Ray Lewis: Intensity in Charm City

As he prepares for the ultimate retirement party at the Super Bowl, Baltimore Ravens’ stalwart linebacker Ray Lewis reveals the secrets behind the grueling workouts that helped forge an NFL legend

January 30, 2013

By Craig Davidson, interview by Michael DeMedeiros | Photos by Gregory James

Brickwall. Ray Ray. Raytorious. L52. He goes by many names, but Ray Lewis, the longtime linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens, is defined by one word: intensity. The man is a true monster of the gridiron. A holy terror to quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and hell, even punters — Lewis is an equal-opportunity punisher, inducing cold sweats in his opponents.

Intensity: that’s been Lewis’s MO for his entire career. He’s a man who simply loves to hit things, and in the NFL a man can reap many a reward for doing just that. Fame, money, respect — and in Lewis’s case, a Super Bowl championship ring. He’s in line to earn another one, as his Ravens suit up for Super Bowl XLVII against the San Francisco 49ers — which is timely, considering he plans to retire after this season.

Lewis is open about most things in his life, and he’ll admit that he’s made a few mistakes. Some big ones, in fact. Huge. There was the murder trial back in 2000, after Lewis and his pals were accused of stabbing two men to death at a Super Bowl party. He was sentenced to 12 months probation and fined $250,000 by the NFL, the highest amount ever levied.

And now, on the eve of the Super Bowl, Lewis is facing allegations that he took performance-enhancing substances — deer antler velvet, of all things, a substance that contains IGF-1, which is banned under the NFL’s (fairly porous) drug policy. The allegations hold that Lewis was spritzing himself with the stuff while healing a torn triceps muscle.

But Lewis is the Teflon Linebacker: nothing sticks. America is willing to forgive a winner for anything — including, it seems, alleged murder and deer-antler abuse! However, as the following interview proves, he has done commendable work as an ambassador to the game and is beloved by his fellow players (off the field).

The interview also reveals Ray-Ray’s incredible workout protocol. There’s no way a human body could withstand the grind of the NFL schedule for year upon year without the help of some smart conditioning techniques, and Lewis doesn’t disappoint. He is one of the league’s true ironmen, and as he tells it, it’s all a function of proper diet and training.

Read on to discover Lewis’s personal workout and learn how to implement his protocols the next time you’re at the gym.

Ray Lewis 1

Reps: Thanks for making the time for this interview, Ray. Let’s jump right into it: The NFL Network just named you one of the best players of all time. You’ve been at the top of the league for more than a decade. How have you evolved as a player from your days at the University of Miami?

Ray Lewis: Well, knowledge. Physical ability is a gift, but when you talk about evolving, it’s just my knowledge of the business itself—of the game. When I was younger, I was just running around making plays; now I can tell you where the play is going, when it’s coming and who’s going to get it—it’s that slow! So where I am now, I would never want to be 27 again. I know too much—that’s where my advantage is.

Is there any point in your career that you consider as a major turning point in the evolution of Ray Lewis?

When I sat down with Marvin Lewis [currently the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals] one day and said “Teach me the way a coach knows it—I want to learn exactly the way a coach knows it. Show me why you watch film—why you study this tendency. Show me the breakdowns you go through.” This conversation has forever changed my life because of the knowledge side of it. He always told me “Look, you can run like anybody I ever seen—like, oh my God! But if you ever add what you asked me for in your game, we’ll be talking to each other years down the road about the legacy you left.” Two days ago, he just texted me and said “How you still doing it?” But that’s the credit.

Let’s talk about the knowledge side of things. I’ve heard you talk about this before. It’s almost like a way of life for you, isn’t it?

Wow! Exactly. It’s the knowledge that drives you. Same thing in nutrition, same thing in competition, same thing in work ethic—it’s all the same form. Build yourself up to grab enough knowledge so you can make sure it fits you—not anybody else. And that’s why when I train, I don’t train or I don’t eat the way I eat or I don’t study the way I study for a game; I do it for a lifestyle because I know it all transcends one way or another. And that’s kind of been my motto from day one.

But executing that must be a challenge. How do you take that knowledge and use it to fuel a pro athlete who is one of the best in the history of the NFL?

The number one thing I talk about is blueprints. I like to see blueprints because blueprints mean somebody did some work. Somebody slowed down enough to do some work.

You’ve got a lot going on outside of the gridiron. What is the RL52 Group? How does it work?

It’s a collection of things that matter to me, and that’s why the RL52 Group is built the way it’s built: because it matters. Basically, it’s a collection of charitable and business efforts to inspire and make a difference in people’s lives. The merchant services we have, the staffing company we have, the real estate company we have, the clothing line company we have, the insurance things we have, the TwinLab deals we have… All of these separate things—my foundation side of it just by itself—are their own vehicle that we’re steering to say we have different ways to help educate people. It comes back to knowledge, and that’s all I believe knowledge is.

And what you do with that knowledge is important for your legacy.

Exactly! When we started this conversation, you asked what really evolved in me as a man and it’s simple: Knowledge is not to be gained or kept; it is to be shared. So everything that I’m doing here is only to go to the next Adrian Peterson [running back for the Minnesota Vikings] and say “Let me talk to him. Let me show you the fish bowl. From the fish bowl, tell me what you know about, where your strengths and weaknesses are and grab from it.” But let’s educate you. Let’s stop giving your agents three to five percent of your money. For what? So all of these things in every business that I have are one way or another created so that someone can take back their true identity and understand what their value is—understand where every dollar is accounted for. It’s all about who I’ve become as a man.

Ray Lewis is one of the most feared players in the game. That title must be a fairly heavy burden to carry. How does that weigh on you when you get on the grass?

That’s a different switch—it’s one that you don’t hesitate about. One line that I always use is based on lions. Wildlife has a certain way of following an order. That’s how lions are, and I always say “don’t ever wake up the sleeping giant.” If he sleeps, let him sleep. Because if you wake him up, you got a whole other thought process. And that’s what I am when I step on the field. I can go into a game and play a very corporate game, but when I step out there, that switch that I challenge myself with is on—and you can tell when the switch is on. That’s why another man—or other men—can say I’m the most feared because of what I give and the sacrifice of my body. See, that’s why when two men collide, the first thing you feel—anytime you get a collision—is one giving and one pulling forward. You feel that. And so, as a man, if you run into somebody full speed—pop—as soon as you get up you’re saying “Oh my gosh, can he come like that every play?”

But it shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. You’ve distinguished yourself as one of the best for more than a decade.

Thank you. I appreciate that, but I’ve never been the fastest. I’ve never been the biggest. I’ve never been the strongest. Period. Flat out, from childhood all the way up. But the bottom line is, I’ve never seen a man flat out outwork me—and that’s what my gridiron is about. Outwork me. I dare you! And that’s why I’m passionate and I’m a totally different animal when I’m out on the field.

You’re averaging about 40 collisions a week. That’s a lot of punishment to your body. I know that intensity is there and you get through the moment, but ultimately how do you prepare your body for that level of impact that often?

No pain lasts always. I get past pain very quickly. Pain has been a remedy in my life for a long, long time. And I promise you, the only way to deal with it is to recognize it exists and, once you do, move on. I’ve got to keep moving. Same thing with a play: If I hit somebody hard—pop—and I feel it, I’m like, um, OK, gotta go, next play. And that’s it! And then take all the years—it’s funny the way you broke that down, 40 hits per week—15 years as a pro, plus another three for college, plus another 10. It’s too much to think about.


But it’s pretty obvious that you like it. You bring the pain.

I always wanted to be the hammer—not the nail—so I like to hit people. You know, I wrestled, and that’s what I believe a collision is. Football is a team game, but on the wrestling mat, it’s one on one. And a hit, most of the time, is one on one.

And one on one, you’ve trained to take on anything.

Let’s understand something here. In a game situation, I’m playing against another man who’s going to have to make a choice: Do you come at me as fast as I’m coming at you? Ain’t too many men out there who will.

But the game is evolving, too. And new rules are limiting that kind of one-on-one, gladiator-style standoff.

The nature of the game is kind of floating almost away from us with all these different rules. It’s too much. You know, let people like me enjoy doing what they do because that’s the way the game is built. My job is simple: You got a football in your hand and the coach says you’ve got to take him down. Some say to pay your bills; I say to feed my kids. When you penalize me because I grabbed somebody by the jersey and they throw a penalty flag after the quarterback gets off the ground, they’re disrespecting the game. When I came in, I played with the Dan Marinos [retired NFL Hall of Fame quarterback]. I played with people who played the game for the game, not looking for a flag. That’s why I’m always pissed off on the football field.

And it shows. But has your approach changed at all?

No, it hasn’t. I always give this example: You ever watch a lion on the Serengeti when he sees a meal pass? He isn’t thinking; he’s reacting. Forget the rules. Forget if a cameraman is there filming him. He doesn’t care about the cameraman; that’s not his focus. I don’t care if they throw a flag. Throw it! You can throw it as many times as you want to throw it and it isn’t going to change my intensity—it isn’t going to change what type of speed I’m coming in to knock somebody out.

You make it sound easy. Ray Lewis is a lot of things, but I don’t get the impression that being you is easy. What is an average day like for you?

I wake up with prayer—just meditation. I just sit there. And when I sit on my beach, I’m listening to these waves and those waves have an order. I’ve got an order, too, but mine is a little different. Those waves on any beach know that they can’t come any farther because they’ve been commanded not to. We have the same commands—every day. Your watch, my watch, your phone, my phone. Those hands aren’t ever going to stop ticking. The question always remains, How much time will we waste? That’s why I train the way I do. That’s why I educate people the way I do. And that’s why the message that we’re trying to get out to everybody is to become one with yourself; then people will learn to deal with you. But I believe one of the reasons why people can’t deal with others is because they haven’t tapped into their inner being—who they really are.

How do you tap into who you really are?

Working out is, I believe, one of the greatest methods you’ll ever use because it’s just you and you—you don’t have to convince anybody else.

What drives you?

I know where I came from. I remember being the 130-pound kid, the 160-pound kid in ninth grade and only 10 pounds heavier in 12th grade. I remember those days, and they’re still the days that fuel me. That and keeping all of the clippings where people said what I couldn’t do—my greatest motivation. Loved it.

One of the things most people don’t know about you is that you take your nutrition and supplementation very seriously. Do you have any specific tips to give a guy who wants to reach at least some level of the same type of intensity that you bring every day?

I think the number one thing you have to find out is what’s good for you and what’s not foodwise. For 11 years, man, I didn’t entertain pork or beef—11 years! I just took it out of my diet. I grew up on pork my whole life. I used to love pork chop sandwiches—don’t know how I let them go. I used to put Miracle Whip on them.

You sure didn’t get into this shape doing that!

Oh, man, that’s what I’m trying to tell you (laughs). Something had to change. All these things I loved as a kid, I gave up—gone. But then I started rethinking my approach—you know, just getting a little personal. I get my colon cleansed and I really go hard at it. I flush out a lot—I’m always flushing. After an assessment of my blood, which is blood O-positive, it turns out I need beef in my diet. I took it out just because I took it out, but I need that. I need that more than I thought I did—the iron and all the things that’s in it. So now I’m back on that. I would tell guys to find out what’s good for them and what’s bad for them. Find out what gives you energy and what depletes you. Once you find out all that, then it’s up to you to follow through.

Does the same apply to your supplementation?

It’s definitely the same thing with supplements. Every supplement won’t work for everybody the same way, so you have to find out what works for you—how to cater to you. Should I take it in the morning? Should I take it on an empty stomach? Should I eat with it? What should I eat? Should I get up and eat a big breakfast? Should I eat a small breakfast? How many meals should I eat a day? I’m eating six or seven meals a day and what I do—what I’ve learned along the way—works for me.

What do you have to say to people who say they can’t do it?

You’re looking at a country that’s fighting obesity and over-the-counter medication addictions. What you learn when you look at everybody who speaks about these problems is that the people who say they can’t do it never wrote down a plan. But the good book says write the plan and make the plan, so if you take that part of it and you write these things down and look at it based on your own handwriting, then that’s on you. You see that’s a totally different thought process when you see your handwriting: It’s not a trainer writing up your program; you’re writing your program. And once you grab that part of it, then you can start educating yourself on “I need more of this, I need to do this more, I should have tried this.” That’s why I started incorporating yoga, pilates and spin classes. Everything starts filling in. Then I come to myself and say “Listen, I don’t do well with this, so let’s try something else.” Boom! It’s just becoming a person who understands who you are and telling somebody the truth instead of these fools that try to make you happy with false promises of things being easy or simple. You can make yourself happy by having a plan written out. Follow the plan.

It’s interesting because we started to talk about football and as we progressed we talked about training, nutrition, supplementation and your approach to the game. It always seems to come back to that same underlying principle, which is expanding on knowledge, always trying to get that foundation through plans and being commited to what you believe in.


Exactly. You’ve got a supplement line with TwinLab that, by all accounts, seems to match that same lifestyle approach. Tell us about Power Fuel.

Power Fuel is just one step; TwinLab is its own powerhouse. We just came together because we’re both on the same thought process of longevity and accountability. Trust me, in the locker room, you will go crazy at all the things that people say: “This helps, this will work, that will work.” With this supplement line, I told everyone involved “Whatever we do, let’s give them something that creates the longevity side of life, not just what they look like from the outside.” I don’t want quick fixes—they’re too easy. It’s a process of understanding why you’re taking the supplement. Read the supplement totally, see how it helps you, see how it doesn’t work for you. Then if it doesn’t, that’s cool, but nine times out of 10 it will.

Do you have any other projects in the works?

Power Fuel is step one of many; then you go into another form of the 52 weeks training DVD, which is a 12-disc DVD—nine for adults, three for kids. When I was a child, we didn’t have videogames, so all I could do every day was figure out a different person to race, wrestle or fight.

It all seems to boil down to passing what you’ve learned on to others. How important is it to you to spread your knowledge?

It means everything to me, and it gives me an opportunity to meet people and make a difference. I’m here today—I’m sitting here talking to you—and I’m sitting here saying “Wow, this is awesome.” And I get to pass along what I’ve learned. That’s the exciting part: I get to educate people—not just on the products but more of a lifestyle. It’s easy sometimes to write a book and tell somebody “Here, buy this book.” It’s another thing to look at somebody and say “Here’s my story. Find your story based off this and, if it works for you, send me a nice email back.” That’s how we share and spread knowledge. To come all the way back from the start of this interview, where you asked me about how I’ve evolved, it’s really all about how we evolve as human beings—all these different things. If this lifestyle can change one life, then I want to change two, three, four, a hundred, a thousand and so on. That’s how we keep spreading knowledge, and that’s what I’m trying to do.


10 Training Questions with Ray Lewis

You’re the first pro athlete to have his own app designed to create workouts for his fans. How does the app work? Is it really reflective of Ray Lewis’ training?

The app is a great opportunity to capture the kind of instructional videos that show people how to train right. I think one of the things with me is that I’m very old school in how I train. Bringing it all together, you download the app and then take my training—and people are sometimes shocked by the work. They’re like, “Oh my gosh, that many reps?” But it’s really based on you. There’s a number on your screen that’s your goal for reps, but it’s based on you. You can go way above that number if you really want to challenge yourself.

A challenge from Ray Lewis sounds like one that a lot of guys would love to be able to say they can handle.

But it’s not easy. Every workout that I draw up is designed to fail—you’re not there to make it—so if that’s on your mind, you’ve kind of already defeated yourself. You know, I look at us as three-part beings: mind, body and spirit. Before you challenge your body, you’ve got to challenge your mind. Before you even think about your mind, hopefully your spirit is what gets you up. When you step into the weight room, I really don’t care about your body.

And that’s how you train for game day?

I don’t train for a sport; I train for a lifestyle. And whenever I go home—whenever the good Lord brings me home—one thing everybody will look back and say is “He never stopped working.” That’s what the app was about—that’s what this is about: recreating who you are from the inside out. Then deal with you.

If you’re not training for a sport, what do you do that’s different from the average football player in the gym?

I think I do everything we’re not supposed to do [laughs]. Every workout that I have is 60 minutes—that’s all I need. I’ll tell anybody that. You train with me, give me 60 minutes. Now the question is, how many times are we going to entertain those 60 minutes? My first workout is at seven, then done at eight. Resting from eight to 9:30. My next workout is at 10. then I rest from 10 to 11. My next is probably at one. From one, we go to three. From three, we go to five. From five, we go to seven.


How do those workouts go?

I start with whatever I’m going to end with, so if I started with 50 hundred-meter sprints on the beach, 20 bounds, 30 penguin walks and lunges for 200 yards, then I go back and do the opposite all over again. That’s the confusion because I’m challenging different muscles at different times that I’m going right back to in a totally different manner. I’ve got an abs exercise list: I do my abs sheet that morning the right way. That evening, I go the reverse way. The next day, I do the same sheet of abs starting in the middle; then I go down and finish the top. The next day, I start at the top and go down. The next day, I’m back to the beginning, running the same thing.

You do a lot of weight training. Walk us through your approach.

Weight training is the only thing that probably stays more consistent in my workout because of the dumbbell work. I believe dumbbell work is the greatest isolation of work that you will ever get. Give me a pair of dumbbells and I’m in heaven. And the program that I built over the past 11 years is what I use when I know I want to put on weight and strength. Without that, every other workout is a
new workout.

Does it ever get stale?

No, I’m always trying new things. This summer, I’ll be on a whole other thought process because I’m already starting to deal with tai chi and slowly work my way through. You see, you can walk in the gym and do all these things. You can sweat—anything can make you sweat—but I like to learn what I’m doing. So, like, when I started kickboxing two years ago, my instructor looked at me and said, “You will be able to go 12 to 15 rounds with me with a 30-second break.” At first, I’m sitting there thinking “I can’t make it through one round, never mind 12 to 15 rounds.” But then I took four months of that training and there’s a trophy that’s sitting in my house and it’s completely worth it.

Are you going to continue kickboxing competitively?

No, because that won’t excite me—I’ve got to keep moving. Maybe I’ll get in touch with Michael Phelps and tell him I want him to take me through a lot of swimming workouts. It’s about changing things up and learning new things—beating new challenges.

Is that how you approach all your training?

It’s about challenging myself in different areas—that’s all it is. And that’s why every one of my workouts is the way it is. I’m old school, so I keep a pen and pad. I don’t deal with electronics a lot because they fail you, but I deal with this pen and pad and if you want to know what the workout is, there it is. That’s it—it ain’t hard. If you read that and want to train with me, it’s simple. You know what time we’re getting up in the morning and I’m going to need you to be prepared for that. I’m not walking through the house; I’m not going to yell and shout to get you going. Once that clock hits 60, then you know it’s time. In the first five minutes, I want your heart to almost burst because that’s when I’m going to find out who you are. You see, those casual workouts that everybody does—the “let’s warm up today” folks—that’s on your time. When we get out there—when I’m training—I need to work.

And when you say work, you obviously mean intensity, but what training methods do you employ?

Every workout that I have is designed to fail. It’s not about making it through the workout—I won’t, you won’t, nobody will—so that isn’t even the motivation. The approach is to go to failure and give everything you’ve got for 60 minutes. Then there’s an hour-and-a-half break, only to do it all over again—that’s how my workouts are built.


The Total Body Workout

“I train with high-rep, heavy weights,” Ray Lewis told me on the set of his photo shoot. This workout does just that. Normally, Ray trains every set to failure, but since it’s catered to you, the Reps reader, we’re suggesting that you start with the levels listed below:

Incline Bench Press: 4 Sets x 12 Reps
Dumbbell Shrug: 4 Sets x 12 Reps
Flat Bench Press: 4 Sets x 12 Reps
Dumbbell Row: 4 Sets x 12 Reps
Front Raise: 2 Sets x 12 Reps
Lateral Raise: 2 Sets x 12 Reps
Lying Triceps Extension: 3 Sets x 14 Reps
Biceps Curl: 2 Sets x 14 Reps
Cross-Body Curl: 2 Sets x 14 Reps
Hanging Leg Raise: 2 Sets x 12 Reps
Hanging Oblique Crunch: 2 Sets x 12 Reps