Athletic Performance: Basic Lifts

Basic Lifts For Football Strength And Conditioning

The basis of any good training program are the fundamental techniques behind the core lifts. There are hundreds of variations of the core lifts, but if you have a solid foundation of mechanics, you’re already off to a great start.

Below are the basics for the 4 core movements (and therefore their variations) that I program into each one of my training programs.

Hang Clean

This exercise is a multi-joint exercise that builds explosive components in muscle. These components enhance the development of speed, power, jumping ability, muscle coordination, and quickness.


Beginning Position

    • Position feet about shoulder width.
    • Position hands on the bar just outside the thighs with a closed pronated grip.
    • Set the back by sticking the chest out and butt out. Back should be slightly arched.
    • Curl the wrists in and turn the elbows out.
    • Flex at the hip and knee until the bar is just above the kneecap. Maintain a slight arch in the back.
    • Position shoulders over or slightly in front of the bar.
    • Retract the scapulae (pull shoulder blades back).
    • Relax and slightly stretch the trapezius.
    • Focus eyes straight ahead or slightly upward.

Upward Movement

    • From the beginning position, explosively drive the hips forward and up in a vertical jump movement.
    • Extend at the ankle, knee, and hip joints (triple extension).
    • Once full triple extension has been reached, rapidly shrug the shoulders upward, and then pull with arms keeping elbows high.
    • Continue to pull the arms as high as possible.
    • After the lower body has fully extended and the bar reaches near-maximal height, pull the body under the bar and rotate the arms around and under the bar shooting the elbows out high. Simultaneously, the hips and knees flex into a quarter-squat position.
    • Catch the bar with flat feet.

With the hang clean, you get so much bang for your buck. We want to be as efficient as we can in the weight room, and the hang clean allows the athlete to use a majority of the muscles in his entire body. The more muscle that you can train at once, the more efficient you’re going to be.

As an athletic performance professional, your job is not just to make athletes strong, but you want them to be as fast and explosive as possible. The hang clean is an exercise that incorporates components of strength and power, and you can convert that power to explosive speed.

Back Squat

This exercise is used to develop hip, leg, and low back strength. This lift will also strengthen the ligaments in the knee joint and will assist in overall body development. Performing the back squat correctly will improve lower body strength, enhance quickness, speed, and jumping ability.

  • Grasp the bar with a closed, pronated grip (slightly wider than shoulder width).
  • Step under the bar and place the bar on the upper back and shoulder (below the 7th cervical vertebrae – the bone that sticks out of the bottom of the neck).
  • Lift the elbows up to create a “shelf” for the bar using the upper back and shoulder muscles.
  • Hold the chest up and out.
  • Pull the scapulae toward each other (pull the shoulder blades back).
  • Tilt the head slightly up.
  • Position feet shoulder-width apart (or wider), even with each other, with the toes pointed slightly outward.
  • Set the back by sticking the chest out and butt out. Back should be flat or slightly arched.

Downward Movement

    • Breathing: Inhale and hold breath on the downward movement.
    • Allow the hips and knees to slowly flex while keeping the torso-to-floor angle relatively constant (some torso flexion is appropriate).
    • Maintain a position with the back flat or slightly arched, elbows high, and chest up and out.
    • Keep heels flat on the floor and the knees aligned over the feet.
    • Do not round the back.
    • Continue flexing the hips and knees until the thighs are parallel to the floor.
    • Do not accelerate the bar or relax the torso at the bottom of the movement.

Upward Movement

    • Breathing: Hold breath until halfway through the upward movement, and then begin to exhale.
    • Extend the hips and knees at the same rate (do not allow the hips to rise before the chest).
    • Maintain a position with flat back, high elbows, and the chest up and out.
    • Keep heels flat on the floor and the knees aligned over the feet.
    • Do not flex the torso forward or round the back.
    • Continue extending the hips and knees to reach the beginning position.

The back squat externally loads the posterior chain, which is the lower back, glutes, hamstring, everything on the back side of the athlete’s body. That’s where you develop power from as a football player. If you develop the posterior chain, you can develop a stronger, more powerful athlete, and that’s where speed comes from. The back squat is perfect for this and that’s why it’s a staple among primary exercises.

Bench Press

This exercise is used to strengthen the pectoralis major (chest) and triceps area. This exercise can also be performed using two dumbbells and a closed, pronated grip.

Beginning Position

    • Assume a supine position on the bench in a five-point body contact position.
    • Place the body on the bench so that the eyes are below the edge of the supports
    • Grasp the bar with a closed pronated grip.
    • Place the bar over the chin with the elbows fully extended.

Downward Movement

    • Breathing: Inhale on the downward movement.
    • Lower the bar to touch the chest at approximately mid chest level.
    • Keep the wrists rigid and directly above the elbows.
    • Maintain the five-point body contact position.

Upward Movement

    • Breathing: Exhale through the sticking point of the upward movement.
    • Push the bar upward and slightly back (the bar should travel in a slight arc).
    • Keep the wrists rigid and directly above the elbows.
    • Maintain the five-point body contact position (do not arch the back or butt off the bench)

While the back squat develops the posterior chain, athletes require balance. As you’re training the back side, you still need to train the front side. With the bench press, you can develop muscle mass and protect the shoulders.

In football, we see a lot of knee injuries and shoulder injuries. Any exercise where we can develop the musculature around those joints, the better-prepared you can make your athletes for competition.

Pull Up

Hang from pull-up bar with overhand grip, hands shoulder width apart, arms fully extended. Pull body up until chin clears bar and return to start. Focus on keeping the body steady – no swinging/ kicking.

Grip Variations

    • Closed: Supinated grip (chin-up).
    • Neutral Grip or parallel grip.
    • Grip: One hand reverse grip/one hand closed grip.
    • Narrow: Six-inch grip (closer than shoulder width).
    • Wide: Wider than shoulder width.
    • 90 Degree: Legs held extended in front 90 degrees to torso.

Partner/Machine Assisted

    • Partner-spot at ribcage.
    • Machine assisted. Set at desired assisted weight.
    • Focus on legs, and stay steady on pad.

The ability to control one’s own body is paramount, and the pull-up is a great exercise for learning that control. Developing the back side of the athlete is so important. With the pull-up, we use so many of our upper body muscles.

The back is like a foundation. The stronger you can make your back, the more you can develop the front side of the athlete. The stronger your foundation, the more sturdy your structure.

There are many ways to design a workout program.  Ultimately the best program is the one that can get coached with passion and attention to detail on a consistent basis. The one common denominator among all the best programs is that they are ever-evolving and improving to find answers to questions.

Get Your Mind Right

In getting back to basics, it’s important for student athletes and coaches to understand that concentration plays an enormous role in our ability to be successful in everything we do.

For purposes of performance, whether in sport or in life, concentration is about finding the right information and staying focused on it.

Not only are we continuously bombarded with information in our perceptual world via our senses, we also use those same senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell) to seek out or gain information. Some of the information available to us is relevant to what we are doing – it matters – but you may have also guessed most of the information available to us is irrelevant and does not matter.

For an athlete to deliver great performances, he must know the right information to look for, be able to find it, and stay focused on it. Concentration can be ultimately boiled down to just another way of thinking, which makes it a skill, which makes it controllable, and in turn makes it a choice. This is what concentration is about – concentration is thinking right, distraction is thinking wrong; it’s your choice.

Athletes are usually comfortable with the concept of following a routine. That means doing something using the same steps, the same way, in the same order every time until it just becomes normal. Getting comfortable with a concentration routine is another way for athletes to set themselves up for success. Cook’s Model of Concentration can provide the basis for an easy to grasp concentration routine.

Cook’s Model of Concentration actually helps the athlete see things, observe things, take things in his perceptual field and funnel those things down. As the athlete funnels down, he gets to what he needs to be concentrating on.

Cook's Model Of Concentration

For observing, athletes will see everything, find the things that matter, and focus solely on them. Next is reviewing your strategy: What is the play? What are your responsibilities? What is your job? For imagery, think visualizing yourself delivering a great performance and then see it again, but this time so powerfully that you can feel it. Lastly, trust you are focused, trust yourself, and now do it.

Once the athlete removes these distractions, he has only what’s left, and he can focus on that. Having the ability to focus solely on the task at hand is the definition of concentration.

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Just like learning any new skill, at first this concentration routine may feel awkward. After repetition and remaining consistent, persistent and relentless, it will truly become routine. Commit to choosing to concentrate with this routine. Quickly enough you’ll feel comfortable, focused, and confident in the “See it! – Feel it! – Trust it!” routine.

Any number of distractions will try to break your concentration – the last play, a teammate breaking down, deception from opponents or upsetting calls by the officials. However, they are just distractions and being distracted is thinking wrong. Instead, re-focus, think about what matters and use your concentration routine and voila! The distractions are gone. Best part is, it was your choice so you have total control, which really turns into the fact that there are no distractions because you choose for them not to exist.

This article was written by Dr. Pat Ivey, Associate Athletic Director For Student Health and Performance, University of Louisville. 


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