Building a strong upper body may not be as important as developing a powerful lower body for football players, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore it.
I’ve put together a list of what I believe are seven of the best upper body exercises for football players to maximize performance on the football field. And don’t worry, Bench Press is on the list.
If you’re putting together a football strength program, these exercises should be on the list.
Table of Contents
Upper Body Exercises for Football
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 good 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.
When it comes to building upper-body strength, nothing beats Pull-Ups. Pull-Ups was 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 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 player’s favorite exercise also happens to 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).
Front Press (Standing Barbell Shoulder Press)
I had a coach who loved to say, “If you’re bench pressing on the field then something has gone horribly wrong.” He was referencing the fact that if you’re bench pressing, it means you’ve found yourself laying on your back with another player laying on top of you. Not a great place to be on the field.
While I get his point, I still like Bench Press for football players.
However, football is played on the feet which is one of the reasons I also like the Standing Barbell Shoulder Press. Front Presses are second only to Bench Press when it comes to pressing movements and they have the additional added benefit of having to utilize and brace the core while pressing.
If you’re programming upper body exercises for football players, the Standing Barbell Shoulder Press should be on your short list.
Bent Over Rows
There are plenty of great rowing exercises to choose from – One Arm DB Rows, Renegade Rows, Cable Rows, etc.
So, what makes Bent Over Rows so great? Weight. Bent Over Rows allows you to use more weight while maintaining a good athletic position. This means not only is the upper back being worked, but the lower back is being worked as well just by bracing and holding the rowing position.
There are many great rowing exercises, but Bent Over Rows are my favorite of the bunch.
Single Arm Dumbbell Incline Bench
Good news. There’s more Bench Pressing in my top 7.
This Bench Press variation is very specific – Single Arm Dumbbell Incline Bench. There’s a reason for this particular pressing version though.
For starters, benching at an incline is a much more relevant movement pattern for football players, especially linemen on both sides of the ball.
Second, there are many instances on the field where you’re engaged with another player with just one arm. Having that unilateral strength and the core strength to be able to stabilize while only pressing with one side can come in very handy on the football field.
These are the reasons I love this very specific Bench Press variation.
The last upper body exercise for football players is Pull-Ups little brother, the Inverted Row.
Inverted Rows are often given to linemen as an alternative if they can’t do Pull-Ups, but I’ve always felt that’s underutilizing this movement. Yes, Inverted Rows are great for big guys who will often be challenged by this bodyweight exercise.
However, there are also plenty of ways you can increase the difficulty of Inverted Rows for skill and combo players as well.
Elevate your feet up onto a bench, or a stability ball. Add resistance through a weight plate on the chest, chains or even a resistance band anchored to the rack. Even more simply add tempo – slow down the eccentric portion of the movement and/or add a pause at the top.
Trust me, there are plenty of ways you can make Inverted Rows challenging for every athlete on the team.
Building a strong upper body can be very beneficial on the football and these seven exercises can help get you there.
Just make sure that these exercises are part of a comprehensive program that also focuses on developing an explosive lower body and a strong core.