Written by Team Juggernaut
[pullquote_right]There are far too many football coaches and athletes, especially at the high school level, who put too much emphasis on bodyweight and maximal strength[/pullquote_right]I’ve heard many strength and conditioning coaches say that they “train their lineman like throwers and their skill guys like sprinters.” In my opinion, this is a great starting point for building strong and athletic down linemen. Elite level throwers are some of the strongest, fastest and most powerful athletes on the planet. They are this way because they train for these skills and they not only possess great strength, they (for the most part) have superior body composition to NFL linemen. There are far too many football coaches and athletes, especially at the high school level, who put too much emphasis on bodyweight and maximal strength. Just because college and NFL linemen weigh over 300 pounds, doesn’t mean that a high school athlete will succeed because of a number they read on the scale. Great linemen at every level are great athletes and need to be trained as such. Here are six rules to follow when you want to build athletes who can make blocks at every level, run down plays and dominate their opponents.
Who would you rather have protecting your QB’s back side?
Linemen need to be able to pull, get downfield to make blocks, play in space to make blocks on screens, run down plays from the back side and chase down ball carriers. All of these necessary skills have one thing in common – running. Short sprints (under 20 yards), sled resisted sprints, band resisted sprints, hill sprints (less than 5 seconds in duration) and tempo runs (under 50 yards) will help your linemen develop the short area speed and quickness necessary to make plays and win games.
Great linemen all share the quality of a great get-off. The ability to explode off the line into your opponent will help your players win battles at the line of scrimmage. To develop a great get-off, linemen must develop their rate of force development. Jumping is the best way to develop this. The best jumping variations to use for linemen are seated box jumps and kneeling jumps. I prefer these jumps because they have a static start. They require static-overcome by dynamic strength, just like exploding out of a stance. With heavier athletes, I suggest jumping out of foam and landing on foam. This will force the athlete to recruit more muscle fibers, as well as teaching them balance and saving their joints. Kneeling jumps can be performed in a variety of ways. After bodyweight is mastered, adding a weight vest, holding a weight, or putting a weight on the back are all good options. Performing a second jump or a throw upon landing the kneeling jump is also effective. My favorite combinations are Kneeling Jump+Box Jump, Kneeling Jump+Long Jump, Kneeling Jump+Vertical Jump and Kneeling Jump+Medball Chest Pass. These variations will teach your athletes to explode repeatedly, the way they need to in order to finish blocks and explode through blockers.
Having great feet and explosive lower body power is useless if it can’t be transferred through the torso and into a powerful punch. Med ball throws are the best way to teach the transfer of power from the legs, through the torso and into the punch. Chest passes from a variety of positions should be utilized. Chest passes into a wall for reps – or time – should be done from the feet and knees. Chest passes for distance from the knees, or a seated position, are effective builders of explosive punching power. Once athletes master these variations, they can progress to two-footed hops into a throw. Another great option with these throws is to have the athlete leap, head first, onto a pad after completing the throw. This will allow your players to achieve full extension through the hips, without the inhibition of falling on their face.
4. Strongman Training
Strongman training will teach your athletes to move forcefully against heavy loads, exactly what they have to excel at if they want to be great players. They will learn leverage and build grip strength, as well as total body strength and power. My favorite strongman exercise for building great linemen is the tire flip. The weight of the tire doesn’t need to be excessive – it needs to be something they can move at a relatively high velocity. A favorite variation of the tire flip I use with my athletes is flips followed by a sprint. For example, the athlete will perform 2-3 flips, then sprint for 10-15 yards. The yoke and farmers walk are also great options for training linemen. They’ll build grip strength, torso stability and strengthen the entire lower body. These should be used over short distances, with weights that are challenging but can be moved quickly. Rest periods should be kept short.
5. Box Squatting and Bench Press Variations
If you’re reading this article, then you read EliteFTS.com, and don’t need me to tell you about the benefits of these exercises. Do them. Lots of them. Linemen must be strong from every angle and at every grip, so use lots of variations. For the squat, I prefer the Safety Squat Bar and squatting with chains. For the bench, become strong at every grip width, incline, floor, off of boards, with chains/bands and from the chest. Always put emphasis
on pushing the bar with maximal force. An athlete who can bench 250 with great velocity, but only has a 1 RM of 350, will be more effective than another athlete who may have a 1 RM of 400 pounds, but doesn’t move submaximal weights as quickly. You must generate power from a wide variety of positions, so you must train to be powerful from a wide variety of angles.
6. Don’t be fat
I tell my athletes “Fat doesn’t fly.” I could amend that statement to say that it doesn’t get off the ball fast, make downfield blocks well, run down plays from the back side, or put pressure on the quarterback, either. Linemen, particularly at the high school level, often have poor body composition and need to clean up their diets. At the high school level, a lean and athletic 235 pound player is going to be much more effective than a sloppy 280 pounder. Teach your athletes how to eat properly. Then their training will be better, they’ll be better players and for high school guys particularly – they will get more girls (that’s why we play anyway, isn’t it?).
Don’t let your linemen fall into the trap of thinking that good linemen are fat SOB’s. Great linemen are great athletes, so train your guys to be great athletes.