Most of us get ready for the NFL season by prepping our fantasy teams and stocking our fridges with light beer. For the athletes who actually play, it’s another story—they must push themselves to the limit in their training and practice. Granted, our goal in terms of football is to watch from the comfort of our couches as they attack each other like gladiators in the Colosseum, but we also push ourselves to the limit in our daily workouts, don’t we? When it comes to training hard, what’s the difference between them and us?
For Chris Hogan, a wide receiver for the Buffalo Bills, the difference isn’t as great as you would think. Currently enjoying a breakout season with the Bills, where he is the number-three receiver in a talented group, Hogan’s success is something he has never doubted. Even so, it wasn’t long ago that few people would have envisioned Chris ever making it in the NFL.
In fact, the Ramapo, New Jersey, native’s path to the NFL was a rather circuitous one. He began his college athletic career playing Division I lacrosse at Penn State. Yes, you read that right—Hogan had played only one season of football since high school when he decided to take a shot at playing pro ball.
The change back to the gridiron wasn’t because Chris didn’t enjoy success with a stick. In fact, he was a four-year starter at midfield for the Nittany Lions and was a First Team All-ECAC selection as a senior after leading the team with 15 goals and nine assists.
After his final lacrosse season he transferred to Monmouth University to return to football. He played both offense and defense and made 12 catches, three touchdowns and three interceptions. Even so, with just one season of collegiate football on his résumé, he knew that getting noticed by NFL scouts would be easier said than done.
“I wanted to give the NFL a shot with no regrets,” says the 6’1”, 220-pounder. “So I got an agent and began to train for a pro tryout.”
His performance before the pro scouts belied his novice stature on the gridiron. Hogan ran a 4.47 second 40-yard dash and bench-pressed 225 pounds an impressive 28 times. Not bad for an athlete who was told at the start of his college sports career that he was far better suited for lacrosse than football.
After he signed to play on the practice squads of both the New York Giants and Miami Dolphins, Hogan knew that his dream was becoming real. It became even more real when he started getting calls from teams all over the league, including the 49ers and Colts. Still, as you can imagine, making the practice squad, receiving phone calls and just suiting on Sundays was simply not enough for Chris Hogan.
“It wasn’t my long-term goal, but making those practice squads was a good step toward it,” he recalls. “It was my way into pro football. I knew I had to take those opportunities and even take a few steps back when I was cut to keep learning and keep working toward being a wide receiver in the NFL.”
Now in his third year with the Bills, the 25-year-old is just coming into his own. In 2012 he didn’t play in any games, but he played special teams and receiver in all 16 games of the 2013 campaign, making 10 catches. In the six games he’s played in the 2014 season as of this writing, he has seven catches for 99 yards and a touchdown, already beating last year’s yardage total. With his offensive role growing at each game, he looks to make a solid impact as the Bills push for their first playoff birth in 15 seasons.
What does it take, physically and mentally, to be in the condition of a productive NFL wide receiver? “Strict, hard work,” Hogan says, “especially in the off-season. I have never been the type of person who likes to take time off. After the season ends, I will take a few weeks to relax and let my body heal, but them I am ready to start working out hard again.”
What truly motivates him in the gym year-round is proving that he belongs in the NFL. He gets up every day during both the fall campaign and off-season with the intent of showing the world that he deserves and has earned the right to play on Sundays.
“I am very fortunate to have a great trainer, Mike Guadango, who this year opened his new gym, Freak Strength, in Waldwick, New Jersey,” says Chris. “Working with him in the off-season helped me build greater strength, speed and agility than ever. It’s a combination of explosive, power-based movements; high-intensity giant sets; and balance and agility exercises. I went into training camp this summer in the best condition of my life.”
The off-season program devised by Guadango is very precise, using the “alactic capacity” system that prioritizes high-energy training in short, powerful bursts. That applies to cardio and movement exercises such as sprints and sled pushes, as well as lifting exercises. For the latter he does multiple low-rep sets separated by 30-second rest periods, which calls on fast-twitch fibers while increasing sustained explosive-energy capacity. That type of conditioning is perfect for football, where plays last just four to 10 seconds, with 45 seconds maximum between them. Hogan’s training is set up accordingly:
Monday. Lower-body, with emphasis on acceleration and starts
Tuesday. Upper body
Wednesday. Lower body, with greater emphasis on top-speed movements
Thursday. Upper body
Friday Overall lower-body conditioning
He works hip and back mobility on every leg day and does shoulder-stability training with upper-body workouts. He also includes sprints and explosive medicine ball drills on most days.
An example of a lower-body circuit would include two sets of the following moves, doing six reps for each leg: front lunges, side lunges, reverse lunges and front cross lunges. He finishes the circuit with 10 single-leg hip thrusts, plus a 30-second front plank, and then follows with hill sprints, hurdle jumps and various squats.
Here’s a sample circuit for upper body, performed with short rests between sets:
Incline dumbbell presses,
30 percent 1RM 4 x 5
Single-arm cable rows,
25 percent bench press
1RM 4 x 10
Shoulder Shocker Circuit
Dumbbell shrugs 2 x 20
Lateral raises 2 x 10
Cuban presses 2 x 8
Dumbbell hammer curls 3 x 12
Banded pressdowns 3 x 15
The above would be preceded by a bodyweight circuit of pushups, pullups and more, plus sprints. (Note: To see Chris Hogan’s full off-season workout program, visit MHPStrong.com.)
Hogan’s in-season routine consists of three or four lifting days a week. The Bills’ training program focuses on total-body strength, power and explosiveness. The goal is to maintain strength and muscular balance while keeping the players fresh for Sundays. To that end the daily workouts include both upper- and lower-body resistance exercises, with primary attention on upper body, including basic movements such as bench presses, shoulder presses, lat pulldowns and rows, plus lunges, light squats and leg presses for the lower body. Stretching is also critical, and each workout ends with a strict core routine.
“My diet is pretty strict throughout the season,” says Hogan. “Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday consist mainly of protein, fruits and vegetables. Then, once Thursday hits, I start to add carbs like pasta and potatoes to boost my energy heading into the weekend. Friday is more of the same, and then on Saturday I will amp up the carbs a little more to prep myself for the game on Sunday. It really is not too difficult to stick to the diet, and having all my meals at the Bills’ practice facility helps a ton. But, then, of course, I have to allow myself an occasional cheat meal to keep my sanity!”
One additional performance boost Chris relies on is nutritional supplements.
“I’ve been using MHP supplements for the past year, and I can definitely say they have helped me get stronger in the gym and play better on the field,” he reports. “In particular I find that the TRAC Extreme-NO preworkout and Dark Matter postworkout have greatly improved my workouts and help me recover faster.”
Chris also uses Probolic-SR protein two to three times a day, takes an Activite Sport multivitamin and Releve joint compound twice daily. He enjoys Power Pak Pudding when he needs a high-protein snack and says that MYO-X has helped him build muscle and increase strength, even during the season.
“I’ve also been able to test out MHP’s new 4D-Tropin nighttime supplement, and it helps me sleep better, recover faster and get stronger.”
As he is breaking out on the football field, Chris is coming into his own off the turf as well. He’s been featured in recent news articles, gotten ESPN shout-outs and even made an appearance on the NFL’s fantasy football league this season—and he’s been invited to do several photo shoots, including this one for IRON MAN.
So when you’re doing your situps during commercial breaks of the Sunday football broadcasts, think about how hard you have to work to get what you want—and don’t ever sell yourself short. Chris Hogan will be the first to tell you that if you work hard enough, you can do anything. Having gone from a lacrosse player to a wide receiver in the NFL, he’s a perfect model for motivation.
Editor’s note: For more information about Chris Hogan or MHP nutritional supplements, visit