3 Rules For Football Strength Training Success
The world of Football Strength Training is at a critical point. Why? Well, I used to think the average lifter was confused. Now that I’ve been working with football players for years, I know they are beyond confused…they are downright misled. They’ve been led astray by snake-oil salesmen who promise big time results if only you buy their $200+ football strength program.
Most football strength training programs I see are a joke. They have no focus. They just throw exercises on paper and pull the sets/reps out of God-knows-where. Worse, most young players just copy and paste their training programs out of some Bodybuilding magazine. Worse-er, they usually mix and match these inferior strength programs to come up with some sort of Frankenstein monstrosity of a program. They are either put together by personal trainers who think everyone should train like them, by guys who never played the damn game, or, by “info-marketers” who simply write a quick 25-page ebook, throw it online and charge a fortune for it.
Football strength training, like all forms of training, shouldn’t be overly complicated. It’s easy to get caught up in the details and, judging by the emails I get on a daily basis, fall victim to paralysis by analysis. What curl variation you use isn’t worth spending 3 weeks of planning.
Follow these 3 Rules when putting your strength training program together and watch your performance on the football field and in the weight room explode.
1. Strength Must Be the Main Focus of Your Program
Guys constantly ask about how to get faster for football. Should they buy strength shoes, jump soles, vests, parachutes, towing equipment, hurdles, etc.?
No, save your money and get stronger. It’s been said a million and one times but no one wants to listen: maximal strength is foundational to all other forms of strength.
Stronger = faster. Stronger = more explosive. Stronger = hitting harder.
Most don’t want to hear this. They’re afraid they’ll get hurt. Doing a gut-busting P.R. in the Deadlift is nowhere near as fun as repping curls till your arms burn.
You must start almost every workout with an emphasis on top-end strength. Heavy, low-rep work must be done. Some call it Max Effort. Some call it Old-School Heavy. Whatever you want to name it is up to you, but go heavy.
What does that mean? Well, for beginners working up to a top set of 4 reps or doing multiple sets of triples.
For a more advanced guy, this will mean working up to a max (training max, not competition max) single or double for the day. Seems overly simple, doesn’t it? Just work up to a really heavy weight, can’t be that easy, can it? Yes, just do it. The stronger you get the better football player you will become.
Before I move on to the 2nd rule, there is a growing community of people who think that lifting heavy and focusing on strength is counter-productive. They fell that everyone is out there slamming into walls of diminishing returns because at some point, the increase in strength doesn’t produce performance increases.
True. When you’re talking about going from a 700lb Squat to an 800. When you reach that level, we’ll talk.
Until then, shut up and lift heavy.
So, next time you’re wondering how to get faster for football, stop thinking and go lift heavy with maximum force.
2. Need to Bulk Up for Football? Time Your Sets
I know I just drilled into you the importance of going heavy in your football strength program. But, most guys need to gain some mass as well and the low rep stuff doesn’t always lead to huge increases in bodyweight. It can, but you need to use some other tricks. Some medium and higher rep work is needed.
Football Strength Training Success
However, most guys simply pull some rep ranges out of the air. I’m a big fan of the Rule of 24 (3 x 8, 8 x 3, 4 x 6, 6 x 4, etc.), but, unfortunately most guys can’t handle this on their own. If they don’t have a coach with them to make sure they’re pushing, they tend to go too light. Just because you’re doing 8 reps doesn’t mean you should simply back off and train like you’re in an aerobics class.
The easiest way to ensure you’re going heavy while still doing higher reps is to simply time how long you’re working. This is the basis for Charles Staley’s Escalating Density Training (EDT).
See, when I just set the stopwatch and tell the guy to go do what he can for the entire time, they end up racking up huge volumes with respectable weights. As Vince Gironda was fond of saying, “it’s not the heavy weights that build muscle. It’s not the high reps that build muscle. It’s the high reps with heavy weights that build muscle.” This pretty much sums it up.
Relatively heavy weight, lots of reps, more muscle. And, because this is combined with heavy, max effort training, you can be sure that you’re increasing your football performance rather than just looking good…though both will happen.
I do have a slight twist I use for football players, however. I usually have them do 4’s and 3’s (when 5 or 6’s are possible), working down to as low as singles as the time goes on. It’s a more hybrid power/mass training style that combines the best of both worlds.
For example, let’s say we have a young linebacker who just isn’t big enough in the upper body. He’s getting run over. We’d have him start with something like this:
Incline – Work up to a max set of 3.
Close Grip Bench – done for 20minutes. As many reps as possible on the chins and starting with sets of 4 in the Close Grip.
If he works hard, he should get 7 or 8 sets in with the potential of hitting 50+ reps in the chin ups and 30+ heavy reps in the Close Grip Bench. That’s the stuff that adds quality mass.
3. You Must Transfer Your Strength to the Field with These Movements
I think it was Dan John who said his team had a saying, “looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane.”
Sadly, this is true. So many football players look like they should be in an Under Armor ad, yet they can’t get a glimpse of the field. Why? Well, usually, they train for looks and leave performance out of the equation. But, even when they shoot for performance, they neglect doing the exercises and movements that will help transfer their weight room strength to the football field.
This is actually pretty easy, and, not surprisingly I have 3 rules for it. (Yes, that adds up to 6 total, I lied in the beginning).
o Rule 1 – You must do speed or Dynamic work in the weight room.
This includes Westside style speed training involving bands, chains and over-speed work. If using these extras is daunting, simply reduce the bar weight and lift it as fast as possible. Usually around 60% is good. I do suggest that you invest in a set of chains and learn to use them. Basically, the body will slow you down as you near lock-out, so doing speed work sans chains/bands can be problematic. But, the point is, you have to focus on moving the bar as fast as possible so all your new found strength isn’t wasted.
Alternatively, you can use the Olympic Lifts and their variations. They help build explosiveness and the kind of hip strength needed for blocking, tackling, and running people over. I wrote about the whole Box Squats v. Olympic Lifts debate here on Staley Training a while back. Again, I’ll reiterate, both are good, both should be used. In fact, more and more I’m finding that doing Power Cleans before Box Squatting is leading to big time performance increases…but that’s another article for another day.
o Rule 2 – Train Laterally (moving sideways)
In the game of football, we are not always moving straight ahead. No, we move laterally, side to side, backward, from different angles. So, why do I never see any lateral movements in any strength training plans for football?
Would it kill you to add some Side Lunges? Oh, yea, it might. See, these are humbling exercises. Guys with huge Squats can be reduced to a crumbled mass of soreness by 100lbs in the Lateral Lunge. Having the cute girl from Spanish class walk by and see you Lunging with 25’s on the bar won’t feel as good as having her see you ¼ Squat 4-wheels. Ego usually wins out over logic.
Add movements like Lateral Lunges, Angle Lunges, Lateral Sled Pulling, and Side-to-Side jumps to your
program and watch your football speed go through the roof.
o Rule 3 – Train with Sandbags
Sandbags and football training are a match made in heaven.
Having a big Deadlift or Bench is great. Using Speed Front Squats with Chains and the Power Clean is even better. But, even if you use these as your base, small “gaps” can develop in your strength. These gaps can mean the difference between being a good player and a great player.
Football is a game that is played 100mph from all angles and they come at you from all sides. Take a lineman for example. He comes out of a half squat, fires out low, then has to punch out into his opponents chest, move either forwards or to the side, push and pull at the same time and continue this until the play is over. Pretty hard to mimic that kind of strength with just a barbell.
Using Sandbags builds that kind of strength. It fills those gaps. If you’re new to it, check out Josh Henkin’s stuff, he’s the master Sandbagger.
Start simple. Get a sandbag, start doing Clean and Presses, Squats, Overhead Squats, Shoulder and Carries. Use them at the end of your strength training workouts as a finisher. This alone will put you miles ahead of your competition.
There you go. 3 Rules to plan your football training by. Follow them and you’ll succeed. Ignore them and flounder around, play J.V. ball and just lie about how good of a player you used to be. Choice is yours.
Rules For Football Strength Training Success…