Boxing Workouts Push Finley's Limits

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When the 2009 season ended a little less than three months ago, tight end Jermichael Finley thought he'd try to find an offseason training regimen that would provide a little change of pace.

It turned out he got way more than he bargained for.

Encouraged by hometown friend and professional boxer Brian Vera, Finley spent several weeks doing boxing workouts back home near Austin, Texas, as a prelude to returning to Green Bay last month for the team's official strength and conditioning program.

It was not only an eye-opening but tongue-dragging experience for Finley to discover just how well-conditioned boxers really are.

"I promise you, boxing is a different story," Finley said. "It's an intense workout. I was dying out there."

As a supplement to daily weightlifting and pass-catching, Finley worked a couple of evenings per week at XFC Gym near Austin with boxing trainer Dave Watson, who trains Vera, a fighter who has appeared on HBO and Showtime fights and on ESPN's reality show, The Contender.

Not one to do anything half-speed, Finley dove into a set of drills that ran the gamut. Footwork, jump ropes, the heavy bag, and even "sparring" that consisted of Finley putting on the headgear and throwing combinations of punches at Watson's mitted hands, only absorbing a return blow from Watson if he got tired and dropped his arms too low.

After every exercise, Finley was gassed. Hitting a heavy bag that was swinging back at him took a lot of energy. So did successive jump-rope periods with only a minute of rest in between.

But nothing topped the sparring or "mitt" sessions when he would go five rounds of three minutes apiece popping Watson's hands, concluding each round with 30 seconds of non-stop punching when he would have given his left arm just to be able to put his arms down to rest.

"I'm telling you, the hardest thing to do is keep your hands up," Finley said. "If you ever see boxers in the ring who aren't punching, it's because their arms are tired. Dead serious."

Finley had no idea what boxing could do for his wind and his stamina, but he felt the benefits immediately upon beginning his football-specific work in Green Bay. He says the workouts with his fellow players are "a breeze" now, which they weren't a year ago in his first full NFL offseason program.

"The football players think it's easy because they're athletes and they're in good shape," said Watson, who had worked with some Arena Football League players previous to Finley. "But most of them can't last one or two rounds in the ring. Even Finley, the first day we went a round on mitts, he was exhausted. He was like, 'Oh my gosh, I didn't know this was this hard.'

"It's a different conditioning level, but it does have a lot of similarities to football."

Particularly with footwork and hand movements. For a tight end like Finley who needs to use his hands to both separate from press coverage and engage defenders as a blocker, it's key to beat the other guy to the punch, so to speak.

He also needs quick feet that can help him get in position to throw blocks and get off the line of scrimmage to run routes.

"There's a lot of pivoting, and it develops fast hands," Watson said. "It teaches these guys to move their feet with their hands, the coordination level. Boxing is very technical and it's precise, so it's teaching them to use precision in their movements, which they can incorporate into football.

"The biggest thing about these football players is it teaches them to relax. Because in boxing, if you're going to last long, you have to relax, and when you relax, you get quicker."

Finley said he could feel he was making progress almost immediately, and Watson was impressed with how quickly Finley improved from a "fish out of water" in his first boxing workout to a smooth, powerful shark by early March.

"He's a big strong guy, and when he hits those mitts, your whole arm shakes," Watson said. "He hits really hard. But I got him to relax and he got fluid, he started moving on his feet. It was enjoyable to see a big guy like that move."

{sportsad300}Finley enjoyed it so much that he's still working it into his daily routine now. He shadow-boxes by himself in the sauna adjacent to the team's locker room on occasion, and he found a local gym on the east side of Green Bay where he's continuing to train in the evenings, outside of his offseason workout schedule at the team facility.

He's even been joined by a pair of teammates - linebackers Nick Barnett and Brandon Chillar - a couple of nights per week for the boxing workouts, and they're liking it too.

"It's a whole different type of shape you've got to get into," Barnett said. "Boxing shape and football shape are two different things, and to have your arms up throwing punches, it's very draining. It's very good for us linebackers, though, because we do a lot of ... not punching, but punching in the essence of pushing guys off of us. I think it's good."

Finley's combination of size, strength and athletic ability helped him become an emerging star in 2009, and many eyes will be on him to see how he improves going forward. A nightmare matchup for linebackers or safeties, Finley nearly set the Green Bay franchise record for receptions in one season by a tight end with 55, despite missing nearly four full games due to a knee injury.

He finished the year with 676 yards and five touchdowns, and then added a Packers playoff-record 159 yards receiving in the NFC Wild Card game at Arizona.

Can adding the skills and stamina of a boxer keep him a step ahead of defenders who will be studying him that much harder to figure out how to slow him down? It remains to be seen.

But no matter the answer from a physical standpoint, Finley feels that mentally the challenge of the boxing drills - like punching constantly for 30 seconds when his arms are so tired he can barely hold them up - is giving him an edge he didn't have before.

"Every day I had to boxing train, I said, 'Should I go today, or should I not,' because that's how tough it is. Seriously," Finley said. "But I sucked it up because I knew it was going to make me better in the end."

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