Fitness Corner: Training a quarterback

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While quarterbacks must possess somewhat different traits than most other "skill" players, the training program developed by strength and conditioning coaches Johnny Parker and Duane Carlisle is very similar. There are no special exercises used specifically for quarterbacks, but there are areas of key concern.

"You have to be careful with their shoulders and their elbows," Parker said. "Their training is the same as other skill players."

The reason for the similarity is to prevent one side of a quarterback's body from becoming stronger than the other. With literally "hundreds of reps" for a quarterback's dominant side (their throwing arm) taking place every day in practice, Parker tries to ensure that those added reps do not create an imbalance.

"You have to make sure that they do a lot of work with their opposite or non-dominant side," Parker said. "If anything, we would try to do the individualized workouts with their left side to bring it up to par with their right, if they are right-handed. One thing you can do with quarterbacks is make sure that they do a lot of alternate dumbbell work where they have to press with one arm and then the other so that one strong arm can't dominate a weak arm. That's why we don't use any machines, because a strong limb can dominate a weak limb."

In addition to building strength on both sides of the body, Parker also tries to prevent injuries common to the quarterback position.

"Quarterbacks have to be very strong because they're the only players on the field that don't see their contact coming," Parker said. "They're the ones that take their hits without seeing them, almost invariably."

Those hits normally don't come from 190-pound cornerbacks either. Most of the players surrounding the quarterback are offensive and defensive linemen, players that can weigh upwards of 300 lbs. Circumstances similar to those experienced by Carson Palmer when he tore several knee ligaments during last year's playoff game against the Steelers, are unavoidable, but pre-habilitation work can be done in an attempt to minimize the damage.

"You think about the most common injuries and the things that happen are when people fall around their ankles," Parker said. "We do a lot of balance work. We teach them to absorb force. For people falling into their knees, we do squats. Squats, more than anything else, can prevent knee injuries."

Another way Parker tries to make his quarterbacks better and stronger is to work out the entire body.

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"I always refer to something Phil Simms told me," said Parker. "He said 'I don't throw in my arms. I throw in my legs. I throw better when my whole body's stronger.'"

This is not to say that every quarterback needs to be built like a Daunte Culpepper or Donovan McNabb, two of the bigger quarterbacks in the NFL. Instead, each quarterback needs to work to enhance their strengths and minimize their weaknesses.

"You want them playing at a weight where they're going to achieve optimum performance based on an individual's profile," Carlisle said. "You can't compare someone like Alex [Smith], who's a longer leaner type, to someone like McNabb whose body type is such that he's a bigger, thicker guy. The goal for any guy is to be as big and as strong as possible to ultimately have them play as well as possible."

After coaching players like Phil Simms during his career, Coach Parker knows what a player needs to play quarterback. Many of these same traits he also sees in his current quarterback

"Everybody has a certain genetic blueprint and if you exceed that blueprint, you're not going to increase performance," said Parker. "Alex Smith will never be a 230-pound quarterback, but I'll take him."

Questions for Coach Parker
Roger writes: How many times do your players lift during the season? Are they required to work certain body parts during the season, for instance, legs, or is it more regimented based on a player's position?
Parker's response: They're required to work out twice a week. Linemen are encouraged to work three, but only required to work two. Developmental players are required to work three. We don't work parts. We work their whole body every time they work out. We just do it in different ways.

Tyler writes: I was wondering what workouts I could use to increase my bench press?
Parker's answer: There are two ways to get stronger. You can train your body to recruit more force, which means you lift heavier weights. Or you can train your body to recruit force faster, which means to lift lighter weights really fast. Then, there are three methods you can use. One is called the dynamic method which means medium to medium-heavy weights, lifted limited number of times and lifted as fast as possible. That's the preferred way for football because those are the type of muscle contractions that football players are called upon to use the most often. Then there's the maximum effort method, which means the biggest weight possible. Then there's the effort to near failure method, which is lighter weights to near failure. That's another way to get very strong. If you want to improve a certain lift (which is not something that we have or ever will focus on), we recommend that you use all three of those methods and incorporate a lot of variety in those methods. In other words, not one method all the time.

To have your question considered, please email Carlisle and/or  Parker at fitnesscorner@niners.nfl.com

Coach Carlisle also has training videos available. Find out more by visiting his own website byclicking here!

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