Training Football Players
Reprinted from StrengthCoach.com
Note: It’s that time of year so I figured I’d reprint this…
I spent the first fifteen years of my career training football players. I still train them for the NFL Combine and in the off-season as they prepare for their NFL season. Although I no longer train a college team I still train college players in the summer. I can’t tell you how often I have the same conversation with high school and college strength coaches.
The conversation goes something like this.
“Mike, I need a training program. I need to get my linemen bigger and my skill position guys faster”
At first glance this seems like a logical request. Linemen need to be big and skill position players need to be fast, right? However, let’s look a little deeper into the thought process. Linemen are generally already big, correct? Skill position guys are generally smaller, but faster than linemen. Linemen usually like strength training but dislike running and conditioning. Skill position players often like to run but, sometimes don’t enjoy strength training. Ask yourself this. Wouldn’t we really want both groups of players to get faster? In fact, wouldn’t the linemen benefit more from speed work? Don’t linemen have a lot more room for improvement in speed? For skill position players wouldn’t strength training be the first step to increased speed.
I look at the initial logic and see some real flaws. In football we have big slow guys training to get bigger. We also have small fast guys training to get faster. How about this? Lets get the slow guys faster? Even better, how about getting everyone faster. That would be good. How about bigger and faster? Wouldn’t that be good? Have you ever had a football player get bigger and faster and realize it was a bad thing? I don’t think so.
I think almost all football players should train about the same. Everyone should be trying to get as fast as they can and, as strong as they can with a few exceptions. The exceptions are based more on injury trends and position demands than on any other single factor.
1- The extremely strong skill position player. Some of us have been lucky enough to have coached this type of guy. This is the guy everyone is trying to recruit and everyone loves to coach. This player is basically a walking bundle of fast twitch fiber. These players seem to look at weights and add muscle. If this guy is at the top end of the weight scale for his position, minimize any extra work in the weightroom. Keep it simple for this type of player. Mr. Fast Twitch needs lots of stabilizer work. In this type of player the global muscles ( the big ones that create motion) are so good that the stabilizers are a bit lazy. Give this player lots of stability oriented plyos ( 1-2 sec sticks) and lots of eccentric work. Do lots of postural work with these players also, working on hip rotators, rotator cuff, and deep abdominals. A basic no-frills strength program works for these players as long as there is lots of single limb work to attack the stabilizers. Also remember, this guy could be a linebacker or a lineman in the modern NFL. When training pure fast twitch guys you also need to remember that they will not be good on a conventional rep max chart. A pure fast twitch guy will do well at 3 reps and below but, may need some adjustment at higher reps. Generally these guys will be off by two reps with sets of 8-10. This means that they will fatigue rapidly.
2- Quarterbacks. I hate to tell you to train quarterbacks differently but I’m going to anyway. The reality is that these guys are throwers and as a result are prone to injuries common to throwers. I would train a quarterback similar to a baseball player or a swimmer. This does not mean light weight, high rep crap but, it does mean avoiding or limiting overhead explosive work. No snatches or push jerks for quarterbacks. Also get them on a med ball throwing program and a rotator cuff program just like those you would use with baseball pitchers. There is no problem with exercises like squats and cleans for quarterbacks if you use them with your team. Quarterbacks still need to be able to run and take a hit but, the arm is at risk. Remember quarterbacks have a unique positional demand that places them at risk for injuries that will not occur to other players. This includes labral tears and rotator cuff injuries. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can train the quarterbacks like everyone else. They perform one skill that no one else on the team does.
3- Offensive Linemen- Offensive linemen are in a class by themselves. I see two major problems with the new breed of offensive linemen.
a- Elite offensive linemen’s bodies are beginning look more and more like basketball players bodies. We are seeing more guys with really long femurs who are not good natural squatters. Often because they are “O-line” we try to bang square pegs into round holes. Be careful with offensive linemen and squats. Many of the taller ones will contort themselves to attempt to squat heavy loads. This will lead to patella-femoral problems or, to low back problems or, both. My feeling is that the tall ( 6’4” and over guys) players may never be big number squatters. This is magnified when they are young. My advice. One lower back injury and you should permanently change to a single leg oriented program. If they hurt their back once squatting it will happen over and over no matter how hard you work on technique. It only takes one bad rep. Don’t get caught up in the numbers thing.
b- Offensive linemen, believe it or not, have something in common with gymnasts and dancers. Offensive linemen are the only guys on the football team who are forced into hyperextension of the lumbar spine. Most adult low back disorders are flexion related. Offensive linemen will have extension-oriented problems often unlike any of their teammates due to their unique positional demands. When an offensive lineman’s back hurts think spondylolisthesis or a relative. An o-lineman with a dull achy low back should get imaging studies done to rule out extension related spinal issues.
Offensive linemen also have one more unique characteristic. They move without a pre-stretch. Pause squats and hang cleans from boxes can help prepare offensive lineman for their unique positional demands.
Bottom line. Football always comes down to speed and power. You can’t have enough of either. The idea that one group needs more of one quantity than the other seems to be flawed. Every football player should train to be both big and fast. Some may be eventually be big enough, none will ever be fast enough. However, when you design your training program you need to remember that you do have a few unique subgroups contained within a team sport.