Cornerbacks get the most attention when they make acrobatic interceptions. But if you want to be a versatile defensive back—and if you want to be able to shut down your friends playing pickup football—you’re going to have to work on more than just your vertical leap. To be an all-around cornerback, you’ll need to focus on combining upper and lower body strength with agility, flexibility, and speed.
San Diego Chargers cornerback Jason Verrett understands what it takes to be the best—a commitment to fitness and hard work in the training room—and that’s why he was a Pro Bowl player in just his second season in the league.
We spoke with Roy Holmes, C.S.C.S., USAW, a performance specialist at EXOS who has worked with Verrett to help him develop into one of the top cornerbacks in the game. Holmes puts Verrett through an extensive workout that hits all different areas of the body—and it’s something you can try too, even if you aren’t a cornerback. Holmes says that the workout (in the video below featuring Verrett) is designed to hit a range of areas—the hamstrings, glutes, rotator cuffs, shoulders, hips, calves, and legs all will get some attention.
“The workout will give you activation throughout your body,” Holmes says. “You can go to any gym or park and set down some cones and do some of these backpedal and sprint workouts. You can do the five-yard shuffles, the backpedaling, the forward sprints—all these drills are very relatable to anybody.”
Before you get into the workout, be sure to loosen up with stretching techniques. “If you're not taking care of your body in the weight room, you're not going to be able to stay on the field,” Verrett says about the importance of stretching. Holmes agrees: “Be strong for your body type—you want to work hard, but you need to be able to recover from what you put your body through. If your body fails you, your workout won’t be worth anything.”
See below for the training routine Verrett uses and try it yourself >>>
Drill 1: “World’s Greatest Stretch” — Forward Lunge Elbow to Instep with Rotation
1 set x 4 reps for right side
1 set x 4 reps for left side
What you need: Box to lean on or medicine ball (optional)
How to do it: Get in a forward lunge position by putting your right leg out in front of your body, knee bent at a right angle. Keep your left leg back straight with a slight bend at the knee. Arms should be at your side, straight down, hands on the ground. Keeping your legs stable and your right hand on the ground, rotate your hips upwards and reach straight up with your left arm. Bring the arm back down to starting position and then repeat.
What it does: The stretch address multiple aspects of the body—not only does this stretch help with flexibility but it will also provide stability and mobility. This stretch will hit your hip flexors, calf, hamstring, glute, T-spine, adductor, and the small muscle of the rotator cuff.
Expert advice: “Beginners with limited mobility should start this stretch off with one knee on the ground and the hand in contact with the ground elevated on a box or SKLZ Med Ball,” says Holmes. “This will allow the athlete to stretch without discomfort but will also allow the athlete to gain added mobility and flexibility as time goes on. As flexibility improves the athlete should slowly progress the knee off the ground and placing the hand on the box or ball on the ground.”
Drill 2: Three Hurdle Drill
3 sets x 3 reps moving right
3 sets x 3 reps moving left
What you need: 3 small hurdles or objects to hop over
How to do it: Put the hurdles down about one foot apart from each other. Start standing on the right side of the hurdles, legs straight, arms at your side. Laterally side step over the hurdles moving towards your left, lifting your knees up to hip level. When you hop over the last hurdle, keep yourself stabilized on your left leg with your right leg off the ground, knee still bent. Hold the position for two seconds, then reverse and go back across the hurdles.
What it does: This serves as a movement drill as well as an explosive change of direction and stability drill. The main muscles that you want to focus on are the glutes and the muscles that provide support throughout the hips. The stronger your glutes and hips are, the more stable your knees and ankles will be. This drill will also address proprioception and lateral stability/explosiveness.
Expert advice: “Start with the hurdles closer together to encourage quicker foot contacts. Then, over time, gradually move the hurdles farther apart so there's more of an emphasis on lateral strength and power. Be sure to keep your eyes up,” Holmes says.
Drill 1 starts at :01 of the video. Drill 2 starts at :05 of the video.
Drill 3: Change of Direction Drill — Acceleration to Backpedal
2 sets x 3 reps
What you need: Small ball or object, three markers. Place one marker and a ball/object on top of the marker five yards from your starting point, 10 yards from your starting point, and 15 yards from your starting point.
How to do it: From the starting point, accelerate forward towards the first marker, reach down and grab the first ball. Backpedal to the original starting point, drop the ball, then accelerate forward to the second marker. Grab the second ball, and backpedal towards the first marker. Drop the ball, accelerate forward to the final marker. Grab the ball, backpedal to the second marker, drop the ball, accelerate forward and finish the drill.
What it does: This drill will help develop explosive hips and glutes. The goal is to feel balanced and explosive.
Expert advice: “Be sure to keep a sound base. Do not let your feet get too far away from your center of mass,” Holmes says. "If you feel off-balance, shorten your steps and slow down so that you feel the control of the drill. Don’t sacrifice technique for speed. Bad technique will limit your speed."
Drill 4: Single Leg Hops — Linear Hop to Stabilize
4 sets x 3 reps for right leg
4 reps x 3 sets for left leg
What you need: 3 small hurdles or objects to hop over. Set up the hurdles about a foot apart.
How to do it: Stand on your right leg facing the three hurdles. Keep your left leg in the air, bent at the knee. Hop over the hurdle with your right foot, land on your right foot, and stabilize. Your left foot should remain in the air for each hurdle. When you reach the end, switch legs and repeat.
Important note: “While performing this drill, be sure to avoid medial collapsing of the knee—when you land, you want to avoid your knee diving inward towards your body. If this does occur, it lets you know that you need to focus less on jump height and focus more on the landing. Poor landing mechanics are typically the result of bad loading patterns and inactive glutes,” says Holmes.
What it does: This drill helps with stability. The main muscles that are working here are the glutes. The muscles around the hips provide much of our horsepower for speed and change of directions so it is important to strengthen this area of the body.
Expert advice: “During this drill, you want to feel as if you are landing on two feet except it is one. You should feel strong and stable so that when you go to run you are equally balanced from left to right,” Holmes recommends.
Drill 3 starts at :10 of the video. Drill 4 starts at :16 of the video.
Drill 5: Wall Acceleration Drill
2 sets x 5 reps for right leg
2 sets x 5 reps for left leg
What you need: Resistance harness and a partner. Jason Verrett uses the SKLZ Recoil 360 for his workout.
How to do it: With the resistance equipment on and your partner a few feet behind you, stand facing a wall. Place both your arms straight out with your hands on the wall, fingers pointing upwards. With your partner giving you resistance, bring your right leg up towards the wall, bend your knee and hold for two seconds at the height of your hip. Then bring your right leg straight back and hold for one second. Repeat and then switch legs.
What it does: This drill will address several aspects of acceleration. The wall provides basic stability while teaching the body the position it will need to execute the initial stages of acceleration. Posture is key with this drill. The great part of the drill is it will not only give you feedback as far as how your body position should be, but it will also provide a guide for showing limiting factors of mobility and stability.
Expert advice: “When performing this drill, keep your hands around shoulder height. Your shoulders, hips, knees and ankles should be in perfect alignment, remember the phrase: ‘head to heel strong as steel.’ Power travels in a straight line. Make sure your heels are slightly off the ground, keeping a good straight posture with you core tight and glute engaged,” Holmes says.
Drill 6: Quad Hip Flexor Stretch
1 set x 5 reps for right leg
1 set x 5 reps for left leg
How to do it: Kneel down with your right knee on the ground, while your left foot is in front of you on the ground, left leg bent at the knee. Keep your back straight and raise your right arm straight up next to your head, palm facing forward. Keep your left arm on your hip. Slowly lean forward and stretch your quad, hold for a few seconds, then lean back to starting position.
Important note: While performing this drill you should feel the stretch in your quad first and hip flexor second. If you are feeling hip flexor first and quad second, it most likely means you are not firing your glute in order to open up the hip.
What it does: The quad is a very important and often times neglected muscle group. This muscle groups helps extend the leg a lot like how your triceps straightens your arm. Tight quads are often times a sign of imbalances with body due to over activation. Most athletes are extremely quad dominated due to limited hamstring and glute strength.
Expert advice: “Be sure to squeeze the glute on the side of the knee down on the ground. This will allow you to isolate your quad so the hip flexors do not get over stretched or over worked due to repeated pulling and running,” Holmes says.
Drill 5 starts at :21 of the video. Drill 6 starts at :25 of the video.