I caught a little bit of the NFL combine on Television this past weekend. Having been around the game my whole life, I’ve seen the player selection process from a lot of different angles. While its true that there are lots of guys who can do amazing things in the bench press test or who are blazing fast at running the 40 yard dash – Big numbers don’t always add up to big-time players, it’s how they play that counts – or at least that should count the most.

It’s how that strength, speed and stamina is applied within the context of the game which really tells the tale. Sure a ‘big bench’ might look good on paper, but it is not necessarily going to help a player get off a block more efficiently and make plays. The truth is, football players are only as good as their hands, especially in the trenches, on the offensive and defensive lines.

Offensive linemen need to be able to punch and grab, to keep the D-linemen at bay during pass blocking and they have to have the hands in the perfect spot on the chest plate to ‘plant’ their man down field on run blocking.

Conversely, Defensive linemen need to be able to put all their strength into their hands when they come off the ball to strike, separate and make a play. Their hands have to be in the right spot or else their pass-rush moves won’t work. On both sides of the ball, this is Hand-to-hand combat and if a guy can’t use his hands, he’s a dead duck. Amazingly enough, this is something which the draft gurus have only recently started to take a look at. And even more alarming, many ‘top prospects’ are lacking in this area.

So let’s talk about what its going to take to build those kinds of hands.

First and foremost, it should be understood that a large part of having ‘good hands’ is going to be the specific practice in the skills of football which has to be done apart from the physical training itself.Another interesting thing about the hands – I have always found that the stronger my hands got, the more ‘aware’ they were and so if I needed to place one hand on a chestplate and one on an outside arm for doing a pass rush move, I could do that with relative ease. You’ll see lots of guys with ‘lazy hands’ who end up putting them outside the shoulders or who ‘double hitch’ when they come off the ball.
These are a problem, but I think both of these can be avoided by building stronger hands – proper technique demands it. Anyhow, with that understood, the hands can be made stronger, tougher and more efficient through specific exercises.

Here’s a few that I would recommend:

1. Hand grippers – the ‘crushing’ movement trains the fingers through a full range of motion, making them stronger and less likely to get jammed, sprained etc. You’ll also need strong fingers because sometimes that’s all you have to hang on with when making a tackle.

2. Sandbag Training – A tremendous conditioner which also helps build strength and mental toughness in ways no barbell can match.

3. Basic exercises using a Thick Bar are also very effective.

That’s just the ‘grip and forearm’ side of things. Training for football should involve other basic upper and lower body movements designed to strengthen every area. Conditioning work is also important and should never be neglected. Here’s an interesting stat – if you can get 1.5 quarterback sacks per game, you will be voted all state… get a college scholarship… or get drafted in the first round of the NFL.

Stronger hands can help you do this – I wonder if those combine guys realize this?

If you play football or know someone who does, how important is hand strength to you now? Start training your hands right now, you could be ready for one hell of a season next fall.

Train hard,
John Wood signature
John Wood