It’s no secret that NFL players represent some of the best athletes in the world.
And while it’s also no secret that NFL players are also some of the most naturally talented athletes in the world—just take a look at some of these outrageous NFL Combine performances—even the best gridiron warriors need to train with focus and determination. In a game of inches, juking or breaking past a block a split-second faster could mean the difference between victory and defeat.
To help you improve your own ability on the football field, we called up Joe “Big House” Kenn, the strength and conditioning coach for the Carolina Panthers and the 2016 NFL Strength Coach of the Year. Here, Kenn offers his pro tips on becoming a stronger, faster, and more injury-resistant player.
Part I: Football core strength
Core strength is your body’s ability to stabilize itself during movements like sprints, jukes, and passes.
“For the root [a.k.a. core], we do a lot of things where the whole body is in some type of movement fashion,” Kenn says. “We’re on two feet if we can be. But we’ll also do some isolation work for stability, like dead bugs and planks.”
Exercises for core strength:
1. Total body: Turkish getup
2. Rotational: Kettlebell windmill
3. Landmine rotation
4. Lateral: Kettlebell or dumbbell
5. Side bend
6. Stabilization: Plank, dead bug series
Part II: Strength and power on the gridiron
Absolute strength is the basis for all other modalities, while power is the ability to start and stop a movement in an expedient fashion. Kenn says: “When it comes to lower-body lifts—cleans, deadlifts, and squats—you’ve got to be more conscientious because of the injury risk to the knees and lower back. Regarding power development, I’m not a big proponent of training a sport with a sport, so I’m not going to train a football player with an Olympic lifting program. However, I believe in Olympic lifting as a component for development.”
Exercises for strength and power
1. Block clean
2. Weighted box jump
3. Trap-bar deadlift
4. Front squat
5. Bench press
Part III: Football conditioning
Players need to be conditioned—aka having a good gas tank—but the training depends on position.
Kenn says: “You have to be aware of what the proper goal and recovery times are for a given group. I believe you should rest a little longer than most people do. For 100-yard runs or 300-yard shuttles, I’m going to be close to a 3-to-1 ratio [rest to work].”
Exercises for conditioning
1. 300-yard shuttle runs
2. 50+ reps of short runs and drills
3. Run/walk intervals
Part IV: Agility on the football field
Agility means proper footwork and quickness to be able to change directions and react on a play.
Kenn says: “We train agility on the field with our conditioning work. We’ll do two different components of agility. One is what I call ‘programmed agility,’ which are standardized drills like shuttles and cone work. Then the more important stuff is your position-specific agility.”
Exercises for agility
1. 5-10-5 pro agility
2. 3-cone drill
3. Stepping over bags (linebackers, running backs)
4. Back pedaling and swiveling the hips (defensive backs)
Part V: Football prehab
Prehab entails utilizing mobility drills, warmup sequences, and accessory work to help prevent injury.
Kenn says: “I would tell any athlete in any sport to train the neck. It goes back to talking about the root. It’s all based on posture. Drop your head and where does the rest of your body go? In any sport, your ability to control your head movement is important.”
Exercises to prevent injury:
2. Banded overhead pull-apart
3. Glute-ham raise
4. Four-way neck machine
5. Neck rotation