" Not a dancer but a wrestler: waiting, poised and dug in, for sudden assaults " - - Marcus Aurelius
I don’t know whether I was embarrassed or frustrated, but either way I was livid. Here I was, a 300lb man who could bench press a small car and squat a large house getting thrown around by a 150lb 50-year-old and there was nothing I could do to stop him. What made matters worse was he was my new coach and I desperately wanted to impress him. This was bad, really bad. It was the winter of 2003 and my new position coach, Dan Dorazio had asked me to come in for some early off-season workouts. What I thought would be a great opportunity to make a stellar first impression was quickly turning into an exercise in humiliation. I had all the strength in the world, but apparently, I had no anchor. Or at least I hadn’t LEARNED HOW to anchor yet. Making all my strength useless when the real world (or even a 150lb man) decided it wanted to push me around.
The anchor drill, as with any affective drill places you in an exposed situation to force your body to compensate, adapt and hopefully overcome whatever limitations were present prior. This drill was humiliating and seemed pointless, that was until I learned what it was designed to teach me, how to anchor yourself.
Dan had me stagger my feet, and spread them extremely wide apart. Think of an over exaggerated offensive lineman stance or a sumo wrestler. While keeping my chest spread and upright, I was to drop or “sink” my but down as far as possible into a deep squat. This all resembled what I had done most of my life while trying to stop a man from running me over. The catch now was I had to have my hands behind my back!
Dan then nestled his head beside mine and wrapped his arms around the back of my neck. Similar to two wrestlers engaged except I did not have the luxury of my arms. As Dan would gently (that’s a HUGE understatement) push and pull me from behind my head my objective was to hold my ground, while keeping my upper body posture as intact as possible. At least that’s what was explained to me. What I did was just fall flat on my face when he pulled and fell flat back on my ass when he pushed. How embarrassing!
I took some solace in later learning Dan went way harder on me that first session than the usual drill would ever call for. We also (thankfully) never went THAT hard ever again. He wanted to make 2 very clear points that first workout:
1) How important and necessary a strong anchor is
2) That I did not yet have one
The premise of the drill is to teach you two things:
1) To be flexible but strong with your torso amidst the ongoing pushing and pulling forces coming at you. To know how to move with that force just enough as to not waste all of your energy, but be rigid enough as to maintain your intended shape. Like the trunk of a tree in a heavy-winds. It moves with forces just enough but flights to never give up its intended shape.
2) To learn how to create STRONG roots to the ground. To anchor yourself down into the earth. As your torso wrestles with the pushing and pulling your lower body learns to drive everything down, down deep. Your center of gravity gets trained to literally “ANCHOR”.
In reality though, objective number 1 cannot be attained if objective number 2 is not mastered. The strength of your roots or anchor is everything. Without that, we will not be able to work with the pushing and pulling of life or the defender without getting pushed or pulled right over.
This drill became a staple over the years and I can confidently say, I never went a week of the season without us practicing it at least once. The intensity and volume of time dedicated to the drill would vary depending on other parameters of what the practice demanded at any given point of the season. The point is, we never went too long without a reminder to anchor and the drill to put knowledge into action. Just like so many other things in life, the knowledge of why an offensive lineman needs a strong anchor is very easy to understand, the process of learning HOW to actually anchor and engrain that ability to stay anchored takes constant work.
There are so many drills we did over the course of my career. Some specific and others foundational. Specific drills are exactly that, they work to enhance a specific target need for a specific purpose. For offensive lineman that could be something like training proper hand placement on the defender’s hip and near chest in defense of a pass rush move called the “rip” move. Pinning your left hand on their right hip and punching your right hand through their right pec will enable you to in essence bend them backwards is they try to rip past you with a right uppercut crossing your body.
That is a specific drill to defeat a specific problem. The anchor drill is foundational. Like back squatting in the strength and conditioning world. It makes you better at almost everything else you do, and without it, everything else you do is like putting icing on a cake that hasn’t been properly baked yet, it’s still mush. Not smart.
It took a ton of work, but with Dan’s constant drilling, I did build my anchor. I needed to. I spent my entire career as the smallest lineman in the whole league. Every single battle I went up against were with people bigger than I was. Without a strong anchor I would have had no chance. With no ability to play “rooted” I would have been pushed and pulled by anybody and everybody that wanted to come hard at me. It still happened though. Football, like life is a tough teacher and keeps testing you to see if you’ve forgotten the important lessons or gotten lazy with foundational training. That’s one of the million things I love about football, it gave you a weekly test, and your opponent was the teacher, quizzing you to see what you have learned or forgotten. Challenging your anchor is one of those questions that gets asked on EVERY SINGLE TEST.
The thing is, just like football, life constantly tests you. It will push and pull at you from every angle, and without anyway of anchoring yourself you can easily get thrown right on your face or butt! What’s the solution? Build your anchor!
I don’t have coach Dorazio anymore and most of you don’t have a personal coach either. So, we have to build the drills ourselves, get the practice reps in on our own. That’s exactly what I have learned to do. 11 years with coach D had taught me the value of not just having an anchor, but the importance of continually working at it to keep it strong.
MY DAILY ANCHOR DRILL
I’m up daily at 5am. That’s the alarm, but in reality, I’m usually awake by 4:45. The early start allows me to get my routine in and done before my family gets up and gets going. Having time for a proper family breakfast is vital for me in keeping family communication, unity and roots strong. So, I get my personal anchoring done before it’s family then work time.
Upon rising. Big glass of water to rehydrate from sleep then straight to some short breathing exercise to enhance oxygen update and really wake me up – maybe 6 minutes total.
Right after breathing I’ll sit for a few minutes and write in my journal. My journaling may be unique in that I’m actually writing morning letters to my two-year-old son. Nothing too long, just letting him know about great things he did last night or we did together as a family. Things I’m looking forward to doing with him as a family that evening and any lessons from those experiences I want to remind him of. Mostly I just let him know how much I love him and his mother and remind him of the importance of family. I have no idea if he will ever read these when he grows up or not and I’m not really sure if that’s my intention. What this ritual really does is anchor me emotionally for the day. It’s sets a strong reminder of what really matters and allows me to put everything else that happens the rest of the day in constant perspective. No matter how good or bad things may get, what matters most to me is my family. Everything else isn’t worth getting emotionally thrown around by. I’m anchored.
After writing for maybe 10 minutes I’ll head downstairs to my basement gym I have built. It’s nothing fancy, but perfect for what I want to get done. Yes, I now train on an empty stomach in a fasted straight. That is a whole other story, but I couldn’t see myself training any other way now. I no longer need complex training programs to prepare for a football season. I still lift heavy though. A few foundational movements, with heavy loads always emphasizing maximal contraction of my muscles. Not long. Maybe 30 minutes total. A few deadlifts, squats and some pressing, that’s it. No warmup – something else I learned from Dan many years ago. Just go. Pick up some weight, squat some weight and press some weight. No high reps, no burn. Just a few low reps trying to create as much tension through my body as possible. That’s it. My body is physically “set”, ready to face the day, stimulated and strong. I’m anchored.
The next 5 minutes will be spent reviewing my “Things a GET to do today” list. This is something I picked up from reading Jamie Gilbert’s “The Principle Circle”. Simply changing your TO DO list to, things I GET TO DO, is a subtle yet powerful mind shift from having things you HAVE to do, to things you are PRIVILEGED to be able to do. It’s your choice what you do with your life each and every day. My list are the things I choose to do with my day that will make the biggest difference in my life. This list I make the night before. Maybe 30 mins before bed after my little guy is asleep. I don’t want to be rushed when making this. I really want to make sure I’ve thought through the whole day, my commitments and opportunities. So, come morning, post workout, I can take 5 minutes to review and mentally anchor myself for the day. My focus is set. I know what the mission is. This helps me bigtime avoid needless distraction and time wasters that are always there trying to push and pull you in every direction other than where you really want to go. I’m anchored.
That’s it. Then it’s a refreshing cold shower and breakfast time with my family before heading off to go win the day. Pretty simple really. Like most effective things in life, it’s not complicated but it’s in the actual daily DOING of it that makes all the difference in the world.
I by no means believe I have come up with the magic anchoring formally, but I do believe everyone needs to have something that sets, grounds and anchors them. The world today is so busy and at every turn you will find yourself pushed and pulled in every direction away from where you really want to be. We all know what matters most to us, the real trick is not forgetting that when it may, actually matter most.
In football it is pretty obvious why an offensive lineman needs to anchor themselves, if they can’t, there is no way they will effectively be able to do their job and keep living their dream. Knowing is one thing, doing the daily work to engrain that is another. Getting thrown around by 150lb coach so many years ago made it very clear the work that was needed. The anchor drill became my outlet to solidify the “rooting” needed to keep doing what I love.
Life off the field has proven no different. Being anchored and doing whatever you need to do to stay rooted daily is both your best defense and strongest offense in winning whatever daily battle you have to encounter. Even if it takes something as strange as getting thrown around by a man half your size and double your age with your hands behind your back. Do what you have to do to get anchored, then stay anchored - always.