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Six stretches to get NFL-caliber agility

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

"A glide in your stride and a dip in your hip will have the football scouts with your name on their lips."

The above phrase is my riff on the line "a glide in your stride and a dip in your hip," from the song "Mothership Connection (Star Child)" by the group Parliament that was popular in the 1970s. While it may have been used back then to get you moving and grooving on the dance floor, the lyrics ring true if you want to play football at the next level as well!

As a certified strength and conditioning specialist and physical therapist, I have the unique opportunity to work with athletes from youth football all the way up to the NFL. Obviously, only a select few of these athletes will ever play at the next level of college football and even less will ever make it to the pros. According to the NCAA only 0.08 percent of high school players get to the NFL and only 1.7 percent of college football athletes continue to play professionally.

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One of the biggest deficiencies I see in both my youth and college football players when compared to my NFL clients is that the NFL player moves more effectively and efficiently in all directions. Don't get me wrong, pure strength, power and size are all meaningful assets to be a dominant football player. Too many of my amateur clients over emphasize these areas, however, and neglect their ability to change direction, which we call agility.

The first step in developing effective agility is to acquire the proper range of motion in your hips! Many of the amateur football players that I evaluate and eventually train initially lack the appropriate flexibility in their hip flexors and hip adductor (groin area) muscles. These two problem areas restrict the hips to properly change direction and create power. Furthermore, tightness in these muscles inhibits the player's ability to "play low." This means that the athlete cannot properly bend and rotate at the hip and ankle joints and subsequently bends at their lower back. This improper playing posture decreases both the player's ability to create leverage and his agility capacity.

Proper form for Stretch #1.
Proper form for Stretch #1.

There are three different angles to accurately target the hip flexor muscles. Perform each stretch for at least 30 seconds and perform on both hips.

STRETCH #1:

While on one knee, simply slowly bend your front knee (left knee in the picture) as far as you can and then reach both arms overhead. You should feel the stretch in the front of your right hip (as pictured). Avoid arching your lower back but focus instead on letting the right hip move forward.

Proper form for Stretch #2.
Proper form for Stretch #2.

STRETCH #2:

In this variation, allow your arm to reach over your head while sliding your hips out to the side. Feel the stretch in the "front/side pocket" area of your hip.

Proper form for Stretch #3.
Proper form for Stretch #3.

STRETCH #3:

In the same starting position, rotate your arms across your body. This will allow for the rotational component of the hip flexors to be targeted.

The next three stretches focus specifically on your hip adductor muscles.

STRETCH #4:

While kneeling, place your other leg out to the side (as pictured) but keep your torso from rotating. Then place your left hand (as pictured) on the inside of your left knee in order to prevent the knee from translating forward. Move your hips forward and back, this will require you to bend at your hip joints. Feel the stretch at the inside of your left leg.

Proper form for Stretch #4-6. Use this as the base and perform the moves described to the left.
Proper form for Stretch #4-6. Use this as the base and perform the moves described to the left.

STRETCH #5:

In this version of the hip adductor muscle stretch, continue to hold the inside of the left knee while gliding your hips from side to side. You will feel the stretch on the lower part of your left thigh.

STRETCH #6:

Setup as you did in the previous two stretches but in this stretch, rotate your pelvis in clockwise and counter-clockwise motions (small circles). Be sure to minimize your thigh movements as you hold the inside of your left knee.

Try these six movements/stretches and see the differences in how you feel and move!

Stay tuned for my next articles which will focus on more strategic flexibility drills and strengthening exercises.

-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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