The 6 Key Requirements of American Footballers

Key Requirements of American Football

There are 6 key physical requirements which American Footballers should develop and maintain to become successful on the field.

In this post I will look at the physiological and skill requirements which American Footballers bodies require, and why they are essential to a footballers career.



Strength is defined as ‘the ability to overcome external resistance or counter external forces using muscle’. It is essential for the explosive yet controlled movements, such as making a tackle, changing direction or breaking through the line.

Single limb strength is vital within the sport. Single leg strength is important for change of direction in a smooth-controlled yet powerful execution. Similarly, single arm strength can be important for making a safe tackle or stiff-arm

away from an opponent.


Power is often confused with strength. Power is the rate at which work is performed. Work is the application of strength over a distance. Therefore Power = Strength x Speed. I.e. power could be explained as explosive strength – strength performed in a short period of time.

In football, the player who can block and tackle the fastest is usually the winner. These skills on the field are most effective when the individual executes with as much power as possible.


Training the body to maintain maximum performance throughout the four quarters is where the quality of endurance is key.

Football players should have the aerobic capacity to produce power over a prolonged and intermittent duration (approximately 100% effort for 5 seconds). They must also be able to recover quickly.

In addition, maximum anaerobic power is necessary to perform powerful movements such as exploding off the line to block, and a speedy acceleration e.g. a linebacker dog (Blitz).

In the game of American Football periods of continuous play are generally no longer than 30 seconds. This suggests emphasis should be on developing anaerobic performance.

Whether a football player can give 100% effort for every play is dependent on how efficiently he can recovery. This can be developed through interval training.

Anaerobic performance depends on many factors such as; age, sex, muscle fibre composition, training and muscle cross sectional area (the size of the muscle).

Leg extension strength has been shown as a strong predictor of anaerobic power. Muscular strength has a major role in anaerobic performance because with the increased muscular strength, the ability of muscles to generate muscular contraction over a short term high intensity activity also increases.

Interestingly it appears that football practices and games do create sufficient physiological adaptations, such as enhancing muscle kinetics and improving recovery time. Yet players should still take endurance training into their own hands to further improve these qualities.


Acceleration vs top speed – it isn’t always the athlete with the fastest top speed who wins the race.

Speed is relative to the distance run and so if the distance is short (e.g. 40 yards), then the individual with the fastest acceleration will win the race. Indeed, it should be noted that players might not always reach their top speed. It is reported that the average play for most players covers a total of 15 to 20 yards, and so increasing acceleration time is vitally important. This isn’t to say that you should ignore training your top speed mechanics, but getting away from your opponent can mean a touchdown.

Remember, football is a highly explosive sport.

Body Composition

Traditionally coaches have selected players on the criteria of size. However, size can be very misleading when selecting a player.

Body composition has been linked to strength, speed and cardiovascular endurance in studies with university and professional footballers.

As is obvious, studies found offensive and defensive line players to have similar sizes, as did offensive backs, receivers and defensive backs.

In regards to body fat percentage, linemen were found to be taller and have higher fat percentages, with backs showing statistically significant lower levels of body fat.

These big skill players with higher body mass percentage and BMI than skilled positions have an advantage when blocking, defending or attacking the quarterback.

Linebackers tended to be midway between the two groups. However, some studies showed linebackers to be leaning more towards decreased values of body fat as seen in backs, but others leaning towards increased values as seen in linemen. This shows that size doesn’t always equal positional placement.

Skilled position players required lower-body mass percentages and BMI to allow for speed and agility during plays.

The biomechanical and hormonal responses during a season of competition have been examined in previous studies. These compared starters and non starters. They found skeletal muscle sensitisation to the repeated traumas which occurred during the season. The researchers put this down to ‘contact adaptation’ that they believe occurs in football players as part of the physiological adaptation during a football season. This adaption they believe allows the player to withstand the physical punishment i.e. repeated trauma which comes with the game. This however is something that will be developed during the competitive or pre-season training and not in the weight room.


Agility is the reaction to an external stimulus.

Looking at it from a runners point of view, the ability to read a defensive players movements determines what direction to run, and ultimatly whether they gain positive yards. If the runner sees an opening the ability to react, change direction and accelerate into the open field is critical.

Likewise a running back or receiver might ‘juke’ a defensive player to move one way when infact the offensive player wishes to run in another direction and thus makes a cut in this direction.

Being able to quickly change direction and then accelerate is key to the game of American Football.

There are simple reaction drills which can be performed to increase reaction time.

Key Requirements of American Football
Photo by Michael Oakes


Football is a highly explosive sport consisting of sprinting, jumping, colliding, all with a heavy reliance on anaerobic power.

Power, speed and agility are key predictors of draft status in the NFL and are all tested at the combine. Football players are becoming increasingly stronger, faster and more powerful. To compete, you need to work on these key skills.

All these qualities can be developed through a variety of training methods with a good strength and conditioning programme.



Kin-Isler, A., Ariburun, B., Ozkan, A., Aytar, A. and Tandogan, R., 2008. The relationship between anaerobic performance, muscle strength and sprint ability in American football players. Isokinetics and Exercise Science16(2), pp.87-92.

Hetzler, R.K., Vogelpohl, R.E., Stickley, C.D., Kuramoto, A.N., DeLaura, M.R. and Kimura, I.F., 2010. Development of a modified Margaria-Kalamen anaerobic power test for American football athletes. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research24(4), pp.978-984.

Hoffman, J.R., Kang, J.I.E., Ratamess, N.A. and Faigenbaum, A.D., 2005. Biochemical and hormonal responses during an intercollegiate football season. Medicine and science in sports and exercise37(7), pp.1237-1241.

Hoffman, J.R., 2008. The applied physiology of American football. International journal of sports physiology and performance3(3), pp.387-392.

Vitale, J.A., Caumo, A., Roveda, E., Montaruli, A., La Torre, A., Battaglini, C.L. and Carandente, F., 2016. Physical attributes and NFL Combine performance tests between Italian National League and American Football players: A comparative study. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research30(10), pp.2802-2808.

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