This topic of discussion started from an email I received from a high school football coach in Annapolis, Maryland. He asked how I approached training ninth grade football players.

First, let’s think of how differently each and every ninth grade player could be. Physically, some kids might be at an advantage. It can be an awkward age and time. When it comes to training young athletes in your football program, the most important aspect is getting them to understand the importance of attendance. If you train 3–4 days a week, they’re expected to train those days. This teaches them the value of accountability. They want instant results and will get discouraged when they don’t see results. Your job is to drill into their heads that their best approach is work ethic and training with a purpose. Be on time, work hard, and push to get better. Don’t be afraid to teach the value of hard work. There seems to be a lack of that today. These ninth graders will be your seniors in the near future, so get them to understand how you train and what you expect early on.

Now let’s get into your approach on training ninth graders. For the most part, this is the first time they will experience any type of strength training. Yeah, they go to the YMCA and take their bodybuilding magazines. You can’t knock them for wanting to learn. This is where you can have a huge effect on them. Everything that you’re going to teach them from the warm up to recovery is going to be new. Keep the dynamic warm up simple but effective.

For example:

Jump rope: 50–100 total jumps (they will learn quickly)

Band pull aparts: 15–20

Push-ups: 10–20 (break it up into multiple sets if they need that)

Body weight squats: 12 (this is where you teach proper form so take advantage of this)

Walking lunges: 2 sets of 50 feet

High knees: 2 sets of 50 feet

Shuffle: 2 sets of 50 feet

If it’s raining or snowing or you don’t have adequate room, do the following:

Mountain climbers: 10 each leg

Groiners: 10

Stretch groin: 10–15 seconds

Hip flexor stretch: 2 sets of 15

The warm up should take no more than five minutes. The movements are simple but effective. You can always add to the warm up as they improve on each movement. Add in some reverse lunges or side lunges or more reps on the jump rope.

Sure, every athlete who walks through your gym doors wants to squat, bench, and deadlift. If you let every kid squat, bench, and deadlift, you wouldn’t be doing them any favors. The possibility of injuries can occur. They might get frustrated because they can’t learn the proper technique or maybe they can’t bench the bar. It’s possible. Now you’ve crushed their confidence and you’ve lost that trust connection between you and the player. What can you do to get these athletes strong quickly? Focus on lifts that will give us the most “bang for the buck!”


Sandbags (these are the best):

Sandbag power cleans

Sandbag front squats

Sandbag shouldering

Sandbag clean and press

Sandbag walking lunges

Go buy some pea gravel, contractor bags, and a military duffel bag. There you go!

Can a young ninth grade football player learn how to power clean, squat, and clean and press in one day? These lifts can be taught when you implement them in a 15-minute set. Now you’re building confidence and getting them strong quickly!


Kettlebells (simple can be very effective):

Kettlebell swings

Kettlebell cleans

Kettlebell clean and press

Kettlebell snatch

Kettlebell snatch and press

Kettlebell goblet squats

Kettlebell goblet reverse lunges

Kettlebell high pulls

Everyone is using kettlebells, and if you aren’t, you should be. Once again, they’re easy to use, and young athletes seem to pick up on these movements quite easily. You want to build some mental toughness in your football players? Grab a few kettlebells. When I teach kettlebell work to my athletes, I tell them to grab one daily and swing it around for a few reps on each movement. Before you know it, they’re teaching other athletes because they now understand the movements themselves.



It’s amazing how many athletes have trouble doing push-ups and pull-ups. These need to be implemented into your program from the start. Pull-ups will be harder for the athletes, so purchase some one and a half-inch rope or suspended chains and crush some recline rows. If your athletes can’t do pull-ups, have them do “flexed arm” holds for time. Then you can progress them into doing “eccentric pull-ups.” Have them jump into a full pull-up and lower themselves in a controlled, eccentric movement for time or reps.


Sleds and Prowlers

Get outside or in your gym and drag sleds. Drag them forward and backward. You should get anywhere from 3–4 drags of about 100 feet. Or drag for time. You could do a 10- to 15-minute set. The Prowler is great for building strength in the posterior chain. Your athletes overall conditioning will also skyrocket. You can set up competitions between two teams or do “Prowler suicides,” which are relay races I like to use for distance. Get about 3–4 guys and give them a landmark. They must sprint the Prowler to the landmark and then back to where they started. This helps build confidence, team work, competition, trust, and mental toughness.

Single dumbbell movements

Dumbbell push press

Dumbbell clean

Dumbbell clean and press

Dumbbell snatch

Dumbbell snatch and press

These are great explosive lifts. Every athlete will be able to work up to all of these. Some might take longer, but the main goal is to keep teaching proper technique and form. The most effective one to teach first is the dumbbell push press. Get to it!

Trap bar, box squat, and tire flip

Eventually, you’ll want to start putting in some core lifts. The trap bar is easy to teach and quicker for younger athletes to learn. The trap bar can also be implemented into your program when you feel your athletes have built a strong foundation. Always teach proper technique and form. The weight will come.

Full body workouts

Roll out on foam rollers.

Warm-up: 5 minutes

1a. Sandbag cleans, 3–5 X 5 reps

1b. Push-ups off sandbag, 3–5 X 5–8 reps

2a. Dumbbell/kettlebell walking lunges, 3 X 12 reps

2b. Pull-ups/recline rows, 3 X 8–12 reps

3. Sleds/Prowler, 3–4 rounds of each reps

4. Grip and abs,2–3 circuits

Finish with recovery work. Use foam rollers or perform soft tissue work with a tennis or lacrosse ball.

Upper body workout

Roll out on foam rollers.

Warm-up: 5 minutes

1a. Sandbag snatch and press, 3–5 X 5 reps

1b. Pull-ups, 3–5 X 6–8 reps

2a. Dumbbell floor press, 3 X 8–12

2b. Kettlebell row, 3 X 8–12

3a. Dumbbell shrugs, 3 X 12–15

3b. Dumbbell hammer curls, 3 X 12–15

4. Grip and abs,3 circuits

Finish with recovery work. Use foam rollers or perform soft tissue work with a tennis or lacrosse ball.

Lower body workout

Roll out on foam rollers.

Warm up: 5 minutes

1a. Trap bar deadlift, 5 X 10, 8, 6, 4, 2

2a. Dumbbell walking lunges, 3 X 50 feet

2b. Kettlebell swings, 3 X 15 reps

3a. Sled drags, 3–4 X (forward and backward)

3b. Prowler sprints,34 X (high and low bars)

Finish with recovery work. Use foam rollers or perform soft tissue work with a tennis or lacrosse ball.

For each workout, your players should be doing 100 band pull aparts. Band pull aparts will help increase the strength in their upper backs. You can break them up into progressions: 10 X 10, 5 X 20, 4 X 25, or 3 X 33. As they get stronger, increase the size of the flex bands. Eventually, some of your players will have built a strong foundation. They will understand movements from your warm ups, sandbag lifts, kettlebells, push-ups, and pull-ups. You can then start on getting into bigger lifts, box squats, and trap bar deadlifts. The trap bar has been very effective for our football players.

These workouts should last only an hour. The warm-up, workout, and recovery should total your one-hour workout. At times, you’ll go over an hour. However, if you’re spending 2–3 hours in the weight room with 13- to 14-year-old football players, you’re not getting much accomplished.

Be simple but effective. Teach accountability, discipline, and the value of hard work. Remember, you’re there to help them gain confidence and become better athletes. Good luck during your off-season.

Elite Fitness Systems strives to be a recognized leader in the strength training industry by providing the highest quality strength training products and services while providing the highest level of customer service in the industry. For the best training equipment, information, and accessories, visit us at