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Ready for a little conditioning? Make like a football player or cheerleader with these moves

Photos by OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times  Plant High School varsity football players participate in speed drills during a recent practice. The team\u2019s conditioning also includes 12-minute runs around the track.
Photos by OCTAVIO JONES | Times Plant High School varsity football players participate in speed drills during a recent practice. The team\u2019s conditioning also includes 12-minute runs around the track.
Published Aug. 16, 2018

We all gear up for gridiron season in our own way.

Some of us don a favorite jersey and fly the team flag from the front porch. Others pick out the best booth at the local sports bar and slide into place for a day of pitchers and wings. And then there are the real go-getters among us, who actually go to a game to watch a Pop Warner showdown, a crosstown high school rivalry or the Bucs at Raymond James.

All of these options, of course, are bliss for true fans of the sport. And yet none offers or requires much in the way of personal fitness (unless you count climbing stairs to the nosebleed seats).

But what if we let our football heroes — those players and coaches and cheerleaders who give their all at every game — inspire us to get in shape for the season? What if we did a little conditioning ourselves, so we wouldn't have to literally squeeze into a seat at the Swamp or Hattricks Tavern?

We asked local coaches — from peewees to pros — to suggest a few workout moves that could help.

For kids

If the toughest game you played this summer was "Fortnite," your main goal should be to regain flexibility, says Glen Castle, a coach and spokesman for FYD Tampa Bay Pop Warner, which is open to players ages 5 to 16.

That means plenty of warmup time and stretches — in that order — to wake up sluggish muscles and "get the blood flowing."

"We know their thumbs are in shape," Castle says of the many kids who have spent the bulk of their break playing video games instead of staying active. However, their overall fitness has surely faded. Most really do need the 20 hours of conditioning the league requires before they're allowed to scrimmage, he says.

Try this move: Frankenstein Walk

Stand with feet hip-width apart, arms down by your sides. Take a step forward with your left foot and lift your right leg until it's parallel to the ground. (Think of showgirl kicks, Castle says.) Try to touch your toes with your left hand, bending forward a bit. Do this consistently, alternating legs, as though you're mimicking the monster's gait.

Flexibility is also key for young cheerleaders when they practice and perform, says Naysha Massey, regional director of Cheer and Dance for All American Youth Activities of Tampa, a recreational program for ages 5 to 15. Agility is what makes those body-bending splits, jumps and flips possible, she says, so, "Stretches are No. 1."

Try this move: V Stretch

Sit on the floor with your legs spread and extended straight out. Slowly lower your upper body and try to touch your nose to the right side of your right knee, then to the middle of the vee (the floor), and then to the left side of your left knee. Don't bounce! Hold for 10 to 30 seconds.

For teens

By the time serious players are in high school, there's no longer an "off-season," says Plant High School football coach Robert Weiner. Many athletes participate in more than one sport, so they're fit, and most football players are "maniacs in the weight room," he says. "Kids love to see gains."

But aerobic endurance and mental will are also important, and a big part of football conditioning. So Weiner puts his team to the test with 12-minute runs around the track during practice. There are different expectations depending on each player's position; for example, a quarterback or running back should log seven laps, tight ends and fullbacks 6 ½ laps, and linemen, six laps.

Being able to change direction quickly and efficiently is also crucial, Weiner says. For that, he likes box drills, which can be modified for each position (and just about any sport). "You're only limited by your imagination," he says.

Try this move: L-Drill

Set up three cones (or any kind of marker) 10 yards apart in the shape of an L. Start in a three-point stance at the first cone. On "go," rush straight to Cone 2, bend down and touch the ground with your right hand. Turn and run back to Cone 1, bend down and touch the ground with your right hand. Run back to Cone 2 and around the outside of it, then weave inside Cone 3, then around the outside of Cones 3 and 2 before finishing back at Cone 1. Keep moving and stay low around the corners to improve your time.

Girls who play football need to master the same explosive moves the boys' teams use, says Josh Saunders, Robinson High School's girls flag football coach. "Every second is high-intensity, high-impact," he says.

Saunders likes to include 20-yard sprints in practices, because, he says, "They're huge for what we do." He's also a fan of any exercise that requires bursts of speed and power.

Try this move: StepUps

Stand to the right of the box or bench you're using as your step. Place your left foot on the box. Stomp on the box with your left foot and explosively drive your body up. Fully extend your left leg and drive your right knee up until your thigh is parallel to the ground. Bend your left knee and hip to lower yourself back to the starting position. Repeat, alternating legs.

The athletes on the sidelines also need power moves to get through each game, so Academy at the Lakes varsity cheerleading coach Amy Guzzo stresses the importance of warming up and doing "crazy stretches," which means lots of running, toe touching and different kinds of kicks.

She also focuses on exercises that strengthen each cheerleader's core, such as walking backbends and V situps, a hard-core move that works on the back and abs.

Try this move: V Situps (or V-Ups)

Lie on your back with your arms over your head and your legs together. Engage your abs as you lift your arms and legs and bring them together — as if you're folding your body. Try to touch your toes. (There are several modifications for this move; you can start from a sitting position or bend your knees or use a rubber ball. Be creative, but be careful.)

For adults

For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleaders, it's all about building stamina, says senior cheerleader manager Tara Battiato. "Football games can last for 3 ½ hours, and the workday starts four hours prior to kickoff," she says.

The cheerleaders also perform three full-team routines incorporating strong, fast-paced movements during each game. So besides stretching, their prep work includes lots of cardio, and incorporating interval and sprint training, as well as endurance training.

Try this move: Sprints

Sprint the straight edges of a track as fast as you can — 10 times. Don't worry about your time, at least at first. (Top college players run a 40-yard dash in under 5 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine. You probably aren't going to beat that.) Start by setting achievable and challenging goals for yourself.

Last but certainly not least, if you're wondering if professional football players really need the conditioning they get at training camp, the answer is yes. "Most players do return to (training) camp in good shape," says Dave Kennedy, head strength and conditioning coach for the Buccaneers. "But there are always special circumstances — whether it be an injured player or someone who might be a little behind."

The athletic areas Kennedy says the pros' practices address are burst (sudden acceleration), speed, agility, strength and general conditioning.

"It is still always tough, even for those in great shape, because of the competitiveness of the situations and the quality of the players they are going against."

How's that for inspiration? Now get out there and work off those Buffalo wings.

And remember: These athletes receive regular physicals before performing any exercises or drills. You should, too. Be sure your body — spine, neck, back, joints — can handle any challenging moves.

Contact Kim Franke-Folstad at kffolstad@gmail.com.