How to Get in Shape to Be a Linebacker

Philadelphia Eagles v Arizona Cardinals

Linebackers are football’s most versatile defensive players. You must be fast enough to run across the field to chase down ball carriers, and to cover receivers. Linebackers must also be strong enough to fend off blockers, who will often be bigger than you, and make unassisted tackles. The position’s requirements offer great challenges on the field, plus equally important challenges off the field, as you get your body in shape for the football season.

Run as much as you can. Run for three or four miles -- or build up to that level -- to develop endurance, so you can keep going at 100 percent in the fourth quarter. End every distance run with a sprint of about 100 yards to work on your speed. Running up hills also builds leg strength and speed. If you're big enough you may wish to emulate NFL star Terrell Suggs, who runs up hills with heavy tires strapped to his body.

Improve your speed, footwork and quickness with exercises such as ladder agility drills. Place a rope ladder on the ground and run through it, using different techniques. You can hop through the segments, for example, landing on your left foot first, then jumping forward and landing on two feet, then hopping onto your right foot in the next segment. Or you can run through the ladder, striding into the first segment with your left foot followed by your right, then stepping outside the second set of boxes, then moving back between the ropes for the third segment.

Play a sport that involves plenty of running, in the off-season. Sports such as basketball and handball require you to run forward and backward, and from side to side, as linebackers must do on the football field.

Build your leg muscles. Strong legs will improve your speed and give you a solid base when you make tackles. Strengthen your thighs with squats by placing a barbell on the back of your shoulders -- or grasping a pair of dumbbells -- squatting, then stranding straight. Keep your head facing forward, your feet flat on the floor and don’t arch your back. You can also perform lunges or leg extensions. Do calf raises or calf presses to build your lower legs.

Strengthen your core. You must be strong from head to toe to play linebacker. You don’t make tackles with your arms alone, for example; you need strong leg and core muscles to push a charging runner back. Perform basic exercises such as sit-ups or crunches, as well as lunges, deadlifts or lat pulldowns. Use a dumbbell or a medicine ball to perform Russian Twists. Sit with your knees bent and your heels on the floor. Lean back a bit, then swing the weight from side to side with your upper body. Swing the weight just above your thighs, but don’t let your hips move.

Build your upper body. You need strong arms to fend off blockers and to wrap up ball carriers when you’re making tackles. The bench press is classic upper body football exercise and is often used in strength assessments by college and professional scouts. Lie face-up on a bench with your feet on the floor and hold a barbell above your upper chest with your arms extended. Lower the weight to your chest, then return to the starting position. You can also perform standard push-ups for your chest -- or close-grip push-ups to work on your triceps -- as well as triceps pushdowns and biceps curls.