Reverse Hyperextensions

Part of being a strong and healthy kicker or punter means working the muscles you can’t always see. Too often we are concerned with training the muscles that are visible to ourselves and others (the front side or anterior chain). Reverse Hyperextensions are one of the best lower back strengthening exercises I know. They develop your posterior (back) side: namely the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings. The reason I stress working these into your regiment is because they can help prevent injury, while helping you build strength for your other lifts too. As I’ve mentioned, many injuries occur due to muscular imbalance. For example, one muscle is dominant and does the majority of the work leaving both muscles vulnerable. Reverse Hyperextensions can help ensure a strong lower back to make it through the demands of the off-season and throughout the year.

If your gym doesn’t include a GHD machine, then I have a perfect alternative for you. You’ll need a Swiss Ball and a bench.  Place the ball on the edge of the bench; roll onto the ball until your stomach and hips are on top of the ball; keep your body as straight as possible, shoulders over your wrists, and legs straight; without creating any momentum with the rest of your body, raise both legs together as high as possible. Upon reaching full range of motion, lower your legs together slowly. Four sets of 12 repetitions is ideal for anyone training.

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Front Squat

Just as you have siblings and relatives, so do exercises. There are many different squats, all which create strong kickers, but I’m going to focus on Front Squats. The Front Squat forces the body to make use of almost every muscle in your body due to placement of the bar. Resting the bar in front of your body with your hands and shoulders incorporates a different feel. This placement emphasizes more balance and strength from your ankles, quads, glutes, wrists and shoulders. They all have to work together to achieve full range of motion.

Start by using a PVC pipe or dumbbells & a shoulder width stance, inhale on way down

When butt reaches parallel to ground, push through your heels & exhale all the way up

Start by using a PVC pipe or dumbbells to adjust to this new placement. Wrist flexibility is a big factor with this movement. More wrist flexibility will make for a speedy adjustment and will support you when you move into the realm of Olympic weightlifting. You’ll want your elbows as high as possible, so the bar rests on your shoulders and relaxes your wrists. After getting into this position, pick up the pipe, dumbbells or Olympic bar, and take a shoulder width stance with your feet. Now the same rules apply as any other squat: inhale when going down, when your butt reaches parallel to the ground, push through your heels, and exhale all the way up. Make sure to drive your hips through until you are standing straight up to stress full hip extension. Start with four sets of 10 repetitions with little to no weight to develop coordination, technique and strength. If you haven’t already, you’ll soon learn to love squatting as much as I do.

Alternate position for dumbbells

Alternate position for dumbbells

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Kettlebell Swings

One of my favorite pieces of equipment is the Kettlebell (KB). It’s extremely basic, yet dynamic enough to build a powerful athlete. Kettlebell swings do just that by developing your leg strength, hip and glute power, your lower back, forearms, and deltoids. It’s safe to say the Russians know what they’re doing when it comes to exercise and anatomy (think about Rocky IV).

Similar to all other strength and power building exercises, start light and work your way up. Perfecting your technique with KB swings is similar to kicking in that it takes time and patience, but once you get it, they’re second nature. The Russians use a Pood to measure the weight of the KB, so don’t be confused when you see a one pood KB (one pood is equal to 16 kilograms or 35 lbs).

With both feet flat on the ground, shoulder width apart, grip the top portion of the KB with both hands together. Using your legs and not your lower back, stand straight up so the KB is between your legs. Shoot your hips back into a quarter-squat position and as you violently thrust your hips through, swing the KB up in front of you until its overhead.

Stand with feet shoulder width apart, hold with both hands

Shoot your hips back into 1/4 squat & thrust your hips through

The violence in your hips creates the momentum to drive the KB up instead of your shoulders muscling it up. Exhale through your mouth as you swing upward and inhale on the way back down. What goes up must come down, so be mindful of your posture on the way back down. Your body has created the momentum to take the KB up now gravity gets to return the favor. Keep your eyes straight ahead, maintain a flat back and drop your hips into a quarter-squat again. Your eyes and back should never be facing towards the ground. If so, use less weight. Four sets of 10 repetitions will help build good explosive power and muscle memory. Once you are proficient, increase the weight and drop the number of repetitions to work in an anaerobic state (Type II muscle fibers).

Swing the KB up in front of you until its overhead

Exhale on way up & inhale on way down

  • Two great supplemental exercises for KB Swings are back extensions and RDL’s. These will help build a strong lower back in order to maintain upright posture.
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Overhead Ball Slams

I rarely repeat myself, but having strength and power through the lumbo-pelvic hip complex is crucial for kicking. Once your leg is locking-out on the ball, you’ll also be crunching down. Having power to strike the ball and follow through at the point of contact is why you train. Overhead Ball Slams help you generate the power necessary to crunch down on the football.

Do yourself, your parents, and your dentist a favor by making sure you use a ball that DOESN’T bounce. Your feet should be in a shoulder width stance. Next, take the ball with both hands, stand straight up, and bring the ball behind your head (hence the name). Here is the fun part: take the ball and throw it down with the intention of breaking it. You’ll want to throw it down hard enough where it bounces up enough for you to scoop your hands underneath to pick it back up. In order to do this, you’ll need to squat down as you slam the ball. In doing this, your point of releasing the medicine ball will be somewhere between your chest and hips. To keep your breathing consistent with the exercise, exhale as you slam and inhale as you stand back up.

This is an explosive exercise that will encompass using your entire body and take you through a big range of motion. Perform all reps continuously and you’ll notice a significant increase in your heart rate. Four sets of 15 repetitions using a 10-pound medicine ball will be adequate for anyone. Keep in mind these are supposed to be a fun way to strengthen your glutes, lower back, and abdominal region. Go bust some balls.

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Figure Four Stretches

The Figure Four stretch is one of the best I’ve been introduced to. It’s extremely effective for alleviating tightness in the lower back, hips, glutes, and hamstrings. I would say this stretch is a must before you kick or train because of its ability to increase range of motion. I learned about the Figure Four four years ago and have incorporated it every day since.

There are two ways to go about this stretch: in a chair and on the ground. If you don’t already have the flexibility of a ballerina, may I suggest you start with the chair. Sit down with good posture, both feet maintaining a slightly wider than hip width base. To figure out how wide this is: make a fist with each hand, put your dukes between your feet, and viola, there you have it. Recognize the alignment of your hips, knees, ankles because they should all line up. Now take your right ankle and cross it over your left leg above your knee. Place your right hand on your right knee to assist the stretch and keep a flat back. From here, your goal is to have the chin meet the shin. Progress not perfection young grasshopper, its ok if you can’t get it right away. Since this is a static stretch, hold it for 20-30 seconds and switch. Focus on your breathing because you want your body and muscles to relax.

Lets imagine you are about to kick and there aren’t any benches on the field. Sit down with your legs outstretched in front of you. Bring your left leg up so that your foot is flat on the ground with your heel close to your butt. Same concepts apply with regards to hips, knees, and ankles. Cross your right ankle over above the left knee with your hands providing support behind your body.

This is one of the best flexibility tips I can give you. It’s a simple exercise, yet commonly overlooked or performed incorrectly. Figure Fours may not change your life today; they will help you avoid lower back and hip issues down the road.

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Windmills

For those of you wondering when I’m going to include upper body into the game, your time has come…kind of. Windmills allow you to stretch and strengthen your hamstrings, obliques and shoulders. Now that’s a lotta bang for your buck! Exercises which force you to stretch and strengthen bring with them results on the field. For kickers, your main focus is strengthening your obliques. For punters, stretching and strengthening your hamstrings is top priority for injury prevention. Windmills promote good shoulder stabilization, which comes in handy when you are making tackles.

Start with a lighter dumbbell/kettlebell and remember technique before you impress the ladies. Take the db/kb in one hand; raise it straight above your head. Spread your feet wider than shoulder width and place your opposite hand with palm facing up, on the same leg. Descend towards your heel with your hand, while keeping the db/kb in a locked position. Keeping a flat back and your eyes up the entire time. Let your hand go down to your heel if possible. With lighter weight, it won’t place much stress on your shoulder; you’ll feel the load on your hamstring. Maintain similar posture on your ascent.

Since this exercise focuses on flexibility and strength, lighter weight with more repetitions are encouraged in the beginning. Four sets of 10 repetitions per leg are for plenty the novice. As you progress towards strength, drop the number of reps as you increase the load. Performing many repetitions increases muscle memory just like kicking. Your body adapts to the demands you put it through. As you spend more time kicking and training, your functional strength will improve in no time at all.

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Scorpions

As kickers and punters, we have all been through standing on the sideline. Pacing, waiting, anticipating the next opportunity. Only so many drop drills practiced and balls being kicked into the net before inevitably it happens to us all: our muscles tighten up and we lose pre-game flexibility. This happens most in the lumbo-pelvic hip area (lower back and hips for you non anatomy majors). Scorpions on the sideline won’t get you any style points, but they will prevent your muscles from locking up during practice or a game.

Start by lying face down on the ground, arms outstretched in a crucifix position. Take your right leg and reach across your body to touch your left hand, making sure to keep your right leg on the ground as straight as possible. Tap the ground or your hand with your toes and return them to the ground. Alternate between legs with left leg going to right hand, etc. One set of 10 reps for each leg is more than enough to keep you Lucy Goosey during long 3rd and 4th quarters.

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Barbell Torque/Land Mines

Field Goals and Kickoffs require rotational strength coming from your obliques. While you are locking out on the ball, crunching down, and following through, it’s your obliques (turning muscles) which allow you to do this, hence the importance of training these muscles. This exercise does benefit punters as well, due to the rotational aspects of kicking – they’re crucial for a strong core. This is why having more than trunk/core twists in your routine can keep you from burning out on them.

I’ve heard them called Barbell Torque (Robert Dos Remedios) and Land Mines (Louie Simmons). By either name, I welcome the results. Simply place an Olympic Barbell on one end in the corner of a room (using where the corner of the floor as a holding place for the end of the barbell) and place your hands at the top of the other end. The Barbell should be above your head. With your knees slightly bent, keeping both feet straight forward, lower the bar by twisting to either side – keeping your arms straight and allow your eyes to follow your hands. Once the bar is next to your hip, drive it back to the starting position with some oomph behind it and repeat on the opposite side. Three to four sets of 10 repetitions per side will help you get that six pack.

Use either the corner of a room to hold the barbell in place or if you have a weight plate use that (you can also ad a plate at the top of the barbell to make the movement more challenging).

With your feet shoulder width apart and pointed forward, keep your arms straight and twist the barbell to the side.

Keep twisting until the barbell comes down level with your hip, raise it back to starting postion and repeat on the other side.

 

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Box Jumps & Tuck Jumps

Since I’ve got you squatting and lunging away, let’s not forget about your hops. There’s a fine line between strength and power, I want you to have the best of both worlds. Box jumps make a significant impact in the speed which your hips, glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves contract and elongate. Having your leg strike the ball with as much force and velocity is the goal. After all, Force x Velocity = Power. Therefore, training with box jumps will impact leg strength because it requires your body to recruit multiple muscles to work together to create power. If you don’t have access to a box, cones are fine. Like all exercises and drills, it’s alright to start small and work your way up. Since we are working towards explosive movements, four to five sets of eight to ten repetitions will get the ball rolling. The goal is to get your feet on top of the box or completely over the cone. Once you are on the box, stand up straight and extend your hips to full flexion.

If boxes and cones aren’t available, tuck jumps are your solution. They involve no equipment other than you, and are as effective as box jumps. Box jumps involve getting your feet on top of the box, whereas tuck jumps require you to drive your knees up to your chest when you jump. Due to the explosive nature of tuck jumps, lower repetitions and more rest is encouraged. Three to four sets of five to ten continuous repetitions are enough to make you out of breath.

These exercises are great for increasing contraction speed of the hip flexors. Once you’ve become proficient with these, the next progression is to strap on light ankle weights or hold onto dumbbells. Same rules apply with sets, repetitions and rest.

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Regular, Unleaded or Premium?

Lifestyle and Nutrition are touchy subjects because of the avenues by which people receive their information. If you are like most, you get the 411 via word of mouth as opposed to the cold hard facts. I’m not here to preach to you how to live or what to and what not to consume. Allow me to provide some food for thought, general knowledge, and I will let you digest it for yourself.

So here it goes: As you progress in your athletic career, the competition will get better. Few things separate the elite from the rest other than raw talent. What we put in our bodies directly correlates with what we get out of our bodies in performance. With that being said, your body is your tool and for some, a paycheck. The fuel you put in your body translates into the way you look, feel, train, and perform. Developing healthy habits early in life are much easier to keep and are just as important as your training. These choices aren’t always easy; the rewards are worth the risk though.

My motivation when making choices about nutrition (food, hydration, and sleep), and training is simple: Will these choices help me get closer to the NFL? If so, am I willing to implement them? What am I willing to sacrifice to pursue this? If training today gets me closer to an opportunity, am I up to it? The answer is a no-brainer.

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