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Workouts Pro Football Players Do That Everyone Should Do

NFL athletes are the pinnacle of athleticism. Regardless of what position they play, they’ve proven they have what it takes to compete at the highest level of their sport through their dedication and training both on and off the field.

American football demands a great deal of strength and ability.

NFL players know their way around the gym and, coupled with some of the best trainers in the world, they are able to push themselves to their physical limits to become even greater threats come game time. A majority of NFL training includes and often combines elements of strength, endurance, explosive power, and speed training. Here are exercises that top NFL athletes are doing to stay in tip-top shape and increase their overall performance on the field.

Heavy Bench Press

It’s no question that building power and strength are essential for being able to muscle your way through the offensive and defensive line, shake off defenders, and even deliver powerful hits. It should come as no surprise that heavy pushing movements like the flat and incline bench press and all of their variations are a big focus for many NFL athletes.

None weight lifters be like bad form, I be like 365×4 get some!???

A video posted by James Harrison (@jhharrison92) on

Unlike your typical gym goer that may be looking to achieve a nice muscle pump with some high rep scheme or lift purely for aesthetic purposes, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison incorporates heavy bench sets to build up his upper body strength.

Focus on lifting heavier weight for fewer reps. This training approach emphasizes strength building while still resulting in muscle size growth.

Box Jumps

If you think using the boxes at your gym are a waste of time or that they’re only good for sitting on between sets, you couldn’t be more wrong. Doing box jumps is an excellent way to get your heart pumping and also work on your explosiveness. Both San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis and Houston Texans defensive end JJ Watt work on their vertical and their ability to detonate from the ground up.

A video posted by JJ Watt (@justinjames99) on

A video posted by Vernon Davis (@vernondavis85) on

Box jumps are beneficial no matter what side of the line you play on. Throw this exercise into your routine and alternate between doing them for speed to get your heart racing, and also for height.

Barbell Back Squats

You may see people squatting it out in the power rack at your gym, but do you see “completely loaded bar and spotter” squats like what JJ Watt is doing? No matter your sport of choice, there’s just no getting away from this core leg exercise, so you may as well start now.

A photo posted by JJ Watt (@justinjames99) on

Note that JJ Watt is going heavy – this is because he is focusing on building his lower body strength and adding mass instead of just focusing on adding some muscle size. He is also set up with a wider stance. The wider your stance, the more weight you’ll be able to lift, and the more you’ll activate and overload your quads and glutes.

The back squat is a win-win when it comes to increasing strength and power. Don’t stay in your comfort zone and lift the same weight each week. Focus on lifting heavy, and don’t be afraid to ask for a spot.

Battle Ropes

Using the ropes in your gym is another way NFL players mix in high intensity fat burning with muscle building. Vernon Davis throws in some alternating waves on the ropes to hammer his shoulders and work on his upper body speed.

Along with alternating your arm swings, you can also synchronize your arms swings, lifting them high above your head and slamming them down to the ground together as hard and as quick as you possibly can.

Throw the battle ropes on at the end of your workout to fatigue your shoulders, build grip strength, and spike your heart rate for optimum fat burn.

Incline Sprints and Footwork

Football without cardio is, well, not football. Speed and footwork are crucial to how well you’re able to keep up with the action on the field. You’re only as effective as your endurance and stamina allow. Building up explosiveness and staying sharp on your feet is extremely important for executing game-changing plays.

You can work on sprint intervals on the track, or on the treadmill – whichever you prefer. Keep in mind, however, that adding a resistant force when possible will help your overall speed and performance. New York Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall shows you how speed is done on the treadmill, while Vernon Davis demonstrates what it means to be light and quick on your feet:

Depending on your workout schedule, you may want to dedicate an entire workout to sprints and footwork, or you can certainly throw them in during your strength training to break up monotony and build up your stamina.

Smith Machine Lunges

Many people tend to walk straight past the smith machine when looking for effective leg exercises. The smith machine offers some incredible advantages that the squat rack doesn’t. The smith machine eliminates the balancing aspect of weight lifting and allows you to place sole focus on the muscles worked.

Smith machine lunges are a core exercise for building powerful legs and adding some speed to your sprint. New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz blasts some smith machine lunges to improve his agility.

A video posted by Victor Cruz (@teamvic) on

Target your quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings with this intense exercise, and don’t forget that smith machine lunges also activate your core as you perform the movement.

Weighted Decline Sit-Ups

Don’t neglect working on your core. Having a solid mid-section will benefit many other lifts and increase your stability. Having great balance and being able to cut and juke on the field is not only dependent on your lower body training, but also on your core. Work in some solid ab training to help you generate more explosive speed and strength. Desean Jackson, wide receiver for the Washington Redskins, throws in some weighted medicine ball sit-ups on the decline bench.

A photo posted by Desean Jackson (@0ne0fone) on

While doing crunches and other ab exercise variations will definitely help create a stable core, adding resistance weight to the training amplifies the intensity and results. Whatever your ab training looks like now, be sure to throw in these weighted sit ups for even better strength results.

Build Up Functional Strength and Become More Athletic

As you can see, NFL athletes don’t just focus on moving as much weight as possible or limit their workouts to weights only. A healthy mix of upper, lower, core, and speed exercises should be the staples to your workouts.

Commercial gyms offer a variety of workout equipment. Don’t get lost doing workouts that offer little reward. Focus on these key lifts, adding additional exercises or altering them as necessary, and push yourself past your own limits to build a well-rounded and functional physique.

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Mike Jackson
Mike Jackson is nutritional consultant as well as a freelance writer in the field of health and fitness. He specializes physique transformation and contest preparation for all levels of competitor. Mike is currently based out of Salt Lake City, Utah.


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