Elite players push their bodies off the field to get better on the field. Their crucibles: the weight room and the practice field. The Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers were forged for the Super Bowl. The players' bodies were highly prepared for the grueling 17-week regular season schedule, which allowed them to dominate key positions in the playoffs.
I know a little something about this. Actually, I know a lot about it. Not only did I play in the NFL, but years ago, I worked at Bommarito Performance Systems in Florida, where I was fortunate to be on a staff that assisted many of the athletes you'll see in Super Bowl XLVII.
I did band squats with Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo to help him explode through blockers and ball carriers. I worked with 49ers defensive lineman Ricky Jean-Francois, doing jammer presses for punching power required to shed blockers. I watched 49ers running back Frank Gore maximize his speed and explosiveness on the field by training with short-burst sled sprints. I also worked with 49ers tight end Vernon Davis on reverse hyperextensions for lower-back strength and sprinting.
The six exercises below were staples at Bommarito Performance Systems. They turned average players into stars, and stars into superstars. Use these training methods yourself to explode off the ball and accelerate through the hole.
Muscles targeted: Quadriceps, abductors, adductors, calves, glutes, hamstrings, and lower back
Best for: Linebackers—to strengthen hips and assist in exploding through blockers and ball carriers.
How-to: Begin in a power rack and set up the bands on the sleeves. Secure the bands on a low peg so they won't move. Step under the bar, placing it across the back of your shoulders and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Remove the bar from the rack and step back into position. Keep your back, shoulders, and core tight, push your knees and butt out, and start moving down. Sit back with your hips into a sitting position. Relax your hip flexors and drive upward, keeping the weight on your heels as you return to your starting position. Rack the weight and repeat.
Muscles targeted: Fast-twitch muscle fibers and ligaments in your joints including hips, knees, and ankles
Best for: Linebackers—to improve running form and speed to attack the ball carrier faster and move in and out of blockers.
How-to: Lay a speed ladder on the ground and position yourself at one end. There are many different agility drills you can do with this ladder, including double foot in every hole (stay on the balls of your feet, keep your knees together while exploding up and out at the same time), alternating feet, one in each hole (explode off the balls of your feet while keeping your knees up), and alternating feet (explode out off the balls of your feet, helping with stride and hip flexibility). Repeat as desired.
Muscles targeted: Quadriceps, glutes, hip flexors, calves, and hamstrings
Best for: Running backs—to develop strength, starting power, and acceleration.
How-to: Load a sled with weight and attach a sled harness to your chest or waist. Walk forward until the harness is tight (this is your starting position). Push hard out of your starting stance by driving your feet into the ground. Explode out low and sprint as fast as you can for 15-25 yards. Keep your arms at a 90-degree angle and stay low. Repeat.
Muscles targeted: Shoulders, abdominals, calves, chest, hamstrings, quadriceps, and triceps
Best for: Defensive linemen—to help develop punching power.
How-to: Securely anchor a bar into a corner, or position it into a landmine. Load the bar with weights and position the handle attachment. From the floor, raise the bar and take the handles to your shoulders (this is where you'll start). Keep your arms flexed and squat by flexing your hips and setting them back. With an explosive movement, reverse this position by extending through your hips, knees, and ankles with power. Extend your elbows to straighten your arms at the same time. Return to the starting position and repeat.
Muscles targeted: Hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, glutes, and lower back
Best for: All positions—to strengthen the lower back and assist in all force production of sprinting and movement.
How-to: Load your weight onto a reverse hyperextension machine and step with both feet through the ankle strap. Lay your torso onto the bench and grip the handle bars. Your legs should hang at a 90-degree angle. Using ballistic motion, contract your glutes and raise your legs up to a horizontal position contracting your glutes as hard as possible at the top of the movement. Drop to the midpoint position and explode back up for 4 sets of 10-12 reps.
Muscles targeted: Quadriceps, calves, and hamstrings
Best for: All positions—to develop explosive lower body power and increase vertical jump height; improves coordination, accuracy, agility, balance; assists with lateral movement to maximize game speed, and creates force production
How-to: Stand in front of the box with feet under your hips. Bend your knees and hips to lower yourself into jumping position, keeping your head up and back straight. Swing your arms and explosively jump up onto the center of the box, bending your knees slightly to absorb the impact. Step down off the box and repeat the movement 5-7 times before a heavy leg workout.