Training

Physical Preparation by Position for Football


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By Ryan Williams

There is no doubt that American Football is one of the most physically demanding sports—one that requires a player to posses a wide array of abilities and qualities.  American Football, from the brutal collisions, hard hits, quick movements, fast reactions, and long, strenuous games, requires each player to posses a high level of preparedness; and be fit for the demands of the game. Watch a NFL game on Sunday, and you will undoubtedly see a combined display of the bio-motor abilities: speed, power, strength, stamina, suppleness, and skill—from each player. Bioenergetically, each position requires alactic power, and all positions except specialists (Kickers, punters, snappers, holders, or any other player who only participates in single repetitions, not series), require both alactic and aerobic capacity.

[Note:] for more information regarding bioenergetics in American Football, check out this recent article on JTSStrength by Mike Guadnago.

If you watch the game closely, you will notice lineman display the most strength; defensive backs & wide-receivers posses the most speed; linebackers and running backs exhibit immense power; quarterbacks, kickers, and punters have a very unique skill; and each position has an enduring stamina, along with a level of suppleness that allows them to move with grace—and elegance.

When it comes to preparing for football—even if you are completely unfamiliar with all of the demands, requirements, and intricacies of the game, just from reading the previous paragraph—you would probably agree that each position requires a different emphasis in the preparation of the qualities and abilities to play the game.  Each position—without equivocation, DOES need a varying emphasis on the qualities and abilities to play the sport of American Football.

In order to make addressing individual-needs-by-position work—in any setting (one-on-one, small group, or even an entire team) and not cause a logistical nightmare—is to assign each position into a group.  Below, is the best way I have found to group all of the positions in American football:

Line-Offensive & Defensive Linemen
Combo-Fullbacks, Linebackers and Tight Ends
Skill-Defensive Backs, Receivers and Running Backs
QB-All Quarterbacks
Punter/Kicker-All Punters and Kickers

The groups shown in the image make both logistic and individual programming much simpler; because strength, power, speed, suppleness and endurance/capacity (both bio-motor and energetically) requirements are very similar, amongst these groupings.  Notice I left out skill; this is because the groups address general physical preparation needs—NOT special or specific preparation.  While some special/specific preparation is—by nature, built in, there is not an emphasis on competition exercises at any point, as skill and technical-tactical abilities are developed during sport practice and games.

Quarterbacks are usually placed with combo players, especially mobile quarterbacks. In the case of a straight drop-back, pocket passer type, they may be placed with the line grouping; as their distances covered, and dynamics of movement, will be much closer to that of a lineman position. Of course, special attention is given to their throwing motion, special strengths, and arm care.  The punter/kicker grouping is the odd man out; as their training only addresses basic, general work capacity, and alactic power needs.

Continuing with the same theme as above, the way in which a player is utilized within the philosophy and tactics of a team, will ultimately determine the nature of their training. [Note:] This is what I was speaking of with how special/specific physical preparation can be “by nature—built in” to what is programmed by the physical preparation coach. For instance, pure blocking tight-ends may be grouped in the line category, while a hybrid or h-back tight-end will be placed with the combo group or even the skill grouping; all depending on their individual role and abilities. The image below shows a hierarchy of three of the bio-motor abilities—speed, power and strength, that must be emphasized and developed in each of these groupings; along with examples of the means that are used to develop them.

Line

Combo

Skill

Quarterback

Kicker/Punter

Ability

Strength

Power

Speed

Skill*

Skill*

Ability

Power

Strength or Speed?*

Power

Strength, Power or Speed*?

Strength

Ability

Speed

Strength or Speed?*

Strength

Strength, Power or Speed*?

Power

*Here are the reasons I put an asterisk and a question mark in the combo, quarterback, and kicker/punter columns.  For combo players, liked I mentioned earlier in the article about the tight-end, how the player is used within the teams’ technical-tactical scheme will ultimately decide if strength or speed is more important for him.  Besides the tight-end example, let’s look at the linebacker position.  Typically in a 4-3 defense, the linebackers are termed: Sam, Mike and Will.  Usually, the Will linebacker is the linebacker that is a better pass-defender and will be in coverage (both man-to-man and zone) more often than the other two linebackers.  In contrast, the Sam linebacker, is typically a better run-defender, and will play closer to the line of scrimmage.  Thus, for a Will linebacker, speed will inherently before important given their technical-tactical demands.  Comparatively, the Sam linebacker will require more strength, because he will undoubtedly be engaged with blockers in an isometric or quasi-isometric regime of work.

Regarding Quarterbacks, there is no doubt that an individuals’ skill in terms of throwing mechanics, accuracy and footwork will be the most important factor determining their game performance.  As physical preparation coaches, we do not fine tune a Quarterback’s skill, however.  Thus, again, depending on the QBs style, the technical-tactical scheme, and the way he is used in the offense, will ultimately determine what bio-motor ability is most important.  For example spread-option QBs will need speed in order to elude defenders and effectively orchestrate the offense being coordinated; while a pro-style QB will need more strength and power to make deep throws, and escape would-be tacklers in the pocket.

Lastly, similar to QBs, Kickers/Punters’ ability to kick/punt the ball—their skill, will be the ultimate determinant of their ability to stay on the teams’ roster.  Now, don’t get me wrong, skill is of the upmost importance for all positions; each position requires technical elements that are finely tuned over years and years of repetition.  But for the purposes of this article, the only positional groups where skill stands out compared to the other bio-motor abilities, and thus, must be given extreme importance in the programming of training—are the quarterbacks, kickers, and punters.

Again, I must reiterate that this is not a perfect formula; this simply a classification of bio-motor abilities for each position from MY OWN PERSONAL experience coaching and playing football, along with researching and surveying what the game entails from biological and physiological standpoint.

Something else that I have used practically—with great success, is classifying training means/components (Sprints, Jumps, Throws, Weights) into primary, secondary, tertiary, and quaternary for each group (Line, Combo, Skill, Punter/Kicker, QB). They are as follows:

Line
-Primary: Weights
-Secondary: Throws
-Tertiary: Jumps
-Quaternary: Sprints

Combo
-Primary: Jumps
-Secondary: Weights
-Tertiary: Sprints
-Quaternary: Throws

Skill
-Primary: Sprints
-Secondary: Jumps
-Tertiary: Throws
-Quaternary: Weights

QB
-Primary: Throws
-Secondary: Sprints
-Tertiary: Weights
-Quaternary: Jumps

Punter/Kicker
-Primary: Jumps
-Secondary: Weights
-Tertiary: Throws
-Quaternary: Sprints

These are only generalizations that make organizing a workout—in terms of space and coaches (when in a team setting), much easier. Individual adjustments are made for players/positions that require more emphasis on a specific bio-motor ability, as I’ve mentioned throughout this article.

To conclude, the goal of this article was to show that individualizing physical preparation for football players can be solved by grouping players into similar positional groups, classifying abilities/qualities that are manifested by game demands, and utilizing training means in varying emphasis to meet the goals of each positional group.  I hope this article served its purpose and that you will be able to better design your’ or your teams’ physical preparation training to fit the demands of American Football.

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