The exercises that have always been known as the most popular power and strength exercises are squats, cleans, and bench press. Though, these are important lifts and are great power and strength exercises there are a plethora of other exercises and variations of these exercises that are of major importance and emphasis. The main idea is to have great power and strength throughout your entire body, because in a sport like football your entire body is exposed and vulnerable at all times during a football play, game, and season.
Believe it or not the area that is of most importance to an athlete and especially to the football player is the core. What is the core you ask? The core is the entire midsection of the body that supports the whole body in all power movements, especially when the body is most vulnerable. This includes the abdomen section, the back and butt, hip flexors and groin, and supportive muscles to those areas. There is a number of muscles within these areas, big and small, the names of which in some cases are complex. The idea of this section is not to bore you with minute details or the complexities of the body but for you to gain some insight into the football players/my life, so you know that our life isn’t just going to the gym for a half hour to pump some iron, and most importantly that maybe you can find a couple of exercises that you could bring to your workout. There is a goal to every lift and exercise and it is not just to look good for the ladies.
Like I had already mentioned, play in and play out the football player exposes himself to major impact, the force of which can be very extreme, at times, and the core is the one area of the body that gives support to all the others. It can help absorb some of the impact of a hard hit, is the source of power in many blocks, hits, and tackles, and is a preventative to many injuries. Many of the core exercises that I do, include; many variations of sit-ups, crunches, and twists (with weights or a medicine ball when possible), and hanging straight-leg lifts and knee ups. Other core lifts involve lying on my back doing single and double leg curls using a large core strengthening blow up ball, as well as single and double leg hip ups and leg swings. Some great exercises that I do for my back include pull ups, seated lat pulls that look like a reverse bench press, and dumbbell rows using a bench for support. Straight-leg deadlifts are another great back exercise that also strengthens those supporting muscles to the core like your glutes and hamstrings. Strengthening the core muscles is a big focus in many power lifts, like squats for instance. Your core should support great posture during the exercise as well as supply a lot of the power throughout the lift. Other ways of doing this lift without this focus could lead to back problems among many others.
Finally, the strengthening of the groin and hipflexors, four of the most imperative muscles for the performance of a football player. Much of what we do at practice is constantly working and conditioning these muscles. These muscles have a lot to do with change of direction and explosive movements (an average moment on the football field). Other great exercises that contribute to the strengthening of these muscle are; lunges – front and back and side to side (weighted when possible), any kind of jumping exercise – box jumps, long jumps, skipping, or even basketball. There is a hip flexor machine that you can find in most gyms that are great for strengthening the hip flexors. One of my favourite exercises involves pulling weight behind you using a harness, rope, or rubber band. Though it doesn’t seem as practical as other exercises, if you can just find a little space it is a great exercise that provides resistance similar to what you will find in competition. You can do this exercise frontwards, backwards, or laterally, in slow controlled movement or in sprinting fashion. The best exercises are those that are most closely similar to what you’ll be doing in competition. The best for football are just simply doing sprint and change of direction workouts using bags, cones, hoops, or wide open space.
One of my workouts isn’t necessarily a core workout and the other then arms or legs. I’m simply just writing in order of importance and value to the athlete. In any one workout the focus for that day may be upper body and back or lower body and the rest of the core. Another day may be total body, but in any given day one of the primary focuses, as I have said, is strengthening the core or at least in my opinion, it should be. Of course, however, we most definitely could not play this incredible game or most sports for that matter without our legs and our arms.
This is where your bench press and squats come into play as well as many different exercises that strengthen the muscles in these extremities. Now, when I say bench press I’m assuming what you’re thinking of is the typical bench press that you will find in most gyms. That is where you are lying on a bench and have a bar above you with weight on each side of the bar. This is not a bad lift if it is all that you have to work with, but in my opinion there are many better way to bench press. Before I get into what those are I’d like to share why I think that this exercise can be bad. First and foremost this specific exercise isn’t the most applicable. Most people grip the bar too wide and then it becomes more of a chest exercise than strengthening your triceps. It also forces you to have bad posture or position. In football for instance, you will never hit or block somebody with all your finger pointing to the sky, thumbs facing each other, arms more than shoulder width apart, or elbows out, like you would grip the bench press bar, and have a successful block. In football when you strike somebody with your hands and arms you do so with your fingers pointing straight ahead, with a little outward angle, your thumbs pointing up and toward your target, elbows in, no more than shoulder width, and it is usually not a controlled movement where weight is distributed equally in the punch.
Another reason this specific exercise isn’t so great is, as you add more weight to the bar and lower the bar to your chest it forces different positions throughout the lift that are unnatural and can cause significant joint and muscle problems over time or with too much weight. The lift that I have come to love and have found much more applicable is the dumbbell bench press. In this lift you can just substitute the bar with dumbbells of your weight of choice. You could also substitute the bench for one of those big core strengthening blow up balls or the floor. The reason dumbbells are a much better choice are the ways in which you can grip them are more natural and you can do more specific movements that apply. The way I would strike somebody in a game is the exact way in which I bench press. The reason I use an abs strengthening ball to bench on is its instability. This forces me to use my core and motor skills to stay balanced, flexed, and sturdy throughout the exercise, which again is more applicable to my sport.
The lift mostly associated with leg power and strengthening is the squat exercise. I truly love and hate this exercise. This exercise as far as weight lifting is concerned is one of the most applicable exercises there is. It forces your entire body; arms, back, core, and legs, to provide support and power to the lift throughout the entire exercise. This is why I love it. I don’t think that there is a better lift that provides more strengthening to the entire body than the squat. The strength and power that is required from your body to perform this exercise is similar to any play on the football field, especially any type of lineman. Some of the things that are bad about this lift are its constant load on the spine and the way in which it can cause bad posture throughout the exercise such as in your back or knees. These improper positions like the bench press can cause joint and muscle problems and if done often or with too much weight can lead to even more severe problems. What I recommend and have brought to my regiment is in a week where I do some form of legs 2-3 times, one of those days will be a squat day and on the other day/s I do similar lifts that don’t load the spine near as much such as; leg press, lunges, step ups, and squat jumps.
An even more important muscle or muscle group than that of which the bench press strengthens is the shoulder complex. This is a large group of muscles that can be strengthened in many way and not necessarily with a ton of weight. This muscle group is another area that is very vulnerable to the football player. One of my favourite ways to work this group of muscles is with large rubber bands or rubber tubing. You can perform all of the movements of the rotator cuff with resistance using these simple devices and can perform many more exercise as well. This allows you to strengthen these muscles without making them too vulnerable to injury. Other exercises that work this complex are variations of push-up, shoulder press (again, preferably with dumbbells), fly’s and reverse fly’s.
The above lifts and power and strengthening exercises are the most import in my opinion, the others that I will list are secondary, however, I believe that they are all important and there should not be a place on your body that has or should have muscle that is not focused on and strengthened for the athlete. One exercise that can be very difficult but is an exercise that I believe gains great power and strength is a pull-up. For me, this exercise is like squatting. It takes a lot of my energy to perform the exercise and I always notice major strength gains when I do this exercise more often. Others exercises are leg curls, calf raises, shoulder shrugs, neck movement exercises with resistance, dips, controlled power and hang cleans, or medicine ball through in many variable ways, any cable machine exercise that allows you to perform natural movements similar to movements of your sport, forearm extension and flexion exercises, and bicep curls (look good but don’t do a whole lot, they provide some help in pulling movements).
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