Carolina Panther Cam Newton is the quarterback of the 2014 Muscle & Fitness Strength Team, supplanting Colin Kaepernick from last year’s roster. Why did Newton get the nod? Many reasons: He’s huge (6’6”, 245 pounds); he’s productive (the first player in NFL history with at least 10,000 yards passing, 1,000 yards rushing, 50 touchdown passes and 25 rushing touchdowns in his first three seasons); and he’s a winner (12 wins and an NFC South Division title last year for the Panthers).
But these are just the things you see on TV. What you don’t see is the physical labor that went into it all, both on the practice field and in the weight room. Newton’s work ethic in the gym is just as impressive as his play on the field, and just as diverse, too. His training program is expertly tailored to fit his unique and multi-dimensional skill set by Panthers head strength and conditioning coach Joe “Big House” Kenn and Kenn’s assistant Jason Benguche, a rising star in the strength game who works with Newton one-on-one.
“Cam is a great kid,” says Kenn. “He’s a jovial guy, always with a smile. When he comes into the weight room, he has that pizzazz, but he knows it’s business. Cam’s workouts usually last, depending on the day, between 30 and 35 minutes, and it’s balls to the wall the entire time. We don’t lollygag in here. Everything he does is in a circuit. There aren’t many breaks, because we want to get him in and out so he can go take care of his other responsibilities. Cam is very, very diligent. He’s a very strong kid and has a lot of power. It’s pretty impressive to watch the guy move around in the weight room.”
This past summer, M&F caught up with Newton at Panthers training camp in Spartanburg, South Carolina, to gain some insight into exactly how he approaches the weight room.
M&F: Joe Kenn and Jason Benguche both mentioned that you focus almost entirely on single-limb work in the gym. One leg and one arm at a time, nothing with barbells, the core always being work. What’s the purpose of this?
Cam Newton: It’s about trying to train the body symmetrically and strengthen smaller muscles that are crucial to what I do on the field. I don’t play a position that’s regular or that another person may have. If you look on the field, there’s only one quarterback. It’s not like with two running backs or a couple receivers. So I have to be able to sharpen the blades, and not only be prepared to take the role of a quarterback but also take many different roles if asked to. It’s kind of like preparing myself as a running back or a tight end.
M&F: Do you feel like you have to prepare yourself for the unknown and unexpected on the field?
CN: You do. Getting your body as prepared as possible – that’s the thing that’s going to separate athletes every single year. I’ve always tried to focus on one particular point each and every offseason that will take my game to the next level and make me better. And this particular offseason, with me being injured [Newton had ankle surgery this past off-season, though he played in all 16 games in 2013 plus a playoff game and the Pro Bowl], I’ve been focusing on the core more than ever as well as overall balance so that when my body is contorted in the pocket, or when I’m running the football and I have to make this or that cut, I’m not in an unorthodox position.
With my playing style, I understand that my body has to be ready to do more than just throw the football. I have to take my body through the rigors and be prepared to take hits and be strong enough to tote the ball 10 times a game if asked to. At my position, the core is very important, as is overall body balance. Because there’s very rarely a time when you have a perfect pocket. You have to be able to torque and control your body to make accurate throws, whether it’s a blitz or a pretty pocket.
M&F: You’ve had tremendous success in the league already in only three years, winning Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2011, playing in two Pro Bowls and leading the Panthers to 12 wins last season. How do you stay motivated to keep working hard for even more success?
CN: There’s always motivation for us because our number one goal and why we play this game is not for individual statistics; it’s for one reason and one reason only, and that’s to win the Lombardi Trophy. As players, we play for a lot of different reasons, whether it’s for our family, for notoriety, for team success. And I feel that if we can achieve that common goal to bring a championship to Charlotte, North Carolina, it would work wonders for each and every one of us on this team. We always have a saying on this team: One Team, One Dream. And our dream is to one day soon hoist that Super Bowl trophy.
M&F: So you carry that motivation into the gym, not just the practice field?
CN: Absolutely. It’s a standard that’s set that starts in the weight room. Because during the off-season, many teams overlook that time that you have in the weight room and just go through the motions as if it’s not important. But we have guys like Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, myself – guys that hold each other accountable. It’s like, if you have 10 reps to do, do 10 good quality reps. Don’t just do enough to say you did it. With the group of guys on this team holding each other accountable, it’s the little things that are going to make a big difference for us this season.