Underneath Gronk's pads

Rob Gronkowski talks about his experience shooting the Body Issue

Updated: July 14, 2012, 4:20 PM ET
By Morty Ain | Photographs: Peggy Sirota

This is an extended interview from the 2012 ESPN The Magazine Body Issue. Subscribe to the Mag today!

Why did you decide to pose for the Body Issue?
RG: My favorite NBA player, Blake Griffin, was in it, so I thought it would be a cool thing to do. This issue shows just how hard athletes work. We're working out all the time, making sure we're staying in shape, making sure we're strong and fast. This is a good opportunity to show all that work and dedication.

What do you want people to know about you?
RG: I'm a hard worker and always dedicated. When I'm in, I'm all in -- to get it done, to get where I need to be.

Talk about your family tree and your athletic genes.
RG: My great-grandfather was an Olympian, and the athletic ability started from there. My father played football at Syracuse. All my brothers are great athletes. The oldest played baseball at Jacksonville University (D1), the second oldest played football at Maryland and now is in the NFL, the third played with me at Arizona and now plays for the Denver Broncos and my little brother is playing football at Kansas State. It's an honor to be part of a family like that, and it's a blast to always have others to compete with and get better with.

Growing up in a family like that, were you expected to be a professional athlete?
RG: The thinking was, You've got to go to college and get a scholarship. The goal was to be a professional athlete, but we were told to work as hard as we could and go all in and try to get as far as we possibly could in the sports world.

How did your dad influence you and your brothers?
RG: He introduced us to the weight room and to conditioning, and he helped us get better. He always motivated us. He kept us going by being our coach and telling us what it takes to get there, to be the best, to keep competing and be ahead of everyone.

My father was in the fitness equipment retail business, so our basement was always a weight room, ever since I was a little kid. My dad always worked out, and he kept adding more and more equipment. By the time I started working out, it was basically a full gym. I was definitely inspired by seeing my father work out, by how in shape he was.

My great-grandfather was an Olympian. My father played football at Syracuse. All my brothers are great athletes. It's an honor to be part of a family like that.

What was it like growing up in a house of five boys?
RG: It's the best. You're not ever lonely. I always had someone to play with, whether it was backyard baseball or mini sticks or throwing the football around. It gave me an advantage in the athletic world because I was always competing against my older brothers, who were bigger than me and faster than me. I was used to going up against them, so then when I played with my own age group, the kids were a lot smaller, a lot slower, and not as good as my brothers, obviously. It made it feel easy.

Did the friendly competitions ever turn physical?
RG: There was always competition around the house, and there were always fights. If we were in a friendly competition, it always ended in a fight -- that was the best thing about it. I'd keep going at my brothers even if they were beating me up. I think I got my toughness because they were always pounding on me when I was a young kid. Punches were thrown every day.

We also played a game we called Zoom. Everyone shoves a pillow up his shirt and starts in a different corner of the room, and we all run into each other and see who bounces off the farthest. It was a blast. We were running full speed at each other and decking each other, but we wanted to keep going back for more.

We competed every single day, just around the house. Even at the dinner table, it was first come, first served. Right when you get there, you start grabbing and eat as much as you can. That's how it worked. Things have definitely gotten easier as I've gotten older.

What do you like about your body?
RG: I'm pretty proud of my core. I work out my core for about 15 to 20 minutes a day. I love doing sit-ups, and I do a lot of planks. I'll do a one-minute plank and a 30-second side plank and do five sets of that. I'm also proud of having overall strength, upper body to lower. I'm not strong in just one area but strong throughout my whole body, and I think that brings a competitive advantage because I can outlast another guy on the field. I started lifting in my basement in eighth grade -- that's when my father introduced me to the weight room. He started me with some easy things, such as high reps, and introduced proper form and got me going before everyone else. So I started building up strength in eighth grade, and I believe that's what got me to where I am now.

Coordination was the hardest thing as a kid. Being so big, my running was a little sloppy. But I'm all cleaned up now.

What challenge do you face with your body?
RG: Coordination was the hardest thing as a kid. Being so big, I wasn't very coordinated. Now that I've gotten used to my body and gotten control of it, I'm definitely way more coordinated. As a kid, I didn't exactly have problems, but you could just tell when I was running out onto the field that I got tall quickly. My running was a little sloppy. But I'm all cleaned up now.

What is the most difficult thing you put your body through in training?
RG: Running and conditioning. Especially coming off an injury or a month of not training hard, when you're trying to get back into it and running sprints. Your body just feels like shutting down when you first start grinding and sprinting and getting conditioned again. You're out of breath, your body is cramping, you're feeling sore, all of that. So now I'm just running constantly -- sprints, agility, shuttles. I do it all, all the time.

What exercise can't you live without?
RG: Core work, planks and back work, because I had back surgery, and the rehab is core and back. You do the core work to get your back right. Strong core equals strong back.

What do you tell yourself when you feel like you can't train any further?
RG: You just need a couple of days of rest and a good night's sleep, and you're right back. Give it a day or two and it'll work like a machine again. If you work out, you just know when your body needs to shut down and get some rest and let all the muscles rebuild. And after that time, you crave getting back in there, you're ready to go and you feel stronger than ever. You want about seven to nine hours of sleep every single night to have your body fully recovered and feeling good. Rest is very important to conditioning.

Any bad habits?
RG: I love candy, and I love ice cream. I kind of ration it out; if I have a lot of ice cream, I'll make sure I do a couple of extra sprints the following day. Just balance it out. But if every once in a while I have a Snickers bar, there's no harm in that.

Have you ever felt betrayed by your body?
RG: When you aren't strong enough to move a guy or you aren't fast enough to outrun a guy, you learn that you have to work harder. You've got to get in the weight room and condition, or you've got to get your speed up, and that comes from training. You feel those moments in your rookie year because everyone is way bigger in the NFL, everyone is way faster, all the guys can move, all the guys are strong. As a rookie, I knew I had to go hard and my body needed to get stronger in order to compete. It's a big change. But if you want to be the best, you have to train the hardest.

What was your favorite athletic moment -- a time when everything clicked and you felt completely in tune with your body?
RG: Offseason workouts in college, especially after my freshman year. I felt great, my body felt strong, and I felt in tune as I got it rolling. I felt like I grew into my body. Plus all that motivation: everyone training around me, techniques from the strength coach, an offseason training program I hadn't been in before & I just felt great by the end. My body felt ready to go, ready to play ball.

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