Football is a tough and physical sport that requires great strength, brute power and explosive speed (both short and long distance) to compete at a high level. Strength training is necessary for most sports, especially for a game of territory like football where injuries are abundant.
A study conducted and released by the NFL Management Council and AonHewitt claims the average career lifespan of an NFL player is 6.86 years. 6.86 years is well below the average lifespan of other careers, including other professional sports, and reiterates just how taxing football is on the body.
Due to the various positions on an NFL team, strength training workouts should vary depending on the specific needs of that position. For example, a wide receiver needs explosive speed to get down field for a long pass, while an offensive lineman requires maximum strength to contain the aggressive defensive counterpart. However there are general routines athletes can accomplish regardless of the position they play or intend to play.
Periodized training is the most widely accepted and used method in sports programs across the nation. Dr. Tudor Bomba, a highly respected exercise science expert, created the “periodization” concept. Dr. Tudor’s philosophy is that training should begin with a high volume raw strength program during the off-season and then, as the season draws closer, decrease in volume to specialized workouts focusing on power and high intensity speed training.
Dr. Bomba’s periodized strength training program for football players:
Early in the off-season, hypertrophy should be the main focus of the strength training program.. Hypertrophy works on increasing both the strength and size of muscle fibers which provide a strong foundation for future muscle mass.
The goal of hypertrophy exercises is to build mass in the major muscle groups. To accomplish this 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 works the surrounding stabilizer muscles and adds greater overall strength and coordination. Machines tend to target only specific muscles and give the stabilizer muscles a break.
Raw Strength Training
Once you’ve spent 2-3 months building a strong foundation through hypertrophy exercises, then it’s time to shift the football training program into a higher gear. Raw strength training provides the ability to lift heavier loads and build greater muscle mass on the foundation laid down through hypertrophy training.
For raw strength training target more specific muscles, increase 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,only one rep be able to completed. Once 2 sets have been competed in succession, then increase the weight.
Approximately 2 months before the regular season focus should shift to power training. Raw strength training gives the ability to move heavy loads. Power training will not only develop raw strength but also quickness and explosiveness.
This portion of the periodized program further fine-tunes football workouts into more position-specific exercises. There are exercises which all players will utilize in pre-season training (i.e. snatches, clean jerks), but as the seasons nears players will begin to focus more on the exercises that 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 focus of power exercises because it can hurt speed. Instead, moderate weights are used to concentrate on moving 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 player to achieve maximum speed in the shortest amount of time and space. Speed is a result of combining power and strength, thus the need to focus on these qualities before advancing to speed training. Speed training commences in the pre-season, but speed is so important athletes should work on it throughout the actual season as well.
Speed workouts can vary in their nature, but the goal is to increase timing, coordination and the ability to cover distance in the fastest time. Some football practice exercises 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 athletic qualities should be developed throughout the periodization.
Flexibility, joint mobility and range of motion along with strength, speed and power, are the most important aspect of training for athletes to perform well and avoid devastating injuries.