Conditioning for the Gridiron Warrior

TAGS: muscle breakdown, aerobic training, anaerobic training, sport preparation, jump roping, hill sprints, strongman training, cortisol, sprinting, mental toughness, prowler, football, speed, conditioning, strength training

In any sport, being big and strong is never enough. What good is that 500-pound squat if you’re taking a knee in the fourth quarter desperately gasping for air? If you want to be great, that sure as hell ain’t gonna cut it. That’s an embarrassment to you and your team.

What you need to be a true warrior on the gridiron is strength, speed, AND conditioning.

But there is a real problem with the methods some athletes or coaches use to condition. Methods that can actually make an athlete slower, smaller, weaker, without improving their shitty conditioning! This is something no athlete wants, regardless of their sport.

I’m here to tell you how to condition the right way, and how to avoid the garbage that will break you down.

The first thing I want to address is that football, like most sports, is anaerobic in nature. Anaerobic means that your body is producing energy without oxygen. Which means that your conditioning should train your anaerobic system to prepare you for your sport. An example of anaerobic training would be a sprint followed by a brief rest or less intense phase.

On the other side of the coin, aerobic training is dependent on the oxygen from the air you breathe. An example of aerobic training would be going for a jog.


RELATED: Aerobic Threshold Training for Field Sports: The Starting Point for Repeatability


What happens when you train aerobically is your body begins to produce high levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This stress hormone is extremely catabolic which means it will actually break down muscle tissue.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see how detrimental that will be for your performance in the weight room and more importantly, on the field.

Feeling skeptical? Take a look at the often used example of the physical differences between marathon runners and sprinters. Sprinting is anaerobic, long distance running is aerobic. Who looks stronger? Who is faster? Who would you rather have on your team during battle?

I’m pretty sure all of you said the sprinter.

In addition, when you increase your anaerobic conditioning levels your aerobic conditioning will also increase. But that doesn’t work the other way around. So someone who trains anaerobically will have better conditioning all the way around.

All that said, if you want to perform at the highest level possible you need to condition anaerobically. This should be aside from your speed and agility/misdirection work (which is anaerobic in nature) but I want to remind you that this post is to teach you how to condition, not train for speed. Conditioning trains your actual energy system in way more depth.

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One thing to be sure of is that if you are doing your conditioning work on the same days as weight training, it is imperative to condition AFTER weight training. Otherwise you’ll be weak and depleted before entering the weight room and will certainly not perform at max potential.

So, here are some of my favorite ways to condition.

Hill Sprints

These are awesome. They require max effort and are a “fun” way to get your sprinting in without too much stress on the hamstrings. You can sprint up then jog down and repeat 10-12 times. Once that gets easy you can add more sets, decrease rest or increase difficulty in some other way. Just make sure you take advantage of these.

Strongman Training

Using odd object lifting is not only great for building real world strength but they are awesome to use for conditioning. Set up an obstacle course with kegs, tires, sledgehammers and heavy sandbags and go through in circuit fashion.

The Prowler

The prowler is one of the best methods of conditioning in my opinion. They develop great lower body strength and muscular conditioning. Another bonus is that there is no eccentric component to this exercise so it will not cause any soreness. Stack it up with some heavy plates and push it or pull it for set distances. Maybe 20 yards, maybe 50 — it doesn’t matter. Make it hard and get your hands on one of these.

Some other methods of conditioning you can use are battle ropes and jump ropes. You can do them when your lower body needs a break or if you’re recovering from an injury. You can do something like 60 seconds on followed by 30 seconds of rest for 15-20 minutes, as an example.

You will instantly notice the difference between this type of conditioning and the outdated three-mile jog. Which, by the way, bores the shit out of me.

Start training anaerobically and watch your performance on the field go through the roof. The season will be here before you know it which means now is the time to get things right.

There are other benefits to proper conditioning, too. Let's discuss the significance of building mental toughness through conditioning. As we all know, football is a game where you need an iron will — a never say die attitude. This is something that you need to build in the weight room, on the field, and during conditioning.


MORE: 'Because Of' or 'In Spite Of': The Modes of Sport Preparatory Strategies


First, you have to be willing to go outside your comfort zone. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. If you coast through your workouts, you will coast on the field of battle. Man up and push yourself. If four plates on a sled is a piece of cake, then it doesn’t matter if it’s a great exercise or not — you are making it suck. You should use a weight you can handle but it should also be challenging. Unless you think that middle linebacker is going to take it easy on you in the fourth quarter, you need to fucking push it.

Second, do your conditioning work with a great coach or training partner that is going to make you earn it. Competition brings out the best in us, and if the guy next to you is trying to kick your ass in every sprint you do, you will have no choice to work that much harder. Unless you are a push-over, of course. In that case, you don’t belong on the football field anyway.

Finally, you need to stay consistent. Make conditioning a habit. It’s something that not everyone loves doing, but it is necessary for success on the gridiron. Make sure that even in January you do conditioning at least once a week to make it routine. You don’t have to go too crazy in the winter, but you should at least do something so as the spring approaches you are in decent shape. I recommend doing stuff like the prowler, bleachers, hill sprints and jumprope in the winter months to give your knees and hamstrings a breather, as flat ground sprints tend to beat you up a bit.

So just to summarize, condition using anaerobic training by doing a high intensity sprint or set, followed by a brief rest. Avoid steady state cardio and aerobic conditioning, and get mentally tough by getting outside your comfort zone, training with someone who will push you and staying consistent.

Start taking massive action right away and separate yourself from the competition next season. I hope you guys liked the article and if you have any questions feel free to ask in the comments below or email me at chris@tutelatraining.com.

Until next time guys, thanks for reading!


Chris Tutela is a strength and conditioning coach in Clark, New Jersey. He is the owner and operator of Tutela Training Systems, where he trains mainly athletes and some regular people. He has multiple years experience as a strength coach at the high school level as well a professionally in the private sector. 

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