Swissball Circles

Core strength is at the center of any conditioning program. There are entire books dedicated to strengthening your abs. However, since kicking isn’t done while on your back, Sprague The Leg encourages creativity in this area. Any gym has Swissballs, because they’re an excellent resource for building stability, balance, and strength.

Deceptive, but effective exercises for building strength are Swissball Circles. Take a shoulder-width stance with your feet and place your forearms on top of the Swissball so you are in a bridge position. Make sure not to let your hips sag down, keep them straight and squeeze your abs tight. Using your forearms to move the ball, make ten small circles in a clockwise direction and ten counter-clockwise. After the first set of small circles, try making bigger circles with the ball throughout each of the next three sets.

 

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Revelations vs. Resolutions

Yes it’s already March 2011, and how many of you are still sticking to your New Year’s Resolutions? This point isn’t made to make anyone feel guilty, but to bring up a revelation. Resolutions are made based on our weaknesses, strife’s, and struggles. Without accountability, most fall well short of the mark. Do we really want to address the issues that aren’t already strengths? Our tendency is to train in a manner than befits areas that we are already competent. Instead of resolutions, consider revelations like an epiphany that there are areas in your life that are tougher to conquer than others.

Let’s take flexibility as a weakness. Stretching can be uncomfortable, awkward, and painful for some. However, how can full range of motion be achieved without flexibility? If your goal is to squat more weight and become stronger, then lifting heavy weights won’t cut it. Increasing the depth of your squats means your hips aren’t restricted from going below parallel. Yoga is a perfect example of bodily coordination through: breathing, balance, strength, and flexibility. Squatting merely ads weight to completing all of the above in one movement. Good flexibility is to lifting weights as hydration is to nutrition; without one, the other becomes nearly impossible.

Listing weaknesses can become overwhelming when there’s a list of 10-20 areas in your life that are challenges. Working on them sucks, but as these struggles diminish, a certain confidence comes with success. Therefore, while a painful process, it’s imperative for growth. Athletes learn more from a loss than a win. Failure means one process doesn’t work and the bulls-eye for what will become larger. Addressing weaknesses mean you won’t specialize in one area, which makes you that much more valuable.

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The Deadlift

Without a doubt, the Deadlift (DL) will play a significant role in your strength training. This lift will build your posterior chain (lower back, glutes, hamstrings), improve your grip and help you develop power for other lifts like squats. Being a strong kicker doesn’t translate into having a strong core. Kickers and punters are constantly straining abdominal muscles or obliques. This is due to these muscles working too hard to make up for weaknesses in other areas. These other areas usually are a muscle group of the aforementioned posterior chain. Most athletes are concerned with muscles that are visible to others, i.e. pecs, biceps, and abs. Deadlifts could be better described as the nemesis of this kind of thought process.

Whether a beginner or expert, fine-tuning your technique with a PVC pipe will make a difference. Let’s start with your stance: feet should be hip-width apart. This is commonly known as a “power position” because of the ability to be most explosive from this stance. Next up, the grip: hands should be placed outside shoulder-width, which is the same position you’d be in with Olympic Lifts. Finally, let’s look at body position: start standing straight up with the pipe at waist height. Think about your hips and the pipe being together as one, when the pipe descends, so do your hips. The pipe should stay in contact with your legs the entire time until you reach mid-shin level. At this point, your shoulders should be in front of the bar, butt should be slightly higher than your knees (This position is the starting position once you transition to an Olympic bar with weight). When you’ve reached this point, return up with bar in contact the entire way. If you incorporate the hip-width stance with your feet and hands outside shoulder-width, then your knees and arms shouldn’t ever contact one another. As for the grip on the bar, this author likes the mixed-grip, where hands face the opposite way. Play around with the grip to find what’s right for you. Perform one set of 10 reps with the pipe as a warm-up before moving onto a bar, dumbbells, or even KB’s. Using lighter weight, complete four sets of 10 reps then you can start to bump up to big boy weight.

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Wizard Kicking

“Practice makes perfect,” or so the saying goes. But in order to practice as you play, it has to be realistic. There’s a lot of “warm-up All-Americans” out there who practice with footballs that are broken in and once they use a game ball, the excuses immediately follow. If you kick a new ball in games, your practice should mirror that. This is where buying new footballs every couple months can become expensive quickly. Wizardkicking.com can help you solve those problems. The owner Mike runs shop out of Anaheim, California and has been supplying kickers with footballs, tees, kicking cleats, nets and the works for many years. There’s also the option of purchasing new and “blem” footballs. Mike, being a former kicker himself has also developed kicking cleats. He ships across the country and has supplied Sprague The Leg since 2002.

STL encourages you to purchase all your kicking needs through Mike from Wizard Kicking.

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Hydration

The marketing of products this day in age can be misleading. Take cigarettes, products that contain soy, Coca Cola, and Gatorade. The manner in that we are exposed to these products leads us to believe what we see from a biased perspective. (By the way, none of the aforementioned products have any nutritional value whatsoever.) Sure the cigarettes are an extreme example, but even Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man had the spotlight in their hay-day. While Gatorade won’t kill you, it isn’t all it’s hyped up to be. Yes, it tastes great but it is not the best option out there. The valuable electrolytes Gatorade provides are mostly salt, sugar, and artificial sweetener.

Coconut water has been around for years, but due to lack of endorsement by professional athletes, its benefits aren’t widely known. Coconut water contains both potassium (which helps you avoid cramping and dehydration) and magnesium (which can allow your muscles to relax). This water also contains less sodium, only natural sugars from the coconut and no artificial sweeteners. All this points towards a better quality product going into your body after strenuous training.

Unfortunately, coconut water can’t be found everywhere. You’ll mostly find them in specialty markets like Trader Joe’s, Mothers Market, Henry’s, Whole Foods, etc. It makes for an unbeatable post workout/ recovery drink and will help you feel better.

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The Perfect Protein Shake

Education is the primary function of Sprague The Leg. Keeping this in mind, many athletes ask which protein powder is best. This author has tried them all: pre and post workout shakes, NO Explode, Creatine, Glutamine, Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAA), SuperSet, you get the picture. The name of the game is recovery: how quickly can one build back up what it has just torn down. What’s the best protein shake out on the market? The answer to your question isn’t purchased at GNC or MaxMuscle.

Lets quickly review what your body needs for workouts: Carbohydrates, Fat, and Protein. Carbohydrates are necessary for sustained energy, fats are the main fuel source for which calories are burned, and protein aids in repairing muscle after it’s broken down. Go to your local market, purchase a can of coconut milk (found in the Asian cooking section), free-range organic eggs, and blueberries (most fruit will do the trick). That’s right, all natural baby! No gimmicks, fancy labels, bulging biceps or price tags.

Coconut milk represents our fat (monounsaturated fats which are the good kind), which helps you feel full and gives you calories to burn. Free-range organic eggs are your protein, which your muscles need to help during protein synthesis (repairing themselves). The blueberries or fruit of choice are the carbs that give you a quick boost.

To make this concoction you’ll want to pour the coconut milk into a blender, crack open three eggs, and add a cup of blueberries. Blend up this witches brew, down the hatch, and off you go. It may not taste like a milkshake but putting the right fuel into your body is far more important than what your taste buds are telling you.

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Resistance Kicking

Another alternative to resistance training, in addition to your pool workouts, is elastic tubing. Elastic tubing provides light resistance to build foot speed and explosiveness, as does the pool. The tubing should have a resistance of two – five pounds to ensure you are training your legs to be as fast as possible. If your goal is to create as much power (Force x Velocity) as when you are kicking the ball then kicking with heavy tubing is out of the question. Basic kicking and punting patterns should be mimicked, i.e. lockout drills. The goal is to break down both motions to train each movement pattern individually. The tubing should be strapped around your foot where you strike the ball, attach the other end to a secure or fixed object, like a post. After introducing these into your program, you’ll notice better balance, foot speed, and flexibility.

Avoiding injury and time away from kicking has always been part of the foundation of Sprague The Leg. It is important to perform these exercises with your plant leg as well to reduce muscular imbalances. Keep in mind your plant leg takes a lot of abuse when you kick. Including these same lockout drills and exercises with your plant leg will allow for different muscles to fire and increase elasticity. Increase muscle memory and improve foot speed by performing four sets of 10 repetitions with two – five pound tubing. Tubing can be purchased from many fitness supply sites, just Google “Terrell Owens Bands” to find a good deal and you’ll be set.

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Pooch Punts

Pooch punts are my favorite of the three kinds of punts (Field, Pooch and Directional). Anytime I’m standing on my own 35-yard line or farther, I’m looking to hang the ball up 4.9 seconds and drop it inside the 10-yard line. If I can do this, there will be a fair catch sign up every time or my guys will be waiting to down the ball. Being proficient with Pooch Punts allows your defense to work with a shorter field and limits the opposing offense.

I’ve had two touch-backs in my punting career because of how I held the ball. My success with pinning teams deep in their own territory was due to the nose of the ball pointing slightly upwards. When performing a Pooch Punt, the nose of the ball is slightly up and this means I strike the ball a little higher than I do my Field Punts. Remember that by changing the angle of the ball, the drop table will also change, as will your lockout point on the ball. With Pooch Punts, we aren’t looking for as much distance, so changing the lockout point is alright. Locking out at a higher point increases hang-time while decreasing distance. Practice your Pooch Punts when you go out to the field, but don’t dedicate entire sessions towards it, 20-25 balls is a good number.

  • Set up cones in a rectangle, on either hashes starting from the seven-yard line to the 12-yard line. This will give you a big target to drop your punts inside of. You’ll have a big target and be able to spot where the ball lands. The goal is to punt the ball inside the rectangle every time.
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Directional/Coffin Corner Punts

Realistically, there are three reasons for directional punts:

  1. Devin Hester is returning the punt
  2. You are pinning your opponent inside the 10-yard line
  3. Bad punt coverage team

Practicing your footwork becomes critical with Directional/Coffin Corner Punts. Setting up cones to help guide your steps towards your target is the most efficient way for beginners to learn and experts to refine their accuracy. The two most important things with these punts are having a target, and making sure your steps go towards it. With right-footed punters, the ball will naturally fade to the right so you have to adjust your targets accordingly by aiming inside. For example, if you want to drop the ball out of bounds inside the 10-yard line, your steps will not be towards the sideline rather you should be aiming just inside the numbers to account for the ball fading. If you are aiming to pin the ball out of bounds to the left inside the 10-yard line, your aiming point is going to be the 20-yard line, specifically, the sideline. Aiming inside your target will allow you to adjust for the ball to fade back inside. This is where practicing footwork is critical because if your steps are off, so is your alignment with your target.

With Directional Punts, the hang time isn’t as critical because you are aiming to punt the ball out of bounds. For that reason, I suggest dropping the ball from just below hip height, with the nose of the ball slightly down. This will force you to lockout on the ball lower which means you’ll drive the ball farther.

  • Dry swings with the ball in hand are perfect for directional targets.
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The Field Punt

Field Punts are the most common type of punt you’ll be hitting. The goal is to hit the ball as high and far as possible. Field position is the reason punters are on the team, while high net yardage is preferred; out-kicking your coverage never helps. Let’s say, you have a great punt team, and your gunners run a 4.5 second 40-yard dash. If you punt the ball 50 yards, you must give them enough time to get down the field to make the tackle. I hold myself to 4.7 second hang time and 42 yards to ensure my coverage team can get downfield. The standard for NFL Field Punts is 4.6 seconds hang time with a distance of 41 yards or better.

What I have found to produce the best results with Field Punts is holding the ball with the nose slightly down. When punting, I’ve always dropped the ball from hip height so as to match where my leg locks out on the ball. This is where practicing drop drills produces muscle memory. Upon receiving the snap, place the ball in front of you at hip height (aka Drop Table), begin your steps holding the ball at this level until you hit your plant step. Once the ball leaves your hands, it’s up to the timing and rhythm of your big foot to take care of the rest.

I can’t tell you how many drop drills I’ve done over the last 10 years and to be honest, I still hate them. Unfortunately, attention to detail is what I preach and practicing good habits will set you apart. Spending 15 minutes inside your room working your steps and drop drills won’t be a waste of time. It’s not possible to obtain consistency if you are practicing drop drills once a week. By keeping your body and mind acclimated with your footwork, drop drills and swings, you will continue to see the improvements you want.

* When you practice field punts, set up cones in five-yard increments starting at 30 yards away from the line of scrimmage. At the 40-yard cone, place a cone seven yards on either side. This is called the T-Drill and your goal is to hit the ball 40 yards and straight down the field inside the T.

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