Weightlifting Training for Football Players

Olympic lifts have been shown to be one of the most effective ways to increase peak power output. In a 2001 study that surveyed 28 professional NFL (National Football League) strength and conditioning coaches, a staggering 88% of coaches said they integrated the Olympic lifts (snatch, clean, and jerk) within their training programs (1).

Integrating the Olympic lifts within strength and conditioning programs should factor in the individual readiness of an athlete, availability of a qualified coach to progress and educate athletes on technique, and a training program that incorporates various periodization models to improve overall performance.

Therefore, in this article we will set out to discuss the following aspects to help coaches gain a deeper insight on the pros and cons of using the Olympic lifts (snatch, clean, and jerk) with football players and aid in the decision process:

  • Benefits of Weightlifting Training for Football Players
  • Weightlifting Exercises for Football Players
  • Leg Training for Football Players
  • Upper Body Training for Football Players
  • Sample 4-Day Off Season Program
  • Sample 3-Day In Season Program

Benefits of Weightlifting Training for Football Players

Below are three (3) reasons why performing cleans and snatches with football players may lead to increased performance of general athleticism.

Leg Strength and Power

A 2004 study found that Olympic lifting programs elicited an 18% increase in squat 1RM and a twofold greater improvement in 40-yard sprint times when compared with “powerlifting-based programs”. Additionally, this same study concluded that Olympic-lifting based programs offered a significant advantage to vertical jump performance than powerlifting-based programs. Once can conclude that weightlifting exercises (and often in conjunction with traditional strength lifts) can be a great recipe for maximal strength and expression of power (2).

Improved Peak Power

Peak power is the ability to express maximal power outputs in the smallest amount of time frames, which is highly beneficial for explosive sports such as football. Olympic lifts, such as the clean and snatch, as well as the push press, have been shown to be some of the best exercises one can do in the gym to increase overall power and strength (3).

Increased Skill Complexity Translates to Improve Athleticism

Research has repeatedly indicated that the Olympic lifts require high amounts of muscle coordination, strength, power, and neurological adaptations. While these lifts are the most complicated and time-intensive to teach athletes, “short-term training effects of the weightlifting movements seem to be more beneficial for improving performance. The greater skill complexity required for the weightlifting exercises facilitates the development of a broader physical abilities spectrum, which seems to be better transferred to performance” (4).

Weightlifitng Exercises for Football Players

Below are weightlifting variations that can be used with football players to increase lower body power and general athleticism.

Hang Power Clean/Snatch

The hang power clean has been suggested to have a strong correlation with jumping and sprinting performance. Research suggests that it can be used as a benchmark exercise for strength and power, however should not replace technique and skillful practice of jumping and sprinting mechanics (5). The snatch can also be integrated similarly to the clean, as long as coaches take the time to properly teach overhead technique and mechanics.

Power Clean/Snatch

The power clean and power snatch are clean/snatch variations that can be done to increase strength and power. The power clean/snatch is done from the floor (rather than the hang), and ends with the athlete receiving the load in the partially squatted, athletic position.

Clean and Snatch Pulls

Clean pulls are another exercise that can be used in conjunction with the snatch and clean (full squat or partial squat variations) to increase peak power. Often, these pulls can be integrated into training programs to progress lifters towards the power clean, enhance technique of the lift, and offer similar training stimulus as the clean and snatch without the need for as much flexibility and mobility in the shoulders, wrists, etc. Note, that the clean/snatch pull may be used as a replacement for the clean/snatch, as long as coaches understand the all the benefits of the full/partial squatted clean/snatch will not transfer (such as eccentric loading and reactive phases of the receiving position).

Power Jerk

The power jerk can be used to increase total body power and strength, as it utilizes the legs, hips, shoulders, chest, and triceps. This is a more advanced pressing movement, and is dependent on a lifters ability to time the receiving position correctly. That said, some coaches may opt for the push press instead (see below).

Push Press

The push press is a movement that translates to lower body, upper body, and core strength and power. Research suggests that the push press actually has similar, and even slightly higher maximum mean power than that of the jump squat, making it an effective exercise to increase total body power and integrate upper body pressing. Loads of 65-75% of repetition max were shown to be the most effective at increase power (6).

Leg Training for Distance Runners

In the below sections we offer coaches and athletes lower body strength training exercises to improve strength, hypertrophy, and muscular power (unilateral and bilateral) in football players.

Squat Variations

Below are a few bilateral and unilateral squat styles coaches can use to develop leg strength and posterior chain musculature.

  • Back Squat: The back squat is a basis for building leg strength and posterior chain development.
  • Front Squat: The front squat can be used to increase quadriceps development, enhance anterior core strength, and decrease load upon the lower back in times looking to decrease training volume.
  • Split Squat: The split squat is a unilateral exercise than can be done to increase unilateral leg strength, power, and function. Note, this exercise still allows for a lifer to place the other foot on the floor, decreasing the balance needed when compared to the Bulgarian split squat.
  • Bulgarian Split Squat: The Bulgarian split squat can be done to increase unilateral strength, power, muscle development, and challenge balance needed in single-legged sports.
  • Step Up: The step up can be used to increase unilateral leg strength and increase unilateral balance and movement under load.

Deadlift Variations

Below are a few bilateral and unilateral posterior chain exercises to increase the strength, muscle, AND explosiveness necessary for powerful movements.

  • Conventional Deadlift: The conventional deadlift can increase strength, muscle hypertrophy, and endurance of the hamstring, glutes, and erectors.
  • Romanian Deadlift: The Romanian deadlift can be swapped to increase hamstring and glute development due to the positioning of the less and the slight knee bend.
  • Sumo Deadlift: The sumo deadlift can be done to increase general hip and hamstring strength, muscle mass, and develop the posterior chain. Additionally, this can help increase hip mobility and strength.
  • Trap Bar Deadlift: The trap bar deadlift can be used to increase lower body strength and muscle mass while lifting lower back strain/stress, a common overuse and injury prone area for lifters.
  • Single Leg Deadlift: The single leg deadlift is a unilateral deadlift variation that can help to increase development of the hamstrings, glutes, and establish greater knee, hip, and core stability.

Upper Body Training for Football Players

In the below sections we offer coaches and athletes upper body strength training exercises to improve strength, hypertrophy, and muscular power (unilateral and bilateral) in football players.

Bench Press

The bench press is a popular upper body strength and hypertrophy exercise to increase chest, triceps, and shoulders strength; all of which are necessary for blocking, contact situations, tackling, and most football movements.

Rows

Rows can be done to increase back strength and size, as well as creating symmetry for the athlete and increase overall strength.

Pull Ups

The pull up is another upper body pulling exercise that can increase back strength and hypertrophy; both of which can aid in tackling, gripping, and pulling movements found in football.

Military Press

The military press is a shoulder pressing exercises that can be done seated, standing, with a barbell, or dumbbells. This movement can increase pressing strength, upper body hypertrophy, and increase strength and power potentials in blocking, tackling, and contact situations.

Arms

Biceps, triceps, and forearm (grip) training can be integrated into workouts to increase arm and gripping strength and improve overall muscular development of football athletes.

Sample Off-Season Football Strength Program (4-Day)

Below is a sample 4-day off-season program that includes power and strength movements, along with accessory exercises. For the sake of simplicity, let’s also assume that the power and strength exercises are progressed in linear fashion, with the loading being increased 5lbs per week, or 1-2% of max. Note, that the power and strength blocks per training session are in bold.

Within this phase, the athlete should focus on addressing muscle asymmetries, increasing lean body mass, and developing maximal strength and power. Training volumes are higher, with intensities increasing as the weeks progress.

Day 1

  • Hang Clean 4(3)/65-75%
    • Active Stretch/Mobility
  • Squat 5(5)/75-80%
    • Box Jump 4(3)
  • Romanian Deadlift 4(8-12)
    • Chin Up 4(8)
  • Lateral Step Up 3(8/)
    • Heavy Farmer Carry 3(50m)

Day 2

  • Push Press 5(5)/70-75%
    • Medicine Ball Lateral Slam 4(5)
  • Close Grip Bench Press 5(5)/75-80%
    • TRX Face Pull 4(8)
  • T-Bar Row 4(8)
    • Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press
  • Weighted Dips 3(8-10)
    • Reverse Barbell Curl 3(8-10)

Day 3

  • Power Clean 4(3)/60-70%
    • Active Stretch/Mobility
  • Trap Bar Deadlift 5(5)/70-75%
    • Depth Jumps 4(3)
  • Crossover Step Up 4(8)
    • Landmine Rotations 4(6-8/)
  • Lying Hamstring Curl 3(10-12)
    • Leg Extension/Leg Press 3(10-12)

Day 4

  • Hang Power Snatch 4(3)/65-75%
    • Medicine Ball Lying Bench Throws 4(8)
  • Bench Press 5(3-5)/75-80%
    • Pull Up/Pulldown 4(8)
  • Single Arm Dumbbell Push Press 4(5/)
    • Single Arm Dumbbell Row 4(10-12)
  • Dumbbell Shrugs 3(8-12)
    • Weighted Push Ups 3(8-12)

Sample In-Season Football Strength Program (3-Day)

Below is a sample 3-day in-season program that includes power and strength movements, along with accessory exercises. Unlike the off-season training, the in-season goal should be on maintaining or strength and power, however this can be limited due to game scheduling and recovery from games/travel/training. Training sessions may be lower in overall volume which can allow for similar training intensities to be done (when compared to the off-season) without impeding recovery.

Day 1

  • Power/Hang Clean 4(3)/65-75%
    • Active Stretch/Mobility
  • Squat 4(3-5)/75-85%
    • Box Jump 4(2-3)
  • Landmine Push Press 3(8/)
    • Pull Ups 3(8-10)
  • Nordic Curl 3(8)
    • Dips 3(8-10)

Day 2

  • Push Press 4(3)/75-80%
    • Rotational Ball Slams 4(8-10)
  • Bench Press 5(3)/80-85%
    • Kneeling Medicine Ball Chest Throws 4(2-3)
  • Dumbbell Step Up 3(8/)
    • Inverted Row 3(8-10)
  • RDL 3(8)
    • High Pull 3(8-10)

Day 3

  • Power/Hang Snatch 4(3)/65-75%
    • Active Stretch/Mobility
  • Box Squat 4(3)/75-85%
    • Hurdle Hops 4(6-8)
  • Incline Dumbbell Bench Press 3(8)
    • Barbell Hip Raise 3(8-10)
  • Dumbbell Shoulder Press 3(8)
    • Reverse/Biceps Curl 3(8-10)

References

  1. Ebben, W. P., & Blackard, D. O. (2001). Strength and Conditioning Practices of National Football League Strength and Conditioning Coaches. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 15(1), 48-58. doi:10.1519/00124278-200102000-00009
  2. Hoffman, J. (2014). COMPARISON OF OLYMPIC VS. TRADITIONAL POWER LIFTING TRAINING PROGRAMS IN FOOTBALL PLAYERS. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 8(1), 129-135. Retrieved November 13, 2018, from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/aeee/c1d5da10efd725d6b5edd604c67088302839.pdf.
  3. Hydock, D. (2001). CERTIFICATION CEU QUIZ: The Weightlifting Pull in Power Development. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 23(1), 38. doi:10.1519/1533-4295(2001)0232.0.co;2
  4. Hedrick, A., & Wada, H. (2008). Weightlifting Movements: Do the Benefits Outweigh the Risks? Strength and Conditioning Journal, 30(6), 26-35. doi:10.1519/ssc.0b013e31818ebc8b
  5. Hori, N., Newton, R. U., Andrews, W. A., Kawamori, N., Mcguigan, M. R., & Nosaka, K. (2008). Does Performance of Hang Power Clean Differentiate Performance of Jumping, Sprinting, and Changing of Direction? Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 22(2), 412-418. doi:10.1519/jsc.0b013e318166052b
  6. Lake, J. P., Mundy, P. D., & Comfort, P. (2014). Power and Impulse Applied During Push Press Exercise. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28(9), 2552-2559. doi:10.1519/jsc.0000000000000438

Featured Image: @marcusbunn via @joaoguilhermefoto on Instagram

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    Mike holds a Master's in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Mike has been with BarBend since 2016, where he covers Olympic weightlifting, sports performance training, and functional fitness. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at New York University, in which he works primarily with baseball, softball, track and field, cross country. Mike is also the Founder of J2FIT, a strength and conditioning brand in New York City that offers personal training, online programs for sports performance, and has an established USAW Olympic Weightlifting club.In his first two years writing with BarBend, Mike has published over 500+ articles related to strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, and fitness. Mike’s passion for fitness, strength training, and athletics was inspired by his athletic career in both football and baseball, in which he developed a deep respect for the barbell, speed training, and the acquisition on muscle.Mike has extensive education and real-world experience in the realms of strength development, advanced sports conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, and human movement. He has a deep passion for Olympic weightlifting as well as functional fitness, old-school bodybuilding, and strength sports.Outside of the gym, Mike is an avid outdoorsman and traveller, who takes annual hunting and fishing trips to Canada and other parts of the Midwest, and has made it a personal goal of his to travel to one new country, every year (he has made it to 10 in the past 3 years). Lastly, Mike runs Rugged Self, which is dedicated to enjoying the finer things in life; like a nice glass of whiskey (and a medium to full-bodied cigar) after a hard day of squatting with great conversations with his close friends and family.