Considerations for Improving Route Running in Football

By Matthew Schultz PT, DPT, CSCS

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As an offensive skill player at any level, the ability to get in and out of breaks quickly and decisively is paramount. The top route runners in the NFL demonstrate the ability to effortlessly change direction while maintaining speed. This aids in creating separation and allows for increased targets and production over the course of a season.

When considering components of fluid route running, a few factors come to mind. The first is eccentric hamstring strength. Your hamstrings are your major decelerators with route running, which is an essential component of short to mid-depth routes. The ability to start and stop rapidly will directly correlate with your ability to change direction.

Nordic Hamstring Curls

(3 sets x 8 reps each side)

One of the most effective ways to improve eccentric hamstring control is by performing Nordic hamstring curls. Not only are these exceptional for loading the hamstring, but incorporating them into training has been demonstrated to have a significant effect on decreasing the incidence of hamstring injury¹,². Regarding sets and reps, incorporate these into your current training as a non-primary lift. Incorporate on lower volume on leg days and/or upper body days, utilizing a 3 sets of 8 rep scheme initially.

Another consideration for improving route running is fluidity and mobility in the hips. Having the ability to fluidly bend through the waist and rotate at the hips are critical components of maintaining speed through cuts. Stiffness in the hip leads to a decreased ability to change direction rapidly. This especially applies when considering routes such as quick outs, posts, and corners where athletes are better served rolling through the cut rather than decelerating.

Hip CARs

(10 reps each side)

An excellent way to address your hip’s ability to rotate are with continuous articular rotations (CARs). You should be able to complete full rotations fluidly without sensations of catching or stiffness. Perform 10 CARs on each side daily to improve and maintain fluidity through the hips.
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A third consideration is ankle mobility. Having adequate dorsiflexion range of motion aids in facilitation of decelerating. Stiffness in dorsiflexors can alter kinematics of the lower extremity and potentially contribute to injury further up the chain, as well as decrease the ability to decelerate.

Functional Dorsiflexion Screen

A very simple way to check if you have adequate dorsiflexion is the knee to wall test. If you notice you are lacking range, mobilizing in and out of the test position is an excellent way to begin to mobilize your ankle and improve the range. If you do note any restrictions, perform 15 reps mobilizing in and out of the test position daily with an emphasis on driving the knee further.

If you feel pain or struggle with mobility with any of these movements, come see a physical therapist to elevate your game!


  1. van der Horst N, Wouter Smits D, Petersen J, Goedhart E, Backx F. The preventive effect
    of the Nordic hamstring exercise on hamstring injuries in amateur soccer players: A
    randomized controlled trial. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2014;48(7).
  2. Opar DA, Piatkowski T, Williams MD, Shield AJ. A novel device using the Nordic
    hamstring exercise to assess eccentric knee flexor strength: A reliability and retrospective
    injury study. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. 2013;43(9):636-640.

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