With the opening of NFL training camps this past week, the 2017-18 NFL season is here. Similar to the first day of school, it’s not uncommon for the media to look around the league and stake stock of which individuals gained weight, lost weight or radically changed their bodies in hopes of boosting their performance.For decades, football players were only concerned with gaining as much muscle mass as possible but long gone are the days of offensive linemen binge eating in order to gain as much weight as possible.

The trend for the 2017 season is to see athletes whom not only have changed their physique with more muscle and less fat but also prioritized muscle recovery and flexibility. Cam Newton for instance, only trains for 30 to 35 minutes with the majority of his exercising being single limb exercises in order to build core strength and strengthen specific joints. He almost never uses barbells which have long been the staple of elite powerlifters. Instead, he focuses on core strength in order to take hits and still throw the football.

What used to be thought of as unorthodox training is now common place. Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott attributes much of his conditioning to short, interval training, boxing sessions according to Muscle and Fitness magazine. These unconventional training methods aim to build “functional” strength or the ability to display strength during an activity as opposed to traditional bodybuilding which emphasizes the muscular look.

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr utilizes a mixture of powerlifting and agility foot work to build his explosion. The goal is to not only build a strong and muscular look but to increase hand-eye coordination, agility and change of direction. Focusing entirely on bodyweight is often viewed in a negative light because often times the athlete who is focused on gaining bodyweight will often gain too much body fat

NFL athletes are also turning to nutrition coaches and recovery experts to enhance their performance outside of the gym. Many top NFL athletes are monitoring their sleep quality with apps to see how deep they sleep. By focusing less on looking like a bodybuilder, athletes are able to spend less time in the gym and more time using contrast showers, saunas and float tanks which all aim to decrease inflammation and improve muscular recovery.

Athletes are also shifting away from traditional low fat diets in order to focus on nutrition plans that focus on lowering muscle inflammation. “NFL players who are concerned with longevity in the sport and their health are eating less refined carbohydrates and consuming more nutrient dense food and supplements like branched chain amino acids, fish oil and multi vitamins to help their recovery” says nutrition consultant Jimmy Smith.

Tom Brady’s approach includes removing all dairy and other pro-inflammatory foods from his diet to decrease muscle soreness. The NFL will always be viewed as a tough guy league but many of today’s top athletes are prioritizing less muscle and more recovery to perform on sundays.