Football Players: Train Smart to Build Up Strength

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Ray Rice

Football requires a rare combination of size, speed and strength. To acquire these attributes, you must optimize your time in the weight room. Walking into the gym and randomly doing a few exercises won't produce the strength gains you want. You should spend about an hour in the weight room, and you must maximize that time to get the best results. Here are a few easy ways to optimize your time and develop the size and strength needed to dominate on the field.

Choose a Main Exercise
Let's assume you just finished your dynamic warm-up. Now what? Simple: do a main exercise.

Decide whether you're going to do a lower- or upper-body workout. Regardless of the focus, do your main—and most important—lift first. For the lower body, great main lifts are Front Squats, Back Squats, Sumo Deadlifts, Trap Bar Deadlifts, Tire Flips, Hang Power Cleans and Barbell Jump Squats. If it's an upper-body day, stick to the Bench Press, Floor Press, Overhead Press, Incline Press or Push Press.

Once you select your main exercise, how many sets and reps should do you do? My advice is to keep the reps on the low side and the sets higher. Perform three to six sets of three to five reps. By training with low reps for multiple sets, you'll be able to increase the weight on the bar and really get strong!

Add in Supersets
The main exercise is the most important,  so it's going to take the longest. Generally, the main lift will take 15 to 25 minutes. To optimize this time, try supersets—insert an easy-to-do exercise between sets of your main exercise.

You don't want a difficult or strenuous superset exercise to take away from your main lift, so choose wisely! Some great ideas for lower-body workout days are Supermans, Glute Bridges and Kettlebell Swings. For upper-body days, try Chin-Ups, Band Pull-Aparts or Inverted Rows. Don't go too hard—stick with one set of six to 10 reps between sets of your main exercise.

Supplement With Circuits
After your main exercise, you should have about 25 or 30 minutes left in the weight room. You still have "supplementary" exercises to do—ones that work your weak areas and improve your strength for your main exercises. Generally, you want to do three or four supplementary exercises after your main lift. But if you do them individually, it could take longer than 30 minutes to finish four exercises.

There's a better option. Do them in a circuit. Not only will you be able to get more work done in less time, you will also improve your conditioning and stamina by performing your supplementary lifts in a circuit. Do two to four rounds of three to four exercises. Make sure your supplementary exercises are quality ones that will improve your strength for your main lift.

Good examples of lower-body supplementary exercises are Romanian Deadlifts (RDLs), Step-Ups, Lunges, Sled Drags, Back Extensions, Glute Ham Raises, Goblet Squats, Splits Squats and Band Goodmornings. Upper-body supplementary exercises can include any type of Dumbbell Press variation—overhead, bench, incline, floor, one arm or alternating. Also, try incorporating Dips, Chin-Ups, DB Rows, Seated Rows, Inverted Rows, Band Pull-Aparts, Push-Ups or Facepulls.

Pick three or four exercises and do two to four rounds. A general rule: for any muscle in the front of your body—chest, shoulders and quads—do six to 10 reps for each exercise; for muscles you can't see in the mirror—upper back, lower back, glutes and hamstrings—do 12 to 20 reps.

Below are examples of entire lower- and upper-body workouts that you can try. These are templates for organizing strength training. You can change them up by substituting some of the exercises listed above.

Lower-Body Workout Day

1a. Front Squat — 5x3
1b. Supermans — x10 (superset with Front Squat)
2a. DB Step-Ups — 3x6 each leg
2b. RDL — 3x12
2c. Forward Sled Drag — 3x20 yards

Upper-Body Workout Day

1a. Standing Overhead Press — 5x5
1b. Band Pull-Aparts — x15 (superset with Standing Overhead Press)
2a. DB Bench Press — 3x6 each arm
2b. DB One-Arm Row — 3x12 each arm
2c. Band Push-Ups — 3x10
2d. Band Facepulls — 3x15

By structuring and planning your strength training with these tips, you will optimize your time in the weight room and maximize your results. If you have any questions about the program, contact me at

Connor Flahive is the owner and head sports performance coach at Flahive's Advanced Strength Training (F.A.S.T.) in Park Ridge, Ill. F.A.S.T. specializes in strength, power and speed training for power sports. Flahive is a certified high school strength and conditioning specialist through the IYCA. He played football at the D-I level while earning his bachelor's degree in exercise science at Northern Illinois University. Visit his website at and view his channel at

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