The world of football training is in a sad state of affairs. A downturn, if you will.
See, a lot of programs I see on the internet promise explosive football strength, but, very few deliver. Unfortunately for us football players, most of the workouts and programs are written by some 170-lb personal trainer (who no doubt couldn’t make the team in high school). They come up with these odd programs filled with high volume, stability balls, “core” work and lots of cool, new-age exercises they learned at the latest ACE certification clinic.
Last summer, the football training world hit rock bottom. In a Google search for “football training” one of the top results was a football strength workout written by a trainer from Bally’s and listed on the fraud gym’s website.
What I saw damn near made me vomit with rage. Essentially, everything was 3 x 8, eventually working your way down to 4 reps (strength work, I suppose). It was a horrid combination of the old bodybuilding stand-by sets and reps meeting weenie-personal-trainer inspired Western Periodization.
This sad state of affairs is unnecessary. There’s around 180,000 websites with some sort of football strength training info, and, honestly, about 179,995 of them are total trash. Obviously, Elliot’s site is packed with awesome football training info, and I go out of my way to make sure my site is as well. Maybe it’s because we both actually played the game and know what it takes to excel?
Despite the almost unlimited fountains of misinformation parading as strength training sites confusing players, there is hope. Getting stronger, faster and more explosive for football is actually not that complicated. It’s gut-busting hard work, but it’s not really rocket science. True football training will build your body, mind and character and you will become a better man for having lived through it.
How do you actually go about getting stronger and more explosive?
Glad you asked.
Here are 5 easy steps to building insane explosive football strength and speed.
1. Do Max Effort Work
Make no mistake about it, unless you are strong, you will not be a great football player. Strength dictates all other aspects of athleticism (speed, agility, explosiveness, etc). The stronger football player will almost always win.
This confuses most people. They assume that you don’t need to be super strong to be a great football player. They also fail to see the correlation between strength and speed (we’ll cover that in #2).
Now, a lot of players do accept this but go about it in the wrong way. I get countless emails from people asking me to evaluate their programs. Usually, they’re working hard but not getting the results they want. And, usually it’s because they are confused about how to actually get stronger.
We’ve been conditioned to think that doing sets of 4 – 6 and simply adding 5lbs to the bar every week is getting stronger. It’s not.
First, you’re not building maximum strength.
Second, you will plateau rather quickly. If we all added 5-lbs a week forever, guys would be benching 5,000lbs.
You must work with low reps, yes, even as low as singles, to build raw, max strength.
I know, “low reps are dangerous!” Bull. High reps are more dangerous. Ever watch someone do a set of 10 in the Squat? Reps 7 – 10 are ragged, they twist, their knees pinch in, and they use way too much back. The more reps you do, the more fatigued you will become and the worse your form will get.
If you’re a beginner or you train beginners, and you still fear the single, do multiple sets of 2 or work up to a max set of 2 – 3. This will build top end strength. And, for those of you who feel you need to do higher reps, think of it this way; you’re max bench is 200lbs and you can do sets of 8 with 150. You smarten up, decide to get stronger, push your max up to 250 and suddenly find that you can now do sets of 8 with 200. Which is better? 150 x 8 or 200 x 8?
And, before you get excited, it doesn’t work the opposite way. As many a disappointed “projected-max” following football player will tell you, focusing on increasing your weight on high reps sets has nothing to do with your max strength.
So, you need to do Max Effort work. You need to “work up to” a heavy set of 1 – 3 reps, constantly trying to beat your previous records.
Working up is simple, so stop over thinking it.
It should take 5 – 8 sets; depending on your strength (obviously a 600-lb bencher will need more sets than a guy pushin’ 150).
Bar x 5
95 x 3
125 x 3
135 x 3
155 x 3
175 x 3
Next time, beat 155. I know, there’s barely any volume, how are can this make you stronger? Rest assured, most top power lifters, the strongest guys on Earth, use a similar approach.
Lead off one Upper Body day and one Lower Body day with a Max Effort exercise. Stick to big, compound movements like Bench, Incline, Deadlifts, Box Squats, etc.
2. Maximum Force to the Bar
If there is one area of football training, and, strength training in general that confuses people and fuels the fringe, anti-strength idiots it’s the subject of bar speed. The HIT Jedis, the personal training crowd, the CrossFit Cults and the Wobble Board Wrecking Crews all have done a great job teaching young football players and lifters that lifting heavy will make you slow. “Just look at that big, fat Powerlifter Squatting 800-lbs! He’s moving slow, and if you get strong, you’ll be slow too!”
Much better to do Indian Club Juggling Front Squats on a Swiss ball, eh?
What they miss is the intent to move the bar fast that counts. This might be the simplest concept in strength training yet so many miss it. Just try to lift the bar as fast as possible, every set, every rep, every exercise.
You need to train your Central Nervous System to act fast. When it gets the message that we need to move several hundred pounds quickly, it can easily figure out to move just your bodyweight pretty damn fast. Try lifting a heavy weight slowly and see what happens.
When I get high school players telling me they were taught to lift the bar with a 4 seconds up and 3 seconds down bar speed, my head explodes. They wonder why they can’t get faster! Well, they just spent an entire off-season teaching their brain, body and muscles to be slow, what else would you expect.
Dave Tate wrote something to the effect of, “Warm up sets should feel like maxes and maxes should feel like warm up sets.” That, my friends, does a hell of a job summing it up.
Every set, every rep, every exercise…lift the bar like you’re trying to throw it off of you because it’s about to crush you and end your existence. That’s good motivation to get the bar moving.
3. Posterior Chain
If you want to get faster for football, be able to drive a defender into the stands, or run people over, you need to work your posterior chain like your life depends on it. Your hamstrings, glutes, calfs, and all the muscles of the back must be hammered, often.
I don’t blame young players for training the beach muscles. They don’t know any better and that’s where you’ll notice progress the quickest. But, for coaches and writers who over-promote “bodybuilding” style programs, there’s no excuse.
You need to center your program around:
Box Front Squats
Deadlifting of odd objects (sandbags, stones, etc)
Snatch Grip Deadlifts
Squats and Front Squats (regular, no box)
If you focus your efforts on those exercises, you will be miles ahead of the competition. Do them heavy, lift them fast, and do them often.
4. Build Transitional Power
Another place where many football strength programs fall short is in the area of transitioning weight room strength into on the football field power.
There are plenty of big, strong dudes who stink up the collective football fields of the world every year. Sometimes it’s because they are just dumb or hopelessly unathletic. More often, it’s because they lifted hard but never took the steps needed to transfer power from the gym to the field.
The two quickest ways to do this are:
Using a modified Dynamic (Speed) Training method
Using a simple Plyometric program
Dynamic training is simply lifting a sub-maximal weight as fast as possible. Typically, this would be 50 – 60% of your max. This is done for leg training exercises like Squats and Box Squats.
Because the body has a built-in protective mechanism, simply lifting a lighter bar has its limitations because the body will slow you down as you reach lock-out. To get around this we need to “accommodate resistance.” This is done by adding bands, chains, or weight releasers to the bar so that as you lift it, it actually gets heavier. In this case, you must continue to accelerate all the way through lockout but you over-ride the body’s instinct to slow down because, again, the bar will move a bit slower despite your intent to move it quickly.
Bands can be a bit extreme for the beginner and hard to set up, so your best bet is to use chains. EliteFTS.com has good ones. By training in this way, you teach the body to have speed and power at every joint angle. See, when we lift, we often over-train the bottom portion and under-train the top, since we are weakest at the bottom of a lift and strongest toward the top.
Chains gather on the ground at the bottom of the lift, and begin to come off the ground as you lift the bar, actually increasing the weight progressively as you near completion.
This can not only make us weaker but it can teach the CNS bad habits. Think of your body position when you start to explode through a tackle…it’s a lot like the last 1/3 of a squat. Why would you want that area to be weaker than necessary?
Plus, it teaches acceleration. Your body is forced to accelerate through the entire movement, rather than slowing down as most do naturally.
The next step in transitioning power is to use a simple plyo program. I do mean simple.
People have this weird fascination with plyometrics. I don’t know if it’s the old “if it’s Russian and secret, it must be awesome!” school of thought or because every commercial for overpriced spandex shows guys jumping around on boxes. Either way, people have managed to take a highly effective training tool and pervert it.
Plyometrics, by definition, are exercises that allow the muscle to reach maximum strength in as short a period of time as possible.1 Re-read that and think of its applications to
football training! That’s what it’s all about. Producing as much force as possible, as fast
as possible. This is what makes them so great at teaching the transfer of strength to the field.
Remember, Force is Mass x Acceleration. Your mass x your acceleration = big plays and big hits…
Plyos are great, but you must start slowly. Guys read an article about plyos and start doing depth jumps off the roof of their house. Don’t be that guy. Start off with something as basic as a Box Jump.
Stand in front of a box, dip quickly and leap onto the box. Step down and repeat.
The next step would be Multiple Box Jumps. Excellent exercise, but this is where guys start going wrong.
When you do multiple Box Jumps, you must absolutely focus on spending almost no time on the ground. Jump, step off, hit the ground and immediately jump to the next box. Too much ground time will make you slower!
When you first start just keep it simple. 3 – 4 sets of 5 jumps before your heavy leg work is plenty. Concentrate on speed and explosiveness and minimizing ground time.
Between the Dynamic Training and the Plyos you’ll be well on your way to taking all of your new-found strength and size and turning it into useable power to mow down your competition on the field…that is the point of all this training.
5. Fix Strength Gaps
Even with all the Max Effort, Dynamic Effort, chains and plyos, you can still fail to reach maximum potential. Don’t get me wrong, those things are the foundation of training and doing them will take you far. But, I know the guys who read this site and the guys I train are not interested in just being good…we want to be elite!
No matter how hard you train in the weight room, you can still develop strength gaps.
Strength gaps are just what they sound like. Little gaps in your strength that can take a 600-lb Squatter and render him unable to throw a block.
See, when we lift barbells we go up and down and, as we discussed, can lose out unless we use bands and chains.
But, even with bands and chains, the weight remains in one plane of motion and relatively fixed in resistance (bands and chains add resistance as the bar goes up).
Dumbbells and K-bells help by training some of the stabilizers and Prowlers and sleds allow us to move laterally. But, there’s still something missing.
That missing something is Sandbags and other Odd-Object/Strongman style training. We tend to go mostly with Sandbags because of the safety factor, but, we also do Farmers Walk, Sled Pulling, Truck Pushing, and some Stone Trainer work.
Sandbags work because they are “alive.” They move, the weight shifts, the bag changes shape…it literally fights back, like an opponent.
I’ve seen some strong dudes get embarrassed by a 150lb Sandbag because they don’t have the stabilizer strength to tackle the beast.
Look at the Sandbag Clean and Press.
You have to pick up this moving blob of weight. Then, you shift it to the thighs and explode up to the chest – all while engaging the muscles of the back, arms, shoulders, biceps, low back, glutes, hamstrings and abs. Now, you have to press this thing overhead.
Again, the bag moves around forcing the stabilizers in the shoulders to work hard (so the bag doesn’t come down on your big head). Once you get it overhead, you’ve worked the shoulders, the triceps, the upper chest (as a stabilizer) and the back and legs again.
It’s a fight from start to finish.
This is the kind of movement that makes the body one piece, a whole of strong, unshakable muscle. No leakage is possible when you are used to wrestling Sandbags.
You can use Sandbags and Strongman movements as finishers at the end of your training session, as a stand-alone conditioning tool, or in place of barbell exercises.
The Take Home
Now you have a plan to increase your explosive strength, get faster for football and become the kind of player you always wanted to be. Or, you can choose to go with the run of the mill style of training and be average. If you choose the latter, don’t worry, you can hide for a while. But, eventually you’ll run into guys who train the right way…and we’ll be waiting for you.