Towards the end of Ben Roethlisberger’s career, his offseason work habits changed. It went from the goal of being the cliched “best shape of your life” heading into camp to managing his arm and overall health to get ready for a long year. Training camp, preseason, regular season, and (hopefully) playoffs takes its toll.
In an appropriately enough offseason episode of Roethlisberger’s Footbahlin podcast, with co-host Spence, Roethlisberger discussed his offseason philosophy. Famously, Roethlisberger did little work after the season ended, choosing to rest his arm instead of working hard throughout the summer months. He explained why.
“I like to actually rest my body again,” Roethlisberger said of the offseason break after OTAs and minicamp. “Because I knew what I was about to go into. Now early on in my career, this was a time like, ‘okay, get yourself ready to go to camp. I’m going to camp. I’m being in this crazy good shape, this, that and the other, and get my arm ready and all that.’ And then as I got older I was like, you throw and work out so much at camp that it’s like I actually found it better to like not throw during this time. Maybe a week before camp. Just so I wasn’t going in super rusty, but I wouldn’t throw during this time because I felt it so much more productive. I found it so much more productive to let my arm rest.”
Roethlisberger said the mindset shift occurred in about the eighth year of his career, slowly backing off his training until he found the line between being too rusty and being “too prepared.” His lack of offseason work habits led some to poke fun at him for it, once basically telling Chris Simms he just shows up and throws without any thought given to mechanics or work habits, but when you’re a two-time Super Bowl winner, it’s hard to argue with the results.
It’s a departure from the route seen with plenty of today’s quarterbacks, grinding away with hours on the field and in the gym. Kenny Pickett has been hard at work this offseason, training with QB guru Tony Racioppi, heading to Florida to train with teammates, throwing with WR Allen Robinson two days before his wedding, and hitting the gym two weeks after the team’s season ended. Of course, he’s only in his second year (though he’s also already 25) and his arm is fresher than Roethlisberger’s was throughout his 30s.
Occasionally, Roethlisberger did take a weekend and throw and work out with Steelers teammates. But those moments were few and far between. Roethlisberger believed it kept his arm fresh for the season’s grind and even told other teams wondering how to handle their veteran quarterback than doing less was more.
“I’ve had GMs that I’ve talked to…that were like, ‘hey, how does your arm stay fresh till the end of the season?’ Because my arm at the end of my career, my last six, seven, eight years felt great at the end of the season…if you watch football, you could see guys’ arms start to fatigue at the end of the season. For good reason. You’re throwing a lot of footballs. And I [told the GMs], I don’t throw in the off season.”
Late in his career, especially in his final two seasons following his season-ending elbow surgery in 2019, Roethlisberger focused more on cardio and mobility. His knees were getting bad and his ability to break contain had waned, becoming a pure pocket passer with some of the league’s quickest releases. His work probably didn’t help much, running around the track doesn’t remedy knees full of scar tissue, but that was the extent of his offseason work.
Pittsburgh also limited his camp reps over his last 10 or so years, putting him on a full-day, half-day, off-day schedule to save his arm. Post-practice, he famously would be wrapped head to toe in ice.
The offseason mindset combined with the regular-season results speaks to the level of physical talent Roethlisberger had. An old-school mentality of show up, throw a couple touchdowns, win, and repeat. It wasn’t heavily analyzed or critiqued. It worked so why change it? Two Super Bowls, a future first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee, and one of the greatest quarterbacks of his era. It’s safe to say he got the results he was looking for.
Catch the whole offseason episode by clicking the link below.