Not so long ago, the three kings of the weight room were the bench press, the squat and the deadlift, and really, the only one anybody talked about was the bench press. (When was the last time you overheard athletes talking about their squat numbers?)
Typical football strength workouts might include descending pyramid sets with big weights in each of those exercises, some biceps and triceps work, a couple of auxiliary lifts for forearms, a little core and – almost certainly – a bunch of push ups.
Increasingly, strength coaches are taking a more progressive and functional look at weight lifting … more of a “what does this lift give me on the football field?” approach.
So, while you’ll still see a lot of bench pressing going on, coaches are looking harder at Olympic lifts, like the clean, push press and snatch to build explosive power on the field as well as other lifts that combine multiple movements in a single rep, or complexes.
The Olympic Lifts and Triple-Joint Extension
The power clean is a great example of what’s new in football strength training. Starting in a squatting position, with the hips, knees and ankles bent, the athlete drives off the floor in a smooth and accelerating movement, “scoops” the weight and finishes with a leg drive off the floor, straightening the hips, knees and ankles in an explosive triple-joint extension that mimics virtually every movement on the football field.
This functional training replicates the actual movement a player makes while driving into a block or tackle, jumping for a pass or sprinting. And it’s become pivotal in training all position groups at every level. Of course it’s also difficult to teach. For a great video of how to perform a power clean check out the Iron Pirates Strength & Conditioning website.
Other lifts that are great for building explosive speed and which rely on the triple-joint extension are the push press, which sometimes is referred to as a jerk, and the snatch. Both exercises also are great for developing core strength, as controlling inherently unstable movements overhead place a premium on core strength.
Squats Make or Break Strength Training Routines
Any football strength training program that doesn’t include squats – real squats – isn’t really a football strength training program. Squats have been called the King of all Lifts, and, done correctly, they are. Done poorly, they’re injuries waiting to happen, and so some programs avoid them, or substitute leg press machines or sleds or allow quarter and half squats in lieu of the real thing.
Teaching good squat technique can be pretty straight forward. Here’s a great drill to use to teach athletes how to squat correctly
Simply put: Squats are the best way to develop speed, power and durability in football players. They work all of the muscles in your legs at once, hit the back and the hips and even the core. Done correctly, they’ll dramatically improve an athlete’s speed, jumping ability and bottom-line strength.
Other Leg Work to Increase Speed and Jumping Ability
A couple of great exercises to augment your squat program are dumbbell lunges, jump squats and box jumps.
Use the box jumps on days when you squat heavy as a way to help trigger more fast-twitch muscle development. Jump squats can be used on off days, along with lunges and bob squats.
To build maximum football strength, remember that you’ll need to cycle, or periodize your strength training. Before you begin, make certain you take the time to learn how to do the various lifts correctly.
For younger football players, some of the overhead lifts like snatch and push press might be too challenging. Take it a little slower, but don’t be afraid to start even the youngest players on a modified weight lifting program. It’s really never too soon to start young athletes lifting.
Football is a game that’s played on your feet and you need to make sure that your workouts are built around that concept. The more exercises you can complete while NOT sitting down and NOT laying down, the better they’re likely to reward you on the football field.