1. Box squats
Box squats are king of the football speed training hill. If you want to truly get faster for football, do box squats. A lot. They build raw strength in the glutes and hips and dynamic strength in the glutes and hamstrings. This is especially important for football where the game starts from a dead stop and can often be played in a stop-and-start fashion. Think of how a running back sprints to the hole, gets to the second level, stops, makes a move, and explodes again. This is the kind of explosive speed box squats build. And you can also use box squats as a dynamic effort movement, thus improving your rate of force development (maybe the most overlooked aspect of football speed training).
Deadlifts are the most underutilized exercise in the entire football training world. All this bull about hurting your back has scared generations of players and coaches from using what just might be the greatest overall strength and speed builder of all time! As far as the injury factor goes, there are probably many more injuries each year caused by overtraining on the bench than there are from deadlifting. If you deadlift in good form, you’re fine.
Why conventional deadlifts and not sumo? Sumo deadlifts are great as well, but if you have to choose between the two, go with conventional because of the extra stress placed on the hamstrings. Once you learn to really sit back, pull, and engage your hamstrings, you’ll see your speed increase so much people will think you’re on something!
Stick with heavy, low rep sets. Again, this sounds dangerous to some, but the reality is that higher reps tend to equal more injuries than low reps. If you’re really afraid to go super heavy, work up to multiple sets of doubles and triples.
3. Snatch grip deadlifts
Talk about underused exercises…the snatch grip deadlift is a bonafide “get faster for football” all-star movement. Because of the wide grip, the body is forced into a much lower position, which makes the hamstrings, glutes and hips work harder. Harder is good when it comes to getting stronger and faster. This is also a great indicator exercise. Typically, as the snatch deadlift goes up, so do all other leg movements.
The key here is to start with the hips lower than normal (this will happen naturally) and actively “sit back” when you pull, keeping the back flat. We need to turn this from the traditional Olympic lifting movement into more of a powerlifting deadlift, keeping the shoulders behind the bar and the body sitting back. Again, go for low rep sets. This can easily be used as a max effort movement, especially on a day when you don’t feel up to hitting a super heavy squat or deadlift. While you still go heavy on the snatch deadlift, it’s still lighter than those exercises.
4. Bottoms up squats
Starting speed is almost never addressed by most football strength and speed programs…at least not consciously. Most programs base their leg work around normal squats and cleans. But real world starting strength (better known as explosiveness) is rarely covered.
Football is a game based on starting strength. If you can’t turn it all on quickly, the rest of your speed is wasted. Trust me. I personally went through this early in my career. When I fixed it, my game changed completely.
Jumping, firing off the line, starting a pass route, and jumping a pass route for a defensive back are all based on your ability to fire all the muscle fibers in a hurry. One of the best ways to do this is with bottoms up squats and front squats. Basically, this is setting the bar on the pins in the rack at various heights, usually the bottom, mid-point, or in a quarter squat position. Then you wedge yourself underneath, get tight, and explode.
Now ‘explode’ is the appropriate term. If you don’t move your butt quickly, the bar just won’t move. You quickly learn what kind of leg power you have when doing these. And once you get good at them, you can add bands or chains to make sure you’re exploding through the entire range of motion.
It’s best to stick with Singles and Doubles on these. Especially with Front Squats (it tends to be a trickier set up). Once you are moving some good weight, experiment with chains or bands added to the bar. Rotate these in about once a month. If you also do Deadlifts and SnDL’s as your ME movements, this is plenty.
5. Kettlebell swings
Swings, when done correctly, can do more for your closing speed than any other exercise other than box squats. The problem is most people do them incorrectly. They do them in the housewife fat loss style, turning it into a semi-squat movement.
You need to allow the kettlebell (or dumbbell or small sandbag) to swing back and between the legs. Then tighten the abs and contract the hell out of your hamstrings, forcing the bell to snap forward. It’s all about the reversal of motion here. Then the hips and quads fire a bit. That snap is responsible for your hamstrings being able to turn on in an instant and have you closing in on the ball or ball carrier. They build real world football speed.
The swing is an accessory exercise. Go with multiple sets of low to medium reps. Don’t be afraid to use some real weight and go with sets of four. These do best following a heavy movement like deadlifts.
6. Bent knee hypers or glute ham raises
Glute ham raises have become a staple for most serious football strength programs. Their impact on the hamstrings and glutes is astounding. Every football player who wants to get faster should be doing them…a lot. You can begin by trying three sets of ten reps. When you hit that, start to use weight. Go with three to five sets of six to twenty reps.
If you don’t have a glute ham raise bench, you can still get some of the benefits. Doing hyperextensions with your knees bent and your feet pressing hard into the board causing you to do a leg curl and extension together is a good substitute. It isn’t perfect, but until you get a glute ham raise, it’s the best option you have.
7. Box jumps
If there is one piece of the ‘getting faster for football’ puzzle that is always overcomplicated, it is plyometrics. Simple jumping has turned into a sport unto itself. Gone are the days of the simple long jump and box jump and in are the days of spreadsheets three miles long with double undulating plyo periodization.
The truth is you don’t need all that. Simply adding box jumps and then multiple box jumps is more than enough to increase football speed and explosiveness. Try adding five to seven single box jumps before your heavy leg work and watch your real world speed explode. Then you can alternate them with multiple box jumps. Again, around five sets of jumps are plenty, especially for the non-advanced. You can also do lateral box jumps on a low to medium box.
Right there you have three variations of a box jump that will absolutely get you faster without fail. Don’t make a simple and effective tool complex and ineffective. Keep it simple…just jump!
Plus, as a great side bonus, your leg exercises will jump up as well since your central nervous system isn’t firing at max capacity, and when your leg exercises increase, so does your speed. It’s a beautiful little cycle.
Start with a few jumps to start your leg days. Then try them before your speed days. You can do upper body plyos on your upper days, but that’s a subject for another article.
8. Romanian deadlifts
The Romanian deadlift (RDL) is an excellent football speed exercise. It’s very similar to glute ham raises, but you also get the added benefit of back and trap work, and you can use a much heavier load on the RDL. This benefits the hams and glutes and makes them nice and ready to run fast.
The key to doing the RDL is the hip movement. These are not straight leg deadlifts. Your hips will travel back, knees slightly bent. Let your hamstrings and glutes stretch and then pull back.
You can use the RDL as a max effort movement or as an accessory for three to five sets of five to ten reps. You can also use dumbbells as a variation.
9. Asterisk lunge
The asterisk lunge is an odd little exercise I picked up from Joe Kenn’s book. It looks like a normal lunge gone insane, but it’s a hell of a brilliant movement for increasing speed on the football field. Yet I’ve never see them done.
A huge problem in the football speed training world is that lateral speed is never addressed. If most programs include lateral lunges, it’s a miracle. Remember, on the field running in a straight line is only part of the battle. You have to move laterally and from all angles! Well, the asterisk lunge solves this problem.
Grab two dumbbells, lunge forward, and then lunge at a 45-degree angle. Then lunge laterally, lunge 45-degrees to the rear, and do a full rear lunge. It looks like an asterisk (that star looking thing on your phone).That’s one rep. As you can see, it covers some major ground and a lot of angles. Perform each lunge explosively. Include these in your program once a month (along with angle and lateral lunges). Obviously, this is an assistance exercise so perform three to four sets of three to four reps (remember a “rep” is five lunges).