Exercises That Pro Football Players Do

Exercises That Pro Football Players Do

Adrian Peterson—Running Back, Minnesota Vikings

Exercise: Squat Jump to Overhead Medicine Ball Toss

Peterson has broken a ridiculous number of records and also won the AP NFL MVP award last year, but not without putting in some serious gym time. Peterson incorporates a lot of variety in his routine, including Mixed Martial Arts. Implementing a diverse combination of exercises while also incorporating back-to-basics, compound moves like the squat jump and overhead press is key to achieving true total-body strength. Peterson works out for a few hours 4 to 5 days per week, which is way more than the average exerciser. But for starters, you can try fitting this exercise into your routine once or twice a week.

To perform this exercise: Holding a medicine ball with both hands at chest level, start standing with feet hip width distance apart. Sit back into your heels as you lower yourself into squat position and then quickly explode up as you lightly toss the medicine ball into the air. Catch the ball and quickly lower back down into the squat position and continuously repeat the movement for 10-20 reps, depending on your ability and level of fitness. (Beginners should first try the movement without a medicine ball.)

Drew Brees—Quarterback, New Orleans Saints

Exercise: Bosu Ball Split Squat Jumps

Sure, quarterbacks need great arm strength and shoulder stability. But let’s not forget about the lower-body stamina and power also needed to drive a good throw. With renowned performance coach and personal trainer Todd Durkin, Brees’ high-intensity workouts focus on balance, power, speed and strength, and a move like the plyometric stability ball lunge combines all four of those skills into one exercise. This is a high-impact exercise that requires significant lower-body stamina, so be sure to master a traditional lunge before progressing to this more advanced movement.

To perform this exercise: With a bosu ball placed under your rear foot, lower into lunge position. Maintain this position as you jump up and down. Focus on landing lightly and springing back up immediately after you land for 10-30 reps on each side, depending on your ability and  level of fitness.

Reggie Bush—Running Back, Detroit Lions

Exercise: Stability Ball Knee Tuck 

Want abs like an NFL player? Well, for one, you’ll have to get way more serious about both your workout routine and diet. But you can at least start by adding this challenging core exercise from Bush’s routine to your workouts. The stability ball knee tuck takes the plank to a whole new level by adding the challenge of balance and stability to the traditional “crunch” ab exercise.

To perform this exercise: Start in high-plank position. Recruit someone to hold the stability ball still while you raise your feet up onto the ball so that the tops of your feet are flat on the surface. Engage your core and slowly draw your knees up towards your chest. Return to the starting position and repeat 3-4 sets of 8-20 reps, depending on your ability and level of fitness. This is another advanced exercise that requires great core strength and stability. It’s recommended that you work with a trainer or workout partner who can assist and spot you while the exercise is being performed.

Clay Matthews—Outside Linebacker, Green Bay Packers

Exercise: Side Plank Elbow Touch

On top of weekly hill and stair workouts, Matthews completes two weekly heavy volume weight lifting sessions. The majority of his program is focused on traditional upper and lower body dumbbell and bodyweight moves, but he incorporates plank variation exercises like the side plank elbow touch to specifically target his core muscles. This particular exercise specifically works the obliques.

To perform this exercise: Lower yourself into side plank position. Take your top hand and place it lightly behind your ear. Slowly twist your torso as your reach your top elbow to the ground. Return to the starting position and repeat 3-4 sets of 10-20 reps on each side.

Randall Cobb—Wide Receiver, Green Bay Packers

Exercise: Bosu Single-leg Romanian Dead Lift

How do you take an already challenging lower-body balance exercise and make it even more difficult? You perform it while balancing on the reverse end of a Bosu ball, of course. Executing this exercise (which primarily strengthens the hamstring, glute, and core muscles) on the Bosu ball helps improve Cobb’s balance and stability by even further altering the center of gravity.

To perform this exercise: This exercise requires great stability and balance. Be sure to perfect it on a stable surface before advancing to the Bosu ball. Start standing with your feet hip width apart. For more of a challenge you can hold a weight like a kettlebell, barbell, or dumbbell. (Hold a dumbbell in the hand opposite of the grounded leg and a kettlebell or barbell in both hands evenly). Kick one leg back to raise it off the Bosu ball (or ground). Keep your shoulder blades retracted and maintain an arch in your lower back as you slowly bend forward at the hips and lower your hands towards the ground. Return to the starting position and repeat. Try 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps on each leg, depending on your ability and level of fitness.

Note: This is another advanced exercise that requires great core strength and stability. It’s recommended that you work with a trainer or workout partner who can assist and spot you while the exercise is being performed.

Dwight Freeney—Outside Linebacker, San Diego Chargers

Exercise: Cable Bicep Curl Negatives

Freeney has said that his goals no longer include working out to lift as much weight as possible. This means employing a more strategic approach to his training. This exercise specifically targets the eccentric (or lowering) movement of the bicep curl. We’re taught that lifting weights makes our muscles strong (and it’s true), but really it’s the “putting them down” part where the muscle produces the most force, and subsequently amasses the most strength. Placing a greater focus on the eccentric, negative movements of an exercise like the bicep curl is a smart and efficient way to enhance any strength program.   

To perform this exercise: From a standing position, reverse grip an overhead cable bar (like on the lat pulldown machine). Extend your elbows to mimic the eccentric (or downward) portion of the bicep curl movement. Slowly return to the starting position and Repeat 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps, depending on your ability and level of fitness.

Steven Jackson—Running Back, Atlanta Falcons

Exercise: Top Half-Squats

There are two types of running backs; the smaller, quicker, and more agile, or the bigger brawnier types sometime referred to as “power backs.” Steven Jackson is of the latter and his traditional weight lifting workouts reflect that. The top half-squat is all about explosive power. By holding the lower half of the exercise before powerfully returning to the start position, energy is built up and stored before being shifted upward. This exercise is not only great for building strength, but speed and power too.  

To perform this exercise: Set yourself up for a squat using a barbell in a power squat rack. (You’ll need to adjust the safety bars to match your individual needs, depending on your height and squat depth.) Slowly lower yourself down into a squat, resting the barbell on the safety bars for a very short moment before your push through your heels and explode upward to return to the starting position. Repeat 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps, depending on your ability and level of fitness.

Jamaal Charles—Running Back, Kansas City Chiefs

Exercise: Battle Ropes

You can’t be crowned the NFL’s all-time leader in career yards per carry without giving it your all in the gym like Charles does. He has a preference for free weight and agility workouts but the Kansas City Chiefs running back has also been spotted spending some time with the often overlooked battle ropes. Jerking a pair of ropes around might seem pretty pointless, but spend a few minutes with them and you’ll quickly find there’s nothing simple or easy about it. The battle ropes incorporate cardio and strength all in one exercise. Plus, you get even more bang for your buck by engaging multiple muscles, like your shoulders, biceps, and core simultaneously.

To perform this exercise: There’s a long list of different ways you can use the battle ropes. For example exercises and workouts click here.

J.J. Watt—Defensive End, Houston Texans

Exercise: Kneeling Jump to Medicine Ball Chest Pass & Broad Jump

J.J. Watt has one of the most intense off-season training regimens around, and (if you can even complete it) you’ll understand why after just one rep of this high-intensity, total-body compound exercise. Okay, so it’s more like three different moves combined into one sequence, but for anyone looking to improve total-body power and agility, there’s no denying that this combination of quick movements will do the trick.

To perform this exercise: Hold a medicine ball and kneel on the ground, knees about hip width distance apart and toes tucked under. Quickly hop up on to your feet and launch into a broad jump as you push forward from your chest to launch the medicine ball forward. This is an advanced exercise that takes a lot of practice to master. If you’re unsure of the mechanics, ask a personal trainer at your gym for assistance.

Marcedes Lewis—Tight End, Jacksonville Jaguars

AP Image

Exercise: Lateral Punching Bag Jumps

In order to improve his blocking skills as a tight end, Lewis integrates Mixed Martial Arts training in his workouts. While an MMA oriented workout typically involves a lot of punching bag kicking and jabbing, for Lewis it also includes lying the bag on the floor and hopping over it from side to side. Plyometric exercises like this one build power and agility and increase stability in the hips, knees, ankles and feet.

To perform this exercise: Place a standard-sized punching bag on the floor to one side of your feet. (A step box or any piece of equipment of similar size will work too.) Start standing with your feet placed closely next to one another. Engage your core and use your lower body power to launch yourself laterally over to the other side of the bag. Repeat for 3-4 sets of 10-20 jumps, depending on your ability and level of fitness.

Earl Thomas—Safety, Seattle Seahawks

Exercise: Medicine Ball Push-ups

As the last line of defense, upper body strength and strong tackling skills are essential for a football safety. The pectoral muscles are one of the largest upper-body muscle groups and push-ups are one of the best bodyweight exercises for strengthening them. But for a pro football player, traditional push-ups are old news. For an extra challenge Thomas performs push-ups on a medicine ball, which demands greater core and shoulder stability.

To perform this exercise: With both hands placed on top of a medicine ball, assume push-up position. (Place your hands towards the outer edges of the ball.) Maintain a straight line down your entire body from your head to your toes as you slowly bend your elbows and lower your chest towards the ball. Return to the starting position and repeat 10-20 reps (depending on your abilities) for 2-4 sets. (This is an advanced exercise that should only be performed with the assistance of a trainer and only after the traditional push-up has been mastered.)

Tim Tebow—Quarterback, Free Agent


Exercise: Supine Incline Dumbbell Row

Another traditional weight lifting exercise, the dumbbell row targets the biceps, lats, and posterior shoulder muscles, all of which are important for the guy whose job it is to successfully throw the ball across the field to his teammate. Although currently a free agent, Tebow is an avid proponent of the D1 Sports Training facilities, which provides programs specifically geared toward NFL hopefuls and pro athletes.

To perform this exercise: Holding a pair of dumbbells in either hand, lie prone on an inclined bench. Keep your shoulder blades retracted as you slowly row your arms back. (Imagine you are trying to squeeze a pencil between your shoulder blades.) Lower your arms back to the starting position and repeat 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps, depending on your ability and level of fitness. (This exercise can also be performed one arm at a time.)