by Team Snapbac
American football is one of the toughest, most aggressive, and physically demanding sports played today. When you hit the field, you can’t afford to be weak, small or unprepared because your team needs you and you could cost them the game or worse - become critically injured. So you’ve got the next five months to get your body conditioned and ready to impress trainers, scouts, and coaches. The training you do now will be what carries you through the season and keeps you on the field. Whether your foot ever makes contact with the ball does not change the fact that your lower body is a dynamic powerhouse that must be trained, strengthened, and conditioned through repetitive football exercises to go past the point of failure. Finding the best torso and leg workouts for a football player has been the challenge of fitness trainers for decades, and as each season passes, the task becomes a little more difficult.
Football is continually evolving and placing higher demands on players. The body is also evolving and requiring more variety and intensity to meet performance goals. So the ideal workout to build leg strength, improve balance, enhance agility, increase endurance and maintain flexibility needs to tough, diverse, adjustable and make your legs wobble on the way home. Gone are the days where you can focus on your upper body, chest and arms. This is a game played on your feet and driven by your legs. Even your throwing power starts in your legs! You must train your lower body as much if not slightly more than your upper body.
Alternating is the standard training model, but try giving your legs three days, your upper body two days and your whole body one day. Each time you approach your lower body workouts, whether you do your football workouts at home, at the gym, or with your teammates, remember this is to make you a better football player, so challenge yourself and try to either enhance weight or reps every week. Just remember not to increase anything at the sake of form. Don’t add so much weight that you can no longer lift with proper technique!
Before you dive into any training program, it’s important to check with your doctor, run it by your coach if you have one and most importantly start slow and take the time to learn proper form and technique. Be sure not to waste valuable weeks or even months of results due to poor workout skills or possible injuries. Take the initiative to learn the terms too. For example, the down motion in exercise is called the eccentric phase while the upward motion is considered concentric and quite often reps will use these terms for timing. Familiarize yourself with aerobic and anaerobic so you know which is best for conditioning and endurance, and lastly remember no matter how hard the training is, it is worth it.
Los Angeles Rams’ running back Todd Gurley likes to mix up his training with upper body, lower body, leg workouts five to six days a week as part of his off-season football workout program. To get his power and speed to charge through the defense and across the field for the touchdown, he relies on power cleans, box jumps, barbell back squats, hamstring and leg curls using an exercise ball and dead lifts.
Choose a comfortable amount of weight which you can handle for 2-4 sets of a minimum of 5 reps each. Place the bar on the floor in front of you and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. As you bend forward, take the bar in an overhand grip with your palms facing away from you. The idea is to power up through your glutes and use your legs to explosively lift the bar. Keep your head up and your shoulders back and once your legs are fully extended without locking your knees, move your chest under the bar and bringing your elbows forward so the weight is supported on your shoulders. Slowly and with deliberate control, bring the bar back to the floor.
These are simple and effective for building lower body power, agility and speed. Set up a box in front of you that presents a challenge but allows you to do 4 – 5 sets of 6 – 8 reps. Stand about two feet out from the box with your feet shoulder-width apart, weight in your heels with your glutes slightly behind you in a half-squat position. Keep your arms straight extended through your fingertips in line with your torso just behind your glutes and your head in line with the spine. The power needs to come through your legs and hips, so as you jump, drive your energy up by pushing your hips forward and pushing from your toes. Your arms will swing up over your head which will rise to the sky.
Get ready for 8 – 10 reps for a minimum of 3 sets and only use enough weight to challenge you but still keep perfect form. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart resting the barbell across the top of your shoulders behind your head but not on your neck. Keep your weight in you heels and drive your hips backward, lowering down into a seated squat where your thighs come parallel to the floor. Do not let your knees go out in front of your toes. Go as low as you can comfortably go, face forward and then stand all the way back up pressing your hips forward and engaging your glutes.
Lay on your back with your feet up on an exercise/physio ball, and start with three sets of ten or two sets of fifteen. Extend your legs moving the ball out so that your ankles are supported by the ball. Your arms should be down at your sides with your hands flat and pressing into the floor. Raise your hips up to the sky and using your hamstrings, bend your knees up and roll the ball back to you as close to your glutes as possible. Then roll the ball back out to the starting position.
Once more choosing a weight that is challenging yet comfortable is key to completing 2 – 3 sets of 6 – 8 reps. Get in your athletic position with your feet should-width apart and the bar directly in front of you over your midfoot. Bend forward and grab the bar in an overhand grip with your hands coming straight down from your shoulders, drop your hips but keep your lower back straight and your neck in line with your spine. This is not a squat! Your shoulders should come over the bar, not behind it. Lift from your glutes, pushing your feet through the floor driving your hips forward to complete the lift. Do not round your back during the lift.
New York Giants’ wide receiver Sterling Shepard also understands the power of a good leg workout and keeps his focus on weighted squats, 18” box step-ups with barbells and weighted lunges.
Technique is key here. Step up to the bar and extend your arms forward under the bar. Walk up until the bar just hits your clavicle. Hook your fingers under the bar and take hold in the clean position keeping your elbows high supporting the bar on the tops of your shoulders. Take a wider stance with your legs slightly greater than hip width apart, toes and knees out 10 – 12 degrees. Unlike the back squat, you will not be leaning forward. Try to keep your back straight as you drop your hips in between your knees and down towards your feet. Keep your hips forward and weight more in the balls of your feet while your chest stays up and chin neutral. When you raise back up, lead with your elbows to keep your chest up and body vertical.
Get the bar ready on the squat rack with enough weight to be comfortable yet challenging. Step under the bar and rest it across the tops of your shoulders, just behind your neck but not on it. Lightly support the bar with your hands while allowing the weight to be held by your torso. You can also perform this with individual weights, either barbells or plates, held in each hand with your elbows slightly bent. Step up to a 12-18 inch box and alternating legs, step up with one foot and raise the opposite leg up, continuing past the box, bringing your knee to your chest, or as high as you can. Then back down and repeat.
Lunges are great. Weighted lunges are better. Using barbells or plates, get a comfortable weight in each hand and maintain a slight bend to your elbows to avoid locking. Start with your feet about hip-width apart, your back straight and your arms down at your sides. Alternating legs, step forward to create a 90 degree bend at the knee in your front leg, while the back foot stays in place rolling up to the toes as the knee drops nearly to the ground slightly behind your glutes. Then pushing up from the back toes bring the front foot back to starting position.
The Giants, Saints and Jets all benefited from the lower body training of former NFL punter Steve Weatherford. This man is an athletic wonder with a physique that shows his dedication to training, and when he was working out his legs for football, he followed seven exercises for one hour: the hang clean, back squat, sumo squat, alternating jump lunge, single-leg extension, single-leg curl and the high box jump.
We love squats for lower body football training. Sumo squats are great for your legs and core and can be more challenging if you add weight. Start with your feet wide, outside of your shoulders and your toes pointing out. The key here is to make sure your knees and toes face the same direction and your knees never go over your toes. They should both be angled out. Keeping your back straight and head neutral, drop your hips down and keep your weight in your butt.
This football workout is great for strength and explosive leg power. Following the steps above for a weighted lunge, use the same form but without weights. When you push up from your back toes to bring the front foot back to starting position, in the same movement, hop to bring the back foot forward and lower down on the opposite foot.
Two other great leg strengtheners used by Weatherford are the standard machine single-leg extensions and plate loaded single-leg curls. Simply follow proper technique and use the right amount of weight.
For example, former Houston Texans’ wide receiver Andre Johnson trained four days a week in the off-season running in a sand pit, sprinting down the field, pressing through power cleans, weighted front squats, back squats, Romanian deadlifts, medicine ball sit-ups, weighted speed squats and stationary lunges.
Use a medicine ball with a challenging amount of weight that feels comfortable to your wrists and shoulders. Lay on the floor with your knees bent and your feet pressing into the ground. Raise the medicine ball straight up over your chest, firmly positioned in both hands. Keeping your arms straight, raise up moving the ball up over your knees. Your arms will not move. The movement all comes from your abs and hips.
The speed squat is just like the weighted back squat, but you want to lift at about 30 percent of your maximum. Take two plates and place them on the floor, hip-width apart, so you can lift the back of your heels, shifting your weight slightly forward onto your toes. This football workout will help you be more explosive when you push up without your heels leaving the ground. Go as quickly as you can while maintaining control of the movement and weight.
Great workouts come from great trainers like Roger “Rock” Gullickson, the former NFL strength and conditioning coach and current football conditioning trainer at the University of Tennessee. Gullickson pushes all players to first learn technique and then to stick to the basics and stay focused. This means more squats, back and front and all the way to parallel. He also works with power cleans, but he adds in some core basics like burpees.