Sunday, January 24, 2010

Football and Weight Training Part I- The Squat

All of us coaches are concerned with how to make our athletes stronger and faster. In general, we are always trying to figure out how to produce a better athlete. There are multiple philosophies on how to develop strength through the weight room. Weight Lifting as a stand alone practice comes in two major forms: Power-Lifting and Olympic Style Lifting. Which one is better for football? Some coaches veer one way or the other and some people try to incorporate both. Many people believe the squat is the #1 lift for football training. I agree with this. The key to getting the most out of your squats is how your use it for training, and the technique you emphasize.

The biggest pet peeve I have for coaches in the weight room, is jumping in to squats right away without any attention to proper technique. I have seen coaches from other sports come into the weight room and bark and yell at their athletes because they aren't going low enough. For the most part if you have an athlete whom can't get down below parallel, then you have an athlete with poor technique and/or with weak hamstrings. The average athlete is quad dominant. Meaning they quads are considerably stronger than their hamstrings. When these athlete begins squatting, they usually push their knees forward past their toes when they begin descending. This is wrong, because the next thing that happens is they stick their butt out and bend over at the waist in an attempt to get lower. When they finally begin ascending their knees come in closer to one another and they finish the lift looking awkward. The athletes that try to lift like this will have a hard time getting parallel. In a final attempt to get parallel, the lifter will probably have their heels come off the floor to maintain balance (prevent themselves from falling.)

Does any of this sound familiar to you?

Why do lifters instinctively try to squat in this manner. They do this because they are trying to keep to the pressure of the lift on their quads. The most important muscles to develop in the squat is the hamstrings, flexors, and glutes. These muscles are the power muscles that influence speed and explosion.

In reality regular squats are not even necessary for the development of power and speed from the hamstrings and glutes. Many World record holding power lifters with insane squats don't even practice for competition with regular squats.

They use box squats. Box squats are excellent for developing strength in the hamstrings and glutes, and even for the overall development of speed and power. I have used a simplified version for beginning athletes (girls and boys). Typically 10 to 8 sets of 2 reps are sufficient tfor the core lift of a lower-body workout. I will usually have them do this for a month on lower body days before I even introduce regular squats. After a month the hamstrings should be strong enough to squat with proper form. The video from renown power lifting guru Louie Simmons demonstrates the technique of box squats.

The key is to sit back far enough that the knees are almost behind (if not behind) your feet. This makes the lift almost like a "leg curl". This is the exact opposite motion that the typical beginning lifter instinctively tries to do. It helps to get the lifter put their feet very wide too. This really hammers the hamstrings, glutes, hip-flexers, and groin.

From an article by Louie Simmons he says:

"The second reason is equally important. It is generally accepted that you should keep your shins perpendicular to the floor when squatting. With box squatting, you can go past this point (that is, an imaginary line drawn from your ankle to your knee will point toward your body), which places all the stress on the major squatting muscles- hips, glutes, lower back, and hamstrings. This is a tremendous advantage.
Thirdly, you don't have to ask anyone if you were parallel. Once you establish a below parallel height, all of your squats will be just that -below parallel. I have seen it over and over. As the weights get heavier, the squats get higher. This can't happen with box squats."

The big argument against this for football players is that football is not played with your feet wide. This seems logical, however, The football position is built on the field not the weight room. The weight room is for building the muscles that allow players to be explosive. Box squats, if done properly, allow your players to be more explosive. 40 times go down, verticals go up, and overall power shows a dramatic improvement.

Here is an example of how Box squats can even serve as an indicator strength and power. I worked with two athletes, one was a linemen the other was a running back. The linemen was very strong, but slow. He had squatted 715 lbs in a power lifting meet. Despite his strength he would struggle to properly box squat 225 2 times from a 12 inch box. On the other hand, the running back which was very explosive and squatted 480 lbs in power lifting meet had no trouble taking 225 off the same 12 inch box. I even put a foam box that stood a mere 6 inches from the ground to test the running back. The back took 225 from from the 6 inch box 3 times no problem. The linemen could not even sit on the box, he would fall over (WITH NO WEIGHT!). Flexibility played a role here. The point of the example was that the back had more explosive power than then linemen did, despite the apparent difference in strength (715 vs 480).

If you are looking for ways to develop explosive power in your players, try looking at some of the articles by Louie Simmons from west-side barbell. I read some of these a few years ago and implemented them into my weight lifting routines. I have seen nothing but good results from them. If anything, as a coach you can use them to teach the proper technique of the squat. I don't want to go to deep into proper technique, if you look at the articles by Simmons, you will get a great idea about what proper technique is.

In the next article I will discuss the role of the power clean. Here is a prelude: (I will probably be stoned to death by most coaches for what I will say.) I believe they do not need be a big part of the lifting routine of high school athletes.


  1. What a great article with a lot of thought! I am in the beginning of track season with my frosh and soph sprinters and we are doing lifting and functional training with plyometrics,etc. I have already seen many of my athletes, probably 80%, struggling with basic squatting form. With a percentage this high, I can't even think about adding weight to the routine yet. I really think you are on to something with the box squats. I'm going to have to try them with my athletes. I also just finished reading your article on the power clean. I totally agree - I see very few high school athletes power cleaning properly - too much arms and back used - too much weight. It would be more productive to work explosiveness by doing squat jumps and other plyometrics.

  2. I am glad you liked the article. I hope that your try at the box squats goes well. If you do them correctly you might see results in as little as 3-4 weeks.

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