Strength Training With Top NFL Athletes: Ndamukong Suh and Darius Slay

NFL's Darius Slay and Ndamukong Suh share insights on their strength training routines.

Ever wonder what a strength training program looks like for NFL athletes?

For any position on the football field strength is non-negotiable. Even though athlete’s sizes may vary dramatically, what’s consistent is the importance of being strong enough to get your job done. BarBend got the chance to discuss strength training with Darius Slay and Ndamukong Suh of the National Football League.

“I think people have a misconception that strength training is just for athletes, but it’s important for all shapes and sizes, men, women, and children of some age. — Ndamukong Suh

Slay, a cornerback for the Detroit Lions’ strength training looks different that Suh, who’s a defensive tackle in the NFL. Both Slay and Suh play different positions and train for them specifically, however, both athletes agree that strength training is one of the most important parts of their sport.

“It’s very important, because your body takes a lot of beating,” Slay told BarBend on Wednesday at a Nike Football event at the Nike Headquarters in New York City. “Weights build you up to take that beating, but it also helps you through a 16-game season, actually, more like 20 games through pre-season.”

Suh, who’s defensive accolades continue to pile high since he was selected second overall by the Detroit Lions in the 2010 NFL Draft, agreed with Slay.

“Strength training is incredibly important with regard to being an athlete, and general health,” Suh told BarBend.
“I think people have a misconception that strength training is just for athletes, but it’s important for all shapes and sizes, men, women, and children of some age.”

Both Slay and Suh have been lifting weights since they were younger, but over time have really began to grasp onto how important it truly is to maintaining consistent performance.

For Slay, a major part of his position is speed, so when it comes to dialing in his strength training, he’s seen improvements in his overall pace.

“I’ve always been lifting. In high school, my coach put me onto it because I was small. He told me if I lifted a little more it would get me faster. For me, lifting is about making myself stronger and more explosive,” Slay said.

Slay was selected in the second-round by the Detroit Lions at the 2013 NFL Draft. He’s been with the Lions ever since and has been named to two Pro Bowls (2017 and 2018) and was named First-Team All Pro in 2017. In addition to strength training being a key factor in improving Slay’s speed, he admits he also likes the way lifting weights to look and feel right.

“I like my chest to look good,” Slay said, adding that bench press is his favorite exercise. “You know, bulky, so I can be intimidating on the field.”

When BarBend asked Suh what his favorite lift and movement was, he didn’t go exactly the same route as Slay.

“My favorite is probably rear-footed elevated split squats,” Suh said. “It’s just a good challenge. I actually don’t like them, but I enjoy my ability to do them and the overall results I get from them.” Suh has certainly seen the results of lifting in his game, he’s appeared in five Pro Bowls (2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2016) and was also named to the First-Team All-Pro three times (2010, 2013, and 2014), and that’s only a couple of his accolades.

Suh dove deeper with BarBend and explained just how crucial strength training, specifically isolating it to single leg movements is for his game.

“In my sport I rarely play with both of my legs equally apart from each other,” Suh explained, “I’m usually in a one-legged stance so that’s where my priority lies with being strong and my training.”

So whether or not you’re using strength to improve your speed like Slay, or challenging yourself through rear-legged split squats to make huge defensive stops like Suh, feel confident that strength training really is a foundation for all.