Strength training principles for football athletes

Football is the greatest team sport in the entire world. It’s the most violent, intense, mentally and physically demanding game there is.

As in life, one can’t be successful by themselves. It takes a team of young men from different backgrounds to come together and form a brotherhood through the rigors of training and practice, to compete and win as a team. Nothing in this game or life is ever easy or handed to you. The old school methods still stand true: blue-collar, callused hands, bloody knuckle work. Good things will always come to those who grind—and that word can be thrown around loosely. It’s only a grind if you don’t love what you’re doing.

footballIn order to be successful as a team in this sport, you must train your athletes to the mental and
physical demands of the game. Our job as coaches and leaders of young men is to put them in the best position to be successful not just on gamedays, but each and every day inside and outside the facility. The weight room is the backbone and foundation to which we motivate, inspire, develop, and lead our young men.

Strength training has evolved over the years. As more research and studies are performed, the modalities of the past are validated, or even enhanced, and new ones are invented. I have been blessed and fortunate to have been mentored and raised by some of the best leaders and men in this profession. Therefore, most of my principles and standards have an old-school feel to them. I was extremely fortunate to meet and spend time with one of my idols, Dr. Ken Leistner, before he passed. I still have the hand-written note pinned up in my office. I read it every day; “Know your history. Know your profession. The origin was Dr. Thomas DeLorme—Progressive Resistance Exercise. TRAIN ‘EM HARD!”

Sadly, a lot of coaches these days think they need to reinvent the wheel and have all the answers. I am in no position to say what program works and doesn’t work, but I do know to invest yourself in your young men and emphasize a system that allows them to grow and develop to perform at an elite level. Build and strengthen your relationships with your football athletes through trust, respect, and love. Our staff rips open our chests and gives you our hearts every day. In turn, we ask the same of them, because that is the only way true development happens.

I believe there are five principles to strength train football athletes to physically prepare them for the demands and rigors of the game: PUSH-PULL-SQUAT-HINGE-SPRINT. Whichever way you want to cut it, coach it, emphasize it, program it, that’s up to you—as long as it’s science-based and proven, not just random things you saw on Instagram. Train hard on both feet and train hard on one leg. Train hard through all ranges of motions.

  • PUSH — As stated before, this is the most violent game in the world. On every single snap, an 18-22-year-old is going to be physically imposing his will on another man. Two well-trained, genetically gifted young men trying to move another grown-ass man from point A to point B. These movements could be a variety of BB, DB, MB, machine, bands, body weight modalities, trained vertically and horizontally, bilateral and unilateral; bench press, incline press, floor press, shoulder press, difference jams, prowler sled drives, single-leg movements, hill sprinting, resisted sprints, stairs, jumping, and bounding (applying force into the ground to move an external resistance). Athletes also need to be training the neck in some type of fashion every day.
  • PULL — In order to be strong at the point of attack and fight off blockers, it’s not about how much you can bench. The back is the foundation of a strong man. In our program, we always make sure we are getting more reps on our pulling movements than our pressing movements. A great football player is developed from the inside out, but also posteriorly strong. Again, these movements can be used both bi and unilaterally and with different modalities; pull-ups, pull-downs, pullovers, rows, face pulls, sled drags, tows, barbell deadlifts, trap bar deadlifts, sumo deadlifts, RDLs, leg curls, Nordic hamstrings, etc.
  • SQUAT — My favorite exercise in the history of mankind. Thanks to modern advances in strength equipment, now we have different modalities for our guys who may have an issue or need to be modified in some way. back squat, front squat, DB, leg press, single-leg press, MVP shuttle, belt squat, etc. In order to be athletic one must be able to bend. Flexibility and mobility will only enhance strength. Properly progress weight while demanding and reinforcing technique over everything.
  • HINGE — Back extensions, reverse hypers, RDLs, proprioception exercises, etc. In order to get leverage, which in football is everything, one must be able to hinge and be posteriorly developed.
  • SPRINT — The average play lasts 4-6 seconds. There’s anywhere from 10-40 seconds in between, depending on the tempo at which the team plays. We must train our athletes to go as hard as they can for 4-6 seconds (knowing sometimes a play can last longer), rest, and then do it again. The number one way to get faster is to get stronger. Everything will start inside the weight room, but obviously, it needs to translate to their respected position. You need to be able to express the strength you have in the right direction and with speed. You shouldn’t be running your OL-DL guys the same as your WR-DB’s. Train the athlete to their position and match the demands of that position.

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    We could get deep into progressions and exercise selections, work-to-rest ratios, distance of sprints, etc. but if there is one thing I hope you take from this article, it better be that strength training is not rocket science and nobody has all the answers. If you follow the five principles, PUSH-PULL-SQUAT-HINGE-SPRINT, and it’s organized in a scientifically proven way, you’re off to a great start.

However, let us not lose sight of the biggest principle of all, great coaching. A great coach doesn’t know it all. They invest and care for their athletes and show it each and every day by their commitment and consistency of who they are. That’s what football players will gravitate towards—and that’s what wins. Young men embrace and believe in the rigors of training with their brothers. They will develop and perform at elite levels if we motivate, cultivate, inspire, lead, and build up our athletes. Everyone sees better than they hear. Show them, coach them, believe in them, demand technique and maximum effort, be there for them on a daily basis, but always TRAIN EM’ HARD!