Strength Training Program for Football Players
Football is a tough sport which requires great strength and brute power and explosive speed (both short and long distance) to compete at a winning level. Although strength training workouts are a necessity for most sports, football places special requirements on those who choose to play with the pigskin.
Strength training is a necessary quality for football players, not only to perform offensive or defensive maneuvers, but to also help them avoid injury. A new study conducted and released by the NFL Management Council and AonHewitt gives the professional NFL player an average career lifespan of 6.86 years. However, this number is sure to be contested by many of those who know the game since it has been reported for years prior to this report that the average NFL career only lasts 3 years, mostly due to career-ending injuries. Even if the new statistics are accurate, 6.86 years is a short career period!
Also, due to the various positions in an NFL team, strength training workouts should vary to meet the specific needs of these positions. For example, a wide receiver needs explosive speed at the point of snagging the pass to the goal line while an offensive lineman requires maximum absolute strength to contain his aggressive defensive counterparts.
Regardless of which position you play, or intend to play, the approach of periodized training is the most widely accepted and used in sports programs across the nation. Dr. Tudor Bomba, a highly respected exercise science expert, originated the “periodization” concept of the present day football strength training program. Dr. Bompa’s philosophy is that training should begin with a high volume raw strength program during the off-season and then decrease in volume to specialized workouts focusing on power and high intensity speed training as the season draws closer.
Following is a breakdown of Dr. Bomba’s periodized strength training program for football players.
Off-Season to Pre-Season
Early in the off-season, hypertrophy should be the main focus of the strength training program of the football athlete. Hypertrophy works on increasing both the strength and size of muscle fiber which provides a strong foundation for future muscle mass.
The goal of hypertrophy exercises is to build mass in the major muscle groups. To accomplish this, you should use lesser weight loads and more repetitions. The general formula for hypertrophy training is to complete 6-12 reps that are at around 70% of your maximum weight limit for one repetition (1RM). Depending on your sports level, you should do between 2 and 4 sessions per week, allowing time for rest and muscle repair in between.
When at all possible, utilize free weights instead of machines. Lifting free weights calls into play the surrounding stabilizer muscles, adding greater overall strength and coordination. Machines tend to target only specific muscles, leaving the stabilizer muscles underdeveloped.
Raw Strength Training
Once you’ve spent 2-3 months building a strong foundation through hypertrophy exercises, it’s time to shift your football training program into a higher gear. Raw strength training provides you with the ability to lift heavier loads and built greater muscle mass on the foundation you laid through hypertrophy training.
For raw strength training, you should target more specific muscles as well as raise the weight amounts and lower the repetitions. Start with around 75% of your maximum rep limit and complete 5 repetitions for each exercise. Gradually increase to 95-105% of your 1RM. At this point, you should only be able to complete one rep. Once you can achieve 2 sets in succession, increase the weight.
When you hit pre-season, approximately 2 months before game time, you should change focus to power training. Raw strength training gives you the ability to move heavy loads. Power training will take your developed raw strength and provide a quick and explosive punch to it.
This portion of the periodized program further fine-tunes football workouts into more position-specific exercises. Although there are exercises which all players will utilize in pre-season training (i.e. snatches, clean jerks), others will move to those which better benefit their position. For instance, a wide receiver will perform depth jumps to increase explosive leg power while a lineman will focus more on sled-pushes to build explosive power against a rival.
Heavy weight is not the target of power exercises because it can dampen the velocity. Instead, utilize moderate weight and concentrate on moving it faster and more explosively while maintaining control. Plyometrics are often used during this phase because they specifically develop muscles to react faster.
Various football positions require the athlete to achieve maximum speed in the shortest amount of time. Speed is a result of combining power and strength, thus the need to focus on these qualities before advancing to speed training. Although speed training commences in the pre-season, you should work on this aspect football throughout the active season as well.
Speed workouts can vary in their nature, but the goal is to increase timing, coordination and the ability to cover your position’s distance in the fastest time. Some football practice exercises which work to develop speed are assisted and resisted sprints, cone drills, speed ladders and others.
Although strength, power and speed are the main aspects of the periodization training method, other qualities should be developed throughout the entire football workout program. Increasing flexibility and joint mobility and range of motion are key elements to address and they, along with strength, speed and power, will ensure you perform well and avoid those devastating injuries which can knock a player out of his football career.
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