There is no sport in America quite like football when it comes to training. Every athlete wants to be bigger, stronger, faster; they all want to be able leap tall buildings in a single bound, run through brick walls, fire passes seventy yards downfield, and make moves better than the roadrunner on the coyote. However, football coaches are susceptible to the same errors that the rest of the world is – we tend to teach how we were taught, train how we were trained. This generally means that our coaching and training methods are rooted in ideas of yesteryear, leaving our players without the advantage of the most cutting edge research. With that in mind, let’s examine a few topics in training for football that should provide a good outline for an off-season training program.
Topic #1 – Testing Biomechanical Integrity
A freshman football player walks into his first day at the high school weight training program. He follows in behind a friend of his who is a sophomore. The sophomore hops in the squat rack, and does a back squat. So, in turn, the freshman does. But, to what end? The coaching staff has completely missed finding out whether or not the athlete can even do a deep squat. At that age, when most kids are gaining height and losing range of motion, many athletes can’t squat properly. First and foremost, the athlete should be tested for biomechanical integrity – does he have the ability to get into the positions he will need to be in? If the staff isn’t qualified to do this, which is possible and reasonable, then find someone who is and get analyzed. Where there are restrictions, address them and create biomechanical integrity.
Topic #2 – Creating Strength, Power, Speed
Too many coaches confuse these three and how they are trained. Some coaches focus only on speed, not realizing that speed is only a component of how much force can be imparted into the ground (Eric Cressey of Cressey Performance wrote a great article on this). Other coaches only look for their athletes to get stronger, looking at bench reps and strength endurance, like the NFL combine. However, how useful is it that a defensive lineman can bench 225lbs 50 times in a row? It’s a useless skill, as it doesn’t measure maximal output. Unless he ends up on his back pushing offensive linemen off him all day, his 50 bench reps don’t help. The truth is, strength, power, and speed all build off one another, and coaches must train all three. So, when organizing the workout, make sure to start with speed work, which should include a quick, explosive running period with plenty of rest between reps. Speed work is NOT conditioning! The athlete should be moving at more than 90% of his maximal speed, otherwise he is no longer training to get faster, he is just conditioning. After the speed work, move on to power, which should consist of moving weight quickly, such as med ball slams, Olympic lifting, box jumps, or other similar activities. Again, use plenty of rest between sets. After that, do strength. You need components of all three; an athlete with only one or two is missing something and won’t perform his best.
Topic #3 – Conditioning the Right Way
No more long runs! No more testing mile times! Football is played in quick, explosive bursts. The coach who asks his players to go running on a track for a long time is training his players to run slowly for a long duration. Football is played quickly for short durations. In reality, football conditioning is not about how long you can run, rather, it is about how quickly you can recover. So, work on interval training. Have the players do a cone drill or hill run or something similar that takes about 5-10 seconds of extreme effort. Then, give a 30-45 second break, and repeat. This simulates a football game. As time goes on, decrease the break to 15-20 seconds, forcing the players to recover faster. This is different from the speed training, as players will be working as hard as they can, but with shorter breaks and at possibly less than 90% of their maximal speed.
There is no one perfect training program, but this should help provide a real basic outline to get into great football shape. First, test for biomechanical integrity, and be aware of any limitations when designing the workout plan. Second, train speed, power, and strength properly and in the right order. Third, condition for football, not for marathons. Use decreasing intervals to improve recovery time.
If you have any questions, feel free to email me at email@example.com. Thanks for reading, and be sure to check back soon for the next blog post.
SPU's Alex Drayson writes the SPU Football Performance Blog.