Why Shouldn’t Quarterbacks Barbell Bench Press, Power Clean, and Back Squat?

We have recently been publishing a lot of content on exercises that quarterbacks should and should not perform for peak performance, while they also decrease injury risk. The fine line between a “Quarterback Friendly exercise” and one that can do harm is very thin. There’s a lot of grey when it comes to certain lifts and exercises due to the individual demands that each individual player has. With that said, today we want to give you four very common exercises that are performed by most football players out there and variations off of those exercises. The results with these variations will be similar to that of the main exercise, but spare the body in ways that is beneficial to quarterbacks. You don’t want to miss this one folks! This is crucial, especially during this period of time in which training on your own is the only option.

1. Barbell Bench Press

In an earlier post, we went into great detail of why the bench press is detrimental for all overhead athletes. Let’s review the reasons though now:

  • Increased tone in pectoral musculature causes an internally rotated shoulder.
  • Trapping the scapula against the base of the bench doesn’t allow for upward rotation of the scapula.
  • Many players don’t have adequate shoulder extension range of motion. Elbows flare as a result and cause overuse of the shoulder rotators.

When we ask our overhead athletes to throw, we need to know that they have adequate range of motion throughout the shoulder girdle, as well as these muscles working in perfect synchrony during the 4 stages of the throwing motion. If this does not happen, then injury and decreased performance is inevitable. Are you ready for a horizontal pressing variation that will spare the shoulder?

A. Single Arm Dumbbell Bench Press

When we go from using a dumbbell instead of a barbell, there are a few things that happen that are automatically beneficial for quarterbacks. Number one, by using the dumbbell, it increases the amount of stability that the player has to use throughout the shoulder girdle in order to balance the weight. This will increase shoulder stability tremendously. Number two, since the hand is now in a more externally rotated position, this now allows more space between the shoulder bone and the important tendons that run beneath. No more shoulder impingement players! Number three, since the object in the hand is now not as fixed, the athlete will now not have a tendency to roll the shoulder forward during the concentric phase of the exercise.

Are you wondering why we are only performing the exercise on one side? I know many of you are asking that. There is now automatically a counterrotation demand in the trunk since the weight is on one side. For example, if the dumbbell is in the right hand, we are now asking the left trunk rotators to turn on and stabilize while the athlete performs the movement. This is similar to what the trunk has to do during the loading phase. Great bang for your buck right? If you want to read the whole blog post that was written in depth about why the barbell bench press can be bad for quarterbacks, click on the picture below!

2. Barbell Back Squat

There was another past post that we did on why the back squat was detrimental for quarterbacks in which we listed a host of reasons on why this could be a problem. Let’s review some of these reasons:

  • Puts the throwing shoulder in a very vulnerable position by loading heavy in full external rotation
  • Automatically causes dysfunctional movement and positioning if the player doesn’t present with the pre-requisite mobility and stability in the right joints.
  • Teaches the player bad positioning in which that becomes the “norm” during other movements such as the throwing motion.
  • Shoulder impingement can become very apparent if the QB presents with decreased thoracic extension or stiffness on the front part of the shoulder.

The purpose of this previous blog post was to show that the risks outweigh the rewards for overhead athlete whenever there are so many other exercises out there that will accomplish the same goal of strengthening the posterior chain. I would suggest reading that post. Click on the picture below to see the extremely detailed explanation of why the back squat is bad for quarterbacks specifically.

As far as the other examples of what are good substitutes for the back squat, I would say that there are two that are my favorites for quarterbacks. I will give one squatting variation and a hinging variation.

A. Heels Elevated Heavy Kettlebell (or dumbbell) Goblet Squat

One of the most common impairments that we see in football players is that they lack a ton of ankle dorsiflexion range of motion. This is going to severely inhibit a player’s ability to get depth in their squat. Instead of continuing the descent down with the torso upright, you will see the player start to push their hips really far back and the torso start to come forward as well. The squat movement starts to look like an over extended hip hinge really fast. We don’t want this!

By elevating the heels, we now take this dysfunction out of the equation so we can really focus on strengthening throughout the entire range of motion through the hips while the trunk stays upright. By loading the weight in the front of the body, we call upon the torso to stabilize even more.

Something common that we start to see is that the athlete can now start to learn the motor control of what an actual squat feels like because they haven’t been able to access it for so long. By putting the trunk in a stable/neutral position, the hips unlock and the athlete can squat with more depth and effectiveness. The weight of the kettlebell needs to be heavy enough to get adaptation, but not cause the player to over extend the spine to handle the load.

B. Romanian Deadlift

We are a huge fan of deadlifts, but pulling from the ground is not for everyone. The taller athletes with longer legs will often times not be able to pull from the ground very effectively. Because some quarterbacks are very tall, we wanted to include an exercise that literally every athlete can perform effectively with some proper coach. The romanian deadlift is strengthening the hamstrings and gluten (hip extensors), while also isometrically strengthening (stabilizing) the muscles of the upper back and abdominals. This is exactly what the back squat achieves, except for the fact that there is much more quadricep activation during a squat in comparison to a hinge.

Some key coaching points on the RDL:

  1. Don’t focus eyes straight ahead. The eyes should move with the torso. The head position should literally never move at all. As the torso comes forward toward the bottom of the RDL, then so should the head.
  2. Set the trunk position first before you set the shoulder position. Many times athletes will puff the chest out real big and over extend the spine. This creates sheering on the vertebral joints and teaches bad trunk positioning. If you want low back pain and poor performance, then you will perform this.
  3. The shin position should always stay vertical to the ground. If the knees come forward, you know that you are not pushing your butt back far enough.

3. Power Clean

We really need to do an in depth blog post on the power clean and the reasons why it can tear a quarterback’s throwing shoulder apart. Yes, we understand that the power clean is a great way for athletes to build the ability to be powerful through hip extension. Are there not more ways to develop that though? Here are some reasons why the power clean might be detrimental for throwing athletes:

  • Throwing athletes automatically have more external rotation on their throwing shoulder which means decreased shoulder internal rotation on that side as well. During the second pull phase of the power clean, full shoulder internal rotation is needed to keep the bar close in proximity to the body. Throwers will tend to allow the bar bath to separate from the body in which they now use the elbow flexors/wrist flexors to pull the bar up.
  • Throwers that power clean will tend to have a lot of rotator cuff overuse issues because the shoulder dumps forward into an unstable and inefficient position.
  • Throwers will tend to have a lot of medial epicondylitis in the throwing arm because of the overuse of the wrist flexors during the second pull phase.

Below is a video that was created to talk more about these issues in depth!

So what can quarterbacks perform instead? Well, we can still pull with power from the ground, but we just need to take out that second pull phase and catch phase. Where does that leave us? Clean pulls!

Clean pulls are a great variation to use for throwers specifically because it is still teaching the athlete to be powerful through hip extension, while sparing the shoulder and elbow. You might ask why this isn’t the norm for throwing athletes? Well, there this information just is not as mainstream yet. For an example, see the video below!

As you get to the end of this article, many of you are asking “well, isn’t this considered the Big 3 for most high school programs in the country?” Ding, ding! Yes, it is. The combination of playing the QB position and performing the “Big 3” consistently is going to decrease the performance of quarterbacks all over the country, but also get them hurt in that process. Don’t worry folks, we only know this because we fell in that same boat as you.

During this tough time of being extremely limited on what you can and can’t do as athletes, reach out to us because we are developing home programs to help quarterbacks continue to develop. If you don’t reach out, your competition will! Where does that leave you once things go back to normal? You can probably guess. You can reach us by call/text at 812-343-4226 or by email at drew@theqbdocs.com.

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