Breaking tackles and the ability to slip away from tacklers is a skill that’s developed both mentally and physically for a ball carrier.
Using both leg drive and balance will help break tackles in football. Body positioning and low body leverage away from faster defenders can help break away from weak arm tackles.
Let’s dive into all the characteristics of a complete running back who can break tackles.
How To Improve Balance To Break Tackles
The number one key component of being an efficient running back is balance. It doesn’t matter if you’re a 240 pound running back or a 140 pound running back, understanding your body’s center point and balance is the key to gaining more YAC (yards after contact).
What we clarify as balance, is the ability to take contact, and still remain on your feet. There are often times when a defender hits your knees or thighs with enough force and there’s nothing you can do about it.
There are other times where defenders will throw their arms shoulders at your legs without wrapping up, and we can bounce right off. Knowing how to absorb contact and center your balance is key to breaking tackles.
Training Balance To Break Tackles In Football
We recommend these 2 drills to train balance:
- Using a Balance Pad
- Pool Noodles
- Shell Stick
As pictured below, a balance pad can be used during the off-season and even in-season to train balance.
Start with one foot on the balance pad, and one leg in the air. Have the football in one hand and touch your toe with the other hand. Repeat this 10x’s for 3 sets on EACH leg. Once you’ve mastered that, close your eyes and do the same thing.
Why close your eyes? Did you know that half your balance is your eyes? If you can train your body to be complete with no vision, it will help your body understand it’s center of gravity.
We recommend these cheap balance pads on Amazon to get you started.
Pool noodles are great if you have a running back group. They can hit you as hard as they want and it won’t hurt. It will get your body used to drive the legs on contact.
Even though it doesn’t provide much resistance, it trains the brains to keep the legs high and moving on contact. We found a 6 pack on Amazon that should be good to get you started.
The Shell Stick, made by Rae Crowther, is a new device that helps running backs absorb contact, as well as training the stiff arm. Its shock-resistant handle allows for coaches and players to use it without getting hurt.
The soft padding provides a bit more resistance and allows players to simulate real contact.
Developing Powerful Leg Drive To Break Tackles
Training balance and leg drive go hand in hand. When we say leg drive, we mean the ability to powerfully thrust your legs up the field. This motion is tough for a defensive player to wrap up and will result in many missed tackles.
Here are some ways you can improve your leg drive as a football player:
- Squat/Lift Weights
Squatting and lifting weights develop muscles in your thighs, calves, hamstrings, and glutes. All the essential muscle groups for speed and power.
The perfect example is Sequon Barkley, the running back for the New York Giants. His legs are massive. Videos of him lifting over 400+ pounds surface almost every offseason.
His leg drive is one of the main reasons he won rookie of the year in the NFL.
Sprinting also helps muscle memory and creating a driving force into the ground. Track athletes, mainly sprinters are known for their speed and ability to get off the blocks and win the short distance sprint.
It’s no different for a running back. If you’re looking to improve your leg drive, make sure you’re sprinting in the off-season or running track.
Running Back Moves To Break Tackles
Understanding leverage and how to use it against a defender can be a running back’s best asset. There are certainly running back moves that can be used to put would-be tacklers at a disadvantage. Here are some of our favorites:
- Stiff Arm
- Power Move
The stiff arm, as highlighted in this article, is one of the best moves a running back can master if your runs are primarily to the perimeter. Utilizing both the hand placement and force behind a violent stiff arm can make the defender think twice about tackling you up high.
The juke, stutter step, or combination of the two is a great move to use in an open field. One of the hardest tackles a defensive back can make is when they’re one on one with a running back.
They have to cut down the angle and force the running back to go one way. As a running back, knowing this, we can influence the safety to go one way, put our foot in the ground, and juke the other way.
Understanding when to cut back is something that will come with reps and practice at full speed. Power moves, such as lowering the shoulder is a great move for a bigger runner who may not have the quick feet to juke and make a defender miss.
The one issue with the power move is it requires a greater skill set of balance upon contact. The best way to practice is with the Shell Stick noted above.
Combine the pool noodles after contact with the shell stick can help simulate game contact. Two moves we do not recommend is the spin or the hurdle.
Spinning back toward the defense with linebackers and lineman running full speed toward you is never a good idea. Also, leaving our feet is never a good idea, as the ball separates from our body, increasing the chance of fumbling. Spinning and hurdling also slow us down, and we’re trying to gain as many yards possible after contact.
In order to improve tackle-breaking abilities, you need to take the necessary steps to improve your balance, leg drive, and ball carrying movies. Breaking tackles isn’t just for running backs, it applies to wide receivers and quarterbacks as well! What drills do you like to do to improve leg drive?
Let us know in the comments below.
Related Q & A
How Do I Truck In Football?
“Trucking” or lowering your shoulder to put the defender on their back, is a technique that involves power, balance, and leverage. Trucking has a low percentage of breaking a tackle, but it’s very effective in short-yardage situations.
How Do I Stiff Arm?
We’ve actually broken down all the legalities of stiff arming and how you can properly stiff arm an opponent. We’ve also broken down the best time to stiff arm. Learn more here! Be sure to follow us on Instagram @gethypedfootball for more football content!