To be a game-breaking wide receiver like Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall, Larry Fitzgerald, or Andre Johnson, you need to have a combination of near-superhuman agility, raw footspeed, and explosive power.
Wideouts must be able to master wide range of skills—catching passes under duress, reading defenses, creating separation from cornerbacks—and that preparation starts in the gym.
“As a wide receiver, you need to do a little bit of everything well,” says Roy Holmes, C.S.C.S., performance specialist at EXOS. “In the gym, the top five areas of focus for pass-catchers should be leg strength, coordination, endurance, speed, and power.”
Improving power in your lower body is key to increasing speed and agility: “To improve speed you have to be strong—and no, I don’t mean just being able to squat 600 pounds,” says Holmes, who has previously trained NFL players like Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and San Diego Chargers cornerback Jason Verrett. Holmes previously shared a routine with Men’s Fitness that he developed closely with Verrett to help the cornerback increase his lower-body strength, flexibility, and single-leg strength, and many of those techniques can be helpful to wide receivers, too.
“It’s not just brute strength,” Holmes says. “The stronger an athlete is, the better they should be able to apply force. Without strength, force cannot be produced at a high rate of speed.”
Holmes put together an exclusive workout routine for Men’s Fitness that all football players—but especially wide receivers—can use to boost speed and power in your lower body:
Exercise 1: Lunge Hip Stretch— “World’s Greatest Stretch”
What to do: Do 1 set of 3-4 reps for each leg.
How to do it: Step into a lunge position with your left leg out front, knee bent, and thigh parallel to the ground. Keep your right leg straight back with a slight bend at the knee, keeping your arms at your sides, hands down on the ground. Rotate upwards and reach straight up with your right arm, hold the stretch for a beat, then bring the arm back down to starting position. Repeat for amount of reps, then switch legs.
What it does: This move will loosen up your lower body and works the hamstrings, glutes, hips, and calves. “Flexibility is key when it comes to being a wide receiver,” Holmes says. “Flexibility helps not only with extending an athlete’s career, but also with body control and coordination.”
Exercise 2: Box Jumps
What to do: Use a 24″–30″ box or a height you are comfortable with. Do 3-4 sets of 5 reps.
How to do it: Stand in front of the box with your feet about hip-width apart. Swing your arms back, then bend down in a squat-like position before swinging your arms forward and jumping up onto the box. Holmes says to make sure the power comes from your hips and knees and target the middle of the box for your landing. Take a relaxed step off the box and repeat.
What it does: The box jump helps build power and strength in your lower body, working most of the muscles in your legs, including your calves, quads, and posterior chain. The exercise helps increase balance, coordination, and agility. “An explosive lower body is essential for all great wideouts,” says Holmes. “This exercise increases power. Having the ability to explode off the line and get in and out of breaks are key for all football players, especially wide receivers.”
Exercise 3: Bulgarian Split Squat
What to do: 3 sets of 6-8 reps for each leg, with dumbbells of a comfortable weight.
How to do it: Stand facing away from a bench or box, holding a dumbbell in each hand straight at your sides. Lift your left leg and extend back and rest it on the bench behind you, the top of your foot facing down on the bench. Lower your hips down until your back knee dips just above the floor and your right thigh is parallel to the floor. Rise back up to starting position. Repeat for the number of reps, then switch legs.
What it does: Single-leg exercises are key for wide receivers, and this move helps increase balance and stability in the lower body by working the hamstrings, quads, glutes, and hips. “Power is the name of the game, but there is no power without strength,” says Holmes. “This exercise is great as a single-leg strength builder. Plus, it’s a similar to the stance that a wide receiver would execute before accelerating.”
Exercise 4: Pullups/Chinups
What to do: 2-3 sets of 6-8 reps on a pullup bar.
How to do it: Grab the pullup bar with your palms facing away from you (for pullups), stick out your chest, and start to bring your torso up to the bar. Bring your body up and touch the bar with your upper chest, go back down, and repeat. For chinups, grip the bar with your palms facing your body and perform the similar movement for the amount of reps.
What it does: This move requires the use of many muscles in your upper body, including your traps, triceps, deltoids, and pecs. You’ll add strength to your arms, chest, and shoulders, plus it hits the core and middle-upper back muscles too. A strong core is key for football players with the different movements and rapid changes in direction on the field.
“In the hierarchy of core exercises, this is probably 1A, with 1B being pushups,” Holmes says. “Having strong lats not only provides support, but also the stability that links the muscles of the upper body to the lower body. As an added bonus, pullups also help build grip strength, which is a huge component when it comes to catching passes.”
Exercise 5: Body Saw
What to do: Do 2-3 sets of 8-10 reps. You can use towels, bands, or pads for the sliding movements.
How to do it: Start in a front plank position with your elbows on the ground, forearms facing forward, and hands together in front of you, forming a triangle with your arms. (Many athletes choose to place a pad under their forearms). With your legs straight back, put each foot on a towel/sliding pad. Keeping your core and legs straight and your arms stationary, extend your arms and slide your body and legs back about a foot of distance. Then contract your arms again, bringing yourself back to starting position. Continue for the amount of reps.
What it does: This movement works your entire midsection, helping to stabilize your muscles and strengthen your core. This exercise is easier on your back compared to some other core/ab workouts and can even help you get a six-pack if that’s what you’re looking for.
“In order for an exercise to be considered a true core exercise it not only needs to provide support, but dynamic support,” says Holmes. “This movement does that.”