Workload drives Panthers' Christian McCaffrey to be 'way stronger'

Christian McCaffrey believes he doesn't "have any choice" but to get faster and stronger, working on lots of football-specific movement in his offseason workouts. Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY Sports

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Here’s a scary thought: Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey has spent the offseason getting faster.

The eighth pick of the 2017 draft, who last season fell 133 rushing yards shy of joining Roger Craig and Marshall Faulk as the only players in NFL history to top 1,000 yards receiving and rushing in the same season, also has gotten stronger.

He has bulging biceps to show for it.

“I’m way stronger than I was last year," McCaffrey said. “The faster I can get, the better as well. You can always get bigger, faster, stronger.

“I don’t have any choice. I have to."

This transformation has come about thanks to a workout program that best resembles one for an elite track athlete and a nutritional program focused on increasing bulk and decreasing body fat.

“Christian's routine is unique in a few ways," said his personal trainer, Brian Kula, who coached McCaffrey in track at Valor Christian High School in the Denver area. “He does not train at a fancy facility, and typically it is just him and I all by ourselves. In some regards, we are an underground operation.

“Our approach and some of our training principles are unique and somewhat outside the box of standard performance training."

It’s different than anything McCaffrey has done previously, and the results recently were the topic of much social media conversation when this picture was posted.

Quarterback Cam Newton said McCaffrey’s improvement from a physical and speed standpoint is evidence of just how committed his teammate is to being the best.

“People think his biceps are growing too big," Newton said with a laugh. “He’s an unbelievable athlete on the field. Swagger through the roof. Just a guy who comes to work ... an All-America."

An All-American who believes “you can never go wrong by being fast."

“To me, speed kills," said McCaffrey, a member of Kula’s 4x200 relay team that set a Colorado state record. “And the league is changing now, especially at the running back position, to where the faster you are, the more dynamic you are, not only with the ball in your hands, but running routes and being able to break tackles. That all has to do with speed.

“My position is a running back. So, the first part of my position is running. That means I need to run and be fast."

The routine

McCaffrey’s typical training day begins with a session of performance therapy on his entire body to check for any imbalances and prepare the muscles for the planned movement of the day.

That is followed by what Kula calls a dynamic warm-up and activation routine of linear and lateral development. After a trip to the weight room for strength and power development work, McCaffrey has a recovery period that includes massage, chiropractic work and occasional pool and sauna sessions.

The routine takes place Monday through Friday with three intensive training days, one football-specific movement day and one active recovery day.

Tired yet?

McCaffrey isn’t.

“Somebody has eyes on me all the time," he said. “My training is very specific to my sport, so it’s a lot of fast, explosive movements. It’s very pertinent to exactly what I do on the football field, which is fast burst in short spaces. Every once in a while, I’ll get in the top end."

It’s comparable to training a track athlete to break out of the blocks with ultimate acceleration to achieve top speed. McCaffrey hopes that will help him get to the hole faster and break free from initial contact faster.

Positioning the body to be in the best position to accelerate is part of the routine.

“My recovery process is definitely different, as well," McCaffrey said. “Most of it is what supplements I’m taking and being able to add that into the regiment, being able to add body work to the regiment, being able to add legit one-on-one training at all times so I’m ready to go for OTAs and ready to go for the season."

McCaffrey hasn’t timed himself in the 40-yard dash since beginning this regimen, but he has no doubt he is faster than the 4.48 seconds he posted at the NFL combine before the 2017 draft.

“Christian has certainly improved his speed," Kula said. “We want as much horsepower on his frame as we can get.

“Physics says that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. In that regard, we have developed Christian's ability to apply more force to the ground through training methods and techniques in the weight room, and he now runs faster and jumps higher."

Reduced workload?

Carolina coach Ron Rivera said he would like to reduce the playing time for McCaffrey, who played 91.3 percent of the snaps last season.

McCaffrey understands.

The running back also believes his new offseason program will have him prepared to handle as much or more of the workload, if needed.

“I would definitely like the ball as much as possible," McCaffrey said. “That’s something I feel can help us. That’s why I train. That’s why I take care of my body. If they need me to have 25 carries and eight catches a game, whatever they need me to do, I’m ready to go.

“Or if they need me to have eight carries and six catches but play the whole game and pass protect and help shifts on the D-ends, I’m ready to go."

The added bulk and quicker burst, McCaffrey believes, will help him be more effective on runs between the tackles. He took a lot of pride in that at Stanford, and he resented skeptics who said last year he couldn’t be an effective inside runner in the NFL.

“Back in the day, a lot of running backs used to be 230 pounds, ground and pound the ball right up the middle," said McCaffrey, who is 5-foot-11, 211 pounds. “One thing I pride myself is being able to do what those guys do, as well. One of the main reasons I went to Stanford was to run in a pro-style offense and show I can run between the tackles 25 to 30 times consistently.

“But also for me, it’s all about matchups. It’s the same with basketball. How can we get our best players with the ball in space? How can we create mismatches? When you have a back who is versatile and can do it all, you end up being able to run between the tackles and run outside."

The numbers, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, show McCaffrey was quite effective between the tackles last season. His 5.04 yards per rush ranked sixth among qualified running backs, and it was the best among the 15 running backs with 150-plus interior rushes.

His numbers between the tackles actually were better than on the outside, where he averaged 4.9 yards per carry and had only one touchdown, as compared to six inside.

Kula isn’t surprised.

“Christian is one of the finest athletes that I have been privileged to train," he said. “I have worked with other professional, collegiate and nationally ranked high school athletes, many whom I consider world class.

“He separates himself with his passion for development and a disciplined approach to body care, nutrition and extreme focus on being the very best at his craft."