Lineman Strength and Conditioning

In football, each position requires certain traits to excel, which may be completely different to anyone else on the field. For instance, the linemen need a quick first couple steps, and to be able to accelerate against large external loads (the opposing linemen). The receivers and defensive backs need to make big accelerations without any external loads and have a relatively high top speed in comparison to the other positions on the field. Given these training goals, it is safe to assume that they should not follow the exact same training program, but to what extent?      

Currently, in many if not most football strength and conditioning programs the core movements have traditionally included the squat and power clean. Previous studies have shown that squats and power cleans are highly correlated to the fastest sprint times. This has been repeated at distances varying from 10-40 yards, all in firm agreement that these are highly correlated and should remain a staple in programs. But this still does not say much specifically to the lineman. Rarely does a lineman accelerate more than 10 yards without encountering an opposing player. “Drive” is an interesting metric used in rugby scrums to describe essentially the amount of horsepower to move the other team back. A study in Australia examined the biomechanical breakdown of the scrums to figure out what the optimal factors are in “drive”. As imagined, they found that the optimal drive is a combination of mass and velocity, also known as Linear momentum.    

Jacobson’s study took the idea of drive and its application to linemen a step further, and compared drive to squats, power cleans, and vertical jumps. Specifically, this study focused on peak and average velocity that’s obtained in the first two steps of a drive block. This study analyzed 18 collegiate lineman’s 3-point stance fire-outs. Ten trials were performed, and these velocities were compared against each athlete’s recently tested 1-rep max on squat, power clean, and vertical jump. In addition, the subjects had their body fat percent analyzed.

Following the same trend as past studies, the squat, vertical jump, and power clean all had significant correlations to subject’s take-off speed. Looking more in depth at the findings, they found that the power clean had the highest overall correlation to “take-off” velocity, both peak or average. As for the squat and vertical jump, each correlated more to either the peak or average velocity. In the case of the squat, it had the strongest association to peak velocity, and vertical jump had the strongest correlation to average velocity. Lastly, body fat had a significant inverse correlation to the take-off velocity, meaning that the leanest individual would be expected to have the greatest take-off velocity. So the individual with least amount of body fat can accelerate themselves quicker than their fatter counterpart, but the important thing to remember is that this study is solely looking at take-off velocity and not linear momentum (drive).

It is intuitive to understand that a power clean would significantly help after the point of contact in a block since it is an acceleration against an external load. Additionally, one would think that the vertical jump might have the strongest correlation to take-off velocity, since it is the ability to accelerate one’s body without any external load just like the first two take-off steps. But one thing to remember is that the vertical jump is normally performed with the counter movement arm swing, which is a much more of a dynamic start as opposed to accelerating from a static 3-point stance. The power cleans were tested from the ground which adds a helpful component for linemen. This ground component adds additional rate of force development work (RFD) to the lift, that neither the traditional squat or counter-movement vertical jump can compare to. Rate of force development is the human metric comparable to a car’s 0-60mph ability. Westside Barbell is the most notorious gym to heavily implement RFD centered training. For example, Westside box squats by fully rocking their full weight onto the box. While the back remains engaged, this provides a moment for the legs to relax before driving as forcefully as possible to get out of the hole.  

It is difficult to single out one specific attribute to describe the purpose of Olympic lifts, but a major factor in all the Olympic movements is the ability to transfer maximal force at the point of triple extension. Briefly, triple extension is a point in time in explosive movements when we are fully extending at the ankles knees and hips, and can be observed routinely in athletes running, jumping, acceleration type movements. If done correctly, it is at this point where we express maximal force into the ground. This aspect gains most attention when programming for athletic power/explosiveness, but I believe there is good merit in spending a significant amount of time devoted to RFD work as a compliment to what is already in place.

More research needs to be done on the effects of RFD-specific training compared against a traditional triple extension-specific training, and how each is correlated to a lineman’s performance. Some take-aways from this article are that the squat and power clean need to remain staples in the weight room for linemen, and the rest of the squad for that matter. I would like to include that even though the article centered on the squat and power clean, that the vertical jump is a great tool to improve on explosiveness in a strength program. Lastly from these data we can make some assumptions about the ideal body type of a lineman. Since “drive” is mass * velocity, we need a lineman that is big as possible, that has some quick feet coming from a static stance, and doesn’t have too much body fat. In college and the pro’s this happens to be a weight around 300-320lbs with a body fat percent around 20-25%.

About the Author

Jack Rummells, PhD Candidate, NFL

Lifting is my religion. My interest for the iron began at age 13 doing strongman out of my first mentor’s garage. This evolved into competing in Olympic Weightlifting and Strongman through high school and college. At the University of Northern Iowa, I received a B.A. and M.A. in kinesiology, as well as All- American honors on the football field as a left tackle. In 2015, I was lucky enough to join the Jacksonville Jaguars roster for 6 months. After I was released from the Jaguars, I had the opportunity to train for a month learning the conjugate method from Louie Simmons at Westside, and a month later I placed 12th overall in the 105+ division at the American Open in Olympic Weightlifting. Currently, I’m back at school pursuing my PhD in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Iowa… And yes, the fire still burns strong.