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Off-Season STRENGTH Training for Grid-Iron Warriors

By Brian Klepacki, MS, CSCS

Owner and Head Coach of Optimax Performance Training, LLC.
St. Petersburg Florida

American Football Game Action PhotoThe 2015-2016 NFL season is upon us and if you haven’t locked in your fantasy team yet time is almost up to get those rosters locked in. If you’re like me you love sports, especially football. I don’t care too much about the politics and all the nonsense that occurs off the field EXCEPT what happens in the weight room.

As a Strength Coach I love training athletes. I love everything about their training and how dedicated they are to taking their performance to the next level.

Sure they make a TON of money playing a game but I’ve seen first-hand how hard they work all year long. And you think spending an hour on the elliptical twice a week is hard?

You have no idea how hard these players train so before you start bashing professional athletes and how they are overpaid and lazy keep reading.

I have coached NFL players in the weight room and it’s impressive. These guys are STRONG and not just physically. They have mental toughness that is stupid crazy. They often laugh at and charge towards a challenge.

It’s what got them into the pros to begin with. The stuff that these guys go through is what sets them apart from everyone else.

American Football isn’t just about brute strength; it requires power, speed, agility, quickness and so on. However strength is a HUGE part of the player that can never be neglected when in the off-season.

There’s a saying amongst players, “HIT or BE HIT”. That pretty much sums up their mentality and rightfully so. Either you are the one hunting or you will be hunted. It’s a game of who’s better and these guys train with that in mind. If that’s not motivation then I don’t know what is.

Certain athletes are given incredible skills that might not have required a lifetime of intense training around the clock while some had to work a little harder just to make the bench.

Regardless of who worked hard or not I think it’s safe to say that any player in the NFL has and will continue to train harder than you and me. To me that’s an encouragement in itself.

I will never play in the NFL or any other professional sport for that matter but what I can do is continue to strive towards excellence and greatness just as they do.

Thanks to social media and the associated press we are able to get a glimpse into the training of athletes from all over the world. Videos and articles are pumped out almost daily showcasing an athlete off the field and what they do away from playing the game.

Most of what they do outside their game is train. It does make sense that they need to train so much for their job.

Think about it this way, they have a series of weekly consecutive presentations that they need to prepare for and if they fail to deliver a good product, they won’t make the cut or worse be fired from their job. Someone is always gunning for their job so they need to always be on their A-game.

How many hours a week do you work, 25, 50, 70 hours? Well I’d put my money on them working more than the national average and I guarantee their work is a little more physically demanding than ours.

Last season, JJ Watt, the Houston Texans defensive end, became the first player in NFL history to record 20+ quarterback sacks in a season two years in a row. By the way, it wasn’t from sitting around during his off-season.

Judging by a little snippet of his pre-season training regime he won’t be slowing down any time soon. Watt tweeted a picture of himself squatting a colossal amount of weight, which looked like roughly 585 pounds.

But to be clear, Watt stated in his tweet that it’s “NotAMaxOutRep,” suggesting that he performed multiple reps and/or sets at this weight. This deserves a #beastmode shoutout.

To shed more tackles and aggressively push defenders back upon the point of contact, NFL All-Pro running back Steven Jackson has been repeatedly seen manhandling a Prowler Sled Drive as an integral part of his off-season strongman training.

Reggie Bush of the Dolphins was also seen pushing the sled back and forth to get him even stronger than before! Bush fully believes in agility work and spent a good amount of his off-season freshening up and improving the quickness and precision of his footwork. Hopefully it’ll pay off and bring some wins to Miami (good luck on that one).

As a Strength Coach we apply the S.A.I.D. principle; ‘Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands’. In other words, if a defensive lineman needs to get stronger on his attack of the offensive line, he needs to train that particular movement pattern.

Doing a million pull-ups won’t benefit this ‘demand’ like a sled-push would. Players train specifically and intentionally to be the best in their playing position.

Strength / Power players (O&D line mostly) would follow an early off-season program similar to this in order to start relaying that solid foundation of strength:

Monday:

Power Clean: 3×3 @ 60-70% max
Back Squats: 3×12-15 @60-70% max
Lunges: 3×12-15 each leg
Romanian Deadlifts: 3×12-15
Rear Delt Raises: 3×12-15
Technique Drills: 10-15 minutes
Sprints: 5×5 yards
Bounding: 3×10 yards
“M” Drill: 1×3
Standing Long Jump: 1×5

Tuesday:

Push Jerk 3×3 @ 60-70%
Bench Press 3×12-15 @ 60-70%
Floor Press 3×12-15 @ 60-70% max of Bench Press
Bent-Over Rows 3×12-15
Standing Military Press – 3×12-15

Football is a game of athleticism and it’s definitely not just about brute strength. It takes total body conditioning to get in peak physical condition and NFL QB Tim Tebow’s metabolic conditioning circuit is no joke.

He might not go down as one of the league’s all-time passing leaders but there is one thing (really two) that he will always be remembered by, and that’s his hard work in the gym, (the second being his faith).

Here is an improvised version of a program that he followed this recent off-season:

Rapid Response Drills:

Perform several quick feet drills over a distance of 15 yards per variation

Vertical Set Circuit:

Using a barbell, perform a Clean High Pull, RDL, Low Row, Back Squat and Push Press

sledge

Sled Drives:

Stay low and push the sled for 20+ yards.

Explosive Bosu Push-Up:

Adds an upper-body power element to the circuit. Perform a normal push-up but on a Bosu ball. In the upward movement of the rep, explode off the ball and lift the Bosu ball off the floor.

Sledgehammer Tire Pull:

Using the sledgehammer allows you to stay tall and maintain proper body position when pulling the tire

Lateral Quick Feet Ladder Drill:

Improves footwork while in a fatigued state

Drop and Sprint Bag Drill:

Adds a position-specific movement to the circuit

And that’s just a conditioning circuit! Now here is a small sample of a strength workout that should be done immediately after the conditioning:

Incline Rotating Press:

Strengthens the chest, shoulders and triceps; rotate palms inward as you lower the dumbbells to the chest

Batwing Dumbbell Row:

Lying face down on incline bench with dumbbells, pull the dumbbells up while retracting the shoulder blades, hold for one count, and then lower the dumbbells to start position

Lumberjack Press:

With one end of a barbell resting on the floor pinned between two unmovable objects (like a corner of a wall), grasp the other end of the barbell with one hand, and then press the barbell out and in front of the body

If you think you are training hard think again. Take a few butt whooping lessons from the pros and you’ll be more than happy to be sitting on the couch Sunday afternoon watching those freaks destroy each other while you recover from only one of their workouts. With that said, GO BUCS!