Adapting to Needs — Phase 1 of Winter Strength and Conditioning for Football

TAGS: collegiate strength coach, four-day lifting template, football strength and conditioning program, winter training, matt rhodes


It's been an interesting year with football. The team has grossly underachieved. Some of it is out of my control, but some is within my wheelhouse. After talking with my graduate assistants and taking notes, I met with the head football coach to talk about our winter training (it's that time of year when classes for next semester are about to be scheduled). As usual, I have a very good grasp on the team (as I should — I see them all the time). My notes and concerns were identical to the head coach.

Our team is pretty strong in the weight room and it has transferred to the field. We're just not a big team. Don't get me wrong, we're not small, but we have some guys that could carry more without it affecting their performance negatively. In an effort to address these issues, along with some issues not related to football performance, we're switching to a four-day lifting template in the winter. I prefer a three-day template, but our needs are a little different than they have been, so I can't do the same thing just because it's what I've always done.

RECENT: ACL Rehab Phase One — Returning to the Weight Room

The theme from the head coach is "change" (sounds like Obama is running again). In the spirit of his wishes, which I agree with 100%, we're going to do some things "out of their normal order" this winter.

The goals are the same as every single football program in America:

  1. Discipline
  2. Accountability
  3. Teamwork
  4. Teach them to handle adversity
  5. Stronger
  6. Bigger
  7. Faster

All the catchphrases in this industry.

From the weight room side, we'll focus on the hang clean, push press, hang snatch, squat, deadlift, front squat, bench, incline, pull-ups, and rows. We'll still follow our normal progression, which has brought results in the past. So nothing there has changed. We'll just administer them differently.

The first phase (three weeks) will be very simple and straightforward. Basically, it will be a ton of volume (building on what they do at home over winter break) with the barbell, using very simple movements.

The second phase (three weeks) will have the addition of some dumbbell work and some single-leg work. Volume will still be pretty high. The core lifts I mentioned above will remain a staple.

The third phase (three weeks) will be a continuation of the second phase with some exercise changes and a little reduction in volume, as the third week we will test. I like testing because it shows improvement, but I'm not very worried about making crazy weight room improvements. I'm more interest in the how:

  • How the kids go through the workouts
  • How they work
  • How they communicate with each other
  • How they handle adversity
  • How they handle being sore
  • How they handle being held accountable to doing things my way

The reality is, if they do the work, they will absolutely get stronger, bigger, and will test well. The head coach and I share the same thought process on this. Numbers are great, but how does it transfer to the field and how does the winter workout attitude improve and bring about positive change when it comes to the mental side of things? It's nice having a head coach that understands how the weight room and football work together. He understands that testing is great, but if it doesn't transfer, that's a problem.

This phase will start on January 16th and run for three weeks. It's a continuation of the take-home program. The difference between our athletes and real Division I athletes is that I won't have my hands on them for almost two months. I have to assume they'll do the work while they're at home over Christmas break. Some will. Most won't.

For the kids that actually do the work, this phase will be a more organized, controlled version of what they did at home — a little redundant. What I would do if I weren’t a collegiate strength coach is program to the upper echelon of kids and let the lazy ones fall behind or get hurt, and just not care. Unfortunately, I have to worry about the bottom-of-the-barrel kids, hence the first three weeks being a reconditioning phase that should have been taken care of, by them, at home.

winter training phase 1

Phase 1 Goals

  1. Recondition and prepare the body for increased workload as the winter progresses
  2. Build a base of conditioning and muscle (three weeks is pretty good for conditioning, but won't do much for truly building muscle)
  3. Reacclimate the athletes to being coached hard
  4. Set the tone and expectations for the winter (entire year)

Workout Organization

  1. Dynamic Warm-Up: On lower body days we'll warm-up on the field, in the cold. This will consist of a basic dynamic warm-up, jumping, and sprints (1/4 gassers). On upper body days, we'll warm-up in the weight room. Once the basic warm-up is completed we'll do team abs or team push-ups (based on my mood). The goal is 50 reps on my cadence. If all is done properly we'll move on to the second part. If there are ANY issues we'll just do ab work and push-ups, continuously, for five minutes. Do it right and we move on. Do it wrong and we suffer. The goal is to get them focused and dialed-in before the actual lift starts. Running takes care of this on Monday and Wednesday (lower).
  2. Explanation: The first thing we'll do when we get back in the weight room is getting on the board and explain the workout. Early on this takes a little more time. As we get rolling, very little explanation is needed.
  3. Efficiency: The first block will be "on the clock." This is the squat and deadlift (Monday and Wednesday). Tuesday and Thursday the first two blocks will also be on the clock (Olympic lift and bench). I'll give them two minutes between warm-up sets. Each athlete will perform a set of the main lift, ab work, and mobility work in two minutes. After two minutes I'll tell them we're onto the second set. If anyone isn't ready, for any reason, we'll do up-downs. I want it to get to the point where they're all waiting impatiently for the next set. This will foster moving with urgency, communication, and efficiency. As the winter progresses I'll reduce the rest time. The heavier sets and days will get adequate rest, but the warm-up sets will fly.
  4. Independence: After the first two blocks they will finish the workout on their own.

Three-Week Progression

On the main lifts (squat, deadlift, close-grip bench, football bar bench) we'll follow this progression:

  • Week 1: 70%
  • Week 2: 80%
  • Week 3: 90%
  • The top set (the percentage above) will be performed for three sets of five reps (3x5).

Training Max

For most players, we will use 90% of their previous max. For select players, I'll decide what percentage to use. Simply, when they use their percentage for the day it will be that percentage (e.g., Week 1: 70%) of 90%. Training weights will be pretty light with a focus on bar speed and perfect reps.

Four-Day Workout (Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday)


  • Dynamic Warm-up
  • Jumps
  • Sprint: 10x55 yards
  • Squat (On Clock): 5/5/3x5
  • Hurdle-Under: 2x3 each
  • Planks: 2x30 seconds
  • RDL with Shrug: 5x10
  • Pull-Ups: 5x5/5x3 (line players)
  • Dumbbell Squat: 5x10
  • Push-Ups or Dips: 5x10
  • Team Partner Glute Hams: 2x5 (teach how we want them done)
  • Team Abs/Stretch


  • Dynamic Warm-Up
  • Two-Minute Shoulder Warm-Up
  • Team Paused Push-Ups (My Cadence)
  • Hang Clean (On Clock): 4x3
  • Hurdle-Under: 2x3 each
  • Bench (On Clock)): 5/5/3x5
  • Sit-Ups: 4x10-20
  • Push Press: 5x3
  • T-Bar (Outside the Box) or Dumbbell (Inside the Box) Row: 5x10
  • Shrugs (Barbell, Trap Bar, or Dumbbells): 5x10
  • Barbell Curls/Band Pushdowns: 30-50 reps
  • Teams Abs/Stretch


  • Dynamic Warm-up
  • Jumps
  • Sprint: 10x55 yards
  • Deadlift (On Clock): 5/5/3x5
  • Hurdle-Under: 2x3 each
  • Plank: 2x30 seconds
  • Front Squat (Outside the Box) or SS Yoke Bar (Inside the Box): 10/8/6/4/2
  • Pull-Ups: 5x5/5x3 (line)
  • Trap Bar RDL with Shrug: 5x10
  • Push-Ups/Dips: 5x10
  • Team PGH: 2x5
  • Team Abs/Stretch


  • Dynamic Warm-Up
  • Two-Minutes Shoulder Warm-Up
  • Team Paused Push-Up
  • Hang Snatch (On the Clock): 4x2
  • Hurdle-Under: 2x3 each
  • Close-Grip Bench (Outside the Box) or Football Bar (Inside the Box): 5/5/3x5
  • Sit-Ups: 4x10-20
  • Incline (Outside the Box) or Football Bar Incline (Inside the Box): 10/8/6/4/2
  • T-Bar (Outside the Box) or Dumbbell (Inside the Box) Row: 5x10
  • Shrugs: 5x10
  • Biceps or Triceps (Player's Choice)
  • Teams Abs/Stretch

Friday (Team Conditioning Drills)

  • Dynamic Warm-Up
  • Team Athletic Skill Development (Jumps, Speed Work)
  • Team Agility Drills

Friday will be with the football staff. My staff will do the warm-up and general skill development. Once we finish that, the coaching staff will run the agility and football-specific drills. The goal is to get the players used to being coached by the football staff again. The last time the football coaches had hands-on will have been the Saturday before Thanksgiving. This will give the kids a chance to be coached by every coach on the staff at some point. When spring ball comes, they will be prepared to be coached.

It'll be an interesting winter. I'm excited about it, despite the issues I face. I'm also very realistic and don't sugarcoat things. If I choose to ignore the BS, the team will suck. I'm not the type to be positive for the sake of being positive. That's not a philosophy that works, and when I get to that point it's time to get out of the business. Not to mention, it's a disservice to the kids. They will rise to the level of expectation. Unfortunately, I'm not the emperor.

Once I finish the next phase I will post it with explanations. You'll see that it's not terribly different. The addition of single-leg work and sled pushing in place of 55-yard sprints are the main differences. However, that may change as I put the ideas on paper.

Header Image Credit:  ostill ©


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