In part two of our Sports Performance Training series, we take a look at making strength functional in football.

Building strength using traditional lifts is an important and necessary part of sports performance training and injury prevention.  Just as important and just as necessary is incorporating movements that will teach the body to utilize these strength resources.

The body reacts to a physical challenge by utilizing muscle force from all regions of the body.  Because these resources are activated and coordinated by the neural sensors (proprioceptors) in the joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and fascia, movements must be performed in upright standing positions that replicate what actually occurs during an athletic movement.

Building Strength in Football

If we use a lineman in American football as an example, there is a tremendous requirement for upper body strength in the arms, shoulders and trunk to be able to hold off defensive rushers or push back the offensive line. Bench press exercises are essential to building these capabilities and is tested prior to the draft.  The strength on the bench press, while necessary, is not sufficient for success on the playing field.

The muscle strength built during the bench press must be “functionalized” with other exercises.  During upright function, the ability to push forward is dependent upon the abdominals to provide a mobile and stable pelvis and trunk.  If a force tries to push the head, arms and trunk backward, the abdominals must provide enough torque to allow the strength built during the bench press to be effective.

However, during the bench press, the bench supplies much of this required resistance preventing the trunk from being pushed backward by the barbell. The abdominals don’t have to work to the degree they would in upright function during the clash of offensive and defensive players.  The same scenario can be described for the hip flexors and other lower extremity muscles.

Making Bench Press Exercises Functional

So, what are some of the movements or exercises needed to make bench press strength functional?

  • Pushups – Abdominal and leg strength are required in addition to arm, pectoral, and scapula muscle strength. The hand positions can be tweaked in all three planes to better mimic the variability during on-field action.
  • Standing cable pulls and punches – Using two cables simultaneously transfers the bench press strength into upright function. The position of the cables can be varied and can be different between the two arms providing the variability that will be experienced during the game.  The weight in each stack can be different to produce asymmetry. Foot position can be varied in 27 different ways based on the Gray Institute’s SFT tweaks.
  • Lunges and single leg stance cable work – Using the cable tweaks described above, these exercises replicate the requirements to be able to generate effective force while moving (periods when only one foot is in ground contact).

Sports Performance Training is no more than a “buzz word” unless it’s founded in functional specificity.

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