Raiders Star Darren Waller Opens up About Extensive Recovery Routine

darren waller

Getty Las Vegas Raiders TE Darren Waller.

It was a suspiciously cold day in Las Vegas, Nevada, following a long summer that rarely saw days fall under 80 degrees late into October. However, the wind chill is nothing compared to the cold tub that Las Vegas Raiders tight end Darren Waller endures on a weekly basis. The cold tub is set to 49 degrees and it’s a slow process to get in.

According to a study done by Minnesota Sea Grant Director John A. Downing, hypothermia can start to set in when submerged in water that is under 70 degrees. In water temperatures between 40 and 50 degrees, many will fall unconscious in 30-to-60 minutes. Luckily for Waller, the Fire & Ice treatment at IMR Float in Henderson, Nevada, doesn’t require him to stay in the water that long.

Simply sticking your feet in the icy water isn’t the ideal way to experience a cold tub. The cold water feels like a thousand little needles stabbing into your feet at once. It’s best to submerge as much of the body as possible as quickly as possible. Once submerged in the freezing water, it’s all about clearing your mind and trying to ignore just how cold it gets. This process is meant to release endorphins by numbing the nerves in your joints and muscles. These endorphins help with the inflammation, muscle strains and joint pains that athletes like Waller deal with on a regular basis.

Beginners typically strive to last between two to three minutes but Waller’s a seasoned pro and lasts a solid five minutes. From there, he moves to the fire portion of the treatment, which requires him to enter a sauna that shares a room with the cold bath. In the sauna, Waller places rocks on a hot coil, throws a towel over his head and breathes.

The sauna gets so hot that the tops of his ears could burn if doesn’t cover them. It’s also important for him to regulate his breathing or the hot air could burn his nostrils and lungs. The extreme heat feels nice after the extreme cold but it’s only a brief relief as he has to repeat the process a few times.

“I do this once or twice a week,” Waller told Heavy Sports.

Following the Fire & Ice treatment, Waller makes his way to the float tank. This is a much different experience than the previous treatment that Waller admits to being much more fond of.

This requires him to strip down and lay in a shallow pool of highly salinated water. The lights eventually shut off and the room is dead silent. This is a time for him to clear his mind and truly relax. These floats are known to help with stress and anxiety along with muscle tension; something that athletes are constantly dealing with due to the competitive nature of their field. These are just a couple of the methods Waller utilizes to ensure that his body is in a position to deal with the rigors of an NFL season.


Waller Discusses the Importance of His Recovery Process

Many athletes rely on their teams to provide their recovery routines for them, but some like to go the extra mile to make sure their bodies are right. Waller only recently became a big name in the NFL after the Raiders found him on the Baltimore Ravens practice squad in 2018. In just a few years, he’s cemented himself as one of the best tight ends in the NFL. That said, at 30 years old, he doesn’t have the luxury of not taking his health seriously.

“The recovery portion is just as important as the strength training, the practices, all those things,” Waller said. “Because you gotta push yourself hard, but if you don’t allow yourself to recharge and bounce back from those hard workouts and practices, you know, it’s going to be hard for you to just sustain availability over a long run. So, recovery is extremely important to me.”

While Waller has found a recovery routine that he’s a big fan of, it’s difficult to keep it up considering how often he has to travel during the football season. He’s started to rely on Icy Hot PRO to give him what he needs when he can’t do as many extensive treatments.

“Icy Hot has really helped out a lot, especially with the PRO series,” Waller said. “They got the menthol and camphor, so it gives you that hot and cold contrast, which is what I like to do. I love the fire and ice room like we did today … but that’s something that has been a staple for me. So I love being able to do that. We’ll be able to put Icy Hot on like whether it’s pre-practice, post-practice or on a road flight back when we don’t have access to the tools we usually have after a home game. [Icy Hot] does a good job of giving me a head start on my recovery for the next week. So, you know, recovery is a big deal and Icy Hot helps a lot.”

Waller has taken to using Icy Hot PRO almost every day during the season and after workouts. He’s currently dealing with a hamstring injury that has kept him out of the Raiders’ Week 7 and Week 8 games and Icy Hot PRO has been important to him during the rehab.


Waller Using Unique Methods for Recovery Process

Waller relies on a series of partners throughout his recovery. Perhaps the most important person to his recovery is Dr. Zaki Afzal, who runs Optimize Physical Therapy & Performance. When the Raiders moved from Oakland to Las Vegas, Waller was referred to Dr. Afzal by a friend and the two have worked together extensively since.

When the two work out together, the focus isn’t on lifting the most weight or running the fastest sprint. In fact, Waller does much of his workouts with Dr. Afzal barefoot. As the doctor explains, feet aren’t naturally supposed to wear shoes so working out barefoot teaches Waller to have more control over his feet. It also helps strengthen feet that take quite a beating throughout an NFL season.

Many of the workouts Dr. Afzal puts Waller through are about balance, rhythm and improving range of motion. When he’s with the Raiders, he’s focusing on getting stronger. Dr. Afzal provides Waller with a way to work out and stay in shape without putting unnecessary stress or strain on his body that could lead to injury.


Waller Talks Raiders’ Season Outlook After Rough Start

Waller has missed the Raiders’ last two games but he’s doing what he can to get back on the field. It’s not a secret that the team is in the midst of a disappointing season. They sit at 2-5 and are coming off a 24-0 loss to the New Orleans Saints in Week 8. Waller is a leader on the team and wants to be back on the field to help turns things around.

While he recovers, he’s urging the team to stay focused and not worry too much about the future when they need to control what they’re doing now.

“It’s just staying present to what’s important in the day,” Waller said of what the team needs to do to get back into the playoff race. “It’s having a good Wednesday, making sure Thursday’s important, Friday, because there’s so much that goes on as far as getting ready. So it’s not necessarily about looking too far ahead and saying, ‘Oh, we need to win these next four.’ Just really handling your business on a day-in, day-out basis, staying as present as you possibly can to that moment. … So it’s just making sure that we just have small goals and small victories because those will stack into big ones.”

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