To be able to perform you'll need to have an optimum range of motion which is determined in large part by your level of flexibility.
Dynamic flexibility is the ability to move a joint through a full range of motion using muscular assistance or with movement. Throwing a kick above your head is an example of this. You can also call this type of flexibility "active flexibility."
Static flexibility is the ability to stretch without any momentum or muscular assistance. Sitting in place and doing the splits is an example of this.
It turns out there isn't always a good correlation between static flexibility and dynamic flexibility. That is, you might not be very flexible when doing the splits (static flexibility), yet still might be able to kick well above your head (dynamic flexibility). The reverse can also be true. You might see someone with very good static flexibility, yet not very good dynamic flexibility.
What's more, performing static flexibility prior to a workout has been shown to lead to a decrease in strength in that workout. Too much static flexibility work can also have a negative influence on reactive strength. An overly flexible muscle-tendon complex can dampen the reactive reflex, or spring-like effect. The muscle-tendon complex needs an optimal stiffness in order to function optimally. Since the type of flexibility you need in football is dynamic anyway, I recommend you focus the majority of your time in achieving optimal dynamic flexibility. Some static flexibility work can be beneficial, but it should only be done after your workout and never before. The following dynamic flexibility workout will greatly assist you in achieving and increasing the range of motion necessary to have awesome football speed. Perform it at least 3 times per week along with a good general warm-up.
Overspeed quick toe touches x 20 reps
Dynamic bodyweight lunges forward x 10 reps per leg
Dynamic bodyweight lunges side to side x 10 reps per leg
Wide stance bodyweight speed squat x 20 reps
Walking forward heel to toe bend over and touch the ground with each step x 20 reps
Crescent kicks outside to inside x 10 reps per leg
Crescent kicks inside to outside x 10 reps per leg (with your leg straight and knee completely locked kick and make a big circle with your leg - you should feel a stretch in your hamstrings)
Back leg roundhouse kicks- x 10 per leg
Duck under hurdles (real or imaginary hurdles)- x 10 each direction (imagine a row of 10 hurdles. Moving horizontally duck low under each hurdle and rise up between them)
Duck under hurdles with twist- same as above but twist 180 degrees in between each hurdle
5-10-5 drill forward/back- run forward 5 yards/backward 5 yards/forward 10 yards/backward 10 yards/forward 5 yards/backward 5 yards
Pro agility- stand in the middle of 2 cones or marks set 10 yards apart - Run in one direction 5 yards to one cone and then reverse direction and run 10 yards back to the opposite cone and then reverse direction and run back to the middle where you started
As mentioned before it is essential that you be able to apply max force through a full and deep range of motion. It's not enough to only have strong quadriceps or be strong at doing 1/4 squats. Your hips, glutes, and hamstrings all must be strong. Most players play in too much of an upright position and don't bend their knees and move in rhythm. This can be caused by having insufficient strength in the hips, hamstrings, and glutes, or posterior chain. To achieve this strength you'll need to strengthen these muscle groups and build strength through full range and mechanically inefficient positions like when your femurs are at or close to 90 degrees. Barry Sanders was the epitome of being strong and powerful in this respect. He was also probably the most agile football player who has every played the game.
When you bend your knees in a movement, generally the lower you descend the more you involve the hips, hamstrings, and glutes. Strengthening these muscle groups is key. You can do this by working through a full range of motion in both full range general strength training exercises such as:
as well as some modified martial arts movements like isometric side kicks for hip abductor strength.
Working on these exercises will ensure you have a good general base of limit strength that can then be used to enhance eccentric strength (stabilizing strength), and reactive strength. Not only will these exercises do a good job of increasing the strength of the muscles specific to lateral speed and agility, but they will also do an excellent job at increasing your linear speed.
Increasing Reactive Strength
If you've been training for any length of time you're probably familiar with how many athletes in vertical displacement sports that require leaping ability will use exercises like depth jumps and shock jumps (altitude landings), to increase their vertical jump. When you land after stepping off a high box you create extremely high forces, which stimulate an adaptive response in the non-contractile elements. This training method teaches the muscle-tendon complex to absorb and utilize stored energy better. This develops plyometric strength, reactive strength, or reversal strength. Generally, when performing a depth jump, you get a training effect in the muscle groups or the range of movement with respect to the position you land in. For example, if you step off a box and land in a 1/4 squat athletic stance position, you get a training effect in the upper range of motion which involves mostly the quadriceps and muscles of the lower leg. This is good for increasing vertical jumping ability and speed. However, if you perform a depth landing and land in a deeper squat position you can also develop reactivity in the hamstrings and glutes - muscles which are more important for agility and acceleration.
Another way you can increase reactive ability specific to agility is to simply perform intense agility drills such as shuttle runs. You simply accelerate in one direction, dip down, plant your foot and STOP, then quickly reverse direction and drive off in the opposite direction. The act of accelerating and then bending down, stopping on a dime and changing direction stimulates and trains the muscle-tendon complexes responsible for movement in a lateral direction, much like regular depth jumping stimulates a movement in vertical direction. Other exercises great for developing specific reactive ability are:
Speed squats or box squats
Bouncing in squat position
Bouncing in squat position holding a weight
Holding a weight and ducking under hurdles in explosive fashion
Putting It All Together
Now here's an example of how you can put all this information together into a workout. Weight train 2 times weekly with 1 session dedicated to improving general strength + agility and 1 session dedicated to improving reactive and explosive strength and agility. If time is an issue workouts can be split up into A.M/P.M. sessions.
Perform the hip flexibility workout 3x weekly. Perform prior to either of the workouts (days 1 and 5) and on a separate day on it's own (day 3).
Dynamic flexibility routine- (minus the agility drills)- 1 set per exercise
Agility runs including 5-10-5 drill forward, Pro agility, zig-zag runs- 2 sets each
Drop jumps into squat position- 5 sets x 3 reps at height of best vertical jump
40 yards x 3-4 runs
30 yards x 3-4 runs
20 yards x 3-4 runs
Squat, good morning or deadlift variation- Work up to a 3-rep maximum.
Reverse hyper- 4 sets x 8 reps
Split Squat lunge- 4 sets x 10 reps per leg (A lunge with the back leg elevated on a box or bench)
Dynamic flexibility routine- 2 sets each exercise
Weighted hurdle duck-unders (hold a fairly light 30-60 lb. dumbbell between your legs)- 3 sets x 10 hurdles each direction
Isometric Side Kicks- Hold on to an object and extend your leg out all the way to the side in a "kicking" posture. Hold for 10 seconds and release. Repeat for 10 reps with 2 sets of 10 per leg.
Form running drills- high knees, butt kicks, skips- 30 yds. X 3 each
Dynamic Flexibility routine- 1 set each exercise
Weighted low squat bounces- (get in the full squat position holding a light weight and bounce up and down for 20 seconds without straightening the legs.) 3 sets
Drop jumps into squat- 5 sets of 3 reps
Pro agility drill (5-10-5) 3 sets
5-10-5 drill forward- 2 sets
Backpedal 10 yards and break Left then Right -3 sets)
40 yards x 3-4 runs
30 yards x 3-4 runs
20 yards x 3-4 runs
Wide stance box squat- 50-60% 1rm for 8 sets of 3 reps
Glute ham raise- 4 sets x 6-8 reps
There you have it! Countless new methods to improve your functional speed on the gridiron. If you choose not to incorporate the entire workouts I hope this article at least gives you some ideas and helps shed some light on what you can do to make yourself perform better and be a better all around athlete.
Davies,J "Renegade Training For Football" Dragon Door Publications. 2002.
Protect Management "Freak of Training - The Adam Archuleta Workout" DVD 2003.
Buchenholz, D. "The Sports Book" Inno-Sport Publishing 2004