It’s that time of the year again. Football pre-season is upon us, so what can we do to complement our training to optimise power and speed on the field? Undoubtedly your pre-season training will consist primarily of aerobic training and ball work, however, power development is often overlooked at the local level.
Building power in the athlete is beneficial on many levels. Increasing power will allow you to jump higher, kick further, break tackles and burst through packs.
Power is defined as strength multiplied by speed. Heavy compound exercises followed by explosive movements have been demonstrated to improve power and performance in athletes of various sports.
Exercises need to be transferable to the game and requirements of AFL. Developing power within relevant movement patterns is essential for game day performance.
At this stage of training, it is desirable to build a solid strength base for future training. The focus will be on strength and speed in order to develop power.
The following will outline seven training drills and skills you should incorporate in order to develop greater power output on the field.
1a) Deadlift for strength
The deadlift is considered one of the ultimate strength building exercises so it would be remiss of me to not include it in a strengthening program.
Aim for 3 sets of 3-5 reps. The weight should be heavy but you should still be able to accelerate the bar from the ground with good form.
b) Broad jumps for speed.
Broad jumps are an ideal compliment to the deadlift while providing the same movement pattern with explosive speed. Aim to get the hips as high and forward as possible.
Perform 4 broad jumps immediately following your set of 3-5 deadlifts. Be sure to pause between jumps. At this stage in training we would not recommend bounding.
These two movements provide a similar movement pattern, neural drive and length tension relationship, as picking a ball up from the ground. With improved strength and speed in this position you will be more stable and be able to power your way out of packs.
2a) Squat for Strength
The squat is king. There is no better exercise then the squat to improve lower limb strength and power while being highly functional and transferable.
Aim for 3 sets of 3-5 reps. As with the deadlift, weight should be heavy whilst being able to accelerate the bar through range with good form.
Full squat vs. half squat vs. ¼ squat, which should you do? This question is worthy of a blog on its own, however, for the scope and purpose of this article I would suggest aiming for thighs to be parallel to the floor at this stage of training.
b) Box jump for speed (with step-down)
Box jumps with step down are a low impact explosive move that can assist in improving your explosive power. The box jump will progress your vertical leap and your squatting strength.
Step-downs are included to minimise excessive loads on the lower limb tendons, as they will undoubtedly be worked hard enough throughout your running drills.
Perform 4 box jumps immediately following a set of squats.
The movement pattern of accelerating the body from a squat position can be translated to running mechanics and jumping mechanics. These exercises will have you ready to run faster, jump higher and break tackles on game day.
3a) Bench press for strength
The bench press is ideal for building upper body strength and power.
3 sets of 3-4 reps will develop your pressing strength. Consider bringing your elbows closer to your torso rather than flaring out at 90 degrees as this will provide a better shoulder congruency and optimise power output.
b) Plyo push-ups for speed
Develop your explosive pressing movement with the plyo push up. Aim to get your hands off the ground and if you’re capable add in a clap or two.
4 plyo push-ups after each set of bench press will do the trick.
Building power with these movements will allow you to fend off defenders with ease and push off your opponent with conviction when leading for the ball.
A worthy addition - Nordic curls
Research has demonstrated a reduction in hamstring injury following an eccentric strengthening program utilising the Nordic curl. Nordic curls are far from a functional movement, however, if we delve into some simple biomechanics of running or kicking, we can see just how beneficial they can be. The primary actions of the hamstring muscles are to extend the hip and flex the knee. When we sprint or kick a ball, peak hamstring stretch and force occur during late swing phase of the gait cycle and kicking action. These peak forces come about as the hamstrings decelerate knee extension by contracting (generate tension) while continuing to lengthen (eccentric contraction). It is during this eccentric or deceleration phase where we see acute hamstring injuries occur.
As inadequate eccentric hamstring strength is associated with hamstring injury, an exercise such as the Nordic curl can improve eccentric strength and assist in injury prevention.
Begin with 2 sets of 5 reps then progress to 3 sets of 8 - 10 by week four. As this is an eccentric exercise slowly lower your torso to the ground, then immediately push up to the starting position with your hands. If you cant make it all the way to the ground in a controlled manner, use your hands to catch your fall.
By incorporating these moves into your football pre season training and you will see improvements in strength, speed and power, ensuring you are equipped to dominate the season ahead.
James is a passionate and explosive AFL back pocket. He is a physio at Evolutio in Melbourne coming from an experienced background in AFL and High level Strength and Conditioning. James Currently works out of our South Yarra clinic at GW Performance on Tuesday afternoons and Fridays, Kew at the Workshop 3101 on Mondays and Thursdays.