How Christian McCaffrey trained for his monster start to the 2019 NFL season
An indication that Christian McCaffrey could be set for a huge 2019 came in April when the Carolina Panthers uploaded an image of their running back at the start of their offseason schedule.
In the picture, McCaffrey - who was said to lack the "desired size of an every-down back" in one pre-draft scouting report before he entered the NFL in 2017 - looked like a muscle-popping WWE action figure, complete with gargantuan biceps and shoulders.
The photo went viral, though the reaction over a 'bigger' McCaffrey amused his personal trainer.
"It's funny that everyone thinks he looks so much bigger because he didn't gain any weight," Brian Kula told Omnisport.
coming for it all pic.twitter.com/WQRIttO1qQ— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) April 30, 2019
It was after an underwhelming rookie season - when the eighth overall pick only rushed for 435 yards to go along with 651 through the air - that McCaffrey reunited with Kula, who coached the running back when he was both a football player and track athlete during his high-school days in Denver.
There were encouraging results in 2018, when McCaffrey broke the NFL single-season record for most receptions by a running back en route to a franchise-record 1,965 all-purpose yards, despite being unable to complete a full offseason with Kula due to a slight injury.
That was not a problem when the two got together ahead of this campaign - and the results have been incredible.
McCaffrey enters the Panthers' Week 6 game with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in London leading the NFL with a whopping 866 yards from scrimmage. That is the most by any player through the first five games since Hall of Famer Jim Brown had 988 in 1963.
A shock? Not to his coach.
"If I'm being totally honest, we're seeing exactly what we thought we would see," Kula admitted.
McCaffrey has combined speed, elusiveness and power to devastating effect; he showcased his athleticism last weekend by going in for a touchdown despite being flipped as he hurdled Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Tre Herndon.
Yet perhaps surprisingly given his incredible physique, McCaffrey's training regime does not feature hours upon hours in the gym.
"He really only trains about five or six hours a week," Kula explained.
"We feel like less is more, we definitely want him 100 per cent healthy and the way that we train, we're targeting the fast-twitch muscles. We incorporate a lot of recovery and rest with the training and what we do is very high output.
"We concentrate a lot on speed mechanics, speed loading, acceleration principles, which also translates to his lateral change of direction as well.
"In the weight room we're very unconventional with the type of lifting. We're pretty much after a concept called 'mass specific force', where we want him to be as strong and powerful as possible, without putting on any additional weight so we can keep his top-end speed up.
"His body-fat percentage came down [this year] and where we were concentrating on his strength was in his hips and in his legs. What you've seen is a reconfigured body, not necessarily a bigger body - certainly more powerful. We concentrated in the weight room on the deadlift and the development of his posterior chain."
This photo says it all... pic.twitter.com/AQvKCCxAn8— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) September 22, 2019
Kula has continued to speak with McCaffrey during the early stages of the regular season. The running back called his coach prior to boarding the flight to London earlier this week to get a daily fitness routine, as well as tips on hydration and travel.
"He would do as much as I asked him to do but has finally wrapped his head around recovery and rest being more important," Kula noted.
There are other key members of McCaffrey's inner circle too - including nutritionists and a chef who sends meals from Colorado twice a week.
"He is absolutely meticulous about everything that he does," Kula explained. "Where Christian separates himself is his attention to detail and absolute focus when it comes to his goals."
He might not be bigger, but so far McCaffrey has undoubtedly been better. Perhaps better than everyone else in the NFL too.