taylor on my back, and sit ups while lifting her in the air. I was also trying to create some content.
What was the book you were reading while doing a pull up? And did you ever finish reading it?
The book was just a prop. Everyone who asks seems to be disappointed by that [laughs].
What is your diet like right now?
Taylor is 100 percent vegan, and I’ve recently become more plant-based in my diet. To me, if you eat things in moderation, your diet should be fine. I’ve cut out as many fatty and sugary things, processed foods, as possible. But every now and then I’ll have a pizza or some ice cream.
What is your main, go-to dish?
I’ll normally cook some sort of bowl. It’s usually rice, ground turkey, black beans, avocado, and either onions or bell peppers.
Lastly, you’ve become well-known for your end zone air guitar celebration. What song are you playing?
“Ten Thousand Fists” by Disturbed. I’ve always listened to rock and metal. Now it’s like a little fantasy—I want the entire audience putting their fists up as I’m playing my guitar solo. I’m rockin’ the end zone like a concert.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Real-Life Diet is a series in which GQ talks to athletes, celebrities, and everyone in-between about their diets and exercise routines: what's worked, what hasn't, and where they're still improving. Keep in mind, what works for them might not necessarily be healthy for you.
The 40-year-old quarterback and pickup hoops legend has some advice for his younger self. Mostly: start stretching.
Originally Appeared on GQ