O-lifts and Squats: Strength Training for Speed Enhancement in Football

Have you ever heard of meathead-style strength training that can boost speed performance? This fad workout program perhaps started after professional runner Mohamed Farah hit the weight room, and surprisingly did a double gold-medal performance in both the 5,000 and 10,000-meter races during the 2012 London Olympics. 

A decade or two ago, you’ll less hear of runners lifting loads. Nowadays, as backed with many studies, strength training is recommended to improve a player’s running economy and maximal sprint speed. In this article, we’ll explain how Olympic lifts and squats variations are the most common must-do weightlifting staples for football players.   

Olympic Lifts 

In biomechanics, a triple extension is a simultaneous locking or extension of the ankle, knee, and hip joints. This chain will generally be more explosive if an athlete can maximize each extension. As a result, a person can put more force through the ground, propelling him or her forward at higher speeds.  

The Olympic lift is one of the most effective methods in developing these triple extension movements. This lift consists of dynamic, coordinated motions of joints and muscles in a rapid explosion—similar to how we defined triple extension—that can create a tremendous bar speed. Here are the three most common O-lifts:

  1. Power Clean (steps by JournalMENU)
  • Lift the bar to mid-thigh
  • Arms loose and straight, bar on knee-level
  • Hips explode and shoulders shrug
  • Elbows pull high then sweep underbar
  • Bar catches in a high front squat


  1. Hang Clean (steps by
  • Lift the bar to the hang position
  • Hold out hips and legs fast
  • Heels down until hips and legs are extended 
  • Shoulders shrug
  • Pull under with the arms
  • Bar receives in the bottom of a front squat


  1. Push Press (steps by Crossfit Ocean Beach) 
  • Bar moves over the middle of the foot
  • Dip, drive, then press
  • Vertical torso and legs static, while heels down 
  • Shoulders push up into the bar
  • Move your head out from the bar path
  • End at full arm extension  

Many trainers recommend O-lifts as a must-do exercise for football players in a weight room. The lift’s explosive ‘dynamic, coordinated motions’ is what football athletes need to run through tackles or go against a ball carrier. 

Squat Variations

Squatting enhances a football player’s optimal athleticism through activating muscles needed for fundamental sports movements. What’s more, one of the keys to generating speed and power is to activate glutes, quads, and core muscles altogether. All of these muscle groups are worked out in every squat variation. 

Back Squats

Back squats are one of the cornerstones of all football strength training, which can make an athlete faster and stronger. This exercise is crucial in building leg strength needed when playing in the field. Specifically, back squats can let players explode up and stay tight during the game using their hips, hamstrings, and glutes. 

The squat rack keeps the lifters to concentrate more on their hams and glutes. This will allow them to sit farther back, which would forcibly activate the lower muscle groups. Also, rather than bouncing up off the bar, lifters will able to pause, allowing more muscle to execute the lift. As a result, they can burn more calories and enhance their strength better. 

We’ve mentioned about ‘squat rack.’ Many tend to get confused and interchangeably use it with ‘squat stand.’ In fact, the two are totally different from each other. For more information about it, check out the comparison on Barbend. 

In addition to its advantages, back squats improve real-world flexibility, as well. If your stance widens, knees pushed outwards, and descend under control; you’ll improve superb leg and hip flexibility and mobility. For speed enhancement, it’s recommended to use chains or bands for 12 sets of two repetitions with 60-second rest when back squatting. 

Front Squats

The difference between a front squat and back is the positioning of the barbells. As the name implies, front squats allow athletes to hold the load in the front rack position before squatting down. The bar will rest on his/her shoulders with elbows up. It requires an upright torso to keep the weight midfoot, preventing it from rolling off of the shoulders while squatting. 

Here’s how you do it: 

  • Rest the bar across your clavicles 
  • Perform the same controlled squatting motion as in back squats; however, with an accelerated ascension
  • Don’t accommodate the weight in front on the heels, keep it back

Front squats are recommended for linemen. The entire movement of the front squat is almost perfectly similar to the motion of blocking or running through people in a football match. Having the weight in front of your body can build tremendous core strength. If a player has a strong core, he/she can handle the force from a collision and gives it right back out, allowing him/her to change direction fast. 

Single-Leg Squat 

Single-leg squat requires players to do one leg movement and maintain balance, which is associated with football-related benefits. Unlike double-leg squat, single-leg squat trains you in moving with force more to one side of your body, consequently enhancing your balance. 

Here’s how you do it: 

  • Stand on one foot with your other leg bent at the knee
  • Extend the raised leg straight out in front of you
  • Squat down as low as you can without toppling over
  • As you squat, prevent your knee go past the front of your toes
  • Squat at the bottom while holding one leg off of the ground for a second 
  • Push back up through your heel
  • As you push back, squeeze your glutes
  • Repeat as many times as you can

If you can notice, the movement involves the same hip, knee, and ankle motion as to how we perform a regular squat. The difference is that you do it only on one leg, which is generally executed on the football field. Jumping straight up in the air is the only moment when you use both legs in the game, which rarely happens.

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