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Why Football Players Dance So Well

When Warren Sapp joined the cast of “Dancing with the Stars,” many people scoffed. How would a former defensive lineman who has weighed more than 330 pounds possibly compete on the dance floor?

That Sapp has become the latest former NFL star to thrive on the show does not surprise Ken Croner. The Athletes’ Performance coach, who has worked with NFL pros such as Brett Favre, Matt Hasselbeck, and Deuce McAllister, believes the moves on the football field translate well to the dance hall.

“With any elite NFL lineman I’ve worked with, their feet are their number one asset,” Croner says. “So when you look at the game and how it’s played, it’s all leverage, the right positioning and moving the feet to get into position.

“You have to be strong and physical in football, but the guys who really excel are the ones who move efficiently. When you talk dance moves, it’s the same thing. I can’t dance a lick, but it’s no surprise that these guys are doing so well. They have the ability to control their bodies that comes with having a nervous system trained from getting into position all those years.”

Croner says the stop-and-go nature of football emulates dance movements. The acceleration and deceleration of dancing comes natural to football players, as it also would to soccer players and basketball veterans.

“What people miss about football is that it’s not just based on speed,” Croner said. “Everything is based on accelerating and decelerating, starting and stopping. It’s not like a running back gets the handoff and runs straight through. He has to change direction. The same is true with wide receivers. It’s all about stopping and changing direction and being able to control your body so you can move efficiently.”

Effective dancing requires a strong pillar, mobility and stability. But the key is lateral movement, much like with football.

“When you move your feet, you always want to make sure to push, not reach,” Croner says. “We can correlate this to a linebacker. When he reads the play, the worst thing he can do is reach with that outside leg. If the play changes direction, he’s caught. Instead, we want to push. If I’m going to move to my left, I don’t want to reach with my left leg, I want to push with the right, so I move into the center. If you start reaching, you can’t change direction and you’re in a bind.”

What follows is an “NFL Dance Workout,” courtesy of Croner, to help dancers and athletes of all disciplines improve their footwork.T

The NFL Dance Workout

Make these drills part of your movement prep routine (aka, your warm-up) two or three times a week to improve your agility, quickness, and strength.

Lateral Lunge (Step and Return)
How to do it: Standing with your feet wider than shoulder width apart, step to the right with your right foot, keeping your toes forward and your feet flat. Squat through your right hip while keeping your left leg straight. Squat as low as possible, holding this position for 2 seconds. Push back to the starting position and repeat to the other side. Do 10 repetitions per side.

Mini Band Walking
How to do it: Stand with your feet just outside of your hips and a mini band above your knees. Take a partial squat. Move to the right, pushing with your left leg while stepping laterally with your right leg. Bring your left foot back to the starting position and continue until you’ve completed the reps on that side. Be sure to keep your knees pushed apart throughout the movement. Repeat while moving to the left. Do 10 reps per side.

Drop Lunge
How to do it: Stand balanced with your arms extended. Reach your left foot 2 feet behind your right foot. Square your hips back to the starting position, and sit back and down into a squat. Stand and step laterally with your right foot, then repeat the stretch on the same side. Do 10 reps per side.

Three-Hurdle Drill
How to do it: Lay three obstacles—towels, books, cups, or bricks—each 2 to 3 feet apart from the other. Run laterally over the obstacles, never crossing feet. Hold for a count of 2, then rapidly reverse direction.

Agility Ladder Drills
How to do it: Lay an agility ladder on the ground. From an athletic position, jump with two feet in and out of the boxes. Croner also likes the “Ickey Shuffle,” where you alternate legs as you move through the ladder, with one leg in and one leg out. Or simply hopscotch through it.

About The Author

Pete Williams – Pete Williams is a contributing writer for CorePerformance.com and the co-author of the Core Performance book series.

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Tags: Mini Band, Hurdles, Acceleration, Football, Agility, Deceleration, Balance

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