Quarterbacks play a position unlike any other on a football team. Not only are they put under an extreme amount of mental stress throughout the course of a game and season, their bodies are also exposed to stressors not typical of other players. While other players are exposed to repeated low-intensity collisions and high-velocity collisions, quarterbacks throw thousands of balls over the course of a season. The constant rotational stress of throwing a football can lead to imbalances that are followed up by side-lining injuries. Let’s not forget they also carry the ball (which usually ends in getting tackled), get sacked (many times from the blind side) and have to entertain at least a handful of ladies at a time (trust me, I used to be a quarterback). The life of a QB can be rough!
Below, in no particular order, you’ll find my top 5 favorite things to keep in mind when training quarterbacks.
1) Forget the Bench and the Squat: Before you send me hate mail or swear Godly vengeance, hear me out. Throwing thousands of footballs predisposes QBs to a host of shoulder issues, including impingement, bicipital tendonitis and rotator cuff injury. Benching with a straight bar perpetuates the risk of shoulder injury because the shoulder is put in a position of relative instability and gives the humeral head limited room to move. Closed chain exercises such as push-ups and benching with dumbbells are much better options because they allow for greater stability and allow the humeral head a greater amount of room to rotate within the glenoid. For ideas on alternative pressing exercises for your quarterbacks, check out Eric Cressey’s article here http://www.elitefts.com/documents/overhead_athlete.htm.
Squatting with a bar on the back should be avoided for much the same reason as avoiding having your quarterbacks benching with a straight bar. It creates unnecessary rotary stress within the glenohumeral joint and increases the risk for impingement. For the health and longevity of your QBs, program front squats, safety squat bar squats and deadlift variations for them. You can still elicit the systemic strength gains that are so revered from back squatting and save their shoulders at the same time.
2) Make Upper-Back Training a Priority: Bill Kazmaier once said, ‘strong back, strong man.’ As simple is it may sound, it’s one of the most profound statements anyone has ever made about training. Building exceptional strength throughout the upper-back and lats not only helps to make the body more efficient in the way it transfers force, but in the case of an overhead athlete like a quarterback, it can be one more step in securing healthy shoulders. Yes, QB shoulder health IS important enough to mention it again.
The next question is, what kind of upper-back training are we talking here? Am I suggesting training the upper-traps so that you wind up with a yoked-out 16 year old with functionally irrelevant mass? Absolutely not, although, being yoked is awesome! What I am talking about is strong rhomboids, strong mid- and lower-traps and thoracic mobility.
The most common imbalance that I see among all populations, not just young throwing athletes, is dominant upper-traps and weak or inhibited mid- and low-traps. From a biomechanical perspective, this is bad because it leads to altered shoulder mechanics and scapular instability. Having said that, I do not think that upper-trap training should be abandoned altogether; I just think it should take a different form, namely in an isometric function, such as during a farmer’s walk. The predominance of upper-back resistance training for quarterbacks should come in the form of different row or pull-up variations concentrated on using a neutral grip. Some of my favorites are the single arm dumbbell row, single arm standing cable row, neutral grip pull-ups and the bent alternating dumbbell row. Exercises such as these reinforce healthy stability and movement of the scapula while building strong rhomboids, as well as, low- and mid-traps. Just because we are talking about shoulder health doesn’t mean that these exercises can’t incorporate heavy loads for a quarterback. Make their upper-backs oxen like in comparison and you will be happy with the results. Also, be sure to coach them to pull the shoulder blades back and down as they pull while pushing the chest out.
Reinforcing healthy movement of the scapula is relatively insignificant if thoracic mobility is limited. If the thoracic spine is stiff and locked, then scapular movement will be altered; causing problems in the other joints of the shoulder, namely the glenohumeral joint. So, what to do, what to do? Easy, have your quarterbacks do at least one thoracic mobility drill during their warm-up every day. It could be during their throwing warm-up, or during their weight-room warm-up.
Some of my favorites include:
A) Quadruped Thoracic Extension Rotations: You can find a video here-
B) Bench Thoracic Spine Extension Mobilzation: Here is Tony Gentilcore of Cressey Performance with a great demonstration of this T-Spine mobility exercise-
C) Side-Lying Thoracic Rotations: Check out a great example by watching this video -
3) Train with Short Duration, High Intensity Sprints: While I’m definitely not a fan of mimicking sport movement directly during training I am a fan of mimicking intensity of work and duration. If we picture in our mind’s eye what a quarterback’s weekly outing looks like, short duration, high intensity sprints match up almost perfectly with dropping back and rifling a pass on the fifth step or covering the ground to hand the ball off on a stretch. Using a medley of ten to twenty yard sprints at about 85 to 95 percent recovery keeps things realistic. The great about using sprints this way is it allows for speed work and anaerobic conditioning. Program them in at the end of a lift early in the week or on a non-lifting day, also early in the week while hitting your longer duration conditioning toward the end of the training week.
4) Use Plenty of Unilateral Training: The human body by nature is asymmetrical, this is a distinct fact. However, quarterbacks spend a great deal of time throwing footballs, and unless they are in a sprint out based offense, they are looking, driving off and rotating in the same direction constantly. This can create new asymmetries or exacerbate existing asymmetries or imbalances. Our job is to create balance, or limit the amount of imbalance that is created. Training unilaterally in the sagittal and frontal planes, with both upper-body and lower-body movements, can help limit imbalances from repeatedly completing the same pattern (dropping back and throwing a football). Lunges, hip-mobility drills, rows, squats and deadlifts all done unilaterally are important to include in QB programming to battle to development of extreme asymmetries.
5) Train Their Necks!: Neck training, especially for quarterbacks, is all too often neglected. Building a strong and mobile neck can help to prevent serious concussions and whiplash from being sacked or tackled. One of the big problems concerning neck training is that trainers and coaches think that if the neck is loaded it will become immobile, and that’s just not true. You can build a strong, thick and mobile neck all at the same time. Another thing to consider when training the neck is rate of firing. Research points to timing of muscle contraction in the neck musculature can be just as important as having a collar busting tree trunk on top of the shoulders. For some ideas on neck training check out the article Joe Giandonato and I published on T-Nation. You’ll find it here. http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/most_recent/building_a_strong_neck&cr
While quarterbacks aren’t the delicate flowers they sometimes are facetiously mocked as, there are some important considerations to keep in mind during training to optimize their health and longevity on the field. I have found that these five principles have helped the quarterbacks that I have worked with, put them in practice and I’m confident you will be pleased with the results.