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How NFL players are improvising their exercise routines when equipment is hard to come by

Kaare Vedvik, a free agent punter for the Bills, worked out at a park near his home in Atlanta.
Kaare Vedvik, a free agent punter for the Bills, worked out at a park near his home in Atlanta.Kevin C. Cox/Getty

If it weren’t already memorable for so many other reasons, this offseason might go down in NFL history as the one in which every player wished he had a Peloton.

Gyms and team facilities are closed, so NFL players are turning to stationary bikes, YouTube yoga videos, and whatever heavy objects they have around the house to get off the couch and stay in shape. It’s a challenge that has forced players and trainers to get creative, since teams are expecting players to be fit when it becomes possible for them to return.

“This is not a green light for guys to go gain 30 pounds,” said Patriots special teamer Matthew Slater.

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If you think that most NFL players have well-outfitted home gyms, you’d be surprised at how many of them are utilizing minimal equipment. Slater has some exercise-band apparatuses lying around the house and is using his kids, he joked, as “human weights.”

Down in North Carolina, cornerback Stephon Gilmore has some balance balls and is running at an empty field nearby. In Florida, running back James White is using a treadmill, a couple of dumbbells, and a jump rope. New linebacker Brandon Copeland bought a set of exercise bands at WalMart and said he’s cranking out sets of pushups in his garage, “like in Creed 2 where he had to go to the desert.” Safety Devin McCourty is one of the lucky Peloton owners, and his February purchase now seems prescient.

Then there’s Tom Brady, who last month was stopped by a Tampa park officer while exercising in an area that was in fact closed to the public.

If finding space to work out is a challenge for the guy with the budding fitness empire, then it’s tough for everyone now.

“I don’t think I’ve talked to one person other than one of my guys who hates to work out that’s enjoying this time,” said Yo Murphy, who normally trains a host of NFL players and other athletes at ASPI Training in Tampa. “He told me he bought a bike and he’s watching yoga tapes, but I don’t think he’s doing it; I think he’s just looking to see whatever girl looks best.”

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Murphy is writing workout plans for clients designed around what he knows they have at home. Shortly before things shut down, Murphy distributed almost all of the weights from his weight room to help equip clients at home, but most still don’t have much.

That’s not a huge deal for receivers and cornerbacks, Murphy said, but it’s a different story for the bigger athletes who can’t maintain their weight and strength just by running and working with light weight.

“If I’m 6-5, 340 pounds and I don’t have weights and I’m in a strength phase, I can’t do bodyweight squats and have any adaptation to that,” Murphy said.

One of Murphy’s clients who doesn’t have heavy weights at home is pushing his truck around his driveway for a lower-body workout. Murphy estimated that he’d gotten the truck moving from a dead stop 150 times in the first three weeks of the shutdown. It was the only thing available that would actually activate the player’s glutes.

All of this means it could be an upward climb for some players to get in playing shape once they can get back into facilities, despite their best efforts. One of Murphy’s clients recently told him that even if he had the proper equipment, there’s no way he could currently squat 400 pounds for the usual five sets (five reps a set) they’d be doing together if they were training as usual.

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Another client recovering from an injury said he probably won’t be able to gain back the 16 pounds he lost while rehabbing during the normal offseason period.

These players aren’t whining — Murphy said he and trainer friends have spoken of being pleasantly surprised by how dedicated most of their guys are to working out — it’s just that these are real challenges that may eventually have real on-field impacts.

Even Bill Belichick noted as much on a conference call last month, and didn’t sound as if he thought these training issues were just an excuse.

“If you compare this year to the lockout year, everybody had a lot of facilities available and they could work out wherever they wanted,'' Belichick said. "That’s more limited this time.”

The Patriots were one of three NFL teams that started virtual offseason workout programs on the earliest possible day last month. Nine other teams began the classroom-learning portions of their offseason programs the same week, but only New England, Buffalo, and Indianapolis started the physical component.

Per an agreement between the NFL and the NFL Players Association, teams beginning their workout programs were allowed to send each player up to $1,500 worth of equipment.

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“I know our strength coach, Moses Cabrera, and his staff are going to be as creative as they can with guiding us throughout the process,” Slater said.

That should help, but it’s not going to set up players with what they’d get in person at a trainer’s gym or NFL facility. Fifteen hundred dollars might sound like a lot, but it’s not even enough for a Peloton.


Nora Princiotti can be reached at nora.princiotti@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @NoraPrinciotti.