This training program appeared in Programs That Work Volume 1 and was written by Joe Kenn during his tenure at Arizona State University.

Following the lead of three articles posted on

I have compiled our data (I am a numbers junkie when it comes to training information) from our winter and spring programs for our Gold Front Seven Group. Before you start scratching your head, I will define what the Gold Front Seven Group is for you. Better yet, I will give you a brief synopsis of our Three-Step Training Plan. This plan is based on the athlete’s abilities in the strength-training program. We look at previous training experience before entering our program. This will help us determine a training age. Athletes are also placed into a specific program based on their overall strength levels and the progress they have made in our program. This will determine how he progresses during his career. Obviously, their abilities on the football field are also taken into consideration. Our program continues to be an evolutionary process. We are always striving to give our athletes a program that can improve general physical fitness attributes and work capacity.

3-Step Training Plan

Step 1 – Intensification Program

All of our incoming freshmen start in our Intensification Program that consists primarily of General Physical Preparedness (GPP) circuits and technical work on the foundation movements of the program.

This program is generally 15-24 weeks in duration. Those incoming freshman who begin there training on campus during the summer program will begin a six to nine week GPP program to improve overall conditioning levels for their first college training camp. A 15-week program that lasts the duration of the fall academic term follows this.

General Goals for Developmental Program

  1. Increase work capacity.
  2. Designate improvement areas.
  3. Teach the strength training movements under our direction.
  4. Educate the athlete on our methodology and terminology.

Step 2 – The Maroon Program

The Maroon Program is a program geared around the modified maximum effort method (1-6 repetitions) and the modified repeated effort method of training. The dynamic effort method of training is introduced at this time. Regardless of the method being utilized, we are also introducing maximum concentric acceleration to all movements.

During this program the foundation movements have little variation. We are trying to continue to perfect each athlete’s individual techniques. Our training plan is a hybrid of traditional and concurrent/conjugated sequencing. This program is geared towards all players regardless of position (exception: QBs and specialists).  First, second, and third year players depending on their overall ability generally do this program. Junior college players begin their strength training careers at ASU on the Maroon Program.

General Goals for the Maroon Program

  2. Decrease body fat and increase lean body mass.


Step 3 – The Gold Program

The Gold Program is the last step of an athlete’s strength training career at ASU. At this time we separate the athletes into two groups, Outside the Box and Front Seven. The Outside the Box positions are quarterbacks, specialists, wide outs, running backs, corner backs, and safeties. Front Seven Positions are offensive linemen, tight ends, fullbacks, h-backs, defensive tackles, defensive ends, and linebackers.

This program is designed for those athletes who are entering the fourth and fifth year of our program. Depending on the physical maturity of an athlete we will have third year and on occasion second year players progress quickly to the gold program.

This separation occurs because, in our opinion, the athlete is now prepared for the more specialized development of strength needed at this time in his career. This will allow him to continue to improve his overall performance. These grouping are based on the level of contact (physicalness) of the position and the amount overall running that occurs at a position.

WATCH: Joe Kenn's NFL Strength Coaching Guidance

We utilize the concurrent/conjugate sequencing system for these athletes and focus on one or two of the major strength-training traits (explosive strength, maximum strength, strength endurance) and retain the other(s) during a specific training program. The dynamic effort method is more pronounced in this program especially with the Outside the Box group.

Goals of the Gold Program

  1. Enhance the dynamic effort method and encourage the intent to move explosively.
  2. Increase variety of training/movements — Keep the upper classmen challenged.
  3. Continue to improve maximal strength levels and increase lean body mass.

By using a three-step approach, we have a built in motivation for our athletes to continue to improve to reach each level. This is especially true for those seeking advancement to the gold group when they are entering their third or fourth year in the program and still are considered at the maroon level.

Maximal Effort Rotations

It is during the Gold Front 7 program that the athlete will be exposed to many foundation movements for maximal strength for total body, lower body, or upper body development. The premise for the article was to give coaches another example of how to rotate maximal effort movements for college aged football players. We have had very good success with this method during the developmental stage and competitive stage of the annual plan.

Our goal for maximal effort rotations besides having the athlete strive for the greatest amount of resistance to be lifted during the session is to keep the athlete challenged each time he steps into the strength complex.

The cycles for both the lower body and upper body rotations were the same during the winter and spring programs. The cycle was based on a five work set progression in an ascending fashion. The repetition scheme for the three-week cycle was a linear 5/3/1 repetition wave.

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The bonus set was for those individuals who performed set five easily and it was determined by the athlete and coach to exceed the projected goal of the work out. These percentages are guidelines and some athletes are taken off the script when necessary. Regardless of how we determine the load all athletes must progress through the five sets so that the basic data has validly from one athlete to another.

Lower Body Rotation

To determine the structure of the 15-week plan it was determined that we would have five three-week stages for our winter/spring strength programs. The barbell back squat is our true foundation movement for the lower body so this is where we were going to end the rotation. We then went backwards as to what exercises in order would prepare the athlete to exceed his best back squat. Our rotation went as follows:

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Data Collection of Lower Body Rotation

Stage 1 – Front Squat

  • Percentage of Back Squat Max: 76.7%
  • Range: 60.2% - 91.1%

Stage 2 – Safety Bar Box Squat to Parallel Box

  • Percentage of Back Squat Max: 83.4%
  • Range: 71.4% - 97.3%

Stage 3 – Cambered Bar Box Squat to Parallel Box

  • Percentage of Back Squat Max: 76%
  • Range: 65.1% - 90.1%

Stage 4 – Buffalo Bar Box Squat to Parallel Box

  • Percentage of Back Squat Max: 94.3%
  • Range: 85.8% - 104.9%
Additional Data

Average five-rep max compared to one-rep max per movement: 79.83%

Average three-rep max compared to one-rep max per movement: 89.94%

Safety Squat Bar Deadlift, Double Overhand Grip: 103.3% of Back Squat

Lower Body Notes

Front Squat – Hand placement two choices: clean grip position or the athlete can utilize straps.

Safety Squat Bar – Hand placement: hands were placed on the yolks

Regardless of bar variation, we count the weight of the bar as 45 pounds

This cycle helped our team reach the second highest team average on the back squat in our tenure here and the second highest output in my 12 years of directing a college program.

Upper Body Rotation

The traditional bench press (grip one or two) is our true foundation movement for the upper body. As with the back squat, this is where we were going to end the rotation and worked backwards as to what exercises in order would prepare the athlete to exceed his best bench press. Our rotation went as follows:

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Data Collection of Upper Body Rotation

Stage 1 – Grip 2 – 3 Board Press

  • Percentage of Grip 1 or 2 Bench Press Max: 107.1%
  • Range: 96.1% - 120.3%

Stage 2 – Grip 2 – 2 Board Press

  • Percentage of Grip 1 or 2 Bench Press Max: 105.6%
  • Range: 91.2% - 116.9%

Stage 3 – Grip 2 – Floor Press

  • Percentage of Grip 1 or 2 Bench Press Max: 97.1%
  • Range: 85.4% - 110%

Stage 4 – Grip 3 – Bench Press

  • Percentage of Grip 1 or 2 Bench Press Max: 98.5%
  • Range : 91.8% - 108.5%

Additional Data

Average five-rep max compared to one-rep max per movement: 84.5%

Average three-rep max compared to one-rep max per movement: 89.38%

Upper Body Notes

Grip 3: Half a thumb length from the inside smooth.

Grip 2: Full thumb length from the inside smooth.

Grip 1: Pinky on the knurl line.

The majority of our athletes test the bench press at grip two. Those who do not are those individuals with particularly long arms.  hey are allowed to test grip one if they choose to.

This cycle helped our team reach the highest team average on the bench press in our tenure here and the highest output in my 12 years of directing a college program.


2005 Challenge

We incorporated a point system for each week and for each stage to determine weekly and stage champions based on their maximal efforts through the program. Each athlete had his best repetition maximum for the week recorded onto a master roster. The athlete was assigned a specific point value based on his placing for the week. For example, if the athlete had the third best max he was awarded three points. If he had the 43rd best max he received 43 points. At the end of the stage, the weekly points were totaled and the individual with the lowest number was the stage champion.

The challenge was extremely helpful when the athlete had completed the fifth set and wanted to know what he needed to move up in the standings. The sixth bonus set allowed them to move up the standings if they completed the designated repetition max for the week. If they did not reach the rep goal, this set allowed them one more opportunity to strain under big weights. Not only did the individuals who were vying for the championship utilize the bonus set, but also for those who were fighting for places 15-20. This made a huge difference in our training, as the athletes were highly motivated to secure personal bests each week.

Example of a Challenge Template – These are true results.

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It should be noted that week nine was spring break, so stage three was a two-week program where the athlete completed the five-repetition max week one and week two the athlete’s cycle was 3x3, 3x1. Also, weeks 10-13 were completed during spring football practice. The only volume change during spring ball occurs in our mobility section of the training session.

After evaluating this training plan, the following revisions will be made for next year’s program. Before beginning the winter program, our athletes can have between two and five weeks of unsupervised training based on the success of the previous team. Because of this, we will begin stage one as the two-week cycle and only perform the 5RM and 3RM weeks. We will not go to a 1RM.

For the upper body, we will utilize the three board press, but will switch the front squat with the cambered bar box squat (CBBS). After reviewing the program and ranking the lower body movements, the CBBS finished a distant fifth to the other four movements. This will also allow us to structure the next four stages of the lower body rotation with similar movements in a box stage, freestanding stage rotation.

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We feel this will enhance the maximums of both the traditional front and back squats.

In closing, max effort rotations are not only important for improving limit strength but also for motivating and challenging individuals to continue the quest of becoming strong. Good Luck to all of you in your quest for improving your athlete's physical abilities.

Coach Kenn is a graduate of Wake Forest University where he played football and Boise  State University where he earned a Master 's of Arts Degree in Education.  He has had the  honor and privilege of coaching in every level of sports performance and feels that each  has helped him grow as a coach and contribute to the development of his coaching  philosophy. He currently is the football strength and conditioning coach for the Carolina Panthers. For more information on his services, visit Big House Power.