Training tips to compete on the gridiron – Defensive Backs

by Staff Writer – Jason Langvee

Anyone that has ever sat down and watched a game of football can attest to the fact that a great deal of athleticism in needed to excel in the sport. What’s different in football compared to most other sports is the contrast in physiques and physical requirements between the players in differing positions on the field. Due to this variance, strength and conditioning for an aspiring athlete becomes more of a science than a simple exercise regimen. For example, one would not put a wide receiver or defensive back in a routine where the emphasis was on pushing strength, akin to what is needed for linemen defending or attacking the line of scrimmage. Likewise, while speed is likely a part of an offensive lineman’s routine, it would make little sense to aim at having your lineman focus on 40-yard sprint times.[1] What then, can be prescribed to players to shape them for success? Over the next few weeks I will break down the basic physical needs for the positions of Canadian football, and match appropriate exercises with them. Having a background in amateur Football and more recently, personal training, I will do my best to provide insight into the realm of training for football.

Week 1: Defensive Backs (Safeties and Cornerbacks)

Defensive backs are positions held in what is known as the “defensive secondary”. DB’s are responsible for sticking to offensive passing targets in a manner that leaves as little room for a completion to the intended receiver as possible. Not only do DB’s have to worry about pass offense, but also, should a run offense breach the defensive primary (linemen and linebackers), they also need to adjust and contain whatever threat is being posed. Based on these roles, the ideal defensive back is fast and agile with exceptional hand-eye coordination (should any attempted pass come his way).

Matt Black of the Toronto Argonauts stated that when training to compete at the elite level, prospective DB’s should focus on “squats, cleans, bench, back, speed, speed, speed, footwork, footwork and footwork!” (via Twitter, Aug.27th, 2012).

Indeed, what Black stated reiterates the primary needs in a good DB.

SquatsThe movement is initiated by moving the hips back and bending the knees and hips to lower the torso and accompanying weight, then returning to the upright position.

Squats will likely be listed with just about every position in this series, what will differ between them however, is how the squats are executed. Defensive backs need to be explosive in running as well, turning and changing directions. They also need to be able to sustain relatively long bursts of energy from their legs. Without getting too technical, someone that intends on running for longer periods of time should not focus on low repetition counts in many, if any exercises. Thus, DB’s should work with a weight that allows them to fail after 10-12 reps (and not 6-8 like other positions).

CleansThe lifter jumps the bar up using the hips, knees and ankles. When the legs have driven the bar as high as possible, the lifter pulls under the bar by violently shrugging the muscles of the upper back. This pulls the lifter under the bar and into a deep squat position.

Cleans are not a lift typically seen in an amateur’s training regime. This is mostly due to the fact that without proper instruction, there is a relatively high risk for injury. However, if used correctly, cleans provide unprecedented “explosive” power as well as good activation of the legs and core. Once again, if training to become a successful DB, focus on higher rep-counts (~10) to ensure you do not fatigue on the field.

Bench-pressing as well as various back workouts such as: Lat pull-downs and rows, are essential in finalizing the needs of a defensive back. At the end of the day, there will always be a point in time where the defensive secondary will need to get physical and end an offensive push. Back strength allows players to pull in and hold a tackle as tight as they can. Chest strength allows players to push and pry through the crowd to get to the ball-carrier.

Last, but certainly not least are the agility and speed requirements of a DB. While work in the gym can help with these skills, the best way to improve is to get out on the field and run. Agility exercises can be designed using equipment such as: ladders, cones and hurdles. The key to good agility is great footwork. Having a player focus on what exactly their feet are doing while going through the mechanics of the game gives them insight into how they’re body should be acting and reacting in real-time on the field. The fundamentals will always be the basis of a good player, DB’s are no different in that sense.

If you have any other thoughts and/or suggestions, feel free to comment below or contact me at: [email protected], please note that the above is not comprehensive.

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