For four days a week and five weeks in the offseason, Lane Johnson arrived at his workouts 90 minutes early ready to get his butt kicked. "All in" isn't aggressive enough to describe how much Johnson wanted to defeat the physical and mental challenge of a lifetime.
Once the 2014 season ended and Johnson was recovered physically, he packed up and headed to Hollywood. There were no fancy suites and no caviar and high-society parties. This was all about business.
Johnson enrolled at MMA Athletics, a program founded by Mixed Martial Arts legend Randy Couture and FOX NFL insider Jay Glazer, an established program that takes athletes' conditioning to an entirely different level.
"I want to be elite at my position in the NFL, and I felt that this would help me get there," Johnson says now, fresh off a training session at the NovaCare Complex. "I have a lot of confidence about what's ahead of me.
"I think I'm getting close to being elite. Last year was a big stepping stone from my rookie year and I just have to be more aggressive and more violent going into Year 3."
Enter the Hollywood workouts, which forced Johnson to vomit nine times in the first three days. Two-hour workouts were divided into four segments -- explosion work, core strengthening and loosening, MMA training and weight training. Johnson pushed sleds, ran hills, explored jiu-jitsu, went into the ring and boxed, worked on his leverage in Greco-Roman wrestling -- all above the waist, and an exercise that demands great leverage -- and further understood the concept of what Glazer and Couture teach: Football is a series of 60 10-second fights.
May the better man win.
"First of all, Lane is an elite athlete, and he got right into the program. He was awesome," Glazer said. "What we do have is we will grind you out, and grind you and grind you until somebody just says 'get Randy Couture off me (in the ring).' And that's what we kind of do is utilize that, so a guy like Lane who threw up nine times in the first three days because he's never been through something like this. So he came to us at 310 pounds, and he left at 310.
"And he's totally changed his body composition. He told me that when he went in to test (at the start of the offseason conditioning program at the NovaCare Complex), he had the highest new muscle growth, the highest fat-loss change and highest body composition change of anyone on his team. And the highest velocity output and the highest force output for anybody in his position, so all the big guys. I couldn't ask for anything more."
Said Johnson: "The first couple days, I was puking non-stop. It was terrible. Going into OTAs (Organized Team Activities) now, I'm in the best shape of my life. I notice now I'm a lot quicker with my hands and a lot stronger with my hands. I don't have to really think about it. It comes naturally."
Johnson is a rare athlete, a former college quarterback who became an immediate starter after the Eagles used the fourth overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft to select him. He started all 16 games as a rookie and played well as the Eagles led the league in rushing and in explosive (plus-20-yard) plays. Johnson's great feet and balance and explosiveness solidified the Eagles' offensive line and the right tackle spot. In a draft class that featured three of the first four picks who played offensive tackle, Johnson quickly set himself as the best of the group.
But then Johnson had his first setback in Year No. 2 when he was suspended for the opening four regular season games by the league for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. It wasn't until mid-season -- a handful of games after Johnson returned to the lineup -- that he felt he had his game back on track.
As his third season approaches, Johnson wants to get to the next level. And that's why he took the non-traditional route of training. Johnson went to California with the mindset of suffering, and with that he emerged as one of the program's finest examples.
"Most athletes, especially football players, they throw so much money out, they think they've made it," Glazer said. "And it's harder and harder to reach these guys. Most of these guys think that they did enough because they're famous and have money. Lane is not like that at all. Lane really wants to make 10 Pro Bowls, whatever it takes. He is zero partying whatsoever. Practice starts at 11:00; he's here at 9:30 every day.
"He got his diet down and he was really all in. And for a guy like that, I can't tell you how he got that attitude to work hard. I literally have to convince guys why they're working hard. I should never have to have that conversation with a professional athlete ever in my life, and you do have it with 90 percent of them. Lane was different.
"I don't want to be disrespectful to my other guys, but he's probably my favorite guy I've ever trained in my entire life. Just because he was always like "I'll never be late, I'll never miss, whatever you say."
Johnson plans another trip to California to the same program for a five-week pre-Training Camp tune-up. He knows what to expect. He knows the dark places his body and mind will go. The purpose is to advance his career, to make the sacrifices now to win each of those 10-second fights that occur in the course of a football game.
"I'm excited, I really am," Johnson said. "I feel like it's coming together just the way I want."