After releasing our first two part article - a free strength and conditioning program for football (click here ) and the thinking behind it (click here) - I’ve had a few questions asking what exercises would be included if equipment/experience was less of a limiting factor? Or in other words, to stay on brand, what would the next level look like?
Today’s bonus Part 3 will answer that question.
For the free program I omitted quite a few exercises based on the assumption the majority of gyms may not have the equipment, or participants may not have the technical experience to perform them safely with load. This doesn’t make the free program less effective for this person, just more accessible (what’s the point if you can only do half the session because the equipment isn’t there?).
Keeping with this line of thought, I won’t be creating another program here - many of the following will require specific equipment or experience so there’s no point trying to guess what everyone may or may not have in the back of the gym cupboard. Instead, I’ll be listing exercises through the categories Core and Injury Prevention Exercises (legs have been well covered so don’t require more muscle balance exercises, and the upper body isn’t too much of a priority for football so doesn’t have such specialised exercises - as long as we cover horizontal/vertical push and pull movements covered the upper body will be grand on game day) and recommending a set/rep/load range that would fit with the goal of building strength with the current training block. This means you can substitute the exercise into the free program or fit it into your own training if you’re building your own block. This doesn’t mean you couldn’t use other set/rep/load ranges for different goals (working towards more power, strength maintenance, hypertrophy or endurance), just be smart when doing so - 1RM facepulls are about as much use as a chocolate teapot.
This is not an exhaustive list - there are even more niche pieces of kit that I don’t have access to - but it is a powerful one. Just be safe (those pump class boxes aren’t built for stacking/heavy loads, get a proper box if possible), and mindful of the goal of the exercise as you perform it. I haven’t included any banded or chain exercises here, while they are a great tool to build explosiveness I feel they are more add-ons to an exercise rather than a totally different exercise (i.e. we can make plenty progress using standard weights without having to worry about adding bands/chains). If you do have them and are comfortable setting them up safely, by all means add them to an exercise to add a bit of overload.
Similar to a vertical jump, but aiming to get our feet up onto a box. Build up the height like you would build up the weight while warming up, making sure the area is clear of hazards in case you bash off the side or stumble back. Be care dismounting the box too, if you’re jumping down use this as an opportunity to practice landing. There are lots of videos on the internet of people piling up pump class boxes and jumping onto them - this may “look cool” but those boxes aren’t built to be stacked up and leapt upon, so be smart and use a box that’s built to be jumped.
Recommended Sets x Reps (Load): 4x3 (bodyweight)
Similar to vertical jumps, but instead of straight up we want to throw ourselves forward (landing safely of course). Start in an athletic stance (feet about shoulder width apart), then quickly drop into a half squat, throwing your arms down/behind, and as you reach the bottom of the half squat immediately explode up/forward and throw your arms out in front of you to take off and fly straight ahead. Bring your feet up to stick the landing, touching down on the balls of your feet and loading the legs up like a spring.
Recommended Sets x Reps (Load): 4x3 (bodyweight)
Bulgarian Split Squat
Similar to a split squat, but with the rear foot elevated on a box or spare bench. Hold a weight in your hands (dumbbell, barbell or kettlebell), and push through your foot to rise up. If you rise too explosively holding a barbell you’ll soon know about it. Complete reps on one side before moving onto the other leg.
Recommended Sets x Reps (Load): 4x5 (80% 1RM)
The King of Glute exercises, sadly underutilised because it looks a bit odd and can be tricky to set up without decent boxes/benches. This works best with something solid to lean on - putting a box or bench up against a wall if possible to prevent it tipping/wobbling as you thrust. Here we have our upper back against the box/bench, feet a bit wider than shoulder width apart and far enough forward to create about a 90 degree angle between hip/torso and at the knees (feet further forward may be more comfortable/easier to move the weight, so adjust your setup to find the most comfortable position). Barbell sits on top in the crease at your hips, a bar pad or some kind of cushioning is recommended here as the barbell will likely bash the bones of your hips. Use your hands to keep the bar in position, squeezing your glutes to extend your hips and raise the bar off the floor until your torso/thighs run in a straight line. Control the bar back down to the start position to complete one rep. This can also be performed with a dumbbell/kettlebell, but may be more awkward to position depending on the shape of said dumbbell/kettlebell.
Recommended Sets x Reps (Load): 4x5 (80% 1RM)
Essentially a standing hip thrust. Stand with kettlebell in both hands, feet a bit wider than shoulder width apart, swing kettlebell in front to get started, as it comes back catching arms with hips, moving them back with the arms and exploding forward to blast arms straight ahead. As kettlebell comes back down, catch with hips and explode forward again.
Recommended Sets x Reps (Load): 5x3 (Heavy Kettlebell - who has a 1RM KB Swing?!)
Single Leg Squat
Similar to a bodyweight/air squat, but using one leg. To prevent the non-working leg bashing the floor or making it hard to balance, stand up on a box or stable bench, with the non-working leg at the side hanging in the air. Keeping the core braced and chest up, break at the hip and knee at the same time and lower your body as far as possible in a controlled descent (aim for thighs parallel to floor, but the further the better as long as it’s not painful). Return back to a standing position to complete one rep for one side, and complete all reps for one side before moving onto the other leg. This will require a lot of balance and coordination, so don’t worry if you can’t get to parallel/beyond - just build up the range of movement as you go, aiming for a little more each week. This can be made harder by holding onto a dumbbell, kettlebell or weight plate - I wouldn’t recommend using a barbell unless you have supreme balance, coordination and leg strength.
Recommended Sets x Reps (Load): 4x6 (bodyweight)
Sled Push (tank/prowler/sled)
Keep the hips low and torso parallel to the ground, brace with the arms (held out in front or holding the handles at shoulders) and drive forward with the legs. This can be done with a lighter resistance/weight to get the feet moving quicker, or a big heavy resistance to grind up the legs. Quick, short steps will be more efficient for getting the weight moving forward/up to speed (look at how pro strongmen pull trucks/airplanes), but longer strides will have the muscles under tension for longer each step, so choose wisely.
Recommended Sets x Reps (Load): 4x20m lengths (heavy resistance)
Find a box that is tall enough so that when one foot steps up onto it, it creates a 90 degree bend (roughly) in the knee. Holding dumbbells in each hand, step up onto the box with one foot, keeping the chest up and core braced, bringing the other foot up to meet it, step back down with the second foot (so the lead leg is still doing the work) to complete one rep for one side. From here, switch and continue to alternate lead foot to complete required reps for each leg. This can also be performed with a barbell, but this is tricky to balance so make sure the area around you is clear of people/hazards. To make this harder, we can step up and instead of bringing the trailing foot onto the box, we drive the opposite knee up into the air, then control down back onto the floor. This can also be performed with a barbell, just be careful. This can be made harder/easier using a taller/shorter box.
Recommended Sets x Reps (Load): 5x5 (challenging dumbbell weight - balance/coordination will be a bigger factor than strength so don’t worry about 1RM or max estimations)
These are like a regular lunge, but with some space ahead of us we pop back up and step forward into the next rep. Same rules apply, keep the torso upright and braced, dropping the knee to almost touch ground (don’t bash it off the floor) and be mindful of what the forward knee is doing (the further forward it goes the more quad dominant the movement will be, which won’t help any knee issues - aim to hit a 90 degree knee bend at most and drop down instead of forward). If tired or a bit wobbly, come back to a standing position (feet close together) before stepping into the next lunge. This can be performed with dumbbells, kettlebells, barbell or without weight to torch the legs at the end of a workout.
Recommended Sets x Reps (Load): 4x12+ (50-65% 1RM for lunges)
(no load recommendations here as focus is on quality of movement - use a resistance/weight that feels appropriate on the day)
I know I said I wasn’t going to include any upper body exercises, but facepulls are excellent regardless of your sport - hitting the rotator cuffs, rear delts and upper back to keep things in balance. Set up cable rope attachment to about diaphragm height, step back until arms are extended and pulling the slack out of the attachment, hands in overhand grip position. Pull elbows back and rotate forearms up to face, then reverse the movement to return to start position. Can also be performed with a resistance band attached to a secure surface.
Recommended Sets x Reps: 4x12
Grab a soft-top plyo box or small swiss ball - tall enough that when lying down your feet can sit on top of it with hips and knees at a 90 degree angle. From here, straighten one leg out (the other still resting on top of the implement), then bring the raised heel down on the box/ball. At the same time the other foot will rise up, and once the initial foot has made contact with the box/ball, bring the other foot down. Repeat as fast as possible for the required amount of time, increasing the time to make it harder.
Recommended Sets x Reps: 3x30 seconds
Here we will need a hyperextension stand or a glute-ham raise machine (GHR - pictured). Lock your feet into position, and keeping your legs stiff (slight bend in knee if possible), bend at the hips to lower your torso. Keep your back in in a neutral position throughout (no unnecessary flexing/extending the lower back), then bring your torso back up to the start position. Here you will see people finishing in an extended position or in a straight position (legs and upper body in straight line), the best option is what is most comfortable (however too much over extension with load could potentially lead to problems, just stay within a comfortable range instead of trying to work in some flexibility training at the same time). This can be made harder by holding onto dumbbells, kettlebells or a barbell.
Recommended Sets x Reps: 3x8-10
Here we will need a glute-ham raise machine (GHR - pictured) or a partner to hold our feet on the ground. Bend knees to 90 degrees, keeping torso and thighs held rigid in a straight line. Lean forward carefully, keeping torso/thighs held in rigid position, and controlling the movement with your hamstrings. Have your hands ready to catch you if you fall forward or help push you back up to the start position. This is a tough one to master, so hands will be needed (unless you have a GHR, then your knee position can be adjusted on the support so there’s a bit more/less support at the thighs).
Recommended Sets x Reps: 3x8
Single Arm Farmer Walk
As far as exercises go, they don’t get much simpler than the farmers walk - just pick up a weight and get stepping. For the single arm variety, we’re picking up a weight with one hand and start walking, working the core to keep our torso upright with good posture. Drop the weight after one length, pick it up with the other hand and embark on the next stroll. This marks one rep (both sides complete) - how many reps/lengths you do will depend on the amount of space you have (eg 2x20m, changing hand at each end, or 4x5m changing hands at either each end or after 10m). These can be done holding dumbbells, kettlebells, weight plates (working the pinch grip), or farmers handles - I wouldn’t recommend barbells as they’re difficult to balance with one hand while walking, so there’s a good chance one end of the barbell will end up in the ground.
Recommended Sets x Reps: 4x20m lengths
Swiss Ball Hamstring Curl
Lying on your back, pop your feet onto a swiss ball (contacting your ankles/back of calf depending on size of ball) then straighten your body out - balancing on your upper back with arms out at sides for added balance. Squeeze your hamstrings to bend your knees and bring the ball in towards your body, keeping the torso/hips rigid, then control the ball back out to get back into start position. This can be made harder using one leg, the non-working leg held up in the air.
Recommended Sets x Reps: 4x12