No sport demands as much from its players like football does. These demands are not only physical, but emotional and mental as well. It is with this in mind, why I feel the success of any football team begins in the weight room. The weight room is where the focus and concentration will be on improving an athlete’s physical abilities so they are more prepared for the demands of the upcoming season and are less susceptible to injury. In addition, team morale and self-esteem are also enhanced which increases an athlete’s chances for success.
Over the years in testing football athletes in many different parameters, certain physical traits always seemed to be prevalent. It is with this in mind when I design strength and conditioning programs. I prefer to design my workouts and group my athletes by position instead of generic team workouts, simply because each position requires different physical demands and is more susceptible to certain injuries. I match offensive and defensive linemen, linebackers and running backs, receivers and defensive backs, and quarterbacks and kickers together mainly because these positions are similar in physical demands and they are the typical opponent they will face during a game. For this article, I will discuss my philosophies and areas of concentration when designing strength and conditioning workouts for linemen.
The success of any team or specific play during a game starts on the line. With this in mind, linemen are my first target of evaluation. I will test linemen for strength levels, but a bigger concern to me is their endurance, flexibility, quickness and body fat percentages. linemen will get stronger from lifting weights, but being stronger is not a guarantee for success. That is why I place a heavy emphasis on other factors.
Both cardiovascular and muscular endurance are important factors to me because linemen must be able to put out maximal effort for four quarters of football. If these athletes tire or weaken, then the team will suffer. I typically will test my athletes on the following:
- bench press body weight for maximum reps
- push-ups and sit-ups in one minute
- 12 minute run
- 300 yard dash
I feel these are the best tests for both endurance types because not only do they have high correlation for evaluation, they are simpler and safer to perform.
The more flexible an athlete is, the less susceptible they are to injury. All activities require varying degrees of flexibility. For linemen, the most important is lower back and hamstring flexibility. linemen are more susceptible to lower back problems usually as a result of poor flexibility and weak abdominals. I use the sit-n-reach test to evaluate their flexibility and the usually prescribe extensive abdominal and lower back movements, as well as a thorough full body stretch that emphasizes the lower back and hamstrings.
Speed and Agility
Speed is considered such an important factor for football that all emphasis is placed on a 40 yard dash time. Although very important, it is not a sole determining factor for success. I like to mainly concentrate on speed and agility combined, which I feel is a better evaluation. Besides the 40-yard dash, I like to test shuffle and misdirection drills because I feel these types of drills are similar to movements pertinent to what a lineman will perform during a game.
Body Fat Analysis
I rank body fat analysis as an important component for evaluating linemen because I have found that most linemen have very high body fat percentages and in most cases, they border on being obese. Based on my experience with football players, the most popular belief was always “the bigger, the better”. In pondering with this, I tend to disagree. I strive for and much rather would have an athlete be a little lighter, in return for one that is in better physical shape. I tend to focus my training towards all athletes, especially linemen, around their core. This is mainly because the core is a key area in support during blocking and movements such as bending, twisting and lifting weights, to name a few. I perform two types of measurements on my athletes, skinfold and circumference. Both not only give me the answers I’m looking for, they also help me in terms of charting the progress of an athlete. If I do have an athlete that does register a high percentage of body fat, they are then monitored more frequently and a healthier diet is prescribed.
In conclusion, all the opinions presented in this article come from my own philosophies. I strongly believe in making linemen better all-around athletes instead of just focusing on strength and speed. I also believe success in any program rests with linemen and that the strength coach plays a more crucial role in a team’s success than is realized because of what they can do to improve their athletes.