Seventeen Football Training Tips for Beginners

TAGS: beginners, steven morris, sport training, football

1. When in doubt, lift heavy on big lifts.

There are literally hundreds of training programs out there. While most of them are terrible, there are still a dozen or so that are all really good for helping you get faster and stronger for football. How do you choose? Well, if you're just starting out and are confused or you're a new coach who is suddenly in charge of 30 or more fourteen and fifteen year olds, go with the most simple formula possible:

Basic lifts + heavy weights = football strength and speed

Yes, once you get going, you should refine things, but at their base, all good programs focus on the big lifts (bench, incline, press, squat, deadlift, rows). There are variations on sets and reps, but in the beginning, even something as simple as 3 X 8 is better than 0 X 0. It’s far from perfect, but it's better than nothing!

2. Be consistent! Pick a plan and stick to it.

Once you do decide on a plan or at least an outline of a plan, stick to the damn thing. Rotating exercises is one thing. Completely changing your entire philosophy every other week is another.

This might be the biggest mistake I see young football players and lifters make. They read an article and say, "Yes! This is exactly what I need!" Then two weeks later a new article comes out preaching the exact opposite of what the first said and again it's "just what I needed!" And on and on and on until a year goes by and you realize you've been training for 12 months without any progress.

Have an experienced lifter or coach help you tweak your workouts as you go, but stick to the overall plan for a while. Despite what some trainers or supplement companies will tell you, you're not going to gain 100 lbs on your bench in ten days.

3. Hard work trumps a plan.

Building on number one and two, finding a plan and sticking to it is key. But what if you picked out a bad program? What if it's a real turkey? Well, hopefully you have some guidance and can see that the program isn't very good. However, know this—extreme effort on a bad program is much better than a half-assed effort on the greatest program ever. So if you're in search of the "perfect training program," stop. Stick to your current plan, tweak it, and work as hard as humanly possible...then a little harder.

4. You need to improve athleticism, not just your bench.

The bench is great. So is the squat, the deadlift, and the clean, But remember, we are after not only big lifts but big hits, big runs, and big plays. We need to get stronger. Always. You also need to make sure your strength increases are coupled with increases in your "athleticism" for lack of a better term. If you focus only on the bench, you aren't going to improve a whole lot on the football field. You need to work those lifts hard and get stronger while also using movements that will make you a better athlete.

Things like:

  • Medicine ball chops, side-to-sides, over/unders
  • Prowler, sled, and blocking sled work
  • Position-specific, football-oriented agility work
  • Stretching, both passive and dynamic
  • Football skill and footwork
  • Jump ropes
  • Beginner's plyometrics

These are the types of things you will do to improve as a football player while getting your strength and weight up. It may seem like a lot of work, but if you're smart about it, it isn't that complicated.

Start every session off with some football agility work, dynamic stretching, and jump rope. End your session with abdominal work, medicine balls, and some more jump rope.

5. To become an all-star, improve football skills all year.

Let's say you're an offensive lineman. If you start every session off with five minutes of going through your steps and fire outs (perfectly—don't do them if you aren't going to do them correctly), you will have taken, over the course of a year, over 1000 reps on those movements that directly improve footwork. Think over 1000 perfect reps will help much? The same goes for wide receivers, linebackers, and running backs. Use that time as a way to improve rather than just take an absolutely worthless "warm-up lap."

On your off days from lifting, you have a great opportunity to use the sled or grab a friend and get a blocking shield to run pass patterns or work on your drops. Do whatever it is that will make you better. Again, a lineman doing his steps isn't the kind of work that's going to wear you out, but it will help you improve as a football player.

If you're a wide out, why run mindless sprints for conditioning? Why not run your pass routes and have someone throw you the ball? Now you're conditioning and building your football skills at the same time.

6. Go fast and then heavy.

This one is so simple. Most of you are fascinated with plyometrics. You want to know when, how many, and what to do. Well the answer is simple—jump before you lift heavy. This doesn't have to be complicated. If you aren't ready for box jumps or don't have plyo boxes, do standing long jumps, vertical jumps, side straddle hops, or one leg long jump. Do 5–10 jumps before you move into your heavy bench, squat, or deadlift.

Also, for those who want to dabble in the Olympic lifts, doing power cleans, clean pulls, snatch pulls, or hang snatches at the start of your heavy, lower body day is a great idea. For example, if you have some heavy deadlifts planned for today, start off by doing power cleans. This serves as a great way to warm up for the heavier pulls and it "wakes up" your central nervous system (basically it tells your brain it's time to get to work).

7. Pump up the volume.

If you need to get bigger, you need to add some reps and eat right. The easiest way to do this is to combine heavy, low rep sets on your big main exercises like squats, box front squats, or incline followed by higher rep sets on your assistance exercises:

  • Rows
  • Chin-ups
  • One arm row
  • Dumbbell bench
  • Curls
  • Dumbbell overhead press
  • Straight leg deadlifts

On these movements, shoot for at least 24 total reps. You can do 2 X 12, 3 X 8, 6 X 4, 4 X 6, or 5 X 5 (yes it's 25). The point is to try to hit 24 as your guide point. You can do more, but if you stick to the rule of 24, you'll be golden.

8. If you need to get bigger, time your sets.

This one is for you skinny guys who eat like you just got out of jail but just can't seem to gain muscle. First, keep eating and eat more. Add liquid calories as much as possible. A tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil added to your protein shake is an extra 135 calories. Do that twice a day and add extra oils to your regular food and you're well on your way.

Next, get to work on your assistance exercises, but instead of simply shooting for 24, set the timer and go all out. You can do this two ways. You can either time the actual set (i.e. set the timer for two minutes and do dumbbell inclines the entire time) or you can do two exercises like rows and dumbbell bench and set the timer for 15 minutes. Then try to get the maximum number of reps on both exercises in 15 minutes. In the next session, beat your total. Both methods will put muscle on even the hardest of hard gainers.

On the timed sets, pick a time—usually 90 seconds to two minutes—and do the exercise, resting the dumbbells only as needed. So if you're doing dumbbell presses, you might do eight reps, rest for a few seconds (with the dumbbells on your shoulders), do another six reps, rest, do six reps, rest, and then 4, 3, 3, 2, 1, and 1 until the timer goes off. Again, beat this number next week.

9. Nutrition is as important as training.

Younger guys hate to hear this 'cause ya know they're 15 years old and immune to things like eating properly. But the truth is what you eat directly relates to how you perform. Nutrition is as important to your football training as lifting weights, conditioning, or speed training. If you put crap fuel in, you body will return the favor by giving you a crap effort.

Nutrition for football players is worthy of an article unto itself. However, follow these rules and you'll be OK to start:

  • Eat a lot of protein including eggs, fish, beef, chicken, pork, and protein powders.
  • Eat healthy fats such as extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, fish, or krill oil.
  • Treat carbs as a "supplement." Don't just eat them freely if you're sitting on the couch all weekend playing World of Warcraft. Use them as activity dependant. Carbs are overused, especially pre-game/practice/lift, but if you decide to have a significant amount of them in your diet, be sure they're coming from vegetables, fruit, and maybe some oatmeal, not Snickers, Oreos, and Briers.
  • Eat 4–6 small, protein centered meals per day.
  • Drink a protein shake after lifting.
  • Don't drink soda (sorry but you just shouldn't).
  • Limit junk foods to once or twice a week.

10. Plan your recovery or fail.

We've talked about how important it is to work hard. How much effort you put into your strength and speed training program determines what you get out of it. No work, no results. But you can't just keep working your ass off day after day without paying attention to your recovery. I don't care if you're in high school and feel you're invincible. You need to plan and execute your recovery methods the same way you plan your training sessions and meals. The harder your work, the more you need to work on recovery.

You need to do things like:

  • Sleep at least eight hours a day and nap if possible (this means going to bed at roughly the same time every night with maybe one "off night" on a weekend).
  • Stretch (both dynamic and passive).
  • Foam roll.
  • Take ice baths after football practices, games, or very heavy/rough weight room sessions.
  • Take hot Epsom salt baths one to two times a week to speed recovery.
  • Eat right. This means vegetables, protein, and healthy fats, not Dominos and Doritos all the time.

I’m sure most of these seem boring, but put them into practice and watch your lifts go up and watch yourself get faster and bigger.

11. To get coaches' attention, set the tone all the time.

Listen, I get way too many whiney emails talking about how "my coach hates me and won't play me 'cause he's a hater" or some other such mess. Chances are if your coach isn't noticing you, it’s because you aren't doing anything to get noticed. Get to the weight room and practice on time and work your ass off when you're there. Jump out to the front of the line when it's time to do agilities, form running, stretching, and of course, hits.

Don't skip workouts or practices unless you're dead. Even then, try to get there. Don't be the guy who missed twelve training sessions and then wonders why the coach is "hatin yo." Over the years, I've seen this happen countless times. The young player who is unproven starts to jump out and make himself get noticed and he gets the starting job. Why? Because he got the attention of the coaches in a positive way and then, once he had it, took the starting job. It’s a beautiful thing.

12. Choose your friends wisely.

This one isn’t directly training related, but it isn't any less important than if I told you how to put 20 lbs on your squat. If you hang out with losers, stoners, dummies, non-athletes, and those who generally try to lure you away from the positive things in life and into the negative, dump them immediately.

I'm not saying that you can only hang out with athletes. If your friends are supportive of your athletic lifestyle, keep them. They shouldn't be the ones who are trying to get you to stay out late the night before a game to do drugs or drink. If they are, tell them to go pound sand.

In business, they say you tend to earn the average of the five people you hang out with most. Well, in football, if your top five have a great work ethic, you will too. If they're non-athletes but kill it in school, then you've got a good one. Ditch the dummies and keep the rest and your football, training, and life will improve almost instantly.

13. Focus on the biggest exercises.

As great as all the information on the internet is, it can be a real curse, too. Between weirdo websites, bodybuilding mags, Men's Health, and the like, the number of odd ball exercises has exploded. Variety is great, but if you're trying to replace box squats with one leg front squat swings on a Swiss ball, you're going to lose every time.

Forget all the fancy stuff at first. Focus on squats, deadlifts, bench presses, presses, and cleans.

Then use their variations including box squats, front squats, sumo deadlifts, snatch grip deadlifts, clean pulls, and inclines. Even when talking about exercises for specific parts of the body like the back, it's always best to go with big, proven exercises like rows, chin-ups, and one arm rows.

In general, start off with exercises that hit many muscles at once. For example, the squat works the glutes, hamstrings, quads, hips, lower back, and abs. Compare that to a leg extension that only hits the quads. The isolation stuff will be useful in time, but to get started, stick with the big exercises.

14. To get faster, get stronger (in the right areas).

Forget parachutes, fancy cone layouts, "strength shoes," and complex track peaking programs. When it comes to getting faster for football, it all comes down to getting stronger in the right areas.

Strengthen the entire body with special attention to your hamstrings, glutes, and quads. Along with learning proper running form, you will literally transform yourself into a faster, more explosive football player.

Exercises like deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts, swings, box squats, back squats, front squats, and sled or Prowler work will all have a direct effect on your speed. This is your foundation. Without it, no amount of speed-specific track programs will do a damn thing for you.

15. Stretch or be slow.

Stretching is boring. Even I hate it. But if you want to perform at your highest level, you won't do it if you're tight. Plus, tight hamstrings and hip flexors will put the brakes on your speed big time.

Spend time on your off days stretching your hips, hip flexors, hamstrings, glutes, and back.

Check out Pavel's Beyond Stretching. It's awesome for increasing flexibility.

16. Train on one leg sometimes.

Train on one leg to make sure that both legs are progressing equally and that you're building strength and speed in each leg independently. Remember, when you run, you're on one foot. Even a small imbalance can lead to injury.

Go lateral with lateral lunges. Go forward with lunges, one leg deadlifts, and Bulgarian squats.

You don't need a ton of work here. A few sets at the end of your leg day will work wonders for you at this point.

17. Get your mind right to become a great football player (and lifter).

The internet has ruined too many young football players. They are exposed to a metric ton of worthless training advice written by God knows who. But it's free! Yes, sometimes you get what you pay for.

If you want to be a great football player, great lifter, and, maybe in the future, a great coach, you need to invest some time, effort, and money into learning about your sport. Buy books, DVDs, and audio programs about football training. Buy books about football itself—the game, history, theory. You should do the same with your actual education. Learn to become a better student in the classroom so you can become a better student of the game.

It amazes me how some of you will pay $75 for a 360 game that you'll be tired of in a few weeks, yet screech blue murder when faced with the prospect of coming out with a whopping $15 for a training book that will help you become a better football player for years to come. That plus the ever growing ignorance of the nuisances of the game itself is leading to a generation of young players who are weak and don't know the game! Don't be that guy. Go out and learn things. Go to the library if you're broke. Borrow a book from your coach, watch some old NFL films, learn how to watch film, and learn how to study and be an excellent student. Be a smart athlete because there have been many an NFL athlete who couldn't make the cut because he didn't have the brain power to learn the play book.

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