Dominate the Defensive Line Like J.J. Watt

This complete program from strength coach Brad Arnett will make you an elite pass rusher.

Brad Arnett is a strength coach and owner of NX Level in Waukesha, Wisconsin. He has served as trainer to three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt for most of the player's career. Arnett says in order to be great, there's one thing every athlete must do—even one as talented as Watt.

"You have to surrender to what you need to do, and not just do what you want to do," Arnett says. "If you improve your weaknesses, you will get closer to where you need to be."

Strength must always be a priority, but you can't just pick and choose the areas of your body that you most like to work and ignore exercises you aren't good at. Odds are that if you're bad at a move, that means you have a weakness.

J.J. Watt

So when Arnett works with linemen like Watt, he addresses weaknesses with a joint-by-joint approach. In each workout, he programs exercises that improve strength and mobility in the ankles, knees, hips, core, shoulders and—especially—the back.

RELATED: Learn How to Sack a QB Like J.J. Watt

"As a defensive lineman, you are pushing and pulling constantly," Arnett says. "You want to be just as strong pulling [back exercises] as you are pushing [chest exercises]. The weaker you are pulling, the weaker you will be pushing. You may be able to push more initially, but eventually you will blow out your shoulders."

Improving weaknesses can be frustrating at first, especially when you'd rather be throwing bigger weights around with exercises you can rock. Rest assured, sweating the small stuff will pay off when you bull rush or rip past to overwhelm an opposing lineman.

Arnett's Defensive Lineman Training Plan

Arnett developed the following workout plan for high school defensive linemen. It's inspired by the workouts performed by Watt and other linemen he's worked with over the years at NX Level.

Here's how to incorporate the workouts into your training plan.

  • This defensive lineman program includes two full-body workouts. Perform them on non-consecutive days. Feel free to do speed work or conditioning on your off-days.
  • Each workout includes an extensive list of warm-up, muscle activation and mobility exercises before getting into the lifts. Do not ignore these moves. They are all part of Arnett's joint-by-joint approach.
  • Perform grouped exercises (e.g., 2a and 2b) back to back, resting as needed.
  • The exercises listed are the ideal moves as prescribed by Arnett. Don't hesitate to swap in variations if you don't have the equipment or experience to perform an exercise.
Day 1
1a) Dead Bug - 3x12 each side
1b) Banded Lateral Walk - 3x5 yards each direction
1c) Half-Kneeling Calf Stretch - 3x30 sec. each leg
2a) Cable Chop - 3x8 each side
2b) Barbell-Only Clean Complex - 3x2 (Hang Pull - RDL - Hang Clean - Front Squat)
2c) Foam Roll T-Spine - 3x30 sec.
3a) Clean Complex - 3x3 each side (Hang Pull - Hang Clean)
3b) Depth Drop - 3x5
4b) Swiss Ball Y-T-W - 3x12
4c) Split Squat - 3x8 each leg
5) Bench Press - 1x10,5,3,1 / 3x5
6a) Band Pull-Apart - 3x15
6b) Cable Row With Rotation - 3x13 each side
7b) Single-Arm Pushdown - 3x12 each arm
7c) Pec Stretch - 3x30 sec.


Day 2
1a) Single-Leg Lowering - 3x12 each leg
1b) Banded Forward Walk - 3x5 yards
1c) Half-Kneeling Calf Stretch - 3x30 sec. each leg
2a) Pallof Press - 3x8 each side
2b) Barbell-Online Snatch Complex - 3x2 (Snatch Pull - Snatch-Grip RDL - Hang Snatch - Overhead Squat)
2c) Foam Roll T-Spine - 3x30 sec.
5a) Kettlebell Lateral Squat - 3x10 each side
5b) Pull-Up - 3x5
6a) Single-Leg RDL - 3x8 each leg
6b) Offset Kettlebell Walk - 3x30 yards each side




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