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Sports Med. 1997 Apr;23(4):247-60.

A physiological review of American football.

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Sports Medicine, University of Pittsburgh, Pennyslvania, USA.


American football has been one of the most popular sports in North America within the past century and has recently received support and increased participation from European nations. Two of the biggest concerns regarding participation in American football are the high incidence of injury and the physical demand for preparation. A basic understanding of the physiological systems utilised in the sport of football is necessary in order to develop optimal training programmes geared specifically for preparation as well as the requirements of individual field positions. Previously, it has been assumed that football relies primarily on an anaerobic source of energy for adenosine triphosphate (ATP) resynthesis with approximately 90% coming from the phosphocreatine (PCr) energy system. In lieu of research conducted specifically with football players, it appears that the energy contribution from the anaerobic glycolytic pathway in this sport has been underestimated. The elevated blood lactate levels observed in football players following game participation cast doubt on this hypothesis. Identifying position specific characteristics may also enhance the development of training programmes based on the requirements of the different positions. It appears that offensive and defensive linemen are generally larger, have higher levels of percent body fat and have greater absolute strength scores than all other positions. Offensive backs, defensive backs and wide receivers tend to display the lowest percentages of body fat, lower absolute strength scores, fastest times over 5, 10, 40 and 300m and the highest relative VO2max values. Linebackers appeared to represent a transition group mid way between the backs and linemen for size, body composition, strength, speed and endurance as well as positional duties. Findings within the literature suggest that a lack of cardiovascular development of university and professional football players may prove to be a hindrance to performance with specific regards to thermal regulation. Additional aerobic conditioning as well as the reduction of percent body fat would not only enhance performance, but might play a key role in preventing injuries and allowing a smoother transition into life after football.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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