By Steven Morris
Lineman need to be the most explosive players on the football field…
You may not get top billing in the newspaper. You won't see many fans wearing your jersey. You'll probably never score a touchdown. But, you are the most important players on the field. The game of football starts and ends with the big guys up front. A team with good lineman will be successful, even if their "skill" players are lacking.
The problem is, most lineman, especially at the High School level, are put on the same training programs as everyone else. Tons of bench presses and maybe some squats. They are given very little direction when it comes to diet because, hey, they're lineman and therefore should be fat right?
Not only should linemen not be fat, they should be big, strong, and athletic!
Simply building a team around a bunch of fat "hogs" might have worked well years ago, but in today's football, speed is king. Lineman need to be strong and explosive! Defensive lineman on the pro level demonstrate this quite well. More and more we are seeing huge Defensive lineman who look a lot more like a bodybuilder than a sumo wrestler!
The following seven exercise are designed to make you the biggest, strongest, most explosive lineman on the field. This group of exercises can and should be used by both Offensive and Defensive lineman. Follow along and I guarantee you will be owning people on the field in no time!
Squats get most of the attention in most football programs, but Deadlifts are vital if you want to be a successful lineman.
The Deadlift will train every muscle the lineman needs to be strong and explosive: the calfs, hamstrings, glutes, spinal erectors, lats, and traps. Deadlifts also hit the abdominals quite well in a stabilizing role…much like when you are pushing against a live opponent.
Now, the squat trains many of these same muscles, so why is the Deadlift better? Power. The starting power that is developed when you learn to pull a heavy bar from a dead stop off the ground is invaluable! While the squat can also develop power, there is some rebound at the bottom. The Deadlift, however, requires you to turn on your Central Nervous System (CNS) and activate a huge amount of muscle fibers in an extremely short amount of time.
Think about it, most of the time, lineman are stationary, in a 3-point stance. They are paused, waiting for the snap and must fire out of position with no momentum to rely on…just pure power.
Louie Simmons has written about this several times. He's seen college football players who were extremely strong come into Westside Barbell and just flat out be unable to display explosive strength! Lack of Deadlifting is one of the main causes. Too many power cleans in place of the DL is another.
Deadlifts help build this power. Plus, they will add slabs of muscle to the legs, back and traps. Useful, functional muscle that can help you dominate opponents.
Deadlifts should be done for low reps, with heavy weights. Treat them with the utmost respect because if you relax for even one second during a heavy pull, you can really hurt yourself. I suggest performing Deads once per week for 3 - 4 weeks before moving on to the next big leg exercise.
2. Box Front Squats
The Front Squat (FS) is an excellent exercise for building leg strength…so can box squats. So, let's combine them into one super effective exercise that will help your legs grow and build tremendous leg strength and power.
Also factor in the hand position while holding the bar. Your hands are up, much like they are in a block and you must drive the weight up…just like blocking.
I like doing FS off the box for several reasons:
Builds explosive power by forcing you to explode off the box
Eliminates guessing on depth
Allows you to keep your shins straight up and in line with the knee, rather than having your knees go over the toes, as in the Olympic Lifting version of the FS. From personal experience I can tell you that too many of the latter can aggravate the hell out of your knees.
Sitting way back on the box helps turn the FS from a mostly quad-dominant movement into more of a total leg exercise.
Think of the position you are in while on the box…your hips are sunk, you are sitting back, and you are tight and ready to explode…sound familiar? (This is also true of Back Box Squatting)
The added ab work is an excellent way to ensure your midsection can withstand even the harshest of tasks.
3. DB Incline Bench Press
The Bench Press is a favorite of athletes everywhere, but, frankly, it's overrated. The bench press is a good exercise, but it's far from the best pressing movement, especially for lineman.
A better option is the Incline Bench. It's a much better angle that's much closer to the path your arms take when delivering a punch on the field. Also, the Incline can be used as a Max Effort movement. But, the incline is limited because of the very narrow bar path you must take to avoid losing the lift.
The Dumbbell Incline solves this problem by allowing your much more freedom in hand placement and pressing path. Because you can press the DB's with the tradition supine hand position or you can press them with a parallel grip, which almost exactly how you deliver a blow with your hands, the DB Incline is the best option for lineman.
Not only will it improve power in the same path as a block, but it will strengthen the upper pecs, shoulders, and triceps. It's also an excellent movement for adding quality, usable muscle to your upper body.
The DB Incline can be done with heavy weights for low reps, with moderate weight for medium reps or for higher reps. It's an extremely versatile movement that should be part of every lineman's program!
The Prowler may be one of the most useful tools for football players ever invented.
Lineman, both O and D, need to be able to get into a low, athletic stance and push and drive with maximum force. They need to be able to move against great resistance, because not only is the guy across from you big, he's probably strong too.
Leg strength is built in the weightroom with Deadlifts and Box Squats. But, if you rely on weightroom exercises alone, you are leaving a lot on the table!
The Prowler and Sleds are an excellent "bridge" between weightroom strength and on the field strength. First, in order to push a heavy Prowler or pull a heavy sled, you need tremendous leg strength, which is built in the gym. Second, you need to be able to apply that strength in multiple planes of motion, at many different angles, and in a fairly awkward position. This simply can't be accomplished with weights alone. You need a way to train for the transition of power, and the Prowler is the perfect tool
Aside from just the basic high or low push, it can also be pulled from multiple angles. Training your lateral strength with the Prowler will allow you to be in a better position when scraping down the line, when posting during pass blocking, and when taking off into a sprint from a stance (as in pulling).
5. Clean and Jerk
The Olympic Lifts have their place in a good strength program. The Clean and Jerk (C&J) is an excellent exercise for lineman because it requires them to apply power from the ground up.
The C&J is excellent for identifying weaknesses in the body. If your lower back or abs aren't up to par, you'll find out fast when attempting a heavy C&J!
There are three huge benefits to doing C&J's:
Foot Work: Moving the feet into position quickly and explosively while simultaneously pushing a heavy weight overhead will do wonders for a lineman's footwork. Footwork drills have their place, but the ability to move the feet while also pushing with the upper body (as in blocking) is crucial!
Conditioning: Even coaches who disagree with the use of the O-lifts for strength tend to agree that doing C&J's can really provide some hard-core conditioning work! Louie Simmons has written about using DB C&J's for high reps for conditioning. Both the bar and DB's could be used for this purpose.
Mental Toughness: There are some exercises that are just ball-busters…the C&J is one of the toughest! Many players have good technique, decent strength, but they just can't seem to get the job done on the field. 99% of the time, it's because they are weak mentally. Mental toughness must be built in the weightroom in the off-season! Don't try to wait until the season starts, by then, it's too late. A steady diet of Deads, C&J's, Prowler work and Squats is just what the mentally weak player needs.
For those who are absolutely dead-set against the O-lifts, remember that the Clean and Jerk can be done with DB's, Sandbags, Thick Bars, Barrels, and just about any other heavy object(s).
6. One Arm Row
This probably seems like an odd pick, considering the rest of the exercises listed so far are big, compound movements. But, the One Arm Row (1AR) is a completely under-rated exercise for lineman.
Lineman need strong backs…to pull, and frankly, if you don't have a big muscular back, be prepared to have your ribs or spine busted up. Anyone who's every played O or D line can tell you that running backs and linebackers will think nothing of running full speed into your back. I'd suggest having a little padding so you don't get killed…which would seriously hinder your career.
More importantly, 1AR's, when done without putting your opposite knee on the bench, but rather using only the non working hand to brace against a bench, allows you to use a motion that is very similar to one used in blocking.
The 1AR can train for the simultaneous Push/Pull with opposite hands that takes place when trying to turn someone's shoulders.
I suggest using both low and high reps for 1AR's. I've gone as low as doubles, and will often have an athlete do this when they are hitting a wall in their back development. Using very high reps (20+) can also be beneficial…if you use real weight. Don't try to pull a 15lb DB for high reps and think you've done something. You're as big as an animal, train like one!
7. Bulgarian Split Squats
This is a painful, humbling exercise. I have a love/hate relationship with it…I love the results, hate the process!
Lineman need to be strong in the legs, no doubt, but we MUST fight against strength imbalances in the legs. There will be times when you are on one leg (posting, sliding, sprinting) and you need to make sure that both legs are super strong on their own.
Bulgarian Squats can help you develop strength in the working leg by helping it become strong enough to support a high percent of you bodyweight…much like sprinting or sliding or posting.
I tend to follow a heavy movement with a single leg exercise like Bulgarians. I've also seen good results when having my athletes follow their DE move with a single leg exercise. It's best to stick with a traditional 3 - 4 sets of 6 - 10 reps.
8. Bonus: Side Lunges
Not sure what kind of bonus this is, since no matter how little weight one uses, they are always extremely sore the next day. Normally, soreness isn't a goal, but when I see it in myself or one of my clients after a side lunge, I know that muscles that were being under-trained previously are now being worked.
As stated earlier, single leg strength is important. But, single leg strength moving laterally may be even more important! O-lineman need to slide laterally, post and gather, and take off from a lateral position, as in pulling. D-lineman need to be able to scrape down the line laterally, then take off into a sprint. If your legs are week moving side-to-side, you will not be effective.
I've seen so many players who were just so close to being great flounder, then, after adding single leg work and hammering the lateral movements, suddenly begin to make tackles they were a step slow on the previous season. Lineman who were a step slow in pass blocking begin to become impenetrable walls.
Proceed with caution if you haven't done these before as they can cause extreme soreness. Again, a traditional 3 sets of 6 - 10 will be sufficient.
Steven Morris is a Strength Coach in the Philadelphia and South Jersey areas and owner of Explosive Football Training. He still plays football and will only retire at gun-point. He has been lifting weights for over 16 years and has been helping people achieve their fitness and strength goals for over a decade.
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