May 10, 2019

by Team Snapbac

Whether you play football or not, we are about to dive into sport, technique, and muscle specific exercises along with a little diet and mental planning that is sure to contain some interesting nuggets of truth for any athlete or individual who values speed, agility, strength and power, conditioning, coordination and dexterity, flexibility and a balanced lifestyle. Playing football is not a pre-requisite for the following routines, but if you take this advice to heart and do play football, your game is sure to improve. Even though football leans more towards explosive power over endurance and full-collision over contact, that doesn’t mean that stamina and fine motor skills can or should be overlooked. We also take into account that each position in offense and defense has highly specific training requirements and skill sets. Your offensive and defensive line players will not need the dexterity and speed of your running backs and receivers, but they will need more mass and explosive power. Every athlete needs strength and speed, but they will use these qualities in different ways. So, when we say the top football player training exercises, we mean how to enhance your overall athletic skills, and then you can mold this training to your position on the field and be the best player in the league.

We could write books on the thousands of exercises, movements, practice drills and skill sets needed for a football team. The size, build, technique, and talent for each player is different. We may reference a position here and there, but this guide and these exercise suggestions should be modified to fit your exact needs for your position, what you need to improve on the field and your own physical requirements. If you are not on a college semi- or pro- team, then you may still be playing more than one position, so you will need to be aware of the different training regimens for the roles you fill. If you are already pro or working towards it, then you are highly specialized and need to focus fully on training for your position if you are going to get on or stay on the roster.

Being an athlete, no matter your sport, is about dedication, the ultimate commitment to your body and mind, and being prepared for the physical demands of the game to overcome the competition and win at all cost. So don’t let the cost be an injury that came from a lack of preparation or from overtraining. Always warm up your muscles, get your blood pumping, breathe with awareness and get your thoughts and emotions focused before diving into a strenuous workout or a high-adrenaline game. Your body and your team cannot afford a loss due to physical negligence or mental absence. Lifting the weight, practicing the pass, and running laps may all be excellent, but physical training is not the only preparation that needs attention as a football player or an athlete. The food you put in your body will play a large part in your ability to train and play. Your level of rest, stress and focus will also make a difference. Technique and skill may be trained with the body, but they are refined in the mind. So if you want to be a pro, you need to immerse yourself in conditioning.

Mental Exercise

How many plays and run patterns have you memorized? How many games have you watched and re-watched to learn offense techniques, read the minor movements of defense to expect certain actions and reactions, study the precision of particular blocks or try to recognize defense schemes? You’re always studying the game whether it’s playing out fifty feet in front of you, replaying on your big screen or on loop in your memory. You must exercise your mind as much as you exercise your body if you want to be and stay a professional player. This means active visualization practice. There’s only so much time and energy you have to dedicate to physical practice, so when that runs out, it’s time to work on your mental skills.

Visualizing is not a bunch of hocus-pocus, new age rhetoric. It’s about seeing a play over and over in your mind and committing it to memory, so when the moment comes, you don’t think. You just act. Your mind is a muscle, just like your body has muscle memory that kicks in, so does your mind. The key to highly effective mental training is to make the experience real. This means use all your senses. Hear the crowd cheering, the coach screaming, the blood ringing in your ears, feel the crush of the ground under your feet, the heat and tension in your body, perhaps the ball in your hands, smell the sweat and the grass on the field, taste the salt on your upper lip and the plastic from your mouthguard and see every minor movement on the field, the set up of the line, the ball flying past the stadium lights and your perfect tackle of the wide receiver. Feel every nuance of the collision, see the ball fall to the ground, hear the grunt and moan of the crash and let your mind believe this actually happened. That was your first mental rep, now do three sets of ten.

Just as with physical training, the mind needs repetition. See the play over and over. Try making minor changes like leading with your left shoulder or pushing off from the opposite foot. See slight variations in players’ movements or positions. Change the weather and feel the bite of frost or the slick surface during a rain. Run through the play in defense and then in offense. Don’t approach visualization as daydreaming or how you fall asleep at night. Make it a practice. Sit in a meditative position where you won’t fall asleep and train your mind until the scenario becomes second nature. Then you take this training to the field. You will see the very same play from your mind and be able to see your movements and reactions before your body carries them out. This mental preparation will shave precious milliseconds off of your response time, initiating your central nervous system and preparing your muscles for the movement just a hair faster. This small preparation can make all the difference in the game.

Improving Speed

Running backs, fullbacks, wide receivers, cornerbacks and linebackers all need to focus on their speed and initial sprint power while all other positions also need speed but may need to emphasize other training. When it comes to becoming faster, it’s all about practice. Speed can be increased when you learn to train where it is lacking. There are two very specific points of training to develop through football exercises for greater speed - your stride rate and your stride length. These are sprinting forms that must be developed to make you faster. Stride rate is the start to finish, full body movement for one step from pumping your arms and raising your chin to pulling up one knee as the other pushes through the ground. Your stride length is exactly that, the width of your steps as you run. Some skill you are born with, but perfection comes form dedicated training, so start working on these two forms to improve your speed.

When it comes to building your stride rate, you must think through your whole body. Do you ball up your hands into fists or stretch your fingers out? Do you tuck your head low or jut your chin to the sky? Where are your arms and how fast are they moving? Your feet follow your arms, so if you’re not pumping as fast as you can, then your feet aren’t moving as fast as they can. Stand in front of a mirror and raise your hands to 90 degrees in front of your abdomen, palms open and facing in. Now go to cheek to cheek by bringing one hand up parallel to your face and the other down and parallel to your glute. Keep your shoulders loose and down as you slowly reverse your hands so the opposite comes up to your face while the other goes down to your other glute. That movement is one pump for one stride. Now pump your arms as fast as you can 30 seconds on, 10 seconds off for five minutes. Now incorporate your feet. At first you will simply run in place as this is about form. Keep your feet hip-width apart, and with each step bring your knee up to the level of your hip and thrust forward, launching and landing on the ball of your foot while your heels never touch the ground. Do this one minute on with 30 seconds rest for five minutes each time going as fast as you can while keeping perfect form. You are training your body to keep form, so on the field you don’t have to think about it. To measure your performance, count how many times your right or left foot touches the ground during the minute. As that number increases, so is your speed.

As for stride length, that is all about strength in your legs. The above training will build that strength, but it is the power you push into the ground that will propel your other leg and your body forward. The best way to build that strength is with the classic squat, among other lower body workouts! Be sure to maintain form here as well, keeping your knees directly above your ankles and not in front while your butt sinks back and becomes parallel to the ground. You can stretch your arms out in front of you for balance but keep your shoulders down and relaxed with your head up. Do these in sets of 20-30 until you can’t. The idea is to build as much strength as possible, so when your form is perfect, start adding weights.

Sharper Agility

Speed and agility are often put together in football as rapid changes in body position are usually required while madly running down the field. What is agility? It’s your ability to turn on a dime, spring into action, twist, turn, block, defend and stay light on your feet. When you are carrying around the mass of a lineman, changing direction quickly and efficiently can feel more like trying to bend a tree trunk. This is why the more size you have, the more you need to work on your agility. This is not about how strong you are, how big you are or all the natural talent you have. It’s time to focus on fast, articulate movements allow your entire body to flow and respond.

The most obvious agility football workout training technique is cone drills that require direction changes, like the X-drill. You will need to simulate the game’s chaotic nature by switching up your speed, foot work and cone pattern. Change your direction mid-sprint, slip into a shuffle step, turn on your heel maintaining your balance and go into a full run, fake to the left as you cross step to the right. You can’t afford to lose your balance when changing your direction, speed or footwork, so it’s important to challenge yourself in as many ways as you can. If you’re a wide receiver, you will need to be in two directions at once as you run down the field while looking back for the pass. If you’re playing defense, you need to be able to hold your form while being plowed into to neutralize your opponent. Practice agility drills specific to your position.

When running through cones change up the distance and patterns according to your position on the field. Cornerbacks and wide receivers should focus on power cuts and responding to fast-cutting wideouts while linebackers and safeties should work on foot patterns like crossovers, drop stepping and backpedal steps. If you’re a fullback or tight end, then spin turns, cuts and rapid changes in speed should be your focus. Everyone should practice stopping. It sounds counterintuitive, but the faster and more controlled your deceleration and stop, the faster and more controlled you can change your direction and start again.

Set up line drills and ladder drills to work on coordinated foot work continually adding variety with changes in distance, direction and step patterns. These are all predetermined agility drills. It’s also important to train for agility reactions which will require a coach or training partner. Try doing a 1-2-3 Back, with three cones, 5 yards apart, in a straight line in front of you and a fourth cone where you stand, parallel to the center cone of the line. Have a partner call out commands of one, two or three for which cone you are to run to and back when you are to backpedal to the solitary cone. Using the same three cones, run a 5-10-5 by starting in the center in your three-point stance and sprint to the left or right the 5 yards to touch the ground and then power up and to the far opposite cone a full 10 yards to touch the ground and back to center. Now do it again in the opposite direction.

There are hundreds of cone, line and pattern drills to practice agility. Just be sure to hold your form and practice each movement with intention.

Increased Strength and Power

Strength and power are not the same conditioning. Strength is the actual capability of your muscles to apply force, while power is the rate at which they apply force, and both need to be honed. Once more, your training will be position specific. Offensive and defensive linemen need brute strength and mass, but there’s not one position on the field that doesn’t need strength. In fact, we’re inclined to believe that American football and its aggressive cousin, rugby, may be the two team sports most reliant on strength and mass. Running backs, full backs and tight ends need strength and power, while wide receivers and quarterbacks should focus on power and explosive strength more than bulk. So just how do you diversify this training?

First off it’s about functional strength, not just your ability to lift the heaviest weight on the team. You will need full body strength to handle the needs of the game, tackle and be tackled while keeping muscle development balanced. Strength training also needs to consider coordination, motor skills, stability, flexibility, reflex activation and control. You are not a power lifter, but Olympic lifts will be some of your best options for building strength and power. The ‘clean and jerk,’ ‘hang clean’ and the ‘snatch’ will always lead you towards enhanced power and build functional strength if you focus on your form and not on the amount of weight you can handle. Think high rep, lower weight for building strength and resistance. You are not a bodybuilder. You are a football player.

If you get too bulky, you lose agility and flexibility and can increase your risk of injury on the field. You want strength and size balanced by acceleration and contraction speed. It’s also important not to exhaust your muscles during season, so opt for light training and go heavier in the off-season. Weight-training should be every other day for a maximum of four days a week in off season and three days when playing. Alternate with conditioning and speed drills and rotate your training with a focus on lower body and then upper body. For example, on Mondays you can work your upper body with rows, military presses, bench presses, shrugs and incline dumbbell presses, and Wednesdays you can focus on your lower body with weighted squats, front squats, deadlifts, leg curls and calf raises. Then on Fridays focus on your full body using the Olympic lifts listed above and an ab routine. On days in between, you will work on speed, agility, conditioning and position specific skills and technique.

This is by no means a complete weight program. It is merely a limited example of how to manage strength training in a functional and healthy way to make you a better player. Get with your trainer or coach to put together a position specific training routine and schedule. Just remember, building anaerobic strength may make you stronger, but it must also develop your endurance and better your game.

Enhanced Conditioning

Now it’s time to look at conditioning. Football is not a sport of long plays and distance runs, but you still need to have as much power in that 20 seconds as possible and the capability of seeing the play through to the end without losing momentum. This means being accustomed to lactate build-up, a rapid heart rate, increased demand for oxygen and all the metabolic processes that go hand in hand with adrenaline and action. This is aerobic conditioning, and the very best and easiest aerobic training is running. There is no excuse not to run. It’s free, easy and can be done anywhere, so lace up your trainers, it’s time to embrace the jog and the sprint.

To train your body for the stop and go nature of a football game, it’s best to train in interval sprints. Go as fast and as hard as you can for 30 seconds to a minute and then rest for 20 to 30 seconds. Then do it again. Do this 10 – 15 times.

Just as a game is not monotonous, your conditioning training shouldn’t be either. Try mixing it up by using the full 100 yards in the field. Go from the corner of an end zone to the other in a wide run, faster than jogging but slower than sprinting with a focus on a wide stride. Once at the other end, take a short 30 second break and then jog back. Repeat the long strides again and then walk back. Finally sprint as fast as you can and then job back. Do this series 8-10 times.

This training easily incorporates your speed training above. Be sure to keep your form at all times and focus on increasing your stride rate and length.

Coordination and Dexterity

When training for hand/eye coordination, you get to have a little fun and get outside the hardcore exercise bubble. This is not about strength or mass. This is about speed, accuracy, focus, hand grip and rote reactions. Simply heading out to the field and practicing passes is a simple way to build your dexterity. Though a lineman may rarely handle the ball, he doesn’t want to be the weak link if it happens to come his way. If you play a sport with a ball, no matter your position, you need to be able to handle that ball. This means catching, kicking, holding on and passing. A tackle also needs clear coordination and dexterity if you want your opponent to go down without injury or foul. This is when you practice body awareness and grip.

For coordination practice that gives you some variety, try table tennis or actual tennis, throwing any round bouncing ball against a wall and catching it on its return, playing hacky-sack with your kids, friends or even on your own or get sweaty in an aggressive game of handball. To develop your reflexes, get in a three-point stance and have someone flip cards at you. First you can slap catch them with both hands. Later work on snatching them with one hand.

You must also work your grip and forearm strength. You can practice passes with a partner or against a wall using a weighted medicine ball. You can also throw it above your head as hard and high as you can using your wrists and hands, not your biceps. Do not catch it. Let it fall to the ground.

An old, yet successful training method requires a bucket of rice. Place your hands deep into the rice, completely submerging up past your wrists and then rapidly open and close them. Then ball your hands into fists and rotate your wrists one direction and then the other. You should feel these movements up through your forearms.

When working on hand and finger strength, grab a weight plate between your fingertips and thumb and hold it at your side for 15 seconds or until you cannot. If 15 seconds it too easy, increase the weight. Do three sets on each hand. This practice can be added to your upper body weight training days.

Regular farmer carries work wonders as well, as you carry weight at your sides for distance to failure. To increase your grip, opt for weights with handles, like kettlebells, buckets of sand, water jugs and even some plates.

A Little Flexibility

Flexibility is not limited to footballers. It is a requirement for any healthy workout regime to protect your muscles, spine and mobility. When done with intention, it also can increase your focus and improve recovery times. So what is the best way to maintain flexibility? You guessed right, yoga. And professional players are turning towards this ancient practice more and more. Adding in a yoga session twice a week will keep your muscle from becoming tight and pinched from weight training and the game. It will also enhance your muscle tone, lower your risk of injury, increase your energy levels, build your concentration, lower your stress levels, train you in varied breathing techniques and leave you feeling calm and capable.

You don’t need to pull on floral tights and join a room of hipster moms to incorporate yoga into your training. You can find a personal instructor to come to your home, and a pair of athletic shorts will work just fine. You will find it a great resource to maintain fitness levels while injured and a way to reduce your risk of injury in the first place. Yoga is one of the greatest tools for increasing your static maximum range of motion (ROM) in your joints. By training your flexibility you get greater static ROM and elasticity in the body increasing your agility and range of motion on the field.

If you can’t bring yourself to incorporate weekly yoga classes, do be sure to add in daily stretching when you wake up, before you go to bed and a dedicated warm-up and cool-down before and after all strenuous physical activity. These small steps will go a long way in improving your game.

Balanced Lifestyle

The final component to effective athletic training, for football or any other dedicated health practice, is cultivating a balanced lifestyle. Overtraining, burn-out, stress, undereating, too much control are all detrimental to your success on the field. You need to eat, exercise, train and live all with moderation, self-grace and physical, mental and emotional awareness. Here are some quick tips to keep your head in the game, your feet on the ground and your life in check.

Always listen to your body and never ignore signs, symptoms, pains or irregularities. A trip to the doctor may put you out of the next practice or even the next game, but if you don’t go, you may be out of the sport. Rest and recovery must be as important as training and playing if you plan on making football your career.

The old adage quality over quantity holds true for training, playing, resting and anything else you may choose to do. Only do what you can, when you can. If your body says stop, slow down or sleep, then you better put on the breaks, limit your reps and always get enough sleep. When your body drops into deep sleep, this is when it heals itself, builds up those broken muscles, rebalances your hormones, restores your mind and refuels your energy. You can’t afford to make up for lost sleep as a pro-player, so make each night a priority.

Hydrate and eat right! We shouldn’t have to tell you how important proper water, calorie and macro intake is if you plan on taking your body all the way. Food builds the cells, fuels the body and can make or break your career, and water is the very basis for life itself. Don’t take either of these for granted.

This ends your mini-guide on the mental and physical exercise and care needed to be a dedicated football player and professional athlete. Remember that each suggestion must be modified to accommodate your size, build, position on the field and physical needs.