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© June, 2012
Defensive Linemen - An Off-Season Power Program

by Tim Tobin
Defensive Line, Kickers, and Strength and Conditioning Coach • Kutztown University

As a strength coach, teaching proper technique is very important. What is most effective is when players see the results of their getting stronger which brings real motivation. Every year, KU sends out a twelve week off-season workout program with a daily progress sheet and a DVD showing examples of proper form. New players receive plans with less Olympic lifts and less maximum weight to lift. New athletes will work on correct form before going heavy.

Every year coaches are noticing the importance of a good strength and flexibility program. Smaller and lighter players are able to compete and defeat much larger players from other programs. Lately, with fewer injuries, strength gained during the off-season and maintained along with good teaching and better performances on the field, has helped KU’s program tremendously. This specific program is intended for your defensive linemen. Coaching points are also included.

Twelve Week Off-Season Power Program

1. Warm up

•  Always have a slight sweat before lifting.

•  Ladder work is a good way to warm up the muscles before pushing some serious weight.

•  Use quick two feet agility drills or one foot drills.

•  Jumping rope is a good warm up exercise.

•  Warm up muscles by proper stretching.

1A. Stretching

•  Players need to know the benefits of stretching.

•  Players must want to be flexible.

•  Warm up before stretching (Dynamic stretch).

•  Relax during stretching.

•  Show patience and consistency with stretching.

•  Don’t bounce or force stretches (static stretch).

•  Hold stretch for thirty seconds to one
minute (static stretch).

•  Rotation stretches - try to keep moving from stretch to stretch.

•  Perform defensive line movements after lifting session. A successful weight room program has the belief and dedication from coaches and players.

2. Are you training your defensive line correctly? They should be developing a fast twitch for a powerful athlete using 1-6 repetitions and short burst sprints as conditioning.

3. Benefits defensive linemen achieve from a power workout.

•  Developing fast twitch muscles.

•  Power with speed.

•  Football endurance.

•  Not favoring one muscle group over another (less muscle pulls).

•  Preventing injuries - most injuries don’t happen to muscle and bones. More injuries happen to joints, ligaments, and tendons, usually when the athlete is in a difficult position.

4. How long should defensive linemen be in the weight room?

One hour - longer is not better.

5. How many lifts in a workout?

A total of 25 sets break up the exercises.

•  4 sets of 6 with 6 different exercises.

•  5 sets of 5 with 5 different exercises.

•  6 sets of 3 with 4 different exercises.

6. How many lifting days a week?

4 days (Resting the muscles is very important)

7. How much rest?

3 days of rest before working the body part again.

8. How many exercises per workout?

3 to 6 exercises, depending on where you are in the program.

Use more exercises with more repetitions at the beginning of the program. Work towards lower repetitions and heavier weight. In season, go to fewer sets and more repetitions with more exercises covering the entire body.

9. Which body parts should be worked on each week?

•  Monday- arms, core and plyometrics.

•  Tuesday- chest and core.

•  Thursday- back, lats and core.

•  Friday – legs, core and plyometrics.

Start with smaller muscle groups before going to larger ones. For example, work lunges before squats or the close grip bench before normal bench.

10. Technique of lifting

•  Concentric slowly down with lift controlled down.

•  Stop and pause for 2 seconds.

•  Concentric explode quickly up with lift.

11. Rest between sets - 1 minute - This is realistic to what they’ll perform in a game.

12. Range of motion

•  Full range exercises. Don’t cut the athlete short with machine lifts or short range lifts.

The explosive part of lifting makes players better for football. While bringing the weights back to the starting position under a controlled manner, it helps keep players injuries down. For example, the power clean - think of the muscles used when going full range and under control. We tell our athletes not to make a noise when returning weight to the ground. Compare that to a lifter who does the lift and throws the weight to the ground. He only gets the explosive benefit.

13. Lifts for the Big Boys

•  Core - Full stomach, lower and middle back.

•  Lower body - explosive leg, hip and butt exercises.

•  Upper body- push and pull exercises.

Defensive linemen practice their techniques during practice to get better for the game. Repetitions in the weight room should be just as important.

•  Do lifts that replicate defensive line play and movements. Defensive linemen need to do player movements after lifting. This helps the muscles get used to the different movements.

14. Defensive Line Lifts - No belts, gloves or straps.

•  Pull ups and chin ups - Use a towel and weighted vest for hand and pulling strength.

•  Power clean - full movement and explosive.

•  Dead lifts - Romanian and Sumo Flat feet power stance - full body movement and explosive.
•  Squats - normal and frontal (on leg days we go upstairs and do some quick sprints half way through the workout).

•  Close grip bench - push and lockout strength (football realistic).

•  High pull - full body movement and explosive.

•  Overhead squat – explosive movement.

•  Barbell shrugs - forward, behind and overhead shrug.

•  Dumbbell jump squat - butt and explosive, plyometrics.

•  Dumbbell back row - for hand pulling strength.

•  Hyperextension - core and lower back strength.

•  Lunges (forward, side, and plie’) Very important lifts. Cross over Plie’ is a ballet movement, used with dumbbells. Best lunges usually occur when used with two movements, a lunge and a twist of the upper body.

•  Barbell T-bar back row - pull and hand strength.

•  Leg press - one foot at a time leg press makes it more realistic.

15. Core exercises

•  Hanging core exercises (from pull up bar).

•  Hanging rotation knee rises.

•  Hanging leg scissors (individual legs slowly back and forth).

•  Hanging windshield wipers (rotate legs above waist right to left).

•  Hyperextensions machine - important for the lower back, butt and hamstrings.

•  Seated Russian twists (rotating right to left, twisting slowly).

16. Super Sets

Super sets are two exercises performed back to back using opposite muscles with minimal rest between exercises to increase the workout intensity. We use super sets on arm day workouts.

17. Lifting Heavier Weights

Lift more than maximum weight toward the end of the program. Have lifting partners when lifting heavy weight (100-125% of 1 rep max).

18. Developing Speed with Plyometrics

•  Fast concentric contractions.

•  Use lighter weights with same low repetitions quicker for acceleration lifts.

•  Plyometrics - teaching nervous system to work faster.
•  Use jumping platforms of 5 to 12 inches high - Higher is not necessarily better.

•  Jump off platform - hit ground and jump with no pause.

•  Make plyometric exercises realistic to defensive line play.

•  Rest for 3 days after plyometric workout.

19. Conditioning for a Defensive Lineman

•  Short burst take offs and moving different directions (1-10 seconds).

•  Stance, start and stop (forward and sideways 5 to 10 yards).

Grass hill conditioning:

•  Run up hill to get legs stronger.

•  Run downhill to get legs moving faster and help strengthen other parts of the body.

•  Run sideways up hill.

•  Run sideways down hill.

•  Backpedal up the hill.

About the Author: Tim Tobin enters his seventh season this fall as a member of the Kutztown University coaching staff. He is responsible for the defensive line and kickers and also serves as the team’s Strength and Conditioning Coach. Tobin has also coached at Shippensburg University, the University of California-Santa Barbara, and Arizona State.


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