For Patrick Peterson, training isn’t just the high-intensity insanity most people associate with today’s modern-day gladiators. These days, the four-time Pro Bowl cornerback for the Arizona Cardinals doesn’t just train hard—he trains smart, with a tactical approach that makes him one of the best defenders in the NFL.
“In college, it was definitely beast mode. Always going in and just heavy lifting,” Peterson tells Men’s Fitness. “Now that I’m in the NFL, I do a lot more body functional weights. I don’t lift over my body weight.”
In the offseason, Peterson heads back to his old stomping ground, Blanche Ely High School in Pompano Beach, Florida, to workout with the current crops of youngsters there, as well as some football buddies he grew up with. The focuses of the workouts are centered around muscle memory, with more attention towards being light on his feet.
Growing up in the Sunshine State, Peterson was surrounded by beautiful beaches, so training in the sand was a given. He would train in the sand at least three times per week.
“It doesn’t have to be a particular beach. You can go into one of those volleyball pits and just work agility drills,” says Peterson. “You can do a short shuttle, an L drill, or a sled pull in the sand. Having your feet go through the sand, your legs feel much lighter, like you’re walking on clouds.”
Ladders and box jumps are another staple of Peterson’s offseason routine, during which he is trained by his father. Patrick Sr., a former cornerback in his own right, is the founder of World Class Speed, a facility where he prepares youth for football careers in college and beyond.
Two must-have attributes specific to defensive backs are agility and footwork, which he helps his son master with the L drill.
“The L drill is a drill of changing directions. It’s three cones, five yards apart,” says Peterson Sr. “As you go towards the cones, you try to get around them as sharp as possible without tipping it over. Then, when you get up to the last cone, you make your way back around. Make sure you’re cutting at a sharp angle, without stopping your body’s motion.”
The 25-year-old Peterson is careful not to overwork himself after the punishing drills and workouts he’s put through in training camps. As Peterson puts it, his offseason all about “maintenance” once the dawn of the 16-game regular season is near.
For example, between the spring and summer, he will run 17-23 miles per week. When September approaches, he cuts that number down to five.
But the weight room isn’t of the utmost concern for the Cardinals’ ballhawk. Instead, the former fifth pick in the 2011 NFL Draft finds himself focusing on flexibility. Being too bulky weighs Peterson down.
“As a cornerback, you don’t want to be too big or robotic. The more muscle you put on, the more stiff your body will become,” Peterson Sr. says.
As a defensive back, Peterson puts special focus on the hips and feet, building the explosive power he needs to backpedal at high speeds and turn to break on a pass.
“I would say the hips and feet [are most important]. Great feet and hips—to be able to open and turn at a sudden moment—that’s definitely very key,” says Peterson.
However, as Peterson Sr. sees it, the backpedal is not very useful at the NFL level, where you have bigger, faster beasts drudging right towards at you. Though Peterson is tall and lean at 6’1,” 200-plus pounds, being pushed around throughout a 90-minute game is a forgone conclusion.
“It’s not handy. Now, you’ve got somebody coming at you, who runs a 4.3 forty-yard dash,” said Peterson Sr. “We’ve added in the shuffle. It’ll get you more on top of the receiver.”
To prepare himself for the challenges ahead, he’s practiced yoga in the offseason. In fact, it’s something that Peterson has done since the days he notched All-American honors at LSU. A few of the poses he utilizes are downward dog, warrior, and tree pose.
“[Yoga] was actually a mandatory thing we had to do in college. Flexibility is definitely a huge key if you want to have a long, successful career,” Peterson says.
Like his balance, Peterson’s diet never wavers (aside from the standard cheat meal). Peterson employs the same diet year-round, consisting of things like a smoothie or protein shake for breakfast, with a suite of different kinds of meats for lunch and a dinner built around lean protein like bison, pork and chicken.
He has lost roughly 15-20 pounds and wants to finish the 2015 season on a higher note than the year before.
Peterson has a commanding voice in the locker room in his fifth season and has no plans on slowing down. “Last year, we started off hot and well at 9-1 then we hit a wall,” said Peterson. “We understand we have to capture this moment that’s in front of us.”