A Guide to Cross-Training for Football Players

The goal of every high school and collegiate football strength and conditioning program is injury prevention with performance enhancement. Ensuring athletes remain healthy and perform at the optimal level on Friday night or Saturday is a yearlong process that begins right after the final game to prepare for the next season. Cross-training is a valuable supplement to a football player’s traditional strength and conditioning program. It takes these athletes out of their comfort zone, and it’s a great way to identify a player’s weaknesses and turn them into strengths.

Training programs are periodized using compound exercises to focus on increasing an athlete’s size, strength and power. While these multi-joint movements are great for enhancing an athlete’s performance, they don’t focus directly on reducing their risk of injury and increasing function. Improving an athlete’s flexibility, joint range of motion,  neuromuscular control and dynamic stability are not only essential for reducing soft tissue injuries, they allow for proper movement patterns and muscle recruitment leading to increased performance. Cross-training addresses this by…stimulating the bodies stability muscles that may have previously been dormant, to provide greater function and structural integrity to the joints.

Here are 3 cross-training activities to consider as a compliment to a strength and conditioning program.

  • Pilates is a fitness regimen designed to correct and strengthen an individual’s movement focusing on postural alignment and muscle recruitment to produce smooth and controlled motions. Pilates is both a mat based and an equipment assisted exercise program.   Pilates apparatus such as a Pilates cadillac, reformer, barrel, or chair provide assistance and resistance, allowing the athlete to engage the muscles intended to be activated during the movement.  Adding Pilates to the program and strengthening these stability muscles can enhance the athlete’s running, jumping, and throwing mechanics, leading to increase speed and power.
  • Yoga utilizes the athlete’s body weight to build strength, increase the flexibility of soft tissues, and improve the joints’ range of motion through various styles and poses. Increased flexibility will not only reduce the risk of acute soft tissue injuries but also allow the bodies musculoskeletal system to move more efficiently, decreasing the risk of chronic overuse injuries.  Incorporating yoga as a component or the strength and conditioning program may reduce movement restrictions within the body. The flexibility required within yoga and the emphasis of fluid movement between poses may enhance a player’s ability to ward off injury while making his overall body motions more efficient.
  • Swimming is a low impact full body exercise that not only increases lung capacity but creates unfamiliar movement patterns, which aren’t common in football, to benefit range of motion and strength. Over time, as activity increases, technique breaks down due to fatigue. Swimming helps combat fatigue by improving muscular and cardiovascular endurance, translating into increased on field stamina and performance.  This extra stamina will be beneficial during the final minutes of the game when there are no timeouts remaining and the athlete has to rush back to the line to get set for the next play.

The best cross-training activity depends on what is going to benefit the athlete the most and can be performed on a consistent basis. Each of the above can be performed in a one-on-one or group setting. One-on-one settings allow for personal attention and focus on the individual needs of the athlete, whereas a group setting will not only improve the athlete’s movement, but also reinforce team camaraderie.

Just like in football, it is important to learn and continuously work on the fundamentals while progressing in performing each movement, pose, and/or stroke.  Seeking out professional guidance will ensure a solid foundation is being laid out to build upon for a physically demanding season.

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Jeffrey Angotti is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and athletic trainer. Jeffrey has a Bachelor of Science in Health degree with a focus in Sports Medicine Athletic Training from the University of North Florida.

The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.