When it comes to training for sports, not all exercises are created equal. This is especially true for a sport like football, which relies on an athlete's explosive power. Power is different from strength. Power is strength plus speed—how quickly you can move a mass. So to become a better football player, you can’t just work on exercises that get you stronger; you need to work on exercises that will make you stronger and faster.
Unfortunately, too many athletes fall in to using the machines at a gym instead of more simple (and more challenging) exercises that will ultimately make them better football players. Here are three moves you should ditch, and three other (better) football exercises you should do instead.
If you’re doing Leg Presses, do Squats instead
Regardless of your position, it is crucial to have strong and powerful legs. Linemen need lower-body strength and power to block; running backs need it to run through holes and over defenders; and defensive players need it to help drag runners to the ground. The Leg Press is not the best way to develop this strength and power. Think functionally here. When on the football field will a player ever be in a seated position pushing up against something with his legs? The answer is “never.” So he shouldn't be training his body this way.
Squats, in contrast, are among the most functional exercises any athlete (including football players) can do. Think about how well the movement translates to on-field action: the athlete must brace his core, keep his head up, sink down into the basic athletic position, and explode back into an extended position. Sounds a lot like delivering a block or a tackle, doesn’t it? (See Athletes' Performance NFL Workout: Lower-Body Superset for Power and Speed.)
If you’re doing Hamstring Curls, do Cleans instead
Strengthening the posterior chain (i.e., the back, glutes, and hamstrings) is crucial for overall athletic development. This is where speed and explosive power originate. However, isolated movements, such as Hamstring Curls on a machine, don’t cut it. Here again, think: When will a player be lying down on the field curling his hamstrings in isolation? It won’t happen.
To train explosive power and develop speed in the posterior chain, there is no better exercise than the Clean. Whether performed from the ground or from a hang position, the Clean is incredibly beneficial for athletes looking to develop their explosive power. Every bit of the movement mimics the explosive nature of football, directly translating into speed and power on the field. Knowing how to perform a proper Clean is important for reaping the benefits, so be sure to seek out a professionally certified trainer before you attempt the exercise. (See 5 Reasons Why Football Players Should Power Clean.)
If you’re doing Leg Extensions, do Lunges instead
Everyone likes to train the muscles they can see, and the quadriceps are no exception. However, athletes with overly dominant quads are more likely to suffer a hamstring injury and experience tightness and restriction in the hips, both of which can hinder their performance.
Instead of working just the quads with Leg Extensions, target the upper legs and posterior chain with Walking Lunges. They recruit your glutes and hamstrings along with your quads, and they're great for speed development. Lunges promote quadriceps development without letting them overpower the hamstrings, creating a better balance of strength in your leg muscles. (See The Perfect Superset for Speed.)