8 Tips to Building Functional Strength

  • Post category:TRAINING

By Dan Guttenplan, FNF Coaches Managing Editor

Craig Koehler served as strength coach for Concord High (Ind.) for 14 years before getting hired as head coach in 2015. He continues to run the team’s strength program with a goal of developing functional strength.

De-emphasize max lifts. A football player can become obsessed with his max bench or squat, and ignore the functional strength he needs to excel on Friday nights. “I emphasize to my players that the refs aren’t going to put a flat bench press on the 50-yard-line before a game and have a bench press competition to see which team starts with the lead.”

Emphasize proper movement patterns. Too often when players lift heavy weights, proper form is compromised. If a player is doing a back squat, he should keep his heels on the ground, hinge the hips back toward the heels, and drop his rear end below his knees. “The functionality is missing if a player can’t bend,” Koehler said. “When they leave the room, it has to be able to transfer to performance.”

Get players out of their comfort zones. Players typically stay closest to the machines and exercises in which they excel. There’s always a long line at the bench press and squat rack. Stations in which flexibility is required are often vacant. “Force your players to get comfortable in those precarious positions they see in competition,” Koehler said. “It’s a challenge with 15- to 18-year-olds who want to walk down the hallway and talk about how much they bench, squat and hang clean.”

Test flexibility with overhead squats. While an overhead squat can be an effective exercise for building strength, Koehler also uses it to identify weaknesses in a player’s muscle development and flexibility. “It’s a good measure of a lot of different checkpoints,” Koehler said. “Can he keep a stiff spine? Can he hinge his hips with his heels on the ground? Can he maintain good core posture?”

Make corrections based on overhead squat findings. The overhead squat test can be done by a player without any weight on the bar. In fact, a player can simply hold a broom overhead. If the athlete is unable to keep his hips back and feet flat on the ground, he must increase his core strength. If he is unable to keep the broom above his trapezoid and deltoid muscles with his elbows locked, he must increase his shoulder stability.

Address the spinal column. If a player is struggling to maintain posture while doing ground-based exercises like deadlifts or squats, it is likely a core strength issue. Resolve those issues by working the legs, obliques and lower back. Helpful exercises include glute-ham raises, reverse hyperextensions, and hanging oblique raises.

Work the posterior chain. Football players can become obsessed by what they see in the mirror, and that can result in the neglect of the posterior chain. Exercises like the deadlift, hex-squat deadlift, hang clean, and overhead squat offer different variations for the posterior chain.

Start slow. The ground-based posterior chain lifts are often among the heaviest lifts a player will perform. Injuries could result from poor technique. Have the players start light and work their way up gradually.

Do you have a thought about this article that you would like to share? If you do, email managing editor Dan Guttenplan at dguttenplan@ae-engine.com. Tweet us @fnfcoaches.