Football Upper-Body Workouts

Senior man performing bench press in gym, elevated view

Big, powerful legs that help you tackle harder and run faster on the football field are all well and good, but you'll get nowhere without upper body strength to match. Football involves total body movements, so the most functional upper-body exercises are ones that involve multiple joint actions and build strength, power and explosiveness.

Dynamic Start

Start every upper body workout with a dynamic movement. This involves moving through a range of motion. Joe DeFranco, owner of DeFranco's training and coach to college and NFL players, suggests dynamic bench presses performed with bands wrapped over the bar. This is like a normal bench press, except each rep is performed quickly and the bands are secured under heavy dumbbells on the floor to add tension at the top of the press. DeFranco also recommends explosive medicine ball chest passes. Alternatively, try regular bench presses performed dynamically, or do clap pushups. Pick one exercise and complete five or six sets with three to five reps in a set.

Back on the Wagon

Back training can often be neglected in favor of pushing exercises like chest presses and pushups. Tim Slominsky, general manager of Euphoria Health and Fitness and coach to NFL tight end Ben Watson, recommends performing two back exercises in your workouts. First up are one-arm dumbbell rows, performed with one knee on a bench and the other foot on the floor. Row a dumbbell one-handed up to your mid-section. For the other exercise, wrap resistance bands around the top of a cable crossover, place a bar between the loops and perform pull-downs while sitting on the floor. For each exercise, complete four sets with eight to 12 reps in each set.

Pick of the Pecs

Variety is best when training your chest. The dynamic movements at the start of your workouts will hit your chest to a degree, but they're more about building explosive power, rather than brute strength and muscle mass. Michael Palmieri, president and founder of The Institute of Sport Science & Athletic Conditioning in Las Vegas, advises combining pressing exercises with isolation movements and body-weight exercises. Aim for an even ratio of chest-to-back moves. If you're performing rows and pull-downs for your back, try incline dumbbell presses and weighted pushups, or decline barbell presses and dips for your chest. Do the same number of sets and reps as you did for your back exercises.

Finishing It Off

Train your upper body once a week, advises coach Zach Even-Esh of the Underground Strength Gym in New Jersey. Along with one lower body workout, one conditioning session and your team training, this should be enough to elicit power, size and strength gains. While you can get by with the basic power, back and chest exercise combo, you may also wish to add some arm isolation training to beef up your guns. For building biceps and triceps, NFL running back Thomas Jones does band pushdowns and incline dumbbell curls as well as JM presses -- a cross between a close grip bench press and a triceps extension. Add two arm exercises to each upper body workout. Do three sets with 12 reps in each set.