Since entering the NFL as a first round draft pick in 2021, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeVonta Smith has been an absolute threat in the league. The Heisman Trophy winner out of Alabama scored a touchdown the very first time he laid hands on the ball and hasn’t slowed down since. In the past two years, Smith has set numerous records for the organization, and helped take his team to last season’s Super Bowl LVII, where they ultimately lost in a nail-biting match against the Kansas City Chiefs.
For the already hyper-motivated Smith, coming that close to taking home the trophy and walking away empty-handed has provided additional fuel to his competitive fire. The level of his dedication to the task at hand could be seen this off-season during his training with coach Yo Murphy, vice president of performance at House of Athlete in Tampa, FL. During their early morning sessions, Smith has continued to build on his natural speed and agility while building the strength required to survive the long game.
Men’s Journal caught up with Smith during one of his workouts, starting with on-field drills, then a strength session in the gym, to witness how he gets stronger and sharper in the off-season.
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"There aren’t many people hitting the gym when I am—and I like it that way."
Men’s Journal: What do you like about training here at House of Athlete in Tampa?
DeVonta Smith: This is an amazing location in Tampa with great weather. There’s always a nice little breeze coming through so I don’t hate that when I’m working. I’ve been training with Yo for a few years at this point, so I’ve gotten really comfortable with how he trains. On top of that, the facility he works out of is just one of the best there is.
I'd say it's unusually quiet, but it's also unusually early. What do you like about these early-morning sessions?
There aren’t too many people hitting the gym when I’m hitting the gym, and I like it that way. I like to train on my own. I’ve always been a solo training guy—and that’s mostly because I like to work out really, really early. It’s quiet and I have a lot of one-on-one time with my trainer. I get to work at my own pace and focus on what’s going to make me better. I’m getting my lift on around 5 in the morning and hitting the track around 8 or 9.
When did you realize you had a gift for football?
Sophomore year of high school is when it really hit me that I was on another level than the rest. I was playing all of the sports, but football was the one I saw I could be dominant at. I was really enjoying basketball at the point guard position, but my coach at the time convinced me it wasn’t the right move for me to pursue basketball because of my size—most of the guards being 6’3” or 6’4” [Editor's note: Smith is 6'0"]. When it came time to make a decision about what avenue I could see myself being a winner, it was football.
I played cornerback, too, during those earlier football years, but I had a natural ability when it came to being a receiver. After awhile, you get strong at a position and realize it’s the right one for you. Being a corner made me a better receiver, and vice versa, but I felt more strength at receiver. I like having the ball in my hands and being able to make plays that effect the score. It takes the whole team to get the ball in my hands. That’s when you realize how important it is to do your job—but also for your teammates to do theirs as well.
How did you end up playing for Alabama—and how was the NFL Scouting Combine process for you?
I was going in a lot of different directions when it came time to decide where I was going to play college ball. There was so much happening that I kind of got lost in the frenzy. Then Alabama just presented itself as the spot for me. I made an impression with the fans my first game against Florida State, playing in Atlanta. But I also noticed everyone was on a different speed than I had seen during my high school playing career. Everyone was way bigger and way faster.
My Combine was a tough experience. I’d dislocated my finger beforehand, so there was a lot of limitation on what I could do. I focused on the lower body exercises, and the rest I really couldn’t practice to the level that I wanted. I did as much as I could, and made the most out of the experience. It had been two or three months since I’d caught a pass going into that Combine. In the end, I looked at that as just another challenge I had to overcome.
"I’m really happy with where I am and what we're building in Philadelphia. It’s going to be a good year."
What are your objectives during the off-season?
I’m going into every training camp trying to get stronger, but the most important element is making sure my body is limber and flexible enough to stay healthy through the season. We’re building for longevity. There are always risks when you’re taking the impacts we do, but the bone breaks are easier to recover from. If you mess up a muscle or pull it off the bone, that can truly set you back—even to the point where it’s impossible to regain. So we want to make those muscles as powerful as possible.
There are small things Yo started to implement into my training that I hadn’t really thought to do before. Some of the hamstring workouts we do have become a huge part of our work. There are ways of training flexibility that you don’t think of normally or see the importance of. But it makes a huge difference. Being a wide receiver you need elite stability. We’re making cuts and changing direction so quickly that it’s hard on the knees and legs to stay in the right alignment.
Are there specific exercises Yo has programmed that's made a significant improvement on your performance?
Box jumps and lots of variations on them are huge. There are a lot of ways to train leg power and to give yourself the ability to jump high, but it’s also about building stability so when you land you’re landing in the right way—especially since the way we land isn’t always perfect. We aren’t always landing on both legs, and sometimes you’re coming down from the air in an unusual way. Getting as much strength and stability in both of your legs is huge.
Related: 50 Best Leg Exercises of All Time to Build Muscle
What do you like about the VRST training gear that we see you rocking in these workouts?
I’m a huge fan of training in VRST. I like the fact I can work out in it hard, but it’s also great for lounging around the house. If I feel like chilling or doing some errands before a training session, I can do it in a cool and comfortable way. The Icon Tee and the All In Shorts are perfect for me because I can train in them, but I also like how they look out of the gym too. I like how comfortable they are as well as how they fit. They feel like you have nothing on sometimes, and that’s kind of what I want for a training session.
How does your typical training day schedule change during the season when you’re prepping for a game?
During the season, I’ll probably get up around 5:30 in the morning and start the day by doing some maintenance work on my body. I’ll do a little flexibility work on my ankles and legs, get a massage, and also use a Theragun to warm up parts of the body. That’s when I’m ready to get in a lift. After the lift, I’ll head to team meetings. After the meetings, it’s more practice.
My favorite part of the day is going home. There are players who like to train, then do everything else after. I personally like waking up early and getting everything done early. That way, when we’re done with practice, and are done with what the team needs, I’m able to really focus on recharging. On our long days, I probably shower, then go to sleep. On a less scheduled day, I’ll probably go home and play some video games or watch a little television. During the down time, I like playing a little Call of Duty and squad up with cornerback Avonte Maddox.
How are you feeling about this upcoming season?
I’m really happy with where I am and what we're building in Philadelphia. I think we’ve gotten some really great people on and off the field. The whole organization feels like it’s going in the right direction. It’s going to be a good year.
"I like having the ball in my hands and being able to make plays that effect the score."
The Workout of Philadelphia Eagles Wide Receiver DeVonta Smith
This is a pared-down version of a workout Smith does with Murphy to activate his lower body and build strength. The exercises are chosen to target explosiveness and stability in the legs, as well as individually. These movements can be done with minimal equipment outdoors or at home.
Do 3 rounds of the warmup and 3 rounds of the workout. Rest for 45 seconds to 1 minute between rounds.
1. 90/90 Switch x 60-sec. hold each side
How to Do It
- Sit with knees bent and feet flat on floor, wider than shoulder width, to start.
- Rotate your right hip to the ground and have your knees follow while maintaining 90-degree angles.
- The right leg should be in external rotation and your left leg should be in internal rotation. The final position should have your left lower leg aligned with the heel of your right foot. Hold the position for 60 seconds.
- That's 1 set. Alternate sides on each set.
- To make the exercise harder: Hold a wall ball at your chest and assume the same starting position. Keep chest high, then drop legs right, creating 90-degree angles with knees. Hinge forward over right thigh, then press your right knee and ankle into the floor while raising into a hip extension (shown above). Twist torso over right side for a deeper stretch in left hip flexor. Hinge and lower hips back onto ground. Rotate torso and lift knees back to center. Switch sides.
2. Rear-Foot-Elevated Hip Flexor Stretch (aka Couch Stretch) x 45-sec. hold each side
How to Do It
- Start by positioning yourself in front of a bench, couch, or chair with a pad or towel to cushion your knee, to start.
- Stand in front of pad and bend left knee, placing top of foot on bench behind you, similar to a Bulgarian split squat.
- Lower left knee to pad, then tuck your pelvis and contract quad and glute muscles to exert strength in this static position.
- Hold for 45 seconds. That's 1 set. Perform all sets on one side, then switch.
Abraham Gonzalez Fernandez/Getty Images
3. Open the Gate x 10 reps
How to Do It
- Stand with feet hips-width apart and hands down by your sides, to start.
- Shift your weight onto your left leg, then drive your right knee up to hip level. Turn it out to open away from your midline. You'll feel a stretch through your groin as you "open the gate."
- If just starting out, you may use your hands for added assistance and balance. Keep the rest of your body stationary and think about engaging your core and glutes for counterbalance when you go hands-free.
- Hold for a moment, then bring your knee back toward your midline and down to the floor. That's 1 rep. Perform all reps on one side, then switch.
1. Dumbbell Jump Squats x 10 reps
How to Do It
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, holding dumbbells by your sides, palms facing in, to start.
- Hinge at your hips to lower into a squat.
- Once your thighs are parallel to the floor, explode off the ground, pushing through your feet to launch up. Keep the weights at your side with your arms extended.
- Land softly. That's 1 rep.
2. Banded Pause Squats x 10 reps
How to Do It
- Start by looping a resistance loop just above the knees or pin the ends of a band under the balls of your feet, to start.
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, then lower yourself into a squat, pushing your hips back.
- Pause halfway to your thighs being parallel to the floor and hold that position for a count of three. Continue down to the bottom of the squat, then rise, pausing again at the halfway mark for another three count.
- Throughout, you should be pushing against the resistance band with your knees, preventing your legs from being drawn inward. Rise to stand. That's 1 rep.
3. Hamstring Curls x 6 reps
How to Do It
- Locate a glute ham device or have a partner secure your feet to the ground, to start.
- Once in the machine or with your feet secured, tuck chin and pelvis, maintaining a straight line from head to knees as you fire up your core, glutes and hamstrings.
- Slowly lower to the ground like a lever—trying not to break form, using your hamstrings to control the descent.
- Use your hands to catch yourself when your hamstrings can’t hold any longer. Engage glutes and hamstrings and push off ground to return to start. That's 1 rep.
4. Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift x 8 reps
How to Do It
- Hold a dumbbell in each hand and extend your left leg behind you, to start.
- Push your hips back and lower your body as far as you can without losing the arch in your lower back. Dumbbells should be at shin level and you should feel a stretch in your right hamstring.
- Hold for one count, then engage your right glute and hamstring muscles to rise.
- That's 1 rep. Complete all reps on one side, then switch.