Football is sometimes referred to as a contact sport, but aren’t all sports contact sports? Baseball, basketball, and soccer all contain varying degrees of contact. Football is a collision sport, demanding a unique combination of strength, conditioning, athleticism and mental toughness absent from other disciplines…..except hockey….and maybe rugby. Anyway, this particular skillset begins with a foundation in explosive strength. Specifically, the maximum force applied to a weight in the shortest amount of time. The following equation represents explosive strength, or power:
Power (P) = Force (F) x Velocity (V)
In order to produce a high amount of power, an athlete must be capable of generating great amounts of force and velocity. Training both maximum strength and speed strength in combination with proper rest and recovery is the most efficient way to achieve explosive strength.
Traditionally this was accomplished through olympic lifting. Power cleans, snatchs, high pulls, and other olympic lifting variations are staples in football strength and conditioning programs across the nation. Although the olympic lifts are great implements for building explosive power, they are not for everyone and they certainly are not the only means by which to build explosive power.
Teaching proper technique in the olympic lifts requires a great deal of time. Competitive olympic lifting is a sport in and of itself with lifters spending years mastering sound technique. Athletes at the high school, collegiate and professional levels regularly spend too much time dedicated to learning technique while using sub maximal loads, often beginning with a broom stick. This is poor training economy, why spend months or years teaching an athlete methods that could be replaced by exercises you can teach in a single day?
The Importance of Triple Extension
Olympic lifts are triple extension movements, targeting the hips, knees and ankles. Performing a triple extension involves moving from a position in which the hips, knees and ankles are bent, to a fully extended position in which all three joints are locked. Imagine a linebacker primed to make a tackle: head up, hips down, knees bent, weight on the balls of his feet. He coils like a spring before extending his entire body into his target at the moment of impact. Therefore, you can replace the olympic lifts with other weighted triple extension movements.
Unconventional Training Method #1: Kettlebells
Kettlebell swings, cleans and snatches are excellent for increasing explosive power and posterior chain strength, requiring an athlete to snap the kettlebell forward using the hips, knees and ankles. They are not as technically demanding as olympic lifts, requiring a drastically shorter learning curve. They also do not place as much stress on the upper body joints like the wrists and elbows as the traditional olympic lifts. Football players already take a beating on a day to day basis, they do not need further punishment in the weight room. Long gone are the days of “no pain, no gain”, we want healthy athletes performing at their peak.
Unconventional Training Method #2: Sandbags
Action on the football field is unpredictable, never offering competitors ideal positions from which to tackle or block opponents of varying sizes over the course of a game. Strongman training is a fun, competitive way to help simulate on-the-field football situations as well as increase power amongst players at the beginner, average or elite levels.
Olympic lifting with a barbell not only requires precise technique but forces trainees to follow a path along the set vertical plane of the lift. Sandbags are a strongman implement that require an athlete to deal with awkward, strange positions due to the constantly shifting nature of the loosely packed sand. The sandbag clean and press develops explosive power as well as grip strength. The lift’s instability from rep to rep forces the body to perform out of line, strengthening the joints and tendons.
Unconventional Training Method #3: Medicine Ball
As previously stated, the olympic lifts only train the vertical plane of motion. Football players continually shift position during the course of a game, requiring explosiveness in multiple planes of motion. Medicine ball throwing variations are great at developing power along both the horizontal and vertical planes.
When teaching an athlete the proper tackling technique, they learn to accelerate though their opponent. The explosive quality of medicine ball throws allow a trainee to accelerate through to the completion of the lift because the med ball leaves their hands. The low impact nature of throwing variations like the overhand throw, backward throw, scoop throw, rotational throw and kneeling throw are all great teachers of triple extension without the risk of injury prevalent in olympic lifting.
With the proper coaching, olympic lifts are hard to beat for improving explosive power, but the majority of football players never learned proper technique. When combined, kettlebells, sandbags and medicine balls forge an explosive power workout developing triple extension in the hip, knees and ankles to create unstoppable football players.
Explosive Power Workout:
The following is an example of an explosive power workout utilizing triple extension movements. Use a moderate weight, it should be heavy but you should not struggle on any of the reps. Remember to take adequate rest in between each exercise. The goal of this workout is not strength or conditioning, but power.
A1: Backward Med Ball Toss – 2 rounds x 5 throws.
A2: Rotational Med Ball Toss – 2 rounds x 5 throws (each side).
A3: Kneeling Med Ball Toss: – 2 rounds x 5 throws
B1: Sandbag Clean and Press: 5 rounds x 5 reps.
C1: Resistance Band Kettlebell Swings – 3 rounds x 15 reps.