Building muscle mass for football players

Editor’s Note: Johan Stål is a well-known name in Swedish American football. He played his last and 19th season two years ago for his hometown Örebro Black Knights and has also played for Swedish titleholders, the Carlstad Crusaders. He was also an anchor on the Swedish national team. Having set numerous records as a receiver and defensive back, he has turned his attention to improving the strength and conditioning of athletes, with his own unique focus on American football.

Out of his own gym – Atletic City Sportgym – Stål has been working as the strength coach for the Black Knights since 2011, and he has a slightly different way of looking at strength training.

Muscle mass is something football players want, even if you are a WR you need a period in your offseason when you have to bulk up, because that means you can later go to the MAX STRENGTH period and get even stronger with your newly built mass.

So how do you get big? Some people just google and take a bodybuilders’ workout and then just go at it. Sure, that might work out just fine. But we are football players, and we need exercises that can help us in practice and games. So it might not be optimal to just work out in the leg press machines.

Today, I will share with you a MUSCLE MASS Program I devised for the Örebro Black Knights some years ago. I call it the 5-15 program and many players have done it and WOW we have gotten great results with it. Not just mass but we have also managed to gain strength with this program. The KEY to this program is tempo and I will explain more about how that works. Some of you might recognize this style of program because I was inspired by the late Charles Poliquin when I did this. I first tried his GVT (German Volume Training) and after that, I decided to make some tweaks here and there, and when I was done and tried it out myself for some time before I had the 5-15 program ready. As I said, we have gotten some great results. This program is divided into 4 days, 2 lower body and 2 upper body, and I will show you one of the lower body programs here. This is the most notorious one if you ask the players who have tried the program.

I have to admit that this program is not for everyone. If you do it correctly it is really really, really tough. So, if you try it and don’t feel that much… guess what…. you’re doing it wrong!

Here goes.

  1. First off, as always in my programs, you have to warm up. If you want to go to the cardio section for 5-10 min then do so. And if you have your own warm-up then stick with what you feel the most comfortable with. Here is the warm-up I have for the program.
  • Start off with 5-10 min easy cardio
  • Foam roll out the major muscles in your lower body for about 5 min
  • The Complex 3, So here you do 5 Overhead Squat, lower the bar to your neck and do 5 Good Mornings and the 5 regular Squat. Do not do this with heavy weights and keep a good tempo. So you do this 3×5 (meaning 3 sets and 5 of each exercise)
  • Then finish off the warm-up with CLEANS and try and work on catching the bar low.
  1. Now let’s get going with the fun stuff. So you will see here below that we have A1 – A2 – A3 which means you do them all before you move on the other exercises. And you will perform 5 sets of this.
  • First, you start with FRONT SQUAT, with a 3-1 tempo, which means 3 seconds as you go down and 1 second when you go up. You have to try what weight works out the best for you but if the first set is to easy, just add 1 second on the tempo and then add weights to the second set. You do 3-5 reps of this, remember TEMPO is the key
  • Rerack the bar and immediately change to a regular SQUAT and now you do 5-15 reps with a 0-0 tempo, meaning that I want you in a high tempo and do as many as you can. If you feel that deep squats aren’t your thing…..then just don’t go as low. And in the 2-3 last sets, if you feel you can only do 4-5 deep squat reps, then just keep going and do not go as low. We are looking for the PUMP in this one.
  • After you have done the SQUATs, I want you to rest for 1½min and then go to the HAMSTRING SLIDE BOARD, now if you do not have one you can try it with a regular yoga ball. Now here we want a 3-1 tempo just as the front squat. So, 3 seconds on the way out, and 1 sec on the way in. Perform around 5-15 reps here, but do not cramp up!!! If you do more than 15 in the first set, then ADD weight to it and have the weight resting on your thighs.

So these are the first 3 exercises, and you do a complete 5 sets of these before you move along. This is how it would look.

  • Front squat 3-5 reps with a 3-1 tempo
  • NO REST, just rerack and go to squat
  • Squats, 5-15 reps with a 0-0 tempo
  • Rest 1½min
  • Hamstring Slide Board/Yoga Ball 5-15 reps with a 3-1 tempo
  • Rest 1½min
  • START OVER WITH FRONT SQUAT and repeat so you do a total of 5 sets.

Now the hard part is over, and we move on to B1 and B2 that’s pretty simple.

  • B1 is Seated Calf with a 2-2 tempo and 8-12 reps per set, rest 30 sec and then go to B2!

B2 is Hamstring Curl in a machine with a 2-2 tempo and 8-12 reps per set. Rest 1 min then start over at B1. Repeat this so you do a total of 4 sets.

This part would look like this.

  • Seated Calf, 8-12 reps with a 2-2 tempo
  • Rest 30 sec
  • Hamstring Curl in machine, 8-12 reps with a 2-2 tempo
  • Rest 1min
  • START OVER at Seated Calf and do a total of 4 sets.

Now you are almost done because I like to end my workouts with some minor extra exercises. All gyms might not have a Neck Machine, but we do at my gym. So, we do extra neck work, core-rotation exercises, and grip-strength. I try to have these 3 at least twice a week.

So there you have it. If you feel like trying this lower body program you have it. But remember it’s tough and if you’re having doubts on how to do it, or if your gym is missing something that is in the program, then feel free to msg me at [email protected] and I can help you out.

A1 Front squats5/3-53-10 sec
A2 Squats5/5-150-01 1/2 min
A3 Hamstring slide5/5-153-11 1/2 min
B1 Seated calf4/8-122-230 sec
B2 Hamstring curl4/8-122-21 min
C1 Neck machine3/8-101-130 sec
C2 Core rotation3/8-100-030 sec
C3 Grip strength______________30 sec