Want to be a better athlete? If so, train like a football player.
“Football drills are great for athletes in other sports,” says Jonathan Matich, head football coach for Taylorsville High School. “Everybody thinks football players focus on strength first, but our priority is balance, speed, agility, flexibility, core muscles and then strength.”
Matich says some of the athletes who would benefit from a football workout are basketball players, wrestlers, snowboarders, skiers and even golfers. “Golfers who train like football players will absolutely improve their game,” he says. “It would work on their core, their delivery and explosion; you need to be explosive as a golf player. You’re exploding into a ball, and explosiveness comes from the core muscles.”
The core is the core of Matich’s training. He claims the torso is the most important part of being a good athlete. “We work that like crazy, every day. We don’t just do crunches,” he says.
Some of the important exercises in a core workout are “hip-ups,” done by lying on your back with knees drawn up and heels pressed to the floor; then push your hips up to the ceiling. A more advanced version is hip-up leg raises. While in the up position, raise one leg. Matich’s team does between 12 to 20 reps of that exercise for each leg.
A common and very painful sports injury is a groin pull, which takes a frustratingly long time to heal. Even Tiger Woods has struggled with a groin pull. The best way to help prevent that injury is to strengthen and stretch the adductors (the inner-thigh muscles) and the hip flexors (a group of muscles deep inside the body, and not, as many think, that thick ligament that runs from the leg to the groin). Hip flexor muscles run from the lower back to the knee.
Coach Matich explains that flexibility is essential for strengthening the hip flexors, as well as in avoiding athletic injury. He says, “As an athlete, you make awkward movements unlike your regular movements. If you’re flexible, you’ve adapted to different ranges of motion through stretching, so your body isn’t tight; the tissues won’t pull.”
One groin workout he recommends is the “Buddha stretch.” Sit on the floor, pull your heels into your groin so your knees open out like a butterfly. Push your belly button down and arch your back to raise your upper body, then push down on your knees with your elbows. It’s a painful but effective groin stretch.
Matich warns that stretching can be painful, but everyone should be able to tell the difference between the pressure of a stretch that hurts and the pain of damage from tissues being pulled past their range of motion. “In anything athletic, there’s a little bit of pain. It hurts to run hard and to run up stairs fast,” he says, adding that for those who have the ability, running stairs is an amazing exercise.
“Do different drills. Hop up stairs with both legs, or with the right leg and then the left; time it so you know you’re putting out the same effort on each leg. Run up with your knees coming high, trying to pull your knees to your chest. Power jump, trying to skip as many stairs as possible,” he advises.
And, regardless of your sport, also play other sports. Matich especially advises this for the adult athlete, saying, “The best way to be a good athlete is to play more than one sport. You learn how to handle your body in different positions, which prevents injuries, gives you strength in different ranges of motion, and makes you more flexible.”
Start now, and by the time that traditional family-hoops session comes around for the holidays, you’ll be ready to play.