The Super Bowl marks the end of football season for fans and athletes alike. But that doesn’t mean you can’t train for next season, as an energetic fan or an up-and-coming player.
Today I have sport-specific exercises for football. Whether you are in high school or college, these movements can benefit your career.
Football players need explosive strength. That means they need a total-body exercise that translates to lower-body strength, core stability and a strong back. To me, those requirements scream "dead lift."
Using the dead lift to train for sports means using it to create absolute strength. Raw strength will make every aspect of your sport easier. You will run faster, tackle harder and defend better. To create that kind of strength we need to use heavy weight with low reps. Three to five sets of one to five repetitions at heavy to maximum loads. Supplement those with plenty of lunges and core exercises.
How much is too much weight? Most young athletes can dead lift a barbell loaded to equal their own body weight with only a few weeks training. After that, set the bench mark at double body weight and then triple body weight. I once talked to a former pro player who said he was able to dead lift 500 pounds early in his high school career. Though you may not be naturally gifted with strength, you can work toward your goals to be competitive.
Take your time to attain strength milestones. Pulling this kind of weight takes patience and dedication. There is no rush when it comes to safety. Perform your repetitions with perfect form. If the form isn’t perfect, lower the weight. There is no need to risk your dreams for an injury off the field.
As a trainer, I take about six weeks to teach athletes correct dead lift technique. Dedicating time to learn this lift will build a solid foundation for strength and performance. It will also teach you how to organize your body.
You will learn what a straight spine feels like and how much power you lose if it is not straight. It also teaches the body how to recruit the right muscles in the right order.
A few of the techniques I like to spotlight are those that prevent injury. Keeping the spine straight during the dead lift is No. 1. Contract the core, squeeze the shoulder blades and keep the head straight. A common flaw is looking up on the lift. This bends the neck and takes the spine out of its straight position.
Keep the weight close to the body. The farther the weight is from the body, the more the lower back is strained to pick it up.
"Keep that weight dancing close!" is a phrase you will hear me say in the gym. Most people prefer to dance close and cozy with their partner. Weight should be close when lifting.
Envision a slow-motion camera shot looking at the side of an athlete for this next technique tip. When lifting, the chest should rise at the same rate of speed as the hips until the bar reaches the knee. At that point, the chest rises faster than the hip until the final lockout. This makes sure that the athlete uses the legs and not just the back to lift the weight.
If you are unsure about the dead lift technique or mechanics, get with a trainer to coach you. It is time well spent.
Experienced lifters use what’s called a mixed grip to hold the bar. One hand grabs the bar with the palm facing inward and the other hand with the palm facing outward. This allows for a stronger back contraction and stabilization when lifting maximum loads. Traditional grips are with both palms facing inward.
A traditional grip transfers to power cleaning better than a mixed grip. Either grip is fine for dead lifting.
The second exercise to help football players excel is the box jump. It helps create explosive power that translates to better performance on the field. The heavier the dead lift, the greater the ability to jump. You also can condition endurance with box jumps by doing them in sets of 10 to 20.
It is common for athletes to be timid when jumping on boxes. Start with smaller boxes and work up slowly.
Instructions for deadlift
Position the feet hip-width apart and under the barbell so the middle of the feet are directly under the bar. Grip the bar at shoulder width. Straighten the back by contracting the core and squeezing the shoulder blades together. Make sure the shin is vertical. Check that the hips are above the level of the knee and below the level of the shoulder.
Contract the glutes, keep the chest tall and stand with the weight in hand. Return to the starting position by hinging the hips back and allowing the bar to return to the ground. Keep the bar close to the body both when lifting and setting the weight back down.
Perform one to five reps for three to five sets. Watch that the knees don’t crash inward or that the back rounds. If form flaws can’t be corrected by making a conscious effort, lighten the weight.
Instructions for box jump:
Stand about a foot’s length from a jump box. Stack the feet under the hips. Contract the core.
Hinge at the hip and allow the knees to naturally bend and track over the toes. Forcefully contract the glutes and jump onto the top of the box. Stand all of the way up as part of completing triple extension.
Perform 10 to 20 reps for two to five sets. Make sure the knees track over the toes and don’t bend inward toward each other. Try to land lightly on the box and on the floor.
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Chris Huth is a Las Vegas trainer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Consult your physician before beginning any exercise program.