For years, the focus for offensive linemen during the offseason has been on improvement in the weight room – with the primary goal to get bigger and stronger. Heavy emphasis is traditionally placed on the bench press, squat, clean and deadlift.
However, understanding muscle memory means coaches need to rethink how they use those offseason months to train linemen. Bench press and traditional exercises remain important, but they lose their effectiveness when not combined with drills that teach muscle memory.
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“It [bench press] is highly detrimental, and here’s why: Your thumbs are in, and your elbows are out," Peters said. "If (the lineman does) that bench press 3,000 times and in spring or in camp he only gets 300 reps of hand strikes with the elbows in, then once he’s in a fight or flight, live game scenario, guess what happens?”
Peters said as the elbows and arms go out, as in a bench press-type motion, the head often becomes more involved in the movement.
So, what’s the solution? Peters doesn't believe it's to remove the bench press, but rather to incorporate drills that train for correct patterns needed for hand and body movement in the game.
The correct application of the desired skill is only built by developing the correct neuromuscular patterns. The bench press is good for developing strength and “armor" around the joints, but it falls short as a desired pattern for muscle memory.
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Fortunately, training the correct patterns for muscle memory is as simple as putting together a series of hand-fighting drills. If players are working in groups of four in the weight room, which is common, the two who aren't involved in the lift can work in a small space and do hand reflex drills, working the different strike and counter moves.
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This article shows an effective drill for this, utilizing boxing target gloves. However, equipment isn't really necessary.
Make sure players know the importance of these drills, and include them on their workout sheets. This type of work and focus on the neuromuscular patterns used on the field, combined with functional strength, will pay huge dividends in the fall.
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Keith Grabowski, USA Football's director of football operations, has nearly three decades of coaching experience at the high school and collegiate level. As host of USA Football's Coach and Coordinator podcast, he interviews the most knowledgeable head coaches, coordinators and position coaches from professional, college, and high school football. Keith and his guests discuss the philosophy, concepts, schemes, and strategies that they have learned throughout their careers. Each show includes a specific idea that can be applied to help coaches at every level find the winning edge.
This is an updated version of a blog that originally published December 1, 2016.