Elitefts Roundtable: In-Season Training for Football

TAGS: efs, James "The Thinker" Smith, Coach X, in-season, in-season training, elitefts.com, todd hamer, Bryan Mann, Coach G, The Angry Coach, Buddy Morris, matt rhodes, football, Elitefts Info Pages, Mark Watts

Football is one of the most difficult sports to program for during the season. The physicality of the game, the injury potential, and the overall dependance on speed, strength, and power for success, all make physical preparation a must during this crucial time. There are always questions about intensity, volume, and of course conditioning. The tempo of the game has drastically increased over the last decade forcing strength coaches to adapt along with it.

We recently asked some Team Elitefts™ coaches and columnists with an abundance of experience to give their viewpoints on how they would structure their in-season training program and some key components that go along with it.

What does an in-season training template look like for a normal game week?

What are some of the major obstacles when implementing this programming?

Typical Week - Saturday Game Day
Sunday

Recovery/restoration day through light strength training and tempo work, and relengthening. This is all circulatory. Game day soreness is from physical trauma from a heightened emotional response NOT lactic acid.

Tuesday

One hour groups schedule through academic staff so not to conflict with classes and control number of athletes in strength facility!
A/D warm up
Power/speed drills
Medball throws ( jumps/ throws reduced volume from off season)
Lowerbody training ( squat variations and modifications)
Relengthen

Thursday

Medball circuit submax warm up

Upperbody lift

All strength training is SUBMAXIMAL so as NOT to compete for the same CNS resources demanded by the GAME or primary stressor to organism! Loading was kept between 60-75 percent of max occasionally venturing to 80 percent depending on athletes readiness during an off week.

There are a couple of considerations when implementing an in-season training program for football.

1. TIMING

Try to have strength training session at a different time than practice. I thought having lifting sessions in the mornings was beneficial for readiness for practice and recovery. There is nothing worse for a football player then to lengthen the time they are at practice by adding a training session at the front or back end. Having an entire team come in to train immediately after practice has always been difficult to generate enthusiasm.

If you cannot avoid training  your team  in conjunction with practice then follow these guidelines:

  1. Try to have the lifting session before practice. This session should be mostly Dynamic Effort and Sub-Max Effort work.
  2. If there is no other choice than to lift after practice, then that session should be repetition based for hypertrophy.

2. VOLUME

Not all of your players play the same amount of total snaps, so they shouldn't all have the same amount of total reps. The accumulative stress from playing football is high enough. Having an inverse relationship between volume of plays and volume of training is extremely important. Not only do the starters take most of the reps in a game, they also take most of the reps at practice. This is why the volume in the weight room should be lower.

This is a concept I got from John Patrick and Willie Danzer when John was the Head Strength Coach at Youngstown State University.  He split his team up into 3 different groups. Gain, Retain, and Recover (we renamed this our reload group).

Gain Group - Any player who did not play in the football game that week (less than ten plays).

Retain Group - Special Team players and back-ups for that week (Between 10-40 plays).

Reload Group - Starters and player heavily rotated in (More than 40 plays).

The total volume of work sets for some exercises would be adjusted based on how much they played the previous game. Olympic lifts would generally stay at the same volume for all players. The main movements of the day would be adjusted.

Gain Group Ex: Work up to a 3-5 rep max, additional work set with same load, Back-off Set (-10%) for max reps

Retain Group Ex: Work up to a 3-5 rep max, additional work set with same load

Reload Group Ex: Work up to a 3-5 rep max

3. INTENSITY

We have used what our players came to know as "Auto-Reg" sets.  We adapted a variation of the APRE system and implemented it into our in-season programming. Aside from instituting standardized "return to play" progressions for our injured players, this was the best way to individualize programming in a team setting. For example, if we were working up to a five rep max on the box squat with chains, the athlete's sheet would say 4-6 reps. Each subsequent set would say "Auto-Reg" in place of reps. To make it simple for the Gain and Retain groups, if the athlete got six reps he would increase five percent for the next set, of he got five reps he would keep the same weight, and if he got four reps, he would reduce five percent. Five percent was easier for the athletes to make adjustments in their heads.

TRAINING SESSIONS

All sessions would include a pre-habilitation, five way neck, movement prep, and position specific commitment circuits.

Sunday - Before or after film session

Overhead Press, SL Squat, Row, Swimming Pool Conditioning

Tuesday - Small groups throughout the morning

Snatch, Box Squat, Glute-Ham Raise, SL RDL

Thursday - Small groups throughout the morning

Clean,  Bench Press, Chin-Up

In Season FB Template

Monday

AM- Lift

PM- Practice

Tuesday

AM-Optional Lift (normally some sort of weight room conditioning)

PM- Practice

Wednesday

AM-Lift

PM-Practice

Thursday

AM-Optional lift

PM-Practice

Friday

Walk Through

That is our basic template that I begin with. Some of this is within my control while some is not. For instance you may notice we have no conditioning at all listed here. While I see very little reason to over-condition the athlete in-season I would consider adding some in-season if time were not an issue.

Our lifts generally look like this (assuming an 8 AM lift group).

7:50 AM  - Show up, do some pre work (this could be jump rope, stretch, light band work etc.) This is run entirely by the players.

8 AM SHARP - Team enters the room and begins a 5-10 min warm up. At this point they should have been doing some light work and already have a slight warm up.

8 AM- Pull team together to go over the lift. Then off to the racks. I always walk them through the lift and assess where they look mentally at this point. I may make slight changes based on warm up or the look of the guys during this review.

LIFT BEGINS

The closest program style that I follow I would guess is a tier system. While I do not use the tier system we will always have a full body movement first and generally follow that with the lesser movements. Almost all accessories will be superseded as I do not like to waste time and our time is limited with the team. When the lift concludes I will generally have the team break it down and talk as a team. I think it is important to step back as a coach and let them have the floor at this point.

Our in-season training follows a template we have used for years. Our travel squad lifts Sundays and Thursdays, with the players having an optional “flush” day on Monday, the player’s day off. Our non-travel squad works out Sunday, Thursday and Friday again with the optional Monday.

I think lifting/running the day after games is vital to a programs success. It keeps players from stiffening up, we get a head start on any injuries that may have been missed, flush out lactic acid, and get to go harder in the weight room without the threat of a two hour practice that day.

We start our Sundays on the field with a long dynamic/mobility session. We will go as long as we have to until we are sure everyone is moving and sweating. If it is early in the year we may run some hundreds or half gassers to keep up some conditioning and really flush them out. We then head to the weight room for a full body workout. Power movement to start (without the catch), then squat, incline bench for the big lifts, chins, db military, and some accessory work. We will follow a modified 5/3/1 with our squat on Sunday and our bench on Thursday. We do this because the 3 hard weeks followed by a deload week is very important, especially in-season. Even if it falls on a bye week and you feel you can go harder in the weight room because there is no game, they still need the recovery. We deload because that is how the program is designed.   There is nothing wrong with recovery! We will modify our lifts any way we have to, but we still need them to keep working. For example, we have been using the safety squat bar with the linemen because their arms and wrists are so trashed from the game. Our Thursday workouts are pretty close to Sundays in structure, except the only leg work may be bodyweight lunges and /or GHR for mids and skill players to get some blood down there. We will dynamic warm-up and really get after the upper body because Thursdays practices are not as physical as the rest of the week so we get our physicality in the weight room.

The optional flush day on Monday is only machines or a VERY light weight (30-40% max) total body workout for 3x10. This again is done to produce blood flow to the entire body without stressing their joints and doing something without mental strain.

Our non-travel squad workouts are slightly different. They lift when the travel squad meets and also do a full body lift, but they use more weight and perform more complex movements because they are not as beat up from the game, travel, etc.  Mondays and Thursdays are the same as the travel squad. Fridays are game days for them, and it is an all out assault on their bodies.  It could be a strongman circuit, running stadiums for an hour, heavy lifting complexes; we just leave it up to our imagination. Our goal is to have them leaving the weight room or field like they just played a game. Then on Sunday we start all over again.

By following this protocol, backing off when they need it and pushing when you have to, I feel you can make some significant gains just like any other part of your training calendar. If I could end with one sage piece of advice it would be to make sure you schedule your deload weeks and use them even though you don’t think the players need it. They do.

An in season template is very simple for us. We lift two days a week. On Sunday is when we squat, do GHR, shoulders, lats, neck, etc. We will start off with a flush workout chalked full of different shoulder and hip mobility exercises such as glute bridges, hurdles, and others. On Wednesdays we will clean, press, do a single leg movement, more shoulders, lats, and neck.

While the exercises, sets, and reps are very vanilla, we vary from many other schools in that for our upper level players, we auto-regulate loads by velocity. Velocity is an ANS capability, so if the athlete has a depressed ANS (most likely due to the fact that they just had 85 plays the game before), they won't be able to move as much weight for the prescribed velocity.

Doing things this way allows us to ensure that each player is training like he should. If we have a starter that had 75 snaps, and their backup received only 10, who do you think is the freshest on Sunday? This allows the starter to choose loads that allow him to recover for the next game, and the backup can move heavier loads and work on getting stronger.

I’m going to attack this from something of a different perspective than some of the other coaches on this panel. That’s because I’m dealing with high school athletes, a coaching experience that necessitates an entirely different set of circumstances from what some of the others have to deal with.

With that said, I believe most, if not all, high school football players can at least maintain their strength during the season—and if their programming is done correctly, they’re perfectly capable of improving it. I have parameters I prefer in terms of training days and percentages, but they’re likely not going to differ much from the others you’ll read here (primarily because I’ve been stealing their information for years, so they’re the sources). I’ll leave the technical stuff to the other guys here (and probably lift a ton of it when this article comes out).

As a high school coach, what your athletes don’t do—or, more accurately, what you prevent them from doing—is often more important than what they are doing. Here are some of the main things to take into consideration.

1. Time. We simply don’t have as much time with our athletes as college coaches do, and most of that time is spent in our actual practices and watching film. Even in sophisticated football states like Texas and California, there’s sometimes no real premium on in-season lifting, simply because there’s no time. Or, if you do have a couple of organized sessions each week (typically broken down into one lower and one upper), you’ll have kids who won’t think it’s enough, so they’ll go to a local gym at night and train again.

That’s what you have to watch out for, and if you’re a dedicated S/C (physical preparation) coach, you need to warn your kids about the dangers of actually doing too much work. Make a realistic assessment of how much time you’re really going to have to get this type of work done, then meet with your kids and level with them about what they need to do, and what they need to avoid.

2. Your Head Coach. For several years, I worked on a staff with a head coach who loved using conditioning work as punishment. He also loved long, hard contact practices up until 48 hours before game time. If I want to throw in a lower body lift on a Monday, but three of my starters just had an ass-busting practice followed by a series of 300-yard shuttles because of missed assignments or because they were late to homeroom (and the only time I can lift with them is after practice), do I really need to lift them that day? You need to take this stuff into account, realize your head coach may be a lunatic, and learn to make adjustments on the fly.

3. Know which kids you need to help. As I’ve said previously, by the time we get to the summer prep days before camp, I’m really only coaching about 20 guys. Maybe less. If you’re a high school coach and you’re on your own, you can’t help everyone. I hate to say this, but once you get into the season, you’re going to have kids on your team who don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of playing, because they can’t compete at this level. That happens in college, too, but at least in college, the kids who can’t compete are usually freshmen or sophomores who are still developing. In high school, sometimes you need to take an accounting of who can’t help you, give them a generic template, and hand them off to another assistant with the time to babysit them.

We train Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday during the season. The most important lifts are the clean, squat, and bench. After that we fill in the blanks each day addresing general weaknesses. If we were to only perform one lift per day, it would be the clean, squat, and bench in that order.

Sunday - Day after game
1.  Hang Clean - warm-up 2-3 sets
- 3x3 @60-75% (light and fast)
2.  BB Reverse Lunges 4x3 each leg
3.  DB Rows 4x8
4.  Val Slide Leg Curls 3x8
5.  Abs/Stretch

Tuesday
1.  Squat - 2-3 warm-up sets
- 3 sets @65-85%
2.  Double-over Deadlift 4x6
3.  Pull-ups 4x6-8
4.  Single-leg Hip Bridge 3x6 each
5.  Abs/Stretch

Thursday
1.  Bench - 2-3 warm-up sets
- 3 sets 65-85%
2.  Goblet Squat 4x5
3.  DB Rows 4x8
4.  Shoulder 21's 3x
5.  Abs/Stretch

Our progression during the season is usually:
Week 1 - 3x4 @65-75%
Week 2 - 3x3 @70-80%
Week 3 - 3x2 @75-85%

Repeat throughout the season. We'll adjust as necessary.

We give the guys a range, but if they stay at the bottom percentage for all three sets, that's fine. We find the guys that play the most get very weak during the season. The best we can hope for is to maintain the bottom end.

We will modify workouts for injury etc. as needed on an individual basis.

I'll phrase this in a way that will encourage the reader to formulate their own strategy because, in my view, illustrating a pre-game week is no more beneficial to the sport coach then showing powerlifters what Evgeny Yarymbash's training looks like the week before a meet- it's the weeks and months leading up to the final taper that provide the backbone to what is being tapered.

I'll ask the readers to consider whether the program is being run by a program manager/performance director or not.

If it is then the pre-game training week will assuredly be holistically managed according to all physical stress as opposed to the slim possibility of this being done in its separate parts.

To peak for an American football game requires the systematic tapering of all significant physical workloads (technical/tactical + physical). The sport structure is, bioenergetically, an aggregate of a-lactic and aerobic capacity. Thus, the taper protocol must address both ends of the bioenergetic spectrum by taking into account, first and foremost, the total volume of work to be performed registering high in force: velocity. Every rep of movement on and off the field; in or out of technical/tactical practice.

The percentages involved, in terms of how the workload will be systematically tapered must be reflective on what was done the weeks and months beforehand.

If only the technical tactical staff, or if only the physical preparatory staff are thinking systematically then there is only a 50/50 chance that the team will peak on game day. There are no thorough coaching education systems in place to educate team sport coaches or physical preparatory coaches on the fundamentals of sport structure, motor skill development, or team peaking and this is effectively what the public has witnessed on game day since the inception of the sport.

The competition calendar is the SPP stage of the year. Similar to track and field all requisite elements better be in place before the start of SPP or you're in trouble. Most technical tactical staffs get seasonal anxiety which results in excessive workloads (volume/intensity/density) which is why we observe an inexcusable amount of injuries during pre-season training camp. The common folk shrug this off as being the nature of a violent game. The minority in know cringe their teeth over the lack of intelligent workload management.

The counterpoint to all of this is- well this all sounds fine and good; however, teams have performed fantastically through the decades so whatever the coaches have been doing must be good enough. My response to that- a race car has the capability of moving very fast regardless of who's driving it; however, the most skilled drivers get the most out of the race car. Fortunately for coaches, there's never been a shortage of race cars to drive on game day.

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