Rob Gronkowski has become synonymous with unmatched athleticism, strength and raw power. With the size and strength to be an effective blocker in the running game and the soft hands and route-running skills to be devastating in the passing game, he’s the embodiment of the modern tight end.
As effective as all these skills make him, it’s his ability to bulldoze defenders on his way down the field that makes him so frightening to line up against. Let’s face it, there’s nothing quite like “Gronk strength.”
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In order to break into a route cleanly, accelerate downfield, and break multiple tackles, Gronk needs tremendously strong legs and hips, fantastic upper-body strength, a strong core to transmit force and absorb contact, and the ability to access his strength in fractions of a second.
Here are 10 of my favorite exercises for developing the raw strength, power and explosive speed that defines Gronk’s performance on the field.
Strength is the most fundamental quality you need to build in the weight room to become a better athlete. As a tight end, strength is paramount given that you need to block in addition to catching passes.
Trap Bar Deadlift
The Trap Bar Deadlift is a fantastic lower-body strength movement. The added freedom provided by the trap or hex bar versus a traditional straight bar allows for slightly more knee flexion and a more balanced action between the glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps—the key muscles for almost every athletic movement.
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The Reverse Lunge involves tremendous balance and core and hip stability, and it puts almost all of the weight on the lead leg. In relation to football, it mimics some of the same force-development characteristics a tight end needs when dragging defenders downfield. You may never carry a linebacker downfield, but you can try this exercise in the relative safety of your local gym and call it a close second.
Incline Bench Press
Much like its cousin the traditional Bench Press, the Incline Bench Press requires strong pecs, shoulders and triceps. When looking to get leverage on a player on the line of scrimmage, a tight end can use the increased angle of force to push guys back off the line and win the battle in the trenches.
Close-Grip Bench Press
For many of the same reasons that the Incline Bench Press is vital for developing football-specific strength, the Close Grip Bench Press develops strong shoulders and triceps. The narrower grip may limit the weight used, but it has tremendous carryover to the football field, because when you’re blocking, you’re taught to keep your arms tight to your sides in a motion similar motion to the Close-Grip Bench Press.
RELATED: Bench Press Grip Guide: How Hand Placement Changes the Exercise
Strength is great, but for an athlete to make use of it, he needs to be able to convert it into power. Power movements may use less weight, but they help athletes improve something called the rate of force development (RFD for short), allowing them to create enormous forces in split seconds.
Broad Jump to Medicine Ball Throw
Tight ends looking to maximize power look to their hips, and more specifically to their glutes. Strength is about moving as heavy a load as possible; power is about moving weight as quickly as possible. This advanced movement forces two violent hip extensions and is the ultimate movement for producing power. A friend of mine once watched Gronk throw a 20-pound medicine ball so far he hit a car—in the parking lot next door!
The Plyometric Push-Up picks up where the Bench Press variations leaves off by converting strength into power. This helps a tight end produce explosive power with his upper body, which is critical for driving off an opponent or throwing a strong stiff arm.
Dumbbell Clean and Jerk
Its cousin the Barbell Clean and Jerk may be more well-known, but the Dumbbell Clean and Jerk requires you to handle what’s known as a “unilateral load.” With weight on one side of your body, tremendous forces effectively try to bend you in half, which improves core strength while developing explosive power.
Medicine Ball Slam
Reaching high overhead and bringing the ball down with maximum force—almost as if you were cracking a whip—both develop effective football spiking power and coordinate muscles among your body’s entire kinetic chain. It’s a similar motion to what Gronkowski uses for his thunderous Gronk Spikes.
3-Point Stance Broad Jump
We wrap this section up with another variation on the Broad Jump. Almost every athlete can benefit from some version of this movement, and in this case we’re mimicking a very specific football position. You are teaching your body to produce maximum power from the same position you often start from off the line.
The speed work here is even lighter (relatively speaking) than the power training movements, as we’re moving along the force velocity curve and sacrificing force for fast.
When loaded heavy, it can help develop full-body strength, but when loaded light (no more than 30% of your body weight), it helps develop pure speed. Tight ends like Gronk aren’t the fastest guys on the field due to their size, but they still need speed to burn defenders.
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