American football players are getting bigger every year. Never was this more painfully obvious than on New Year’s Day when Jadeveon Clowney, defensive end for the University of South Carolina, brutally tackled a running back from the University of Michigan during the Outback Bowl, causing a fumble and changing the momentum of the game.

 

 

Like many, I googled Clowney to find that he is 6’6” tall and 256 pounds - at 19 years old. I just don’t remember beasts like him existing when I was that age.

 

A recent study from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research proves some truth in my suspicion. Researchers studied body measurements from college and professional football players over the last seventy years. They examined height, weight, and body composition, and grouped the results by position played on the field.

 

The conclusion - American football players are much heavier than seventy years ago, and they’re getting heavier every year. Both at the college and professional levels, all players show a trend towards increasing size. Lineman are growing most quickly and skill positions are growing most slowly, but they’re all growing. In fact, the average lineman from 2011 outweighs his counterpart from 1942 by over forty pounds.

 

You might be wondering if football programs are simply recruiting taller players. After all, taller players generally weigh more than shorter ones. Nope. Players are generally about the same height as seventy years ago.

 

football, body composition football, football history, football players biggerWhat about body composition? Well, skill positions are getting slightly leaner and everybody else is getting fatter - especially linemen. Modern linemen average about 18% body fat. The leanest players on the field are skill positions at about 9% body fat. In general, almost every player on the field today is carrying about 2-3% more body fat than his 1942 counterpart.

 

What could be the reasons behind this significant change? The widespread adoption of strength and conditioning programs is probably the largest factor. The National Strength and Conditioning Association was founded in 1978. This marked the widespread beginning of the professional strength and conditioning coach. Now every serious football program in America employs a strength and conditioning coach. Training philosophy has also changed. In the 1940s most football training was skill specific. Very little time was devoted to general strength training. Off-season training periods were also shorter.

 

One thing is certain: all of these factors are producing bigger, stronger, meaner football players than ever before. The athleticism we see from these men is astounding. So say a little prayer for every 19 year-old quarterback who has to start a play knowing that 6’6” 256 lb Jadeveon Clowney is hunting him like the Predator in a southeast Asian jungle.

 

References:

1. Anthony R. Anzell, et al. Changes in Height, Body Weight, and Body Composition in American Football Players from 1942 to 2011. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research.27(2):277-284, February 2013. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31827f4c08

 

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