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Weight Training for a Middle Linebacker

author image Jim Thomas
Jim Thomas has been a freelance writer since 1978. He wrote a book about professional golfers and has written magazine articles about sports, politics, legal issues, travel and business for national and Northwest publications. He received a Juris Doctor from Duke Law School and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Whitman College.
Weight Training for a Middle Linebacker
Brian Urlacher Photo Credit Larry Busacca/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

The middle linebacker, sometimes referred to as the quarterback for the defense, is responsible for recognizing the offense's formations and adjusting the defense accordingly. Middle linebackers must be strong enough to fight off offensive linemen, take down running backs, drop back into pass coverage and go stride-for-stride with fleet receivers.

NFL Off-Season Weight Program Day 1

The workout routine for Brian Urlacher of the Chicago Bears before the 2004 season is an example of the type of weight training necessary to maintain and improve strength and flexibility as a middle linebacker. On alternate days, Urlacher would work his chest, back and biceps under a routine prepared by conditioner Chip Smith. The routine included sets of bench presses, seated work on a rowing machine, incline presses, bar dips, lat pulldowns, seated dumbbell curls, curls with a barbell, and crunches and knee-ups to work abdominal muscles.

Day 2

Urlacher's weight workout on Day 2 concentrated on his triceps, shoulders and legs. The workout featured cleans with a barbell, shrugs with a barbell, leg extensions on a leg extension machine, squats with a barbell, seated military presses, front raises with dumbbells, upright rows with a barbell, side laterals with dumbbells, triceps extensions and close grip bench presses. Urlacher rested for 25 seconds -- roughly the time between football plays -- between sets and 60 seconds between types of lifts.

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Olympic Weightlifting

Mauro Pasquale, a Canadian physician, professor, sports medicine clinic operator and former world champion powerlifter, interviewed a San Francisco 49ers coach on the way he trains his football players. The goal is to give each player the lifting routine that he needs in terms of muscle mass, muscle coordination, force generation and injury prevention. The coach says that Olympic weightlifting is the best avenue for developing speed, power and strength, attributes necessary to play middle linebacker. Clean and jerk and snatch lifts, the two competition lifts in the Olympic Games, train your body to perform as a "kinetic chain generating high power outlets and speed." Other advantages of Olympic lifting are that it builds power and speed faster than powerlifting. One caution: Olympic lifting is technical and complicated, so find a coach who can teach you properly.

In-Season Weightlifting

The goal of an in-season lifting program is to prevent injury and maintain muscle mass without inducing muscle soreness. Since a middle linebacker is bound to be beaten up, to some extent, during a season, weight training routines need to be flexible to account for injuries. A middle linebacker might weight train one or two or three times per week, depending on his physical condition after the previous game. Stick with exercises the athletes are accustomed to during the season. A typical lifting session on a Tuesday might include squats and other lifts mixed with lower body stretching, sprinter situps and medicine ball tosses. On Thursday, box squats and hanging leg raises might be included in a session. And on Friday, bench presses, lat pulldowns and dumbbell curls might be combined with lower body stretching.


If you play middle linebacker, you have to do more than just lift weights. Urlacher performed his training at high altitude. His weight work was mixed with a program designed to improve his endurance in the fourth quarter, when extreme fatigue set in. Smith observed that Urlacher sprinted a lot on every play. So he designed a routine consisting of short explosive bursts for Urlacher to perform and loaded up his shoulder pads with as much as eight extra pounds of weight. Nutrition was an important factor in Urlacher's training as well. Because of his heavy workload, Urlacher added 2,000 calories per day to his diet and added extra protein in the form of easily absorbed protein shakes. Similarly, the 49ers coach mixes weight training with conditioning, agility and plyometrics for a total workout package while stressing the importance of good nutrition.

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