Reigning World’s Strongest Man (WSM) champion Mitchell Hooper went to a high school in Louisville to help football players master three strength movements. According to Hooper, any athlete would fare well using three exercises for their strength goals — deadlift, overhead press, and squat — all of which are safe for any age group.
Hooper began his breakdown of deadlifting by explaining core bracing, which stabilizes the lower back while pulling the weight, helping protect from injury. There are three levels of protection for the lower back:
- Intra-abdominal pressure — squeezing the stomach via breath
- Spinal erectors
- Soft tissues of the back
By utilizing intra-abdominal pressure created by holding one’s breath, they can save their lower back tissue from taking on additional strain, which makes them more susceptible to injury.
Hooper’s other tips include not breathing during the deadlift until reaching the top. The shoulders should remain rounded — the opposite of a power clean. This means the chest doesn’t necessarily have to be upright during a pull; it depends on a lifter’s femur length. Hooper had the student-athletes spot each other to see if they changed positions before their deadlifts. If they did change positions, Hooper recommended starting in that position, as that is likely the more natural setup.
Using one of the student-athletes, Hooper demonstrated how to get leverage on an opposing player in football. While it might seem like a chest press would develop the necessary strength against an opponent, human body mechanics in sports dictate that the body should be more parallel to the ground. Therefore, standing shoulder press is the superior exercise in this context.
Hooper told the student-athletes not to bend backward when performing a standing press. “Squeeze your butt, shoulders stay over your hips, watch this bar all the way up,” said Hooper. Watching the barbell throughout the motion maintains an upright chest. Hooper implored his trainees to squeeze their shoulders to their ears instead of rotating their scapula back and down. Hooper’s suggested positioning creates more stability for the shoulders during the concentric portion of the lift.
There are three significant areas of mobility — ankles, knees, and hips — that affect the squat. For those with flexible ankles, squatting with ideal form down to the floor is easier. For those with less flexible ankles, the knees bending forward and hips hinging backward can help. For contact team sports, building a stronger hip hinge is the most important aspect for maximum leg drive.
Those with longer femurs shouldn’t hope to squat like those with shorter femurs. Hooper showcases this by comparing two high schoolers with different heights; the student with shorter legs could get his glutes to the ground, while the student with longer legs’ glutes was only halfway down in the squat. For those with longer legs, Hooper suggests rotating the feet and rotating the knees out to reduce the distance to the floor and cued the idea of sinking between the knees.
Hooper acknowledged the “butt wink,” where the hips sink into the pelvis and the glutes drop during a squat, often rounding the lower back. Hooper acknowledged that it’s okay to squat through a butt wink during the off-season but that the students should save energy and squat higher without sinking the hips while in season. The latter can help sustain energy levels while developing strength through the range of motion necessary for football.
The coaching session concluded with the student-athletes receiving AIRWAAV mouthpieces to help improve their training.
Featured image: @mitchellhooper on Instagram
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