WHEN NFL PLAYERS like Odell Beckham, Alshon Jeffery, and Jarvis Landry want to get faster, they turn to one man: Jamal Liggin.
The Los Angeles-based trainer has spent nearly a decade fine-tuning his training program, which focuses on helping players improve speed and explosiveness. Liggin has helped players prepare for the NFL draft, and he’s worked with athletes in all different sports, including soccer, mixed martial arts, tennis, boxing, basketball, and hockey—but he’s really known for his work with football players.
“For these guys to really excel, they need a team,” Liggin told Men’s Fitness. “They have a phenomenal support system with family, a recovery specialist, three or four doctors, strength coaches, rehab specialists, and I come in right where I need to be. When they want to get faster and work on agility, quickness, and vision, I’m right there and ready for them whenever they call.”
Sometimes those calls can come very late at night.
Once, Beckham called up Liggin at midnight after landing in Los Angeles and asked him to work out. The two ended up doing a session from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. (“That’s the kind of guy Odell is, and how dedicated he is,” Liggin says.)
Truth is, calling Liggin a "trainer" doesn't quite capture what he does. He describes himself as a “movement specialist," and when he starts working with an athlete, his first task is to analyze how each player individually uses his or her body on the move. All the drills and exercises—sled work, hill sprints, hand-eye coordination drills, speed ladder drills—comes later. It all starts with the body itself.
“I look at things from a biomechanical standpoint," Liggin says. "I like to see how you’re moving. I like to incorporate their unique movements into the workout. For example, if I’m working with Odell [Beckham], we’re going to do more explosive movements, because that’s how he’s going to be moving in game situations.”
Since he works with athletes in a number of sports, Liggin doesn’t like getting pegged as a "football guy." But given the success of his clients—like Beckham, Landry, and former All-Pro running back Marshawn Lynch—it's a description that's stuck.
It's also in his blood. Liggin attended high school with Lynch in Oakland, where he ran track and played football. He parlayed that footspeed into a track career at Alabama State, and when he returned home to California he got started on figuring out what he wanted to do with his life. It wasn't long before he realized that training felt like a calling.
He began to work with athletes in the Bay Area, many of whom ended up going to high-profile colleges to play football—some eventually made it to the NFL. To make ends meet, Liggin sold shoes at Niketown and worked at a mattress company.
But over time, the young athletes he worked with started raving about the training he was doing. They started to bring their friends home for the summer to work with Liggin.
And then training success started to find the "football guy."
But things really kicked into high gear once his old high school classmate, former NFL running back Marshawn Lynch, was traded from the Buffalo Bills to the Seattle Seahawks. Lynch called Liggin and told him he wanted to do all his speed work with him to prepare for the 2010 season.
The work showed.
During the 2011 playoffs, Lynch busted out a 67-yard run that’s gone down in the books as one of the best plays in NFL history.
“I’m not going to take credit for it,” Liggin says. “But it meant a lot to me, knowing we grew up together in high school, and that he trusted me to do all his speed training.”
It also helped Liggin take the next step in his training career. His connection with Lynch led to work with dozens of NFL players, including stars on the Seahawks, Oakland Raiders, and San Francisco 49ers. Liggin eventually found himself working with 30 to 40 professional players over the next few years, including players like Ryan Clady, Orlando Scandrick, and Jeron Johnson. With his name emerging more and more within the ultra-tight-knit NFL player community, Liggin had the opportunity to refine his speed program on athletes like Beckham.
But it isn’t just athletes that come to Liggin for help. High-profile celebrities, the "non-athletes," are some of his clients too, including names like music mogul Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, entertainer David Blaine, model Naomi Campbell, and actor Armie Hammer.
“The best part of working with these individuals, is that at the end of the workout, the conversations that I have with these guys are priceless,” Liggin says. “I’m talking about some deep stuff, like why they are who they are. Diddy is talking to me about business advice and his next moves, helping me figure out trips to Dubai to train. Odell is talking to me about speed and agility and why he wants to focus on the foundation of it rather than pulling sleds all the time. I get to actually get into these guys' heads and connect on a real level. I’m devoted to my clients—it consumes my life. It’s a blessing to do what I do.”
Social media has helped Liggin achieve a wider reach too.
One of Liggin's drills, which he's done with Beckham and other clients, has gone viral. Simply named “the tennis ball drill,” Liggin will toss two tennis balls at Beckham, who then has to catch them while changing direction, and toss them back to Liggin. It's intended to help hand-eye coordination, but Liggin says it can also boost an athlete’s reaction time, vision, and explosiveness. The tennis ball drill isn’t just for receivers, either—Liggin uses it for his offensive linemen clients, as well as soccer players, tennis players, and boxers.
“Football players have to do so many things with their eyes—they have to be aware of what their lower body and upper body are doing at the same time,” Liggin says. “Odell, for example, has to not only run as fast as he can, but also pay attention to what Eli [Manning, Giants QB] is doing, watch the defenders on him, and then find the ball. The catch is the least of his problems. But linemen, too, have to be able to use their feet just as quickly, and they also have to use their hands to keep defenders out of their face. So it’s about the footwork and the hand-eye coordination.”
And yet, even with a client base of over 300 professional athletes and thousands of young players at the high school and college level, he’s still hungry for more.
“It never gets old,” Liggin says. “I see why there are so many trainers who are 60 years old and still want to help that kid in middle school because they see some potential in him. I’m going to pull out whatever you have inside of you and help you get better. When people ask me, 'How much is a session?' I say, ‘I don’t sell training—I give an experience.’ It’s mental training, it’s physical, and we are going to help you reach your goals—whether it be to tone up, lose weight, or get faster, whatever it is.”