If you recently became football’s biggest fan thanks to Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce — and/or the upcoming Super Bowl — then you might be wondering how the players run, throw, pass, and evade tackles with what looks like the greatest of ease.
Personally, I assumed these massive athletes must bench press refrigerators and sprint for hours and hours on a treadmill, but according to Teddy Savage, the national lead trainer at Planet Fitness, a football player’s workout is actually a lot more functional than that. So functional, in fact, that it’s also one you can try on your own at the gym.
Instead of bulking up with barbells, players do a much more relatable set of warm-ups followed by full-body movements and endurance-building exercises. “When you’re on the field it’s not about how much weight you can lift, but more about how you can translate your strength to functional movement,” Savage tells Bustle. Think jumping up to catch the ball, darting sideways to get past the defense, etc.
That means a football player’s workout isn’t just a bunch of boring bicep curls, either, but one that’s much more interesting with moves like speed skaters, medicine ball squats, and kettlebell swings. Players train with these exercises because they mimic what they do on the field, like pushing and throwing, but Savage says these movements also translate to everyday life.
Ahead of the Big Game, Savage gave me a football-inspired workout to try, which is also available on the Planet Fitness app, and now I feel ready to take the field myself.
According to Savage, a warm-up is actually the most important part of any workout, especially ahead of a sport like football. If you watch a game, he says you’ll see players getting ready with arm circles and leg swings to ensure they’re fully prepped for all the explosive movements they’re about to encounter on the field.
“This is called dynamic stretching and it’s all about moving your body through its fullest range of motion to bring blood flow to the muscles to optimize performance and offset possible injuries due to stiffness,” he says.
To get ready to train, Savage said I should do these four dynamic stretches for thirty seconds each, one right after the other, followed by a second round.
- Arm circles
- Trunk rotations
- Leg swings
- Jumping jacks
As someone who tends to skip warm-ups to save time — something Savage says is super common — I have to admit it felt pretty good to get my heart pumping before trying anything tougher. By the time I had finished the jumping jacks, I was 100% ready to take on whatever came next.
This second set of exercises is focused on functional strength with compound movements meant to light up multiple muscle groups at once, says Savage. These exercises also move your body through different planes of space, which is beneficial for everyday life — and football.
Savage suggested three sets of 10 reps for each exercise below, with a 30-second rest between each set. Another option was to do kettlebell cleans with an overhead press, kettlebell alternating reverse lunges, kettlebell swings, and kettlebell torso twists, which would also train my grip strength, but I went for this medicine ball routine.
- Medicine ball alternating lunge with an overhead press
- Medicine ball alternating lunge with an arm extension
- Medicine ball squats
- Medicine ball mountain climbers
Savage said I should first try the mechanics of each exercise without the medicine ball in order to make sure I had my form down. Once I practiced a few lunges, I grabbed a 10-pounder and took my time with each exercise. While it’s only four moves, I started sweating pretty much instantly, especially during the mountain climbers.
Endurance & Stamina
To my great relief, a football workout doesn’t require a ton of running. While pro athletes are speedy, they don’t get that way by jogging for miles. Instead, Savage says they focus on cardio conditioning.
“That’s why this cardio portion is more dynamic, functional movements, like TRX squat jumps,” he says. “Those things require a high output from your heart, so your stamina will be challenged a bit more than if you were to just run on the treadmill for 30 minutes.”
TRX squat jumps are a form of plyometrics, aka exercises that train your body to jump and bound. Savage said I should do each move below for 30 seconds with a 45 to 60-second rest between each set, and then go through it all again.
- TRX cycle jumps
- TRX speed skaters
- TRX squat jumps
- TRX alternating sprinters
Typically, I’d walk past the TRX bands at my gym, so it was fun to give them a try. The cycle jumps involve holding onto these stretchy resistance bands while lunging back, jumping up, and switching legs mid-air.
The speed skaters were the perfect example of the functional, lateral movements that help players dodge each other, while the squat jumps and alternating sprinters also look exactly like what players do on the field. This whole set was so tough, but it made me feel like a bonafide athlete.
The All-Important Cooldown
Football is so, so tough on the body, which is why it’s important for players to focus on cooldowns and recovery as part of their workout — and the same is true for regular gym-goers like me, too.
Instead of dynamic stretching, which is all about movement, Savage recommends static stretches, where you hold still and stretch your muscle to its fullest flexibility for about 45 seconds.
“That’s going to help to relax the muscle, bring your heart rate down, and it shortens recovery time,” says Savage, adding that static stretching has also been shown to aid in recovery.
I did each of these for 45 to 60 seconds in the corner of the gym.
- Shoulder stretch
- Triceps stretch
- Standing hamstring stretch
- Hip flexor stretch
- Butterfly stretch
While I’ll probably never need to catch a pigskin, duck past a linebacker, and sprint 60 yards in front of millions of screaming fans, it felt good to train like a football player anyway. By the time I finished these moves, I was full of endorphins and oh-so sweaty, and it truly felt like I’d had a well-balanced, full-body workout.
According to Savage, this pro-athlete-inspired routine translates surprisingly well to everyday life. He says any good workout is about training in the gym for what you do in everyday life, whether it’s throwing a football or climbing a flight of stairs.
“In order to be more efficient in those movements, you have to train that way,” he says. “You aren’t always lying there doing bench presses, but you are bending down to get something, hinging at the hip, and reaching up. When you’re doing that, that’s a lunge, that’s a press, that’s a torso rotation. Functional movements are the name of the game.”
McGowan, CJ. (2015). Warm-Up Strategies for Sport and Exercise: Mechanisms and Applications. Sports Med. doi: 10.1007/s40279-015-0376-x.
Opplert, J. (2018). Acute Effects of Dynamic Stretching on Muscle Flexibility and Performance: An Analysis of the Current Literature. Sports Med. doi: 10.1007/s40279-017-0797-9.
- This 5-move forearm workout with dumbbells builds strength in your wrists, biceps, and shoulders
- 4 Arm Muscle Workout Mistakes to Avoid for Biceps and Triceps
- Symptoms, Treatment, Recovery, and More
- The 20 Best Cardio Exercises Of All Time – At-Home Cardio Workouts
- 5 Daily Exercises for Men To Get Defined Abs