Richie Incognito has come a long way in football. From being named a high school All-American to All-Big 12 honors at Nebraska, the former third-round pick of the St. Louis Rams was known as one of the strongest players in the 2005 draft class.
Incognito played for the Rams and Buffalo Bills in the eight years that followed before being picked up by the Miami Dolphins in 2010. He has a reputation for playing on the edge and occasionally getting involved in post-whistle shenanigans.
The 6-foot-3, 324-pound guard also has a reputation as a reliable lineman who works hard to stay healthy. Incognito's methods to stay off the injured list include core exercises like Pilates, weekly trips to the chiropractor, massage therapy and other nontraditional forms of conditioning.
It's a far cry from where his workout regimen was when Incognito chose to play college ball at Nebraska. The Huskers had a reputation for developing offensive linemen like Outland Award winners Dave Rimington and Dean Steinkuhler and were known for their weight program. Incognito could bench-press 450 pounds and squat 700 pounds as a freshman.
"There was a ton of competition in the weight room at Nebraska and that's what really drew me to the program," Incognito said. "The methods they used were innovative and they did the best job at making offensive linemen bigger, faster and stronger."
During his career at Nebraska and during the early portion of his NFL career, Incognito continued to be part of weight-room culture. But during his second year in St. Louis he met with Paige Wilkinson, a massage therapist the Rams employed to help players deal with pain.
"Paige is probably, to this day, the best massage therapist I've had in my life," Incognito said. "She got me going down the path of having healthy tissue and muscle elasticity. She opened my eyes to a lot of different things."
Now, instead of weight training, Incognito does a variety of other things to stay in shape and continue a pain-free NFL career. He starts Monday with a two-hour massage therapy session. On Tuesday he visits his chiropractor, Dr. Peter Marciante, and receives acupuncture treatment. On Thursday, he does active release technique and other forms of muscle therapy before returning to the massage table on Friday.
Marciante, who is based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., works with several players but says the Dolphins lineman is by far his favorite.
"I've heard about Richie's reputation on the field and players don't think he's a real nice guy. But I'll be honest when I say I haven't worked with a nicer guy," Marciante said. "Hopefully he won't be mad at me for saying that."
Marciante won't go into full detail about his sessions with Incognito; it's much more intense than a basic muscle reset.
"We're in there for 90 minutes and I'm working on his whole body," Marciante added. "And it's important to both of us that we're able to locate the small injuries or areas of pain and quickly take care of them."
Incognito hopes these sessions will help prolong his playing career. He is in the second year of a contract that will keep him with the Dolphins through the 2013 season.
"The main thing is longevity, but the real goal of these methods of training is just staying on top of the small stuff," Incognito said. "The body is all interconnected.
"One thing I've come to find is that you have a little foot injury or ankle injury and next thing you know your knee is bothering you, and then it's your hip and then it's your back bothering you. So I find by doing all these different methods and staying on top of it I'm pain-free throughout the year."
Incognito said more of his teammates are implementing alternate forms of training and conditioning into their daily routines. And while he doesn't necessarily see a correlation with his training and a higher level of productivity on the field, he said he is pain-free and as long as he stays that way he will remain in the starting lineup.
"The main goal is to stay on the field and remain ready to deal with the grind of the NFL," Incognito said. "It's a violent sport, it's a collision sport and I take pride in being a professional and being prepared mentally and physically to play."
While longevity is Incognito's current goal, he admits that life beyond football remains in the back of his mind. A career in the trenches doesn't always lend itself to a high quality of life after football. The pain can catch up to the hits the body has absorbed.
"There's no doubt you think about those things when you see guys who spent 15-16 years in the league and now they can barely walk," Incognito said. "I play offensive line and I play at a high level. With that much contact during a game you're going to roll an ankle or tweak a shoulder.
"But that's why I go through extreme lengths to keep my body healthy and stay pain-free. I certainly think about being healthy enough to play catch with my kids and stay active with them. That's always something you think about."