Leg Training for Linemen: The Top Eight Lower Body Movements for the Big Men

TAGS: Morris, strength gain, movements, lineman, lower body, football, training

One thing that absolutely baffles me about most football strength training programs is that everyone does the same thing. The linebackers go through the same training as the quarterbacks. The wide receivers do the same exercises, sets, and reps as the linemen. As if we weren’t different enough as individuals, now we’re going to take guys who perform extremely different functions on the field and have them all train the same way?

Sure, there are many similarities. There’s a base of movements and exercises that everyone should do. However, how, when, and how much of them is quite different, especially when it comes to the big guys up front!

Some key points to remember about linemen are:

·        They are much bigger than the rest of the team.

·        Their recovery ability will either be much less or much more than the other guys (more on this later).

·        Their job is to move another huge, strong, and explosive guy using strength from their hips, legs, arms, back, and just about everything else.

·        Their secondary job is to be able to move quickly through space and keep guys off of their quarterbacks. This often involves moving laterally and blocking players who are much faster (corners, safeties, linebackers).

Linemen are workhorses, right?

Most linemen need tremendous amounts of work. They’re built big and can handle a ton of work. In fact, some need this high workload to thrive. However, there are some big guys who, by virtue of being so large, have lessened recovery ability. This is usually tied to poor eating (we’re talking about high school and college players who are quite large with high levels of body fat).

This will sound odd, but if you’re this guy or you coach these guys, the first thing you should do is have them lose some fat. Yes, I know. It’s all about having the biggest linemen on the field. And most guys will point to the NFL, specifically the Dallas Cowboys from the 90s who had enormous linemen. Sure, we all watched Madden circle ole’ Nate Newton’s belly, but the reality is that those guys had tons of muscle and were bull strong. (There’s a video of Newton benching 700 lbs).

If a linemen is too fat, he will need to be twice as strong just to move out of his own way. Because this is difficult to do, it’s best to just drop the excess weight. I’ll have a fat loss article specifically for linemen coming soon. Until then, stop shoveling in the junk food!

Now, for those who do have a high work capacity, let’s get to work. We’ll look at the top eight exercises for linemen (both offensive and defensive) and how and when to do them. The subtle changes make all the difference in the world.

1. Box front squats

Want explosive linemen? Want linemen who can physically dominate their opponents and bulldoze their way down the field? Then adding box front squats to your football training program is the first thing you should do.

While lesser known than its cousin the box squat, the box front squat is actually more effective for linemen. If you’ve ever seen one done, you’ll notice that the position is almost identical to the blocking/driving position—chest up, arms out, and hips and legs working to go from a static position (your stance) to a dynamic position (driving through the other guy). This is about as close to sport-specific as one can get.

Many put the front squat down because it has less of an impact on the posterior chain, but this is nonsense. The quads can’t be ignored! Plus, when doing front squats on a box, you involve the glutes and hams to a much greater degree.

These are quite easy to teach. You need a box that is at least parallel. Ideally, an adjustable box should be used so that you can vary the depth. Unrack the weight with the bar resting high on the chest near the clavicles.

Keep the bar high so that the stress on the wrists is greatly reduced and the bar is in a more secure position.

Now sit way back and lower yourself under control on to the box. Relax the hip flexors, pause for a beat, and then explode up. Don’t rock while on the box!

Performing box front squats will push your hip, glute, ham, abdominal, and quad power to the absolute maximum and will improve any linemen’s ability to drive, block, and bulldoze opponents. Keep the reps under five and the sets medium to high. These are a perfect max effort movement. They can also be used with chains or bands for an excellent speed movement as well.

2. Deadlifts

Deadlifts are the king maker. Before I go on, let me say that some of you may have heard that deadlifting is bad for the back or some other such douchebagery. This is plain ole’ crap. When done properly, the deadlift and its variations may be the single best builder of strength and speed known to man.

If all you could do was deadlift, you’d be head and shoulders above the guys who bench and curl ad nauseum. It still sickens me when I hear from athletes who tell me their coaches tell them not to deadlift.


Deadlifts are ultra important for several reasons:

·        They build tremendous starting strength. Many linemen are woefully lacking in the ability to get explosive and apply strength quickly. Failure to do this will result in poor performance on the field.

·        Deadlifts strengthen the posterior chain, building power and strength in the hamstrings, glutes, calves, and the entire back

·        Deadlifts, like squats, build insane strength in the hips—the seat of power for all sports.

·        They build slabs of muscle. Nothing will make you grow from your calves to your traps like heavy deadlifts. For young linemen who need to get bigger, deadlifts are the way to go!

·        The deadlift can be extremely useful for injury prevention. Some believe that the moderate to high hamstring activity elicited during the deadlift may help to protect the anterior cruciate ligament during rehabilitation.

You can and should use many variations of the deadlift to round out your training and keep yourself working as hard as possible.

The deadlift has many forms including:

·        Snatch grip

·        Sumo

·        Rack pulls

·        Hack deadlifts

·        Trap bar deadlifts

This is only a short list of some of the many variations of the deadlift that should be used.

Deadlifts can be used as max effort, dynamic effort, or moderate rep exercise. The classic 5 X 5 protocol applied to the deadlift can put more muscle on your frame than most other exercises combined.

3. Sandbag clean and push

Sandbags are alive. They move, change positions, and fight you every step of the way. Sounds a lot like a live opponent to me.

Live opponent work ties in closely with the concept of strength leakage. Weights are fixed. They stay balanced, evenly distributed, and constant. This is good when it comes to building maximum strength, but it can hinder the transfer of power to taking on a live opponent.

Wrestlers, fighters, and martial artists have used sandbags for centuries because of their effect on strength when fighting someone. For the most part, football is a three-hour fight. In every play, you line up and fight your opponent. He won’t stay in positions that allow you to block or tackle him. No, he wants to make your job as hard as possible.

Power cleans have come under fire in the last few years because many coaches believe they are difficult to teach and aren’t as effective at building speed as dynamic effort movements. Both of these points are valid. But by using a sandbag in place of a barbell, we get around both problems.

Sandbag cleans are the perfect movement to build the entire upper body, specifically the upper body muscles responsible for controlling your opponent at the point of attack. Adding an explosive push on the last clean is a great way to learn to transfer power from the legs through the upper body.

Load a bag and clean it in any way you see fit. Use the various handles or mixed grips or just grab the bag itself. Now clean it to chest height. When I say clean it, I don’t mean end up in one of those “split the legs eight feet apart” kind of clean position. No, I mean finish the clean in the good football position just as you would pre-block, tackle, jump, and sprint.

If you’re new to using sandbags, check out Josh Henkin’s stuff at Sandbag Training Systems. His sandbags are the highest quality I’ve ever seen!

4. Romanian Deadlifts

Romanian deadlifts are an excellent assistance exercise for linemen. All linemen need big, strong, explosive hamstrings. Romanian deadlifts build muscle and power in the hamstrings and glutes and also hit the lower back quite well.

The Romanian deadlift is great for any football player because it’s performed in a stance very similar to the “ready position” (hips down, knees bent, flat back…think a linebacker or the position of the body pre-jump).

Romanian deadlift at mid-point.

For many athletes, the Romanian deadlift is a far superior exercise to the straight leg deadlift. This is especially true for some of the taller linemen. For anyone with a long torso, the single leg deadlift can become a lower back exercise and damn near neglect the hamstrings. But because of the hip position (traveling backward) and the intense pre-stretch of the hamstrings, the Romanian deadlift is much better at working the posterior chain.

Romanian deadlifts can be done as your max effort movement, especially if you do them in the rack.

5. Snatch grip deadlifts

We already talked about the importance of doing deadlifts, and as far as the deadlift variations go, none are more perfect for football training than the snatch grip deadlift. Because of the wide grip, your body is forced into a much lower position than with a normal deadlift. This hits the hamstring and glutes extremely hard, which is always a good thing for any linemen.

Begin just as you would in a regular deadlift, but your hands will be much further apart. Don’t go collar to collar unless you’re extremely tall. Your index fingers should be on or an inch outside of the outer rings. Be sure to sit back and pull hard. A nice side benefit is all the extra work your back and traps will get.

6. Dumbbell incline

I’m often hated for saying this, but I believe the dumbbell incline is a much better movement for linemen than the bench. Obviously, the bench press is a great exercise, but when it comes to athletes—not powerlifters—the incline rules. The dumbbell incline much more closely mimics the path taken by the arms in many athletic movements such as blocking and punching and in many wrestling moves. For linemen, this is crucial. Keeping the elbows in and pressing out and up is exactly what we do on the field.

The incline is also much better at developing the all important shoulder girdle. It’s a nice compromise between the overhead press and the bench, allowing an athlete to hammer the shoulders, pecs, and triceps.

For those with shoulder problems, the incline can be a life saver. When I had rotator cuff problems, benching even super light weights felt like I was being stabbed in the front delts! But I was able to continue doing inclines as heavy as I could handle. When I fixed my shoulder problems, I returned to the bench and lost very little progress.

The dumbbell incline is also incredibly versatile. You can use it for timed sets, high reps, or moderate reps, or you can go super heavy and treat it as a sub max movement. If you’d really like a challenge, try doing a one arm dumbbell incline. Now that’s real “core” training! Again, for those young, small linemen, these can be a great way to add quality muscle and weight to your frame.

7. Lateral lunges

Somehow we all forgot about moving sideways. Offensive linemen often have to slide block, drop step, or post and gather. Yet 99.9 percent of most football training programs only focus on straight ahead speed and strength.

I realize that most hate lateral movements because of the ego hit you take when doing them. A simple 135 lbs has left many strong squatters sore beyond belief. This should tell you that there’s an awful lot of muscle not being worked with squats and deadlifts alone.

Adding lateral lunges is easy. Plug them in after your max or dynamic effort movement for 3–4 sets of 8–10, and you’ll notice a huge difference in your lateral speed.

8. The Prowler

The Prowler, which is a crazy looking sled that because of a set of handles and a set of uprights can be either pushed or pulled, absolutely owns all other forms of conditioning for linemen. The Prowler should be part of any football training program. No question. Sleds are good, but the ability to get into a blocking position and drive a weighted sled is invaluable. Both offensive and defensive linemen will see their conditioning levels go through the roof after only a few sessions on the Prowler. Plus, you can easily pull or push it laterally, which as we already discussed, is very important.

Use the Prowler as a finisher or on a non-lifting day as a way to condition. Because of the lack of eccentric movement, the Prowler won’t cause much soreness, which is a huge advantage for athletes. One of the biggest issueswhen designing a training program for an athlete is how to give strength, speed, and conditioning their proper due without compromising any of the elements. Use the Prowler for sprints, walking conditioning, or relays, or load it up for strength work.

Wrap up

Start adding these movements to your training, and you’ll become a better lineman. It’s that simple. For coaches who need to get a crew of out of shape or skinny guys and turn them into a cohesive unit of bulldozers, these movements are a must do!

Elite Fitness Systems strives to be a recognized leader in the strength training industry by providing the highest quality strength training products and services while providing the highest level of customer service in the industry. For the best training equipment, information, and accessories, visit us at www.EliteFTS.com.

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