You’d be hard-pressed to find a harder worker in the NFL than James Harrison. The 39-year-old linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers hasn’t played fewer than 11 games in a season since 2004, and since 2014 he has racked up 138
combined tackles and 15.5 sacks (before the 2017–18 season). Off the field, Harrison has become known for his insane lifts—including a 675-pound barbell hip thrust, casual reps on the bench press with 405, and an 1,800-pound sled push. (That’s the equivalent of about five hulking NFL linemen.)

“No one works harder than James,” says Garrett Giemont, the Steelers’ conditioning coordinator. “He is one of the most powerful players in the NFL, and much of the credit can be attributed to his legendary workout regimen.” Below, Harrison and Giemont outline the keys to Harrison’s continued on-field success.


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Linebacker strong

“Football is an explosive sport that requires you to be stronger and better conditioned than the player opposite you,” Harrison says. “I have never followed the same program as the other players on my team. I do my thing my way to be able to make tackles, explode off the line, and keep retirement as far away as possible.” To accomplish this, Harrison focuses on the following:

  • He preaches that being able to generate power is based on barbell- driven multijoint exercises that stabilize the core, like the squat and deadlift.
  • According to Giemont, who is incredibly close to Harrison, “James has always respected the discipline of a bodybuilding workout that focuses on powerlifts.” Harrison performs an isolated arm and shoulder day in addition to his regular routine.
  • Heavy deadlifts are one of the secrets to Harrison’s success. They help him build the core strength and explosiveness he needs to be able to explode off the line and treat the offensive linemen like rag dolls.

Get low

While other NFL players tend to avoid low-rep ranges on bench presses, Harrison has no problem with piling on the plates and performing fewer reps. “I wouldn’t say benching 500 pounds with chains is for everyone,” Harrison says. “But I don’t worry about anything other than doing my thing, getting stronger to play football, and proving that all the work is worth it.”

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Sand speed

Tom Shaw, an Orlando-based performance coach who supervises Harrison’s off-season workouts, has devised an outdoor program that calls for Harrison to perform intervals and distance running in the sand to help toughen his hips and ankles and build up strength and stamina. “One of the goals of Harrison’s off-season training is to get him out of the weight room and into the hot sun,” Shaw says, “to sweat and to do sprints and intervals to build bursts of speed.”


Shaw works with Harrison to focus on eating organic produce and high-fiber foods and to keep an emphasis on proteins and fats instead of simple carbs.

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