Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller is always crushing it. So his rise to the top of the crop in the NFL—he’s the the highest-paid defensive player in history—is no fluke. When it comes to hitting the gym, the linebacker is laser-focused on his training.
What sets Miller apart from other defensive players in the league is his speed for a man his size: The 6’3”, 250-pound linebacker put up a 4.49-second 40-yard dash time in his pro day workout, faster than Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and nearly as fast as Pittsburgh Steelers receiver and return man Antonio Brown. Miller’s agile, too: His 11.15-second 60-yard shuttle time ahead of the 2011 NFL Draft broke the combine linebacker record.
That speed comes from his hard work in the gym on his lower body: “Core and legs are always the priority for me,” Miller says. During the offseason, he works out three to five hours per day (broken up into multiple workouts), and he’s a fan of high-intensity training to help keep his fat burn high and rev up his metabolic engine. “One of my favorites is pulling a tire,” Miller says. “I also enjoy the different explosive jumping movements with the acceleration and deceleration drills we do.”
But if there’s one area Miller especially hammers, it’s his hips, which ensure he stays explosive. He thinks functional movement workouts are a major key to his success: “Everyone is strong,” Miller says. “But if I can move better and activate the right muscles at the right times, that gives me an advantage.”
Fortunately, you don’t need to be a freak athlete like the Super Bowl MVP to put his training principles to use. If you’re looking to increase your overall explosive ability and Miller put together a workout exclusively for Men’s Fitness.
Do this workout as a circuit. Each circuit has seven exercises. Miller does not rest between exercises, but you can rest for 30 seconds between exercises if you need to. Do three circuits, resting three minutes between each circuit.
Here we’ve listed Miller’s recommendations for the average gym-going guy, as well as the weights/reps that Miller does. Miller says each of his Herculean rounds typically takes about 25 minutes, but the standard programming shouldn’t take you that long.
What to do: 10 reps for each set. 1 set per round for 3 total sets in workout. Use weights that are comfortable for you. You can increase weight once your sets starts to feel easier. If you’re unsure about what weight to use, start with something low. If that works for you, consider increasing the amount for the next set—but remember, pace yourself.
What Miller does: 10 reps with 30 or 40-lb. dumbbells. 3 total sets in workout.
How to do it: Hold the weights at your sides with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes facing out slightly. Bend your knees and squat down low, so your thighs are parallel to the floor or slightly lower, keeping your head up and back straight. Exhale and raise yourself up towards starting position, pushing off your heels. You can also do this exercise with the weights held up at shoulder level, but keeping them at your sides will hit your quads more because of the narrow stance.
Why Miller does it: This exercise will work numerous muscles in your lower body, including your hamstrings, quads, glutes, and lower back muscles. Miller says he enjoys doing functional workouts since they help him most with translating skills to the field. This exercise is crucial for keeping up his speed and power when chasing down ballcarriers.
Dumbbell Flat Bench Press
What to do: 8 reps for each set. 1 set per round for 3 total sets in workout. Use dumbbells that are a comfortable weight for you.
What Miller does: 8 reps with 110 pounds, 3 total sets in workout.
How to do it: Lay down on a flat bench with a dumbbell in each of your hands, resting them on your thighs, holding them with your palms facing each other. Lift the dumbbells up one at a time. Start by holding each dumbbell in front of you at shoulder-width apart. Rotate your wrists forward so that your palms are facing away from you, and lower the dumbbell down to the side of your chest, making a 90-degree angle with your arms. Breathe out and push one dumbbell up, then lock your arm at the top of the position, hold for a second, then bring down again.
Why Miller does it: This exercise primarily targets the pecs and triceps, as well as the anterior and lateral heads of the deltoid. It helps Miller with pushing motions, such as when he needs to push his way past an offensive lineman.
Incline Dumbbell Rows
What to do: 12 reps for each set, 1 set for each round.
What Miller does: 12 reps with 60 pounds. 3 total sets in workout.
How to do it: Using an adjustable bench, set the incline to a 30 or 45-degree angle and lay down, chest down on the bench. Take a dumbbell in each hand and bring your shoulder blades back, and row the weights to your side. Pause momentarily at the top of the motion, then go back to the starting position and repeat for the number of reps.
Why Miller does it: The exercise works the muscles in your middle back, such as the lats, infraspinatus, and romboideus muscles, as well as biceps, shoulders, forearms, and lats. It helps strengthen your core, which is one of the most important areas for Miller when he’s training for the season.
Medicine Ball Russian Twist
What to do: 1 set of 15-20 twists in each round for 3 total sets in the workout. If you have a partner, you can do the partner Russian twist by passing the medicine ball.
What Miller does: 20 reps per set, passing the ball with his partner.
How to do it: Using a medicine ball, weight plate, or a dumbbell, sit on the floor with your knees bent, your weight on your hips (similar to a situp position). Lean back slightly so that your torso is at a 45-degree angle with the floor, keeping your back straight and not rounded/bent. Hold the ball straight out in front of you, then twist your torso to the left and then twist back to the right as far as you can. The full twist counts as one rep.
To do a partner Russian twist with pass: Do the same movements, but when you twist towards your partner, pass the medicine ball to your partner and then wait for the return. Passing back and forth between you and your partner counts as one rep.
Why Miller does it: The helps strengthen your core, abs, lower back, and your oblique muscles. The obliques are crucial for football players, as they are often being pushed, pulled, and rotated in different directions by opponents when making tackles. Strong obliques help with flexibility and rotational power, which helps when Miller has to change directions quickly on the field.
Dumbbell Lateral Raises with Dropsets
What to do/What Miller does: Miller does 3 reps with 30 pounds, 4 reps with 25 pounds, 5 reps with 20 pounds, and 6 reps with 15 pounds in each round. Use the same dropset set/rep scheme as Miller, but with a weight that you’re comfortable lifting.
How to do it: Start standing with your legs shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each of your hands with your palms facing inwards. Raise your arms out to your sides until they reach shoulder level. Hold the lift for a moment, then slowly lower back down to the starting position. Repeat with lowered weight and increased reps for each lift. Don’t bend your elbows or violently swing the weights; if you’re tempted to do so, then lower the weight until you can do the exercise steadily.
Why Miller does it: The exercise helps with shoulder stability and works your deltoids. Plus, by steadily decreasing the weight in each of your lifts and upping the reps, you can help build muscle and growth in your workout. Upper body strength is crucial for a player like Miller, as the linebacker position often finds himself pushing against heavier players to get to running backs and quarterbacks.
Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift with Cable to Row
What to do/What Miller does: 8 reps for each leg, 1 set for each leg in each round, for 6 total sets in the workout. If you don’t have access to cable machine, do the Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift move with a dumbbell for the row movement.
How to do it: Start standing straight, with your left hand on the cable (left hand means you’ll be starting with your right leg as the supporting leg and vice versa). Slowly bend forward and pull your left leg up behind you. Keep your back straight and head up, looking straight ahead. When the weight gets below your knee, move back up into the starting position. As you come up, bring your left elbow back and pull your left arm in towards your chest for the row move to finish the rep. If you’re using a dumbbell instead of a cable, do the same movement, but hold the dumbbell in the hand you’d be holding the cable.
Why Miller does it: This exercise builds muscle in your lower body, hitting the hamstrings and glutes as well as your abs. Single-leg workouts are some of Miller’s favorite exercises to do—the linebacker feels those are the moves that translate best for what he needs to do to dominate on the field. Working on each leg individually helps eliminate strength imbalances and improve the body’s ability to move when off-balance, which is key as Miller works against linemen.
Cardio Interval Exercise
What to do/What Miller does: “The guys at Proactive [where Miller trains in the offseason] use a Cybex Arc Trainer machine for our cardio work,” Miller says. Miller does Level 70 with intense effort for 20-25 seconds. You can lower the level and increase the timing if that is more comfortable for you. If your gym doesn’t have an Arc Trainer, go as hard as you can on a stationary bike or elliptical machine.
How to do it: Set the machine to a level that you’re comfortable with and push hard, using all your intensity for the required time. If you want to lower the level, increase the time slightly over each of the rounds add a challenge to the workout.
Why Miller does it: High-intensity cardio training helps you burn calories in a short amount of time, but it’s also crucial for building endurance, stamina, and explosiveness for short bursts of power, which is exactly what linebackers are doing when they’re on the field. Miller is one of the most explosive players in the league and working on his cardio is one of the many reasons why.