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One thing that absolutely baffles me about most football training programs is that everyone does the same thing. The linebackers go through the same training as the QB's.
The wide receivers do the same exercises, sets and reps as the lineman. As if we're weren't different enough as individuals, now we're going to take guys who perform extremely different functions on the field and have them all train the same way?
Sure, there are many similarities. There's a base of movements and exercises that everyone should do... however, how, when, and how much of them is quite different, especially when it comes to the big guys up front! Some key points to remember about lineman are:
- They are much bigger than the rest of the team.
- Their recovery ability will either be much less or much more than the other guys (more on this later).
- Their job is to move another huge, strong and explosive guy using strength from their hips, legs, arms, back... and just about everything else.
- Their secondary job is to be able to move quickly through space and keep guys off of their QB's - this often involves moving laterally and blocking players who are much faster (Corners, Safeties, LB's).
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Lineman Are Work-Horses, Right?
Most lineman need tremendous amounts of work. They're built big and can handle a ton of work; in fact, some need this high workload to thrive.
There are, however, some big guys, who, by virtue of being so large, have lessened recovery ability. This is usually tied in to poor eating (we're talking about high school and college players that are quite large, with high levels of body fat).
This will sound odd, but if you are this guy, or you coach these guys, the first thing you should do is have them lose some fat. Yes, I know, it's all about having the biggest lineman on the field. And, most guys will point to the NFL and specifically the Dallas Cowboys from the 90's who had enormous lineman.
Sure, we all watched Madden circle Ol'Nate Newton's belly, but, the reality is that those guys had tons of muscle and were bull strong.
If a lineman is over-fat, he will need to be twice as strong just to move out of his own way. Since this is difficult to do, its best to just drop the excess weight.
Now, for those that do have a high work capacity, let's get to work. We'll look at the top 8 exercises for lineman (both offensive and defensive) and how and when to do them. The subtle changes make all the difference in the world.
The Top 8 Leg Training Exercises For Lineman
1. Box Front Squats:
Want explosive lineman? Want lineman who can physically dominate their opponents and bulldoze their way down field? Then adding box front squats to your football training program is the first thing you should do.
While lesser known that it's cousin, the box squat, the box front squat is actually more effective for lineman. If you've ever seen one done, you'll notice that the position is almost identical to the blocking/driving position: chest up, arms out, hips and legs working to go from a static position (your stance) to a dynamic position (driving through the other guy). This is about as close to sports specific as one can get.
Many put the front squat down because it has less of an impact on the posterior chain, but this is non-sense. The quads can not be ignored! Plus, when doing front squats on a box, you involve the glutes and hams to a much greater degree.
These are quite easy to teach. You need a box that is at least parallel... ideally, an adjustable box would be used so that you can vary the depth.
Unrack the weight with the bar resting high on the chest, near the clavicles. Keep the bar high and stress on the wrists is greatly reduced and the bar is in a more secure position
Now, sit way back and lower yourself under control onto the box. Relax the hip flexors, pause for a beat, then explode up.
Performing box front squats will push you hip, glute, ham, ab, and quad power to the absolute maximum and will improve any lineman's ability to drive block and bulldoze opponents.
Keep the reps under 5, and the sets medium to high. These are a perfect max effort movement. They can also be used with chains or bands for an excellent speed movement as well.
Deadlifts are the king maker. Before I go on, let me say that some of you may have heard that deadlifting is bad for the back. This is plain ol' BS. When done properly, the deadlift and it's variations may be the single best builder of
strength and speed known to man.
If all you could do was deadlift, you'd be head and shoulders above the guys who bench and curl ad nauseum. It still sickens me when I hear from athletes who tell me their coaches tell them not to deadlift. Deadlifts are ultra-important for several reasons:
- They build tremendous starting strength. Many lineman are woefully lacking in the ability to get explosive and apply strength quickly. Failure to do this will result in poor performance on the field.
- Deads strengthen the posterior chain; building power and strength in the hamstrings, glutes, calves, and the entire back.
- Deadlifts, like squats, build insane strength in the hips; the seat of power for all sports.
- They build slabs of muscle. Nothing will make you grow from your calves to your traps like heavy deadlifts. For young lineman who need to get bigger, deads are the way to go!
- The deadlift can be extremely useful for injury prevention. Some believe that the moderate to high hamstring activity elicited during the deadlift may help to protect the anterior cruciate ligament during rehab.
You can - and should - use many variations of the deadlift to round out your training and keep yourself working as hard as possible. The classic 5 sets of 5 reps protocol applied to the deadlift can put more muscle on your frame than most other exercises combined.
3. Sandbag Cleans:
Sandbags are alive... they move, change positions, and fight you every step of the way. Sounds a lot like a live opponent to me. Live opponent work ties in closely with the concept of strength leakage.
Weights are fixed - they stay balanced, evenly distributed, and constant. This is good when it comes to building maximum strength. But, it can hinder the transfer of power to taking on a live opponent.
Wrestlers, fighters, and martial artists have used sandbags for centuries because of their effect on strength when fighting someone. Football is, for the most part, a 3-hour fight. Every play you line up and fight your opponent. He will not stay in positions that allow you to block or tackle him. No, he wants to make your job as hard as possible.
Power cleans have come under fire in the last few years because many coaches believe they are difficult to teach and are not as effective at building speed as dynamic effort movements are. Both of these points are valid. But, by using a sandbag in place of a barbell, we get around both problems.
Sandbag cleans are the perfect movement to build the entire upper body and specifically the upper body muscles responsible for controlling your opponent at the point of attack.
Load a bag, clean it in any way you see fit; use the various handles, mixed grips or just grab the bag itself. Now, clean it to chest height. When I say clean it, I don't mean end up in one of those split-the-legs-8ft-apart kind of clean positions. No, I mean finish the clean in the good football position - just as you would be pre-block, tackle, jump, and sprint.
4. Romanian Deadlifts:
Romanian deadlifts are an excellent assistance exercise for lineman. All lineman need big, strong, explosive hamstrings. RDL's build muscle and power in the hamstrings and glutes and also hit the lower back quite well.
The RDL is great for any football player because it is performed in the stance very similar to the "ready position" (hips down, knees bent, flat back... think a linebacker or the position of the body pre-jump).
For many athletes, the RDL is a far superior exercise to the
straight leg deadlift. This is especially true of some of the taller lineman. For anyone with a long torso, the straight leg deadlift can become a lower-back exercise and neglect the hamstrings.
But, because of the hip position (traveling backwards) and the intense pre-stretch of the hamstrings, the RDL is much better at working the posterior chain.
We already talked about the importance of doing
deadlifts, and as far as the deadlift variations go, none are more perfect for football training than the snatch grip deadlift.
Because of the wide grip, your body is forced into a much lower position than a normal deadlift. This hits the hamstring and glutes extremely hard which is always a good thing for any lineman.
Begin just as you would in a regular deadlift, but your hands will be much further apart. Don't go collar-to-collar unless you are extremely tall. Index fingers on or an inch outside of the outer rings is fine. Be sure to sit back and pull hard. A nice side benefit is all the extra work your back and traps will get.
6. Dumbbell Incline Press:
I'm often hated for saying this, but I believe the
dumbbell incline press is a much better movement for lineman than the bench. Obviously, the
bench press is a great exercise, but when it comes to athletes, not
powerlifters, the incline rules.
The dumbbell incline much more closely mimics the path taken by the arms in many athletic movements such as blocking, punching, and in many wrestling moves. For lineman, this is crucial. Keeping the elbows in, and pressing out and up is exactly what we do on the field.
The incline is also much better at developing the all-important shoulder girdle. It's a nice compromise between the overhead press and the bench, allowing an athlete to hammer the shoulders, pecs and triceps.
For those with shoulder problems, incline can be a life-saver. When I had
rotator cuff problems, benching even super light weights felt like I was being stabbed in the front delts!
But, I was able to continue doing inclines as heavy as I could handle. When I fixed my shoulder problems, I returned to the bench and lost very little progress.
The dumbbell incline is also incredibly versatile; you can use it for timed sets, high reps, moderate reps, or you can go super heavy and treat it as a sub-max movement.
If you'd really like a challenge, try doing a 1-arm dumbbell incline, now that's real "core" training! Again, for those young, small lineman, these can be a great way to add quality muscle and weight to your frame.
7. Lateral Lunges:
Somehow we all forgot about moving sideways. O-lineman often have to slide block, drop step, or post-and-gather, yet 99.9% of most football training programs only focuses on straight-ahead speed and strength.
Now, I realize that most hate lateral movements because of the ego hit you take when doing them. A simple 135-lbs has left many-a strong squatter sore beyond belief. This should tell you that there's an awful lot of muscle not being worked with squats and deadlifts alone.
lateral lunges is easy - plug them in after your max or dynamic effort movement for 3 - 4 sets of 8 - 10 and you'll notice a huge difference in your lateral speed.
8. The Prowler:
The prowler, which is a crazy looking sled that, because of a set of handles and a set of uprights can be either pushed or pulled, absolutely owns all other forms of conditioning for lineman.
The prowler should be part of any football training program, no question. Sleds are good, but the ability to get into a blocking position and drive a weighted sled is invaluable.
Both offensive and defensive lineman will see their conditioning levels go through the roof after only a few sessions on the prowler. Plus, you can easily pull or push it laterally, which as we already discussed, is very important.
Use the prowler as a finisher or on a non-lifting day as a way to condition. Because of the lack of eccentric movement, the prowler will not cause much soreness, which is a huge advantage for athletes.
One of the biggest issues when designing a training program for an athlete is how to give strength, speed and conditioning their proper due without compromising any of the elements. Use the prowler for sprints, for walking conditioning, for relays, or load it up for strength work.
Start adding these movements to your training and you will become a better lineman. It's that simple. For coaches who need to get a crew of out of shape or skinny guys and turn them into a cohesive unit of bulldozers, these movements are must-do!
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About The Author:
Steven Morris is a Personal Trainer and Strength Coach in the Philadelphia and South Jersey areas and owner of Explosive Football Training. He has been lifting weights for over 15 years and has been helping people achieve their fitness and strength goals for over a decade. You can learn more about his methods and services at