Main Muscles Used in Football

an african american football player in a red and white uniform is jumping up with arms outstretched to catch a football
The legs and shoulders allow you to leap and reach for a passes. (Image: Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Football is a sport that requires strength and power in nearly every muscle throughout the body. Both lower- and upper-body muscles are involved in activities like running, jumping, blocking, catching and throwing. In addition, your core muscles have to continuously work to keep your spine stable and perform twisting movements that occur when throwing or going up to catch a ball.

Running and Jumping

Your glutes, quadriceps and hamstrings provide the force behind many football movements, and they often work together. Your glutes, located in your buttocks, along with your hamstrings, drive your legs back behind you. Your quadriceps, a collection of four muscles at the fronts of your thighs, extend your knees. When you’re sprinting or jumping, it’s these muscles that are propelling you forward. If you’re a lineman required to block an opponent, it’s your glutes, quadriceps and hamstrings that are providing the base for you to hold your ground and drive forward.

Pushing and Reaching

When you’re engaged with an opponent, it’s your chest and shoulders that are involved in pushing forward. The pectoralis major, which is the largest muscle in your chest, is responsible for squeezing your arms together toward your center as you push. Your deltoid muscles, at your shoulders, lift your arms upward. Together, along with help from the triceps that extend your elbows, you’re able to push forward as you block or try to push through to the quarterback. Wide receivers, tight ends and running backs who are receiving a pass often have to reach to catch a ball, and it’s the deltoids in the shoulders that are responsible for controlling that movement. Cornerbacks on defense will use their shoulders as they reach to knock away passes.

Twisting, Turning and Holding your Ground

All movements in football require engagement from your abs, obliques and lower-back muscles. When you’re blocking, your abs and obliques are contracting to keep your torso from collapsing backwards. If you go up to catch a pass, your core muscles help you twist your body so that you’re in position. Quarterbacks use their abs and obliques when they throw the ball, as they twist upon release.

What it Means for Workouts

Because of the large array of muscles involved in football, weight-training workouts commonly feature multi-joint compound exercises that develop multiple muscles simultaneously. Squats build strength in your glutes, quadriceps and hamstrings, mimicking how they have to work together during football. Bench presses work your chest and shoulders in a similar way your arms have to move as you’re blocking. Explosive exercises like cleans, snatches and jerks work the lower body, upper body and core all at the same time, while simultaneously training them to contract more quickly.

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