As a former lineman myself, maybe I’m a little biased, but I believe most football games are won up front by the guys in the trenches. I also think that there are perhaps no other athletes in any sport where the weight room matters more than with football linemen.
To fully maximize your potential as an offensive or defensive lineman, it’s not just a matter of working hard in the weight room, but working smart as well.
Being smart about choosing which exercises to do can make a huge difference in your development as a lineman.
So, in this guide, I’m going to share my 10 favorite exercises to use with football linemen.
Exercises for Offensive and Defensive Linemen
I’m a huge proponent of utilizing the Olympic Lifts to develop power and explosiveness. Within my programming, I will use all kinds of Clean variations – Muscle Cleans, Hang Cleans, Hang Power Cleans, Full Cleans and Clean Pulls.
So, why Power Clean? What makes it so special?
First, it’s a little easier to teach. In my opinion, starting from the floor makes the starting position easier to teach than from the hang. Catching in the power position (as opposed to a full squat) also removes some technical aspects of the full lift.
Second, Power Cleans allow for a full, aggressive triple-extension of the hips, knees and ankles. This triple extension movement is involved in most explosive actions on the football field – including exploding off the line of scrimmage – and should be the main focus of almost all power-developing exercises.
If you could only give me two exercises to train a football player, I would pick Power Cleans and Back Squats.
No other exercise is going to build strength as effectively as the Back Squat. I’m talking about strength where it’s most useful for a football player as well – in the legs and hips. Strong biceps are great, but it’s a strong and powerful lower body that will dominate the line of scrimmage.
Not only will Back Squats build strong legs, but they’ll also help develop a strong core and a strong back which are also both pretty important for football athletes. It’s easily my first choice of any lower body exercise for football.
There seems to be a rift within Collegiate Strength and Conditioning about whether Back Squatting or Front Squatting is more beneficial for athletes. And it seems that everyone has chosen a side and you’re either a Back Squat proponent or a Front Squat advocate.
Which am I?
I think football players should be doing BOTH.
Back Squats and Front Squats both have their pros and cons and BOTH should have a place in a football strength and conditioning program. Why anyone would pick one and throw out the other I’ll never understand.
Hang Power Snatch
Hang Power Snatches are perhaps the most overlooked and underutilized exercise on this list. I feel like many strength programs, especially at the high school level avoid snatches because of the idea that they are hard to teach.
In reality, Hang Power Snatches are actually easier for athletes to pick up compared to cleans. This is due to the fact that the catch position – holding the bar overhead with a wide grip – is much less technical than catching the bar in a front rack position.
Hang Power Snatches are also done with less weight which also lends them to be more beginner-friendly.
The combination of a technically-friendly movement and lighter weight allows football players to really lock in and move the bar as fast as possible. The fastest the bar is able to move, the more power is produced.
This leads me to my last point on Hang Power Snatches. They are meant to be a little on the lighter side and crazy fast. If the bar starts to slow down and the movement gets ‘grindy’ at the top – lighten the weight and focus back on speed.
When it comes to building upper-body strength, nothing beats Pull-Ups. Pull-Ups were voted the top upper body exercise to improve athletic performance by a group of college strength coaches (beating out the next exercise on the list).
They can be done with limited equipment – all you need is a pull-up bar.
There are a ton of variations you can do with Pull-Ups as well. Weighted Pull-ups, Chin-ups and Mountain Climber Pull-Ups just to name a few. You can also start with assisted Pull-Ups while you build your strength.
Almost every football lineman’s favorite exercise also happens to be one of the best ones for them. Bench Press is an excellent upper-body compound exercise, meaning it works many muscles at the same time.
Obviously, Bench Press works the chest, but it also targets the shoulders and the triceps as well (even muscles like the Lats are involved in Bench Pressing).
I’ve already explained that I’m a big believer in using Olympic Lifts to develop power and Power Jerks are my favorite variation that focuses on upper body power.
There are also similar variations that can also work just as well and can be programmed in a progression. Push Press, Power Jerk and Split Jerks would all be worthy of this number one spot.
Not comfortable jerking from a front rack position? Not a problem. You can jerk from a front rack position or from the shoulders. Either will do the job of developing upper body power that will translate to the football field.
I love Pistol Squats. I love Pistol Squats because they’re a bodyweight movement that will absolutely smoke your legs without putting any added stress to the posterior chain.
If you’re designing a strength and conditioning program you have to be really careful with how much you are taxing the posterior chain. So many exercises – Olympic lifts, squats, hinging movements like RDLs and Bent Over Rows – all stress the posterior chain. This is part of what makes Pistol Squats truly special.
Pistol Squats are also a TRUE single-leg movement.
Many single-leg movements like lunges and step-ups can be ‘cheated’ and an athlete can still compensate for a weaker side. Pistol Squats are one leg and one leg only. No opposite leg to give you a little boost if you need it.
They also can be very humbling to even the strongest linemen. I’ve seen linemen that can squat 600 pounds struggle with Pistol Squats using only their body weight.
All the exercises up to this point have been pretty traditional up to this point, but there is no chance I’m leaving off Prowler Pushes. If you’re unfamiliar with what a Prowler is, it’s basically a sled that you can add weights to and then vertical handles that allow you to push it.
Keep the weight a bit lighter and you can work on power. Load it up and focus on building strength. It’s an amazing tool.
It will also, as anyone who has ever pushed a prowler for multiple sets will tell you, tax your anaerobic system to the max. Want to get in football shape? Try an exercise that requires total body exertion for 8 to 10 seconds at a time repeatedly.
Like Prowler Pushes, my last exercise for football linemen is also not a ‘traditional’ weight room exercise.
Tire Flips are actually very similar to a few of the other exercises listed above like Power Cleans, Bench Press and Power Jerks. It’s a total body movement that demands strength and power from the hips as well as strength from the upper body.
The thing that I like about Tire Flips that makes it unique is it can be awkward and unsteady. The shifting and unbalanced nature of a large tire makes the lifter have to make adjustments along the way to stay balanced and apply force.
This is very similar to what happens on the football field at the line of scrimmage.
Having to use your entire body in coordination to create power and apply force, while at the same time adjusting your footwork as needed makes Tire Flips an absolutely perfect exercise for linemen.
I hope this guide helped you with making your exercise selections for your own workout program.
These exercises aren’t the only ten exercises that a football lineman needs, but most (if not all) of them should be included at some point during a lineman’s off-season program.
Finally, if you found this guide helpful, you may want to check out my Best Upper Body Lifts for Football Players. I’ve been training football players at an elite level for two decades and I selected my favorite upper body lifts that can help maximize performance on the football field.