Even before he broke out as one of the most exciting players in the NFL, New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley was getting attention for his work in the weight room. While playing at Penn State, Barkley set a football team record with a 405-pound power clean and ranked third on the all-time heaviest squat list. Not bad for a guy who stands at just 6’0″.
Following his electric rookie season where he ranked first in the entire NFL in total yards from scrimmage, the league decided to put a focus on Barkley’s incredible lower body—namely, his quads—by collaborating on a fun contest for fans that’s part of the NFL 100 celebration: the Quad Squad Quad Challenge.
“Grinding hard in the weight room is a way of life for me and I’m a big believer that hitting the gym with teammates or friends helps build a stronger group dynamic, and pushes the mind and body to go further,” Barkley says. “I’m excited to share my training techniques and motivations with fans and inspire them to push themselves in the weight room or whatever life goals they are working towards.”
As seen in the video below, the challenge is for fans to follow Saquon’s workout, doing four different moves (Lunge Hold, Squats, Jump Squats, and Squat Holds) in their own video and sharing it on social media. To enter the contest, all fans need to do is shoot their own video, then upload it to Instagram or Twitter with the tag @NFL and #NFL100Contest before June 4. The winner will get the chance to come to New York, do a personal training session with Saquon, and see a Giants preseason game.
We spoke with Barkley about putting together the Quad Squad Quad Challenge, his favorite workouts to do in the gym, and why he loves squats so much.
Men’s Journal: What’s the significance of the NFL 100 celebration (and the NFL 100 Super Bowl commercial) to you?
Saquon Barkley: It’s crazy to think that the NFL has been around for 100 years. Being part of the new wave and next generation for 100 years to come and participating in the Super Bowl commercial is just amazing. I grew up an NFL fan, and I remember when I was a little kid that I wanted to be in the NFL one day. Now to think about it, I’m here living my dream. It’s truly an honor to celebrate all the athletes that came before us.
Fitness is very important to you. What have you enjoyed about bringing fans into that part of your life?
It’s really fun to do that. I love interacting with fans, and to do it with something that I love doing the most—working out and training—that’s exciting for me. A lot of people love seeing my workout videos and joke about my big quads and legs, so it’s fun to bring fans into that. It’s fun to challenge people and compete together. I know that when I see guys working out alongside me, whether it’s my teammates, like Sterling Shepard or Wayne Gallman, it pushes me and makes me want to work even harder. I wanted to bring that idea to this challenge as well.
If you could only do one exercise to train for football, what would it be?
I would go with squatting or hex-bar deadlifts. They do kind of the same thing, where you’re exploding up with weight as fast as you can. I would say if you’re an NFL veteran with some years on you, the hex-bar deadlift is best, because you want to keep that weight off your back. But if you’re young and trying to get stronger and more explosive, squatting is a great way to do it.
As you’ve mentioned, your quads have gotten a lot of attention (especially with the nickname “SaQuads”). What are some ways you like to work out your quads?
I try to be an explosive athlete because of the position I play—running back. Every play you touch the ball, you’re getting hit and you need a strong upper body, but at the same time you need an especially strong lower body. Squats are key for me to build that strength in my quads. I’am able to squat 650-700 pounds. I’m not doing it to put on weight or be a musclehead. Those 650-pound lifts are about helping me run through a 350-pound defensive tackle. If I do a 405-pound power clean, that can make me explosive enough to make an NFL linebacker miss and help me jump over tacklers. The more explosive you are, the higher you can jump and break out that speed—nabbing 70- to 80-yard touchdowns. I try to have what I do in the weight room translate onto the field.
What does it feel like when you jump over someone, break a tackle, and go 70 yards for a touchdown?
It’s crazy, that feeling. Your body just reacts. It’s hard to explain. You’re so tuned in to the moment, so locked in. So when you make that play, hurdle that guy, or make that touchdown run, it happens so fast. Before you know it, you’re over the guy or you’re in the end zone.
What are your expectations for the team and yourself this upcoming season?
It feels like every day we’re getting better and getting more understanding of the playbook in our second year with Coach Shurmur. And for me, I want to improve every single day, and not just as an athlete, but as a person, a teammate, and a leader. I want to do whatever it takes for my team to win football games and get out there and play at a high level for the fans. I think we’re going to have an exciting season in New York.
You had a big rookie season. Was there anything specific you wanted to focus on in your training this offseason?
The first phase of my offseason, before getting into team workouts, was focusing on my speed and my running form. My form has gotten a lot better since getting into the league. I’m obviously not a track runner, but it’s all about mechanics and I’ve been working on that. It helps me when I can break off those long runs and making sure to capitalize on those big plays by making sure my speed and running form are top notch. I felt like I moved well last season, but I wanted to get even better heading into this year.