The veteran corner opens up about that viral video, his own father, and how becoming a dad has shaped his career.
By now, there should be no doubt that Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Joe Haden lifts weights. The veteran player made that explicitly clear in a viral Mic’d Up video from 2020, which has amassed 1.4 million likes on TikTok and hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube. What’s less clear in this video is his approach, which includes focusing on maintenance during regular play and lifting heavy during the off-season.
“During the season, I’m not really trying to build mass or get swole,” said Haden in an exclusive interview with Tonal. “It’s more the off-season when I’m trying to add weight, trying to get bulky, and lifting heavy.”
That time is now for Haden, who just wrapped his 12th professional season after a blowout loss to the Kansas City Chiefs back in January. After taking some time to recover, the 32-year-old will transition his training by incorporating classic lifts that hit major muscle groups, concentrating on the lower body.
“I mostly focus on a lot of squats and a lot of lunges because of running and wanting to stay fast, just keeping my legs in shape,” he said. That also includes box jumps, vertical jumps, and other plyometrics for explosiveness on the field. “That’s mainly because I’m trying to high-point the ball a lot and trying to catch the ball in the air,” he added.
That’s not to say he ignores his upper body. He likes to go hard on bench pressing and never forgets his biceps, admitting that curls are one of the exercises he would do for the rest of his life. “I just like having big arms,” laughed Hayden, who earned the nickname “Joe Money” from teammates thanks to his endless swag.
Performance benefits and vanity are two relatable drivers for exercise—we can all admit to times when we wanted to be a little faster, stronger, or more confident—but that doesn’t mean that training and consistency come easy. Even pros like Haden, an athlete known for his energy and exuberance, struggle to stay dedicated at times.
When his motivation wanes, it’s simply perspective that keeps Haden fired up. “I’m just like, ‘Dude, you play football for a living,” he said. “Wake up and go get it! There are way other worse things you could be doing. And then when I start working out, I feel better.”
It’s not just the dedication to his workouts that keep him in it, but it’s also his commitment to recovery that contributes to his longevity in the game. After more than a decade as a pro in a physically-demanding sport using his body as a human bumper car, Haden knows the value of taking proper care of his body.
“I’m really taking care, getting massages, and getting cold tubs,” he said. “And then not really having a real off-season because there’s no real time for you to get out of shape to get back in shape. You should always stay ready so you ain’t never gotta get ready,”
Consistency is key, and Haden encourages all athletes to take that mind-over-matter approach, digging deep to find your own why. “You’ve got to want it for yourself,” he said. “Give yourself goals and try to stay locked in on them as much as you can.”
He learned that discipline from his father, Joe Sr., who as a certified personal trainer and professional bodybuilder helped train Haden in the gym. “My dad had a quote, ‘Hard work beats talent but talent doesn’t work hard,’ and that really really stuck with me,” he said.
Now, Haden hopes to pass down the life lessons he learned from his father to his own two young sons who put everything in perspective for him and make him feel strong. “They’ve made [my career] more simple,” he said. Football is important, yes, “but when I go home, nothing else matters but my wife and kids.”
As for that viral video, when asked about it, all Haden could do was laugh. It’s an infectious laugh because on top of—or maybe in spite of—all the professional and personal accomplishments and the years of training and competition, Haden still emanates a joie de vivre as he speaks, exuding love for the game and appreciation for his position in life. It’s that grounding and holistic concept of strength that put him right where he needs to be.
“When I’m mentally in a great space,” he said, “having my religion on point, having my family right, having my body right, health, happiness—that’s when I’m just cool.”