Football Strength & Power: Tips for Max Performance

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American football is arguably one of the most physically demanding and toughest sports in our culture today. Its popularity among a wide variety of people has grown, making it the new sport of choice for most Americans. That being said, more and more young kids today are participating in this very competitive and hard-nosed sport, and one thing is for sure: if you do not have the speed, reaction timing, strength and power it will be hard for you to see time on the playing field at the upper levels.

For this article, I will primarily be focusing on the top strength and power exercises designed to help athletes aged 14 and up take their game and athletic ability to a new level. I used these main exercises with all of my athletes to boost athletic performance and strengthen weaknesses to protect against costly injuries. These 5 strength and power movements, when used properly, will help you run faster, jump higher, hit harder, and keep you healthy for every move you’re going to make on the playing field. Perform each multi-joint movement on one day, coupled with the explosive power movement that goes with the strength component.

Strength Exercise: Box Squats

These are a main staple in my lower body training days. Using a high-bar low box squat just below parallel, perform this movement with a wide stance to recruit more hip power and fire the gluteus and hips to explode off the box. You also want to make sure you descend with control, give a slight hip hinge before lower your body is to the box, and once you make contact with the box, settle your body almost like you are sitting in a chair. Then, reverse the movement by leading with your chest and pushing your feet out (not straight down) to lock out your lift. I always tell my guys to act like they are spreading the floor apart with their feet to keep the knees from shooting forward and causing stress on the knee joint itself. Perform 4-6 sets with 1-5 reps for max strength. Bands and chains are a great addition as well.

Power Exercise: Box Jumps

This is also for a lower body strength/power day, and I usually have my athletes perform this exercise before they go onto squats or deadlifts. Perform this movement by standing a couple of feet away from the box. Start with a semi challenging height. With toes pointing forward and legs around shoulder width, get a big stretch with your arms reaching up to the sky while stretching your entire body, then abruptly shoot your hands down by your side to create a stretch reflex response. Follow that by re-shooting your arms back up, jumping and landing on the box in a heel-to-toe fashion. Perform these for 3-5 sets with 5 jumps. You can increase the box height accordingly.

Strength Exercise: Bench Press

The bench press is by far the #1 tool to showcase upper body strength in an athlete. The way it should be done to make it functional for football is to make sure you bring shoulders together and tight to the bench, causing stability in the back and shoulders. Take the bar at a slightly wider then shoulder width grip, then proceed to grab the bar as tight as possible, all while acting like you’re going to bend the bar in half. This will cause you to actually drive your elbows in and your latissimus dorsi will help you contract the weight back up while also using the prime movers of your front delts, triceps, and pectoral muscles to move the weight. The reason why I recommend utilizing powerlifting elbows in this approach and not the conventional bodybuilding approach is because, on the field, you never want to push or expose your chest by pressing an opponent with your arms out. Instead, stay tight to the body to get better leverage. The same rules apply on the bench press. Perform 4-6 sets with 1-5 reps for maximum strength.

Power Exercise: Medicine Ball Pass

This movement can be coupled with the bench press or push press (shoulder press) to incorporate upper body explosive strength and stability in the back and shoulders. Start with your hands around a semi-heavy medicine ball (12-18 pounds will be just fine since you want to make sure you are performing the moment fast and explosively). I have my athletes start on their knees while in an upright posture. Press the ball straight in front of you either to a wall or with a teammate forcefully pass the ball forward causing your entire body to fall forward. Just before your chest hits the floor, explosively change the direction by performing an explosive push-up back to erect position. Aim for 3-5 sets of 5-10 reps before any upper body strength day.

Strength Exercise: Deadlifts

The dead lift by far is one that you cannot go without. This will create full body thickness, stability, strength and power in the entire posterior chain. Deadlifts can be performed either conventionally or sumo-style, depending on the athlete’s height and limb length. Perform this exercise by taking the bar from the floor to your hips and locking out with a neutral spine and locked out hips. The deadlift can also be performed off boxes to facilitate hip strength and explosive power, along with adding chains and bands to mix up the work load and cause a greater demand on the central nervous system. Perform heavy sets of 3-5 sets with 1-5 reps for strength and size.

Phil "Bam Bam" Daru and client

Phil “Bam Bam” Daru and client

This is a sample training split for one week for my high school and college athletes:

Day 1: (lower body strength/power)

  1. Warmup: dynamic stretches, foam rolling, sprint starts
  2. Box jumps, 5×5 (pyramid the height)
  3. Box Squats, 4×3, 1×2, 1×1
  4. Walking barbell lunges, 4 sets of 20 yards
  5. Glute Ham Developer, 3×15
  6. Prowler Push, 10 runs of 25 yards

Day 2: (upper body strength/power)

  1. Warmup: dynamic stretches, foam rolling, scarecrows, band pull apart
  2. Medicine ball explosive pass, 3×10
  3. Bench press, 4×5, 1×3
  4. Weighted pull-ups, 3×10-12 (pyramid up)
  5. Tricep dips (with chains), 3×10-12
  6. Hammer slams (superset with battle ropes), 2 minutes each X 3 rounds

Day 3: (full body strength/power)

  1. Warmup: dynamic stretches, foam rolling, sled sprints
  2. Deadlifts, 4×3, 2×1
  3. Tire flips (heavy), 5×5
  4. Banded kettle bell swings, 3×12
  5. Reverse hyper machine, 3×15
  6. Prowler push, 10 runs of 25 yards
  7. Weighted planks, 2×5 minutes

Between those strength and power training days, perform field sprints and agility drills. Sports specifics must also still be a main priority, so don’t slack on that.

You can find more videos on training on my YouTube channel. Subscribe to Phil Daru, and check me out on Instagram @Darustrong and on Facebook @Phil Bam Bam Daru

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