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
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.
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.