Off-Season Football Training for the NFL: Working with defensive players from the Oakland Raiders

In my career as a private strength coach, I’ve had the pleasure of working with some very talented players. I’ve helped players on teams such as the Giants, 49ers, Packers, Lions, Cardinals and Raiders. Now that I have a few in the league, it’s a pleasure to see them come back and train in the off-season. My good friend, Trevor Scott, is the best player I’ve ever trained. He’s a starting defensive end/linebacker for the Raiders. Trevor signed a four year deal with the Raiders, and gets better every year. Jay Richardson has come along this year, as well. He’s a former DE from Ohio State and also a great DE for the Raiders.

In Trevor’s 2007 combine training, there were many things to consider in order to make sure he’d have a great advantage during the season. Speed drills, maximal strength, muscular imbalance correction and others all play an important role. But, what is the best route in the off-season? How about for a player already in the league? Furthermore, what can you do when they only have 10 – 12 weeks to get better? The real fact is that players at the pro level are super fast. They can run like a track star that weighs 180 pounds – except they’re usually around 250 – 270. They’ve also been running since they picked up a football. So, their ability to get faster/stronger/better by running at this point is a waste of time. The real advantage at this level is strength, raw explosive power and size. A stronger player will be able to avoid injury and dominate opponents. The real science is bringing up a player’s strength and size, while still maintaining functional abilities.

To start, I’ll make Trevor lift like an animal. Usually the first few weeks he is so sore and wrecked that his body goes into a severe form of rebuilding. It’s not uncommon to see Trevor gain 10 pounds in a week. You must remember these guys don’t have genetics like normal people. Rather, they grow and gain 10 times faster than a normal athlete. He’ll have maximal effort days and speed days for his lifting with accessory work. The exercises will be decided by his weaknesses and what he feels he needs on the field. We learn this by watching plays from the season, and going by Trevor and his personal feedback from the field.

Besides lifting, Trevor does various types of jumping in order to increase his explosive power. More than 80 percent of his jumps are done into or onto foam blocks. This decreases the force incurred at the joint while landing. Jumping and heavy lifting are the safest and easiest way to increase explosive power – and that’s exactly what we have him do. He’ll jump using weights, vests, unilaterals, kettlebells or anything we can mix up. He will usually jump two times per week, and mix it up to make progress much quicker. Another big component is GPP. We’ll make sure Trevor is in great shape to return to camp.

No contract is set in stone, and every year a player must prove himself to the team. Our goal for Trevor and Jay is for them to be in great shape to play football. NOT run a mile, NOR to do 100 pushups. They must be explosive for a short time and recover quickly. That’s what we do with their conditioning. It’s very specific, and we keep energy waste to a minimum so we can use it elsewhere to develop other athletic abilities. Jay had to do much more upper back and hamstring work to bring up these lagging areas.

1 week sample program for T. Scott/DE-LB

Monday GPP/Jumping

·         Band stretching 15 minutes

·         Treadmill walking with 100 pound vest

·         6 x 30 seconds with 30 seconds of rest

Jump up to 30 in foam blocks

·         3 x 3 with ankle weights

·         3 x 2 with weight vest

·         3 x 2 with 16 kg kettlebells

Tuesday Max effort, lower body

·         Cambered bar squats – work up to 2RM with blue band

·         Glute ham raises 3 x fail

·         45-degree back extensions: 2 x 8 heavy as possible

·         Standing band crunches 3 x 25

·         Sled dragging 3 x 50 yards with 200 pounds

Wed Recovery

·         Dynamic flexibility 15 minutes

·         Contrast shower/hot tub

·         2 minutes hot/2 minutes cold for 5 cycles

·         2 hour nap

Thursday Max effort upper body

·         Band bench with double purple 1RM

·         One set with 50% of max weight and band for failure (reps) with narrow grip

·         Reverse hyper back rows 3 x 10 with 120 pounds

·         Rear delt rows 4 x 25 with 70 pounds

·         JM press 3 x failure (around 8 reps)

Friday GPP/Recovery

·         Dynamic Flexibility 15 minutes

·         Treadmill turned off with band around hip flexors – 8 sets of 15 second large steps

·         Hip flexor raises with 20 pounds of ankle weights – 100 reps per leg

·         Sauna or steam room – 2 minutes in and 2 minutes out in cold shower for 5 cycles

·         2 hour nap

Saturday Speed – lower

·         Band stretch 10 minutes

·         Speed squats to parallel box 10 x 2 with green band and 45% of bar weight – 30 seconds rest

·         Speed pulls 6 x 1 with double mini band and 225 sumo

·         Reverse hypers – light for restoration 3 x 15 with 100 pounds

Sunday Speed – upper

·         Speed bench using 35% of bar weight and a double mini band 10 x 3

·         Dumbbell arm extensions off floor 3 x failure with 45 pound dumbbells

·         Military press standing with dumbbells 3 x 10 progressive

·         External rotator work 3 x 20

This is a sample workout for a high-level NFL player. Days and training regimens change depending on recovery and individual weaknesses – that’s where the real magic lies in making programs for top athletes. High-level football players make it to the NFL by having great skills and great speed. NFL players stay in the league by being strong and correcting weaknesses as they age and fight off injury.

After this training cycle Trevor did some amazing things:

·         Seated box jump up to 32” foam block with 100 pound dumbbells in each hand

·         Seated jumps up to 55” box weighing 270 pounds

·         Bodyweight went from 249 to 270 in 6 weeks while lowering body fat by 3%

These are just a few goals that were met during his off-season training. I hope to see Trevor and Jay do some amazing things next season.

Matt Wenning is one of only a handful of people to total over 2600 lbs in a professional competition, hold an all-time world record of 2665 lbs in the 308-lb class, and bench press over 800 lbs in a full powerlifting meet. He currently is a private strength coach at Lexen gym in Grove City, Ohio, a personal trainer to many executives and professionals at Capital Club Athletics, and contracted by the US Army. He also works with firefighters, physicians, children with disabilities, and all forms of athletes in the Columbus, Ohio, area.

Elite Fitness Systems strives to be a recognized leader in the strength training industry by providing the highest quality strength training products and services while providing the highest level of customer service in the industry. For the best training equipment, information, and accessories, visit us at www.EliteFTS.com.

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About the Author

Matt Wenning is one of only a handful of people to total over 2600 lbs in a professional competition, hold an all-time world record of 2665 lbs in the 308-lb class, and bench press over 800 lbs in a full powerlifting meet. He currently the owner and a private strength coach at Ludus Magnus gym in Columbus, Ohio, a personal trainer to many executives and professionals at Capital Club Athletics, and contracted by the US Army. He also works with firefighters, physicians, children with disabilities, and all forms of athletes in the Columbus, Ohio, area.