How athletes train: Denzel Perryman

The NFL middle linebacker talks breakfast, pool workouts, and more.

As the second-best performer on the LA Chargers defense, Denzel Perryman has high expectations for himself. This past summer, he decided to dramatically intensify his off-season workouts to keep pace. Unfortunately for himself and his team, he suffered a season-ending injury in November. Still, his impressive stats up until then show his new workout routine was paying off on the field.

“I only took three days off at the end of the mini-camp in mid-June and then got right back into it,” he says. In previous years, he focused mostly on lifting and running, but this off-season was all about losing weight and improving his agility, speed, and footwork.

By August, Perryman had lost 10 pounds. The 240-pound, 5-foot-11 middle linebacker says his movement skills and flexibility are much better now than they have been for the last few years. Now in his fourth season with the NFL, he credits his trainer, John Walker, with his transformation.

Furthermore caught up with Perryman to talk breakfast (he’s not on board), his favorite workouts (they’re underwater), and more.

The Training Regimen: Before training camp started in August, I worked out with John almost every day from about 9 a.m. to noon, with Wednesdays saved for stretching.

I’d start with skips across a 35-yard indoor turf, making sure to lift my knees to my belly button at a 90-degree angle to generate as much force as possible and fire up the glutes and hamstrings. The aim was to maximize power and speed without over- or under-striding, and cover five yards in two and a half or three strides.

Then we’d move into cone, ladder, band, and bungee work. John and I would be attached at the waist with a rope or band, and he would create resistance while I tried to backpedal or do lateral movements. Instead of rep counts, we did duration-style drills and worked to fatigue.

In the weight room, we’d add resistance bands to weight machines to generate fast twitch muscle fibers and build muscular endurance. For example, we’d loop a long resistance band around the machine during bent-over T-bar rows and seated iso lateral rows and pull-downs to add tension.

A few days a week, we’d also train in the pool, jogging in place and doing split lunges, scissor jumps, butt kicks, and single-leg bounds down the pool and back, and aggressive backpedaling. It felt like underwater football practice. I was shocked by how challenging those workouts were and I would always get out of the pool winded like I’d been running sprints. Some people think it’s easy because you’re in the water, but you’re actually doing more work than you would on land because of the resistance.

Some days we focused on speed and sprinting form, with sessions lasting an hour to an hour and a half with no lifting.

The Nutrition Regimen:
I’ve tried eating breakfast but it just makes me feel heavier and sluggish, so I don’t eat until lunchtime. Earlier in the day, I only have coffee. I have a medium-sized lunch. Usually it’s grilled chicken (which I eat every day if I can), asparagus, and a salad, then something small for dinner like protein with vegetables. I drink a lot of water, about six or seven bottles per day, plus Gatorade.

I’ve had to learn how to eat healthy and focus on cutting calories as my intake was a little high. Now I eat more salads and fish and I follow stricter portion control.

The Regeneration Regimen: For recovery, I’ve been doing ice tubs, hot tubs, Normatec, massages, and cupping. I do more now than I did in college. You’re still young then and your body hasn’t been pounded on year after year like it has now.

What’s Next? I’m trying to stay positive while I rehab my injury. I hope the team keeps getting better week-to-week.