“Hey coach, how do I hit harder? I been lifting and everything, but I just can’t seem to lay people out, man.”
It’s a question I get asked almost daily. It’s right up there with “how do I get faster for football?” and “how do I get a huge bench?” If your football strength training program is set up properly, you should have plenty of power to knock people out. But how many football training programs are up to par? How many of them focus on high reps and bodybuilding exercises? How many high school programs are actually producing any kind of explosive football strength? Not many, judging by the emails I get every day!
First, before we get into what are the best explosive football exercises for hitting harder, let me say that tackling is highly technical and if your form is bad, you’ll hit like an 11-year old girl. Just about every coach teaches tackling the same, so that should tell you something. Now, once your form is solid, all that extra power will have you knocking people out of their Adidas.
1. Power cleans
Yes, the much maligned power clean is still a great explosive football exercise. Power cleans are an extremely useful football exercise, one that can build slabs of muscle on your legs, back, and traps and can also help build tremendous explosiveness. They are also great for the hips and for teaching the transfer of power from the ground through your opponent’s chest. The most common complaint is that they are too hard to teach.
Yes, they can be. But honestly is teaching a perfect squat any easier? If you have football players who just can’t learn a power clean, have them do clean pulls. But you have to ask yourself, if they aren’t athletic enough to pull off a simple power clean, how good of a player are they going to be?
The power clean is perfect for teaching patience and explosiveness during a tackle. Simply grab the bar, deadlift it to the knees, and then jump and pull. Catch it when it gets to shoulder height.
It’s really that easy. Stick to multiple sets of low reps (i.e. 5–8 sets of 1–3 reps).
2. Box squats and box front squats
I’m cheating here, but I’m grouping front and back box squats together. Usually, the argument of what’s more useful for explosive football power involves power cleans versus box squats. People get violently angry about this and I have no idea why. The fact that both sides have such strong support should tell you that they’re both useful. Anyway, on to box squats and why you should use them in your program if you want to hit harder.
Why are box squats so good for football? Well, in a dynamic box squat (using chains or bands), the athlete unracks the bar, sits back (pre-stretching the hams and glutes), descends while getting pulled down by the force of the bands, sits, relaxes some muscles while keeping others tense, and then activates all those muscle fibers at once to explode the weight up. The same is true in a heavy box squat, except you do all of the above with a heavy weight.
Box squats are excellent at building your hamstrings, glutes, and even quads—your football speed and explosiveness muscles. While most concentrate on the box back squat, the front squat variation shouldn’t be overlooked. This version will work the same muscles with a bit more emphasis on the quads and will also work the hell out of your abs. Plus, look at the position you are in when sitting and rising off the box—very similar to making a tackle, eh?
- Sitting way back
- Unlocking your hip flexors
- Exploding up off the box
- You should almost feel as if you’re jumping, but the weight will keep you down
- Don’t rock on the box
If you’re going for speed, use around 60 percent of your max (less if you’re using bands or chains) and shoot for 12 sets of 2 reps. If you want to go heavy, either work up to a max single, double, or triple or do multiple sets of low reps (i.e., 8 X 3).
3. Capped kettlebell swings
Kettlebell swings are an excellent football speed and power exercise when done correctly. Most people do them incorrectly. This isn’t a squat movement. That style is OK for fat loss, but we’re after explosive football strength here.
This is a slight twist on the kettlebell swing that will torture your hamstrings but will make you as explosive as humanly possible. You can then take this new found explosiveness and go out and knock someone’s head off. First, let’s figure out how to do a real, football speed building kettlebell swing. You have to let the bell swing back between the legs. You should look a bit like you’re about to make a tackle. Keep your abs tight on the way back, so you don’t injure your lower back. Swings have to be an explosive exercise. You must snap the kettlebell forward, popping the hips rather than just using momentum to swing the damn thing around.
Now, if you really want to train the hell out of your hamstrings with a fairly heavy yet over-speed movement, give capped kettlebell swings a try. This version will torture your hams and glutes and give you the kind of explosive football strength needed to mow down everyone in your path. This is basically a kettlebell swing, but at the top, you use your non-working hand to stop or cap the momentum and throw it back between the legs. This is a much faster version of the swing. Be forewarned, it can cause extreme soreness even with lighter than usual weights.
Again, you must snap the kettlebell forward at the bottom, keeping your abs tight and popping the hips. Stick to medium reps and go for 3–4 sets of 4–8 reps. These go well after your heavy leg movement for the day (e.g. box squats).
There you go—three explosive football exercises you can add to your strength training program that will have you running faster and exploding through tackles. Remember to go heavy but always attempt to move the bar as fast as humanly possible. Use the three exercises and watch your performance, both in the weight room and on the field, shoot through the roof. Now go train so you can knock someone out and make me proud!