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10 ways to get football fit

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Learning the workout secrets of NFL players isn't easy. We asked Arizona Cardinals physcial therapist Brett Fischer of the Fischer Institute to show you how it's done.

1. Physicals

Step 1. Make sure the athlete is healthy. All NFL players receive and must pass an extensive physical. These in-depth exams include such things as X-rays, MRIs, electrocardiograms and much more.

All young athletes/weekend warriors should start off their seasons by getting a physical from their personal physicians. This exam should include an evaluation of the lungs, heart, blood pressure, medical history, vision, abdomen, genitals, musculoskeletal and nervous system.

The purpose of the physical is to avoid any catastrophic medical event and determine if it is safe to allow the athlete to participate in football.

2. Basic Movement Screens

Many NFL players receive an in-depth movement analysis of their whole body. These screens can lead medical staffs to prescribe specific corrective exercises to improve performance.

Here are two simple, at-home movement screens you can do:

»(10) Pain-free pushups on toes (on knees if a youth) while maintaining a straight line from the shoulders to the ankles (no sagging or arching in the lower back region)

»(5) Pain-free single leg squats softly touching the buttocks onto a chair and returning to the original single leg standing position

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3. Flexibility (Stretching) and Dynamic Warm-Up

Stretching and a dynamic warm-up are two separate entities. Stretching is primarily used to gain more range of motion in muscle whereas a dynamic warm-up is intended to increase the core temperature of the muscles and to prepare the muscles, joints and nervous system for an upcoming physical event.

Before an NFL game, you normally will see players going through a stretching routine that is followed by a dynamic warm-up. The keys muscles targeted on the athletes are the hip flexors, hamstring and calves (to name a few). The dynamic warm-up consists of a series of gradual movement drills such as jogging, high knees running, backpedaling, shuffles, carioca and other various change-of-direction movements performed for a length of 10-to-15 yards.

Proper planning built into the practice/pregame routine, consisting of stretching followed by a dynamic warm-up, will help maximize performance.

4. Football Specific Conditioning (Running/Agility Drills)

NFL players prepare for the season with five months of specific and progressive running and agility drills. This is why you can see some of the most exciting athletic feats on this planet every Sunday!

For the young athlete/weekend warrior, running position specific sprints and agility drills (change-of-direction running and agility drills that somewhat mimic the specific position requirements that occur during a game) are important.

As a reference, a typical NFL game averages only 11 minutes of live action. That doesn't sound like a lot. But in one game, a defensive back on average will run about 1,400 yards, which are broken up in to 50 to 80 plays that average four to five seconds. The average amount of yardage per play is 17 yards of running. (Lineman run on average between 400 to 600 yards in a game.) Therefore, in order to improve performance, running and agility drills must match the requirements of the specific positions.

5. Participate in a Strength/Power Development Program

NFL players are some of the most powerful athletes in the world! That's why the NFL is so popular. The players spend months training their bodies to improve their strength and power and become bigger, faster and stronger.

For the young athlete/weekend warrior, developing your leg, hip, core and upper body muscles is imperative. During the season, it is important to understand that you CAN IMPROVE strength and power. This can be accomplished by a "wave-cycle" program (popularized by world renown strength coach, Daniel Baker, from Australia). This program simply involves changing the volume (total amount of reps and sets in a workout) and the intensity (the amount of resistance/effort) on a weekly or biweekly basis.

For example, a week or more of a strength training program at three sets of 10 repetitions (below 70 percent of one rep max of that particular exercise) maybe followed by a week or more of higher intensity training (four sets of four reps at 90 percent of one rep max) with a lower volume of total exercises in that daily program than the previous phase. Then this phase could be followed up by a power phase (three to four sets of six reps  at 70 to 80 percent of one rep max).

Furthermore, depending where you are in the season, as far as length of games, injuries, weather, etc., the program might switch to light intensity, high rep for a week or so. This wave-like program will avoid plateaus with its strength and power and will keep the workouts interesting.

6. Core Strength

Even though many of today's NFL stars have "six-pack" abs, it is the deeper core muscles that exist under those "washboard" abs that link their upper-body power with their lower-body torque.

A quick test to see if the athlete's deep core muscles are ready and strong is to do the Plank Test. To do this test, have athletes get into a pushup position while on their toes. Their upper body rests on their forearms, not their hands. Have them attempt to hold a straight position with their entire body without letting the lower back arch for one continuous minute.

7. Proper Nutrition

To be the best and to stay on top, football players must put the best "fuel" into their bodies.

Here are a few tips:

Pregame meal:

»Eat carbohydrate-based foods (fruits, vegetables, breads, pasta etc.)
»Don't overeat a high amount of protein
»Avoid fried foods

Post-game meal:

»Hydrate first
»Eat a combination of carbohydrates and quality proteins to provide optimal recovery.
»If food is not available, ready-to-drink or powder products like MuscleMilk or similar brands are ideal for getting quality carbohydrates and proteins in a convenient and portable form that helps bridge the gap until a healthy meal can be consumed.

8. Hydration

Football players have unique hydration needs due to their exposure to extreme heat while wearing heavy equipment that literally covers their entire bodies.

Trainer Chip Gosewisch of the Fischer Institute helps Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White with training drills.
Trainer Chip Gosewisch of the Fischer Institute helps Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White with training drills. (NFL.com)

Every NFL team employs a staff of certified athletic trainers who are accredited by the National Athletic Trainers Association (N.A.T.A.). These top notch athletic trainers constantly monitor the weather conditions, length and time of day at the event as well as the hydration levels of each player before, during and afterward.

Here are some of the recommendations concerning hydration from the N.A.T.A.

» Hydrate before, during and after practice/games.
» Two to three hours pre-event, drink 17 to 20 fluid ounces of water or sports drink
» Ten to 20 minutes pre-event, drink seven to 10 fluid ounces of water or sports drink
» During the exercise event, drink seven to 10 fluid ounces of water or sports drink every 10 to 20 minutes in a shaded area with helmets removed.
» Avoid soda pops or carbonated drinks of any kind
» Post exercise, aim to correct any fluid loss accumulated during the event. This ideally should be completed within two hours of the event. The hydration should contain water to restore hydration status, carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores and electrolytes to speed the re-hydration process.

9. Rest Periods/Sleep

NFL teams will "taper down" the intensity and length of practices as gameday approaches. Also proper rest and sleep is important to re-charge their bodies to allow for peak performance.

Here are a few tips that have been implemented by the U.S. Olympic teams.

Sleep:

» in a dark (low-lighted) room
» in a cool temperature
» in a comfortable bed
» with a trustworthy alarm clock -- if athletes are worried about oversleeping, they will not get their proper rest
» at least 7.5 to 8 hours of sleep before an event

10. Mental Preparation

I have been blessed to have worked with some of the best players the NFL has seen, from Terrelle Davis to Kurt Warner to Donovan McNabb to Larry Fitzgerald to Darrelle Revis. What they all had in common, besides being genetically gifted, was a "deep burning" passion for this game!

According to sports psychology consultant Derin McMains: "It is important to first ask yourself why you are competing. Also ask yourself, what do you want your teammates and coaches to say about you at the end of the season. What type of legacy do you want to leave for this year?

"Determining what you want your legacy to be at the end of the season will tell you what you need to do today. Determining your legacy will lead you to discovering your true PASSION for why you compete. And PASSION will be the motive that will drive you past your competitors. PASSION will be at the center of what continues to push you when your body is telling you to quit. PASSION is what continues to tell you that 'you can,' when others say 'you can't.' PASSION gives you purpose. And athletes that compete with a deeper purpose perform at a higher level. Write down your legacy today and connect with your PASSION to take your game to the next level."

-Brett Fischer is a licensed physical therapist, certified athletic trainer, certified strength and conditioning specialist and a certified dry needling provider. He has worked with the University of Florida, New York Jets, PGA & Senior PGA TOUR and the Chicago Cubs.

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