Best Explosive Exercises for Football Players

7 Best Explosive Exercises For Football Players

Becoming a more explosive football player should be priority number one every off-season. Football is a game built around explosiveness in almost every aspect and every phase of the game.

More explosive running backs can break through the second level better for big runs. More explosive linemen (on both sides of the ball) will have an advantage at the line of scrimmage. Regardless of what position you play, being more powerful and explosive is a huge advantage on the field.

I’ve been training elite-level college football players for two decades and in this guide, I’m going to give my 7 favorite exercises for developing explosive power.

Let’s get right to it.

Explosive Exercises for Football Players

To be clear, these aren’t the only exercises that will build explosive power. There are a ton of Olympic lift variations, plyometrics and med ball exercises that, if used properly, can train power.

These particular movements are simply my favorites and exercises that I’ve had the most success with over the years.

Power Clean

Power Clean First Pull
Arms straight, feet flat, knees out, chest out, eyes straight ahead… great first pull.

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 – running, jumping, exploding off the line of scrimmage – and should be the main focus of almost all power-developing exercises.

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 faster 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.

Med Ball Cannonballs

Medicine Balls on Field
No gym? No worries! All you need is a medicine ball and a field to get good work in.

If you don’t feel comfortable with your Olympic lifting technique, don’t worry, there are still plenty of exercises available to you that can develop power. One that I love and use all the time with football players are Med Ball Cannonballs.

Cannonballs are essentially taking a medicine ball and throwing it as high as possible.

Start in a good athletic position – feet about shoulder-width apart, knees and hips bent and back flat. The starting position should look almost identical to the starting position of a Power Clean.

From this position, explode up and throw the ball as high in the air as possible. Allow the ball to hit the ground first on the way down (don’t try to catch out of the air). Grab it off the bounce, reset, and throw it again.

Speed Squat

Man Squatting in Squat Rack
Photo Credit (Andy Gin /

The increasing popularity (and decreasing costs) of devices to measure bar speed has made velocity-based training more accessible.

This means you can take one of the best lower body strength-building exercises for football players and turn it into an explosive movement as well.

If you do have access to a bar speed measuring device, Speed Squats can be an extremely effective exercise for developing power by working in proper speed ranges. (Around 1.0m/s to 1.3m/s)

If you don’t have access to a bar speed measuring device, don’t worry, you can still incorporate Speed Squats into your training. Simply keep the percentages to roughly 50%-60% of your 1-RM and focus on moving the bar as fast as possible while maintaining good technique.

Power Jerk

Power Jerk Front Rack Position

One of my favorite upper body exercises is one that helps develop upper body power and that’s the Power Jerk. It also teaches football players how to coordinate their hips and upper body to create as much power as possible.

Linemen specifically, who need to coordinate the power being generated by their hips and punch almost every play should absolutely have Power Jerks in their training regimen.

Like Power Cleans, there are also plenty of Jerk variations to choose from as well. Push Presses, Split Jerks and even Med Ball Jerks are all exercises that can be utilized in a training program.

Sled Sprints

Speed Sled
A speed sled is hands down the most effective tool you can buy for speed training.

You don’t have to be in a weight room to develop explosive power.

In fact, the argument could be made that Sled Sprints might be the most effective exercise on this entire list. This is particularly true for skill and combo position players where being able to quickly accelerate can separate a good player from a great player.

Learning how to apply force into the ground and accelerate is what Sled Sprints are all about. I recommend using between 10 and 25% of the athlete’s bodyweight for Sled Sprints. Keep the heavier reps to shorter distances – 10 to 15 yards. The lighter weights can be used for longer distance sprints, up to around 50 yards.


Football Player Bounding on Track

The final exercise of my top seven is an exercise that is representative of an entire category of power-building exercises called plyometrics.

Plyometrics is a group of exercises that involve developing maximal power over a short period of time and is most often associated with jumping movements. Box Jumps, Vertical Jumps and Broad Jumps are all examples of plyos.

Bounding is my favorite for football players for two reasons. They require the player to generate a tremendous amount of power to drive themselves forward and they are done on one leg at a time. This combination makes them the best carry-over to the football field in my opinion.

Final Thoughts

As a football player, working to become a more explosive athlete cannot be understated and hopefully, this guide has helped you get an idea of what exercises you should have included in your training program.

Are these the only seven exercises to develop power? Absolutely not. But, I would highly recommend having most (if not all) of these exercises in your training if you’re able to perform them with good form.

Want more exercise ideas? Here are my 10 favorite exercises for football players.

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