When it comes to football strength training, I’m a simple man. I love the basics—racks, bars, tons of plates. Those are the bread and butter of all training programs and, frankly, all you need to make some progress. But I also love to add new tools to the weight room as often as possible. It keeps things interesting (this is especially important for football) and allows you to work the body from many different angles and from multiple positions.
The problem is I’m what most would call cheap. I prefer savvy, but it doesn’t seem to stick so cheap it is. Actually, when it comes to weight room tools, I’m more savvy than cheap. I tend to evaluate the usefulness of a tool based on:
- how important it is for the job it accomplishes
- how many different uses I can get out of it
Frankly, the best training tools are those you can use for many different exercises. I started thinking back to my first job as a strength coach at a small high school where I had a small room with a barbell and a bench and a budget of zero. With that in mind, I looked around our weight room this morning and came up with the top ten tools I purchased for under $75. All are excellent at getting the job done and most have a myriad of uses. For coaches or athletes without a lot of money to spend, these tools are an awesome addition to your strength program.
1. Blast straps
Football players should do more push-ups. They’re a great exercise for the shoulders and triceps and, if you add resistance wisely, they can be a very challenging exercise. They’re a great way to add quality bulk to the upper body, which most high school players desperately need.
The problem is most guys can do tons of push-ups. That can make the normal version pretty boring and ineffective. Enter blast straps.
Blast straps may be one of the most underutilized tools in the football training world. Their versatility makes them an awesome addition to any football program’s weight room. As I said earlier, one of the ways I evaluate new tools is by how many uses we can get out of them. On that front, blast straps get an A+.
First, as far as doing push-ups, it’s a whole different world from the standard version. The straps require much more balance and stabilization (always a good thing) and make the movement much more difficult. Plus, it’s easy to add bands and/or chains to the movement, making the push-up a true mass building exercise.
Blast strap push-ups with bands (left); adding chains on power belt (right)
You can get really crazy and do as many reps with the bands/chains as possible. Or remove one, keep going, and remove the other. Then go for as many with just body weight as possible.
While push-ups are great, they are far from the end of the line for blast straps. There is an endless array of exercises possible with the straps, but the three that stand out are:
- Inverted rows (fat man’s chin-up)
- Triceps ladders
- Multiple grip chin-ups
Blast straps come with two D-handles, which can be easily looped over a chinning bar. This alone is worth the price of admission! The handles can swivel so that you can easily change grips while doing chin-ups (palms in, palms out, palms facing, palms mixed, etc.). This is a great feature, especially for bigger guys like me who get shoulder/wrist problems from doing a standard chin-up. By simply turning your hands slightly, the pain is gone and the chinning power can begin.
Bands have revolutionized football training. They’ve allowed us to become so much faster and more explosive that it’s almost unreal. What they can do for intermediate and advanced athletes has to be seen to be believed.
Most of those reading this know that simply lifting a barbell as fast as possible isn’t optimal for speed training. The body slows the bar down near lockout, and we often under work the strongest part of the lift. Bands can correct this and have us live up to our full speed potential. Beginners are ready for bands in the traditional way. But there are other uses for bands that are less extreme.
First and maybe most important to a coach or player with little budget is that bands can easily be used in place of cables. Not only are they a suitable replacement, they are often better because you can slow the eccentric portion. You have to “fight it” and then explode up. This is ideal for those who need to gain mass, especially in the back and shoulder girdle.
Bands, either choked or looped and doubled, are excellent for rows (one arm, seated, low row, motorcycle rows) and exercises like face pulls. They can be used for just about every biceps and triceps movement as well as for shoulder work and neck work. (Attached to a neck harness, this also gives you a more efficient way to work the head moving forward.) They can be used for leg curls and extensions, pull-thrus, leg adductions/abductions, and good mornings. The list is endless. Plus, you can easily stump the band around your back for extra resistance on dumbbell incline and bench, push-ups, and flies.
Now, with the new short bands, the job is even easier. You won’t have to loop the bands or choke them and walk back 20 feet. This is great for those with limited space. Plus, for the more advanced guys, the short bands are much easier to set up and ensure even tension on both sides of the bar. Using the D-handles that come with the blast straps makes the movement feel much more natural and cable like, so using them would be a very wise move.
OK, this one kind of goes against the versatility rule. With IronMind’s Captains of Crush Grippers, you can basically only train your grip. But it’s such an important facet of football training that I’ll bend the rules here.
Some people have questioned the role of grip strength in football. Unless we’ve all gone back in time to the 1960s and have reverted to the “arms across the chest electric football” style of blocking, we need grip strength. Plus, as much as we all want to believe that we always tackle with 100 percent perfect form, there are times when all you have between the ball carrier and the end zone is a handful of jersey. You’d better be able to hold on until help arrives or you’ll be watching that play in the film session for a long, long time.
To belt or not to belt—that is the question! Actually, the answer is yes. When I was in high school, we wore power belts. Then I got more into Olympic lifting and stopped using one. When I came back to a more powerlifting heavy style, I started sans belt. I felt something was missing.
My guys all wore belts, so finally I figured I’d give it a shot. My deadlift instantly shot up. The tightness it gives off the floor or out of the hole is amazing. And the better you get at using your abs against the belt, the more effective it becomes.
Many feel that a belt is a crutch for weak abs, but the opposite is true. If your abs aren’t strong, the belt is worthless. If you want to instantly be able to lift more weight (which makes you strong and faster for football), invest a few bucks in a quality power belt.
I realize it isn’t very manly to talk about recovery methods, but frankly, if you don’t take care of the restoration end of training, you’ll be left in the dust. Football is a brutal game filled with wonderfully violent collisions for up to three hours.
NFL players are known for getting top-notch massages semi-daily to deal with the pounding they take. I’m going to assume that most high school and college players can’t afford this on a part-time income, so we’ll go for the next best thing—Pro foam rollers.
Rollers are like a mini-massage. They can help break up a lot of the adhesions and, well, “crap” that builds up in your system after training or playing hard. Frankly, I was resistant to the whole concept until about five years ago when they completely changed my life. I was able to move, regained flexibility, and felt better than ever after only a solid week of using these little gems. Many other players have experienced similar results.
Remember this—if you take the field sore but the guy who wants your job is fresh, how long do you think you’ll hold on to it?
6. Neck harness
Neck harnesses are old-school and brutally effective. Yes, they mostly have one use, but the importance of neck flexibility and strength in a football strength program can’t be underestimated. It can literally save your life.
You can start or end every session with 2–3 sets of 10–20 reps each way with the neck harness and your neck will blow up. I suggest using bands with the harness to easily switch from the back to the sides to the front. Go with higher reps at first. The last thing you want to do is go crazy and hurt your neck.
7. Towel strap and other handles
I love different handles for cable/band exercises—triceps ropes, v-bars, rotating handles. They’re all such a great addition to your weight room and allow you to train in a slightly different way all the time. However, my favorite has to be the Spud towel strap. My guys absolutely love this. I think it’s because of the thick handles and its versatility.
Attaching them to a cable or band makes an especially effective way to do seated rows or face pulls. They also make a great handle to use on the sled or Prowler. It’s great for all upper body work, including fall-away curls and all triceps movements. Plus, they’re strong as hell. We’ve put the towel strap through the hell that only football players can and it doesn’t show even a hint of strain.
What more classic way to test strength and have friendly competition than the good ‘ole tug of war? What a great way to work grip and back strength in a real world situation! These can also be used to do arm over arm pulls on a sled or Prowler. This is an excellent way to build the biceps and forearms.
You can loop the rope over a chinning rack and do a rather wicked version of chin-ups. This is also accomplished with Elite’s dual rack ropes, but because they’re over the price limit for this article, we’ll keep it simple and stick with the tug of war rope.
Sandbags are, as I’ve often said, the best way to close the gap that exists between the weight room and the football field. Sandbags force you to work the stabilizers hard. They put you in awkward positions and make you work from odd angles, just like in football! Adding these to your football strength training would be a very wise move.
They are great for conditioning and for strength. If you go with Josh Henkin’s sandbags, you get the added option of attaching chains and bands to the handles. Considering the nearly unlimited amount of exercises that can be done with sandbags, they definitely meet the versatility criterion. They are the perfect addition to any solid, football weight training plan. They’re also ideal for wrestlers and you crazy MMA guys.
Start slow. These bags are much heavier than their “weight.” You’ll see what I mean.
10. Five-lb training plates
One of the problems with teaching the clean or deadlift to a new player is that sometimes the athlete isn’t strong enough to start with 135 lbs. So he begins pulling from an abnormally low height. Enter the bigger, faster, stronger 5-lb training plate.
These are 5-lb plates made of a hard rubber that are the size of a 45-lb plate. This innovation is one of the few things BFS ever got right, but, it’s a good one. These are great for freshman football players or any female athletes. It allows them to pull from the proper height and do so in good form until they can work their way up to 135 lbs.