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NFL Linebacker Workout Routine for Explosive Speed and Strength

Isaac Robertson
Published by Isaac Robertson
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: March 26, 2021

As the heart of the defense, linebackers are expected to be reactive.

And being one requires two things: speed and strength.

To train like a linebacker, you should follow workout routines that promote functional movement of the upper body, lower body, and core. It also involves doing conditioning and agility drills regularly.

If you want to achieve maximum agility and explosiveness, here’s a linebacker workout you can add to your training regimen.

Linebacker Training: Von Miller's High-Intensity Football Workout

von miller running outdoors

As one of the most outstanding football players in the NFL, Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller is a force of nature.

The guy just kills it in every game, so it’s no surprise that he became the highest-paid defensive player at one point in history.

Miller has impressive speed for a man his size -  a quality that sets him apart from the other defensive players.

At 6’3 and 250 pounds, he put up a 4.49-second 40-yard dash time during his pro day workout.

That quickness comes from his intense training in the gym, exercising three to five hours per day during the offseason.

So if there’s a football athlete you want to replicate in the gym, it’s him.

Here are the linebacker drills that helped make Miller among the best in the league.

Instructions

We've put together the NFL star's off-season workout plan for the average gym-goer and the pattern he follows.

This off-season conditioning workout is meant to be done as a circuit. You can take 30-second rests between exercises if needed, but you can also skip it like Miller.

Let's get to it!

Dumbbell Squats

shirtless man in a dumbbell squat position outdoors

Pattern: 3 sets per workout | 10 reps per set

How To

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes slightly facing out.
  2. Hold the dumbbells at your sides.
  3. Squat down low until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  4. Exhale and return to the starting position, pushing off your heels.

Why Do It

This exercise will work several muscle groups in your lower body, i.e., your hamstrings, quads, glutes, and lower back muscles.

Make sure to use weights that are comfortable for you. Once your sets start to feel easier, you can then transition to heavier ones.

Functional workouts like this help Miller translate skills to the field. This exercise is also key to sustaining his power and speed when running after ball carriers.

Dumbbell Flat Bench Press

man lying down in flat bench doing dumbbell press

Pattern: 3 sets per workout | 8 reps each set

How To

  1. Lie down on a flat bench and hold a dumbbell in each of your hands.
  2. Rest them on your thighs with your palms facing each other.
  3. Begin by holding the dumbbells in front of you shoulder-width apart.
  4. Rotate your wrists forward so that your palms are facing away from you.
  5. Lower the weight down to the side of your chest, forming a 90-degree angle with your arms.
  6. Push one dumbbell up, then lock your arm at the top of the motion.
  7. Hold for a second before bringing it down again.

Why Do It

This exercise will target your pecs, triceps, and the anterior and lateral heads of your deltoids.

This helps Miller with pushing motions, which is crucial for when he needs to shove his way past an offensive lineman.

"Linebacker is a lot more detail-oriented, and you have to know a lot more than a defensive end necessarily would on any given play." - Justin Cole, Retired American Football Linebacker

Incline Dumbbell Rows

man in an incline dumbbell row position

Pattern: 3 sets per workout | 12 reps each set

How To

  1. Set the incline of a bench to a 30 or 45-degree angle.
  2. Lie down with your chest flat on the bench.
  3. Holding a dumbbell in each of your hands, push your shoulder blades back and row the weights to your side.
  4. Pause briefly at the top of the movement before returning to the starting position.

Why Do It

This exercise will work your middle back muscles and your biceps, shoulders, forearms, and lats.

This one will also increase your core strength, which Miller likes to focus on when training for the season.

Dumbbell Lateral Raises with Dropsets

man working out with dumbbells while standing up

Pattern: 3 reps - 30 pounds,  4 reps - 25 pounds, 5 reps - 20 pounds, 6 reps - 30 pounds

How To

  1. Stand with your legs shoulder-width apart.
  2. Hold a dumbbell in each hand at your sides.
  3. Raise your arms out to your sides until they get to shoulder level.
  4. Hold the lift momentarily, then lower your arms.
  5. Repeat with lighter weight, following the recommended reps for each.
  6. Make sure you don’t bend your elbows or swing the weights violently.

Why Do It

This exercise stabilizes your shoulders and works your deltoids. Also, gradually decreasing the weight and increasing the reps can help build muscle growth.

Upper body strength is crucial for linebackers who often push against heavier players to get to running backs and quarterbacks.

Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift With Cable To Row

man in a single leg RDL position

Pattern: 6 sets per workout | 8 reps each leg

How To

  1. Stand straight with your left hand on the cable.
  2. Slowly bend down and lift your left leg behind you.
  3. When the weight gets below your knee, move back up into the initial position.
  4. As you stand back up, bring your left elbow back and pull your left arm in toward your chest to row.
  5. Do the same movements if you’re using a dumbbell, but hold it in the hand you’d be holding the cable.

Why Do It

This exercise will help you build muscle in your lower body.

As for Miller, single-leg workouts help him prevent strength imbalances and improve his body’s ability to move even when he goes off-balance.

Medicine Ball Russian Twist

man holding a medicine ball while doing a russian twist

Pattern: 3 sets per workout | 15-20 twists each round

How To

  1. Assume a sit-up pose and concentrate your weight on your hips.
  2. Lean back so that your torso is at a 45-degree angle with the floor.
  3. Hold a medicine ball, a dumbbell, or a weight plate straight in front of you.
  4. Twist your upper body from side to side as far as you can.

Why Do It

You can follow the same movements if you opt to do this with a partner. When you twist, pass the ball to your partner and wait for the return. One back and forth pass between you and your partner will count as one rep.

This exercise will help strengthen your core, abs, lower back, and oblique muscles, which are essential for football athletes since they're often pushed, pulled, and rotated in different directions by their opponents when making tackles.

Strong obliques lead to improved flexibility and rotational power - two qualities that can help train someone with a linebacker position to change directions quickly on the field [1].

Cardio Interval Exercise

working out machines inside a gym

Pattern: 20-25 seconds on a Cybex Arc Trainer* set at Level 70

How To:

  1. Set the machine at a level you’re comfortable with and go as hard as you can for the recommended time.
  2. If you want to lower the intensity, you can lengthen the duration of the exercise to make the workout more challenging.

Why Do It

Intense cardio training will help you burn calories in a short amount of time.

Linebackers like Miller often need short bursts of power during a game, and this exercise is vital to improving his stamina. Working on his cardio definitely helps him play better.

*Use a stationary bike or an elliptical machine if your gym doesn’t have an arc trainer.

Linebacker Training: Key Takeaways

Linebackers need a stable core, a powerful upper body, and explosiveness to successfully take on blocks and stop the offense.

And the exercises above have helped Von Miller achieve all of that, making him the player he is today.

Luckily, you don't need to be a world-famous Super Bowl MVP in order to perform these drills.

This football workout is for athletes of all levels, and if you're looking to increase your overall fitness, you can definitely put his training principles to use.

Try adding this workout to your routine and let us know how you do in the comments below.


References:

  1. https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/oblique-workout

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