Elite Lineman Training Guide: Bodyweight Exercises

Football lineman training starts with body control. STACK Expert J.R. Niklos prescribes eight bodyweight exercises to help you gain power in the trenches.

Lineman Training

For a football lineman to control the line of scrimmage, he must first control his own body. The following lineman training exercises will give you the tools you need to dominate.

Lineman Training Program

Wall Squat

Purpose: At our training center, a lineman must first successfully do a Wall Squat before he can place a bar on his back. It doesn't matter if you can Squat 500 pounds if you can't Squat properly. The Wall Squat helps a lineman activate the back side of his body (lower back, glutes, hamstrings), where all of his power comes from. This exercise also teaches the proper angles and weight distribution needed to control an opponent in the trenches.

  • Stand with your feet a little wider than shoulder-width with your toes as close to the wall as you can get.
  • Extend your arms to the side with your nose close to the wall.
  • Hinge your hips away from the wall.
  • Sit back from the wall, keeping your knees behind your toes and your nose close to the wall.
  • Try to lower yourself to a 90-degree angle by bending your knees and pressing them out. If you cannot go down to 90 degrees without falling back, keep practicing by going as low as you can and pause for a 10-count.
  • Rise up and attempt to go lower the next rep.

Sets/Reps: 3x15

Big-Boy Pull-Ups

Purpose: Lineman play is extremely "push" dominant. You strike, punch and push your opponent on every play. The counter movement is the "pull." For a lineman to reach his full potential, his push strength must be balanced out with his pull strength. This exercise will enhance your upper-body power and keep you healthy.

  • Find a bar you can grip a little higher than arm's length above the floor. A low bar on a squat rack is a great option.
  • Lie face-up on the floor with your hands on the bar a little wider than shoulder-width.
  • Keeping a straight line from your knee to your neck, raise your body by driving your elbows down toward the floor.
  • Flex your upper back (lats) by pushing your shoulders down away from your ears.
  • Keep your shoulder blades pinched and your body tight the entire time.

Sets/Reps: 3x15

Single Leg Bridge with External Rotation

Purpose: This exercise strengthens the muscles you use when you are engaged with your opponent and trying to drive him back. The leg rotation strengthens the muscles needed to fire out of your stance.

  • Lie on your back and bring your feet close to your body, keeping your heels on the ground.
  • Lift your left leg while keeping your knees aligned.
  • Raise your hips off the floor by driving your right heel into the ground. Do this until you form a straight line from your knee to your neck.
  • Pause for a brief count.
  • Rotate your left leg to the side, keeping your knees level.
  • Point your left foot to the side.
  • Pause for a count before returning your leg back and dropping your hips to the ground.

Sets/Reps: 2x15 (each leg)

Push-Up Drops

Purpose: As a lineman, you are not only generating force, you are also absorbing it. Offensive linemen have to take on force from a defender like a bull rush. Defensive linemen have to take on force like a pulling guard doing a kick-out block. Therefore, it is essential to incorporate exercises like this into any program of lineman training. Note: Master the Push-Up before attempting this exercise.

  • Assume a push-up position next to a 6- to 12-inch block.
  • Place one hand on the box.
  • Quickly remove your hand from the box and land as softly as you can on the floor. Have good elbow bend, but do not allow your elbows to go below 90 degrees.

Sets/Reps: 1x10 (each arm)

Equal Opposite Plank Holds

Purpose: If the middle of your body is not strong and stable, it doesn't matter how strong your upper or lower body is. Core strength helps an offensive lineman achieve better balance in his strike and prevent defenders from shedding his block once he has engaged. Core strength helps a defensive lineman take tight angles to the ball carrier and shed the blocker. This is one of my favorite core exercises, as it engages the entire core area while challenging your balance and stability.

  • Assume plank position.
  • In unison, raise your right arm and left leg into the air. Your arm should be at a 90-degree angle with your thumb pointed up.
  • Squeeze your glutes and legs.
  • Flex your core to help your body remain in a straight line.
  • Keep your face over your left hand.
  • Hold for 20 seconds, then switch sides.

Sets/Reps: 2x20 seconds (each side)

Push/Pull Lunge Holds

Purpose: Rarely is any lineman movement done with both feet directly underneath the body, yet we prioritize exercises like the Squat and the Deadlift. This exercise develops the strength you need when your legs are apart from each other.

  • Get into a lunge stance by widening your feet to around arm's length.
  • Drop your hips so you have a 45-degree knee bend on both legs.
  • Keep your chest perpendicular to the ground.
  • Drive your front heel into the ground, trying to pull the turf directly beneath your body. You should feel this in your front hamstring.
  • With your back leg, try to push the turf toward you by driving your toe forward into the ground. You should feel this in your quads and hip flexors.
  • Do this as hard as you can for 15 seconds.
  • Repeat with other leg.

Sets/Reps: 3x15 seconds (each side)

Single Leg Box Squats

Purpose: This exercise strengthens the quadriceps, which help stabilize the knees. As a lineman, you will always be in a compact space with bodies flying everywhere into your lower body. You must keep the muscles responsible for stabilizing your ligaments strong to protect yourself from injury.

  • Stand on a 12- to 24-inch box with your right foot and hang your left foot off the box.
  • Bend your right knee and gently touch your left heel to the ground.
  • Keep your chest up, your right knee behind your toe and your hips back.
  • Do this 15 times. Repeat with other leg.

Sets/Reps: 3x15 (each leg)

Hip Horseshoes

Purpose: For a lineman, the first step is the most important, and it starts with the hip flexors. Get into your lineman stance and lift one leg without rising up. If that is difficult for you, you need stronger hips. Most linemen have bigger legs than other players, so they must develop stronger hip flexors to match their additional leg mass.

  • Find anything you can lift your leg over (a little higher than knee height)—like a hurdle.
  • Stand in front of the hurdle with your toes facing forward.
  • Starting on the right side of the hurdle, lift your right leg over the hurdle to the left side.
  • Keep your quadriceps flexed and your toe pointed up toward your face.
  • Without touching, bring your heel close to the floor.
  • Bring your leg back up over the hurdle to the right side. You will form an upside down "U" (horseshoe) with your leg.
  • Do 10 reps, then repeat with other leg.

Sets/Reps: 3x10 (each leg)

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