James Harrison Workout - Your TURN!!
James Harrison was a complete, total animal on the football field. Many, many, many quarterbacks feared the man. Many offensive linemen feared him as well. James Harrison brought the wood.
As we dive into James Harrison’s training, we will look at all the crazy stuff he did, but with the thought about the impact it had on him and what was the purpose of his training. Now early in his career, he bounced around the league, playing over in Europe a little bit, being active in 2002 until 2017, playing most of his career for the Pittsburgh Steelers. During his 15 year career, he won 2 Super Bowls, 5 Pro Bowls, and I think he might have even won defensive player of the year. All of his skill sets came from his speed, power, football IQ, what he could do off the edge, and he did it all as an undersized individual at his position. He wasn’t overly tall (maybe 6’) but he walked around at like 240/5 lbs of pure muscle.
Let’s dive into what he did to become so powerful, so strong, so fast, so athletic, and how that translated to his play out on the field.
4:35 AM Wake Up
Scottsdale, AZ, 2017, basically the last year of his career, end of his career and he is still waking up super, super early. That makes me feel so pathetic. I struggle to wake up at 5:30 AM sometimes.
The man sure was thick. Remember that 100-yard interception return against the Cardinals in the Super Bowl? I remember watching how fast he was and how tired he had to be at the end of that return.
Heck, he even ate up Joe Thomas, one of the greatest left tackles ever, on occasion.
And as the video got into training movements Harrison did in the gym, I noticed he worked on some major, major absolute strength. For instance, he is pushing a sled just filled with 45s. Literally, filled! I also noticed he does a ton of rotational work. The one movement I really liked was the side lateral bounds with the medicine ball. That is dynamic trunk control training! That is a lot of truck work from rotational aspects. This transfers really well to applying force rotationally while having some linear speed work.
Harrison had to work on really, really heavy absolute strength work. He also had to work on the speed component and rotation components.
Mondays legs; Tuesdays chest and back; Wednesday focus on core work; Thursdays legs again; Fridays upper body again; Saturdays bize and trize. That is a legit split, pretty standard. It’s a split I like a lot. For being pretty standard and easy, it works. That’s a big key. Super complicated isn’t necessary when you lift big weights, are explosive, and work the right movements.
“I Don’t Like Getting Stabbed With Needles”
When Harrison said the above during a dry needling recovery session, I lol’d. I think Harrison is great because of the work he puts in. And not only the work he puts in but the recovery work he makes happen as well. Not everybody will have a team like Harrison: chiropractor, masseuse, personal trainer, and someone who works his mobility as well. Regardless, athletes can do their own mobility, use a foam roller, do yoga, and prioritize recovery and nutrition.
Harrison talks about how much he would eat and focus on his eating. And then realize that you have to push yourself and get after it. A guy like James Harrison, who was cut so many times, literally focused on making the team every single year. And this is a guy with 2 rings and 5 pro bowls! He had that attitude of solely focusing on making the team and being the best he can be. A mindset of coming from the depths of the league, being undrafted, and at one point seen as a nobody to constantly and repeatedly bring the work ethic to just keep improving.
A lot of people will think they’re the best there is. Meanwhile, James Harrison is doing glute bridges with like 800 lbs for reps. James Harrison has some serious amounts of strength. Then the guy is maintaining that strength with good speed work and some good bodybuilding work. That is the core behind really good athletic-based training. Athletes have to be strong, fast, explosive, and work all those things, and Harrison showcases what needs to be done to get to that point.
As I continued watching Harrison’s workout video, I noticed he did some unilateral work with the landmine. Then I saw him doing single-leg squats. At Garage Strength, we love single-leg squats. Single leg squats are my absolute favorite movement for someone who needs speed.
The next thing, I’m watching is him doing dips with 235 lbs. That’s solid. This followed by a clip of him power cleaning 315 lbs for a triple, into a clip of him trap bar deadlifting 495# for reps, to bench pressing 365 lbs with chains. All of this is achievable and a golden example of what to become.
Then he close-grip benches with a high incline with 315 lbs for reps. That might not be achievable. That is just sick. That’s hard.
Harrison’s work is fun. It’s great. He has that main explosive lift followed by some big-time strength work. Then off of that, go and do all the accessory work, unilateral work, and any positions that need to be hit for improvement.
One And A Quarter Reps
He does a lot of one and a quarter reps, which makes me feel good about myself because I do it a lot. James Harrison also does bicep curls so that means we all can too.
James Harrison, even though the video I watched is from a while ago, literally gave us a direct peek into his full training. I’m going to take ideas directly from this.
We know James Harrison is an absolute animal. Think about him pushing the sled with like 1000 lbs on it. That is serious strength, unilateral strength, and big power moving forward. A big offensive lineman requires a lot of absolute strength applied to them to be moved. Speed is also necessary coming off the line (power cleans!) and mobile in unilateral positions (single-leg squats).
We can pull a lot from James Harrison’s mental game as well. He wakes up early to go train. He approached every single season as if it might be his last. He also had no ego, approaching every training camp like he might not make the team. He lifts big weights. He does explosive movements. He does a lot of dynamic trunk control movements and he does a lot of bodybuilding movements. He also prioritizes recovery and makes sure he is eating well.
Setting up a standard routine that is followed to a tee is how someone goes from being cut to being a pro bowler winning super bowl titles.
Emulate James Harrison.
If you want to know my thoughts on some other players in strength and conditioning check out:
Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of clients on building comprehensive programs for fitness and nutrition. Several times a year he leads a workshop for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts.