Proper physical training is important for all sports — but for football training and other contact sports, it is critical for preparing athletes for competition. The physicality inherent in football means that players (especially young players) must be structurally strong and conditioned for high-velocity competition in order to succeed. Every coach wants to know that when fall arrives, their athletes will be strong and ready for a long and healthy season, making strength training an essential component to proper football preparation. Not only does training strengthen an athlete’s musculoskeletal system (muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and connective tissues), making him or her more resilient against one-on-one contact, but it also helps neurologically ingrain good movement patterns.This guide is designed to help you create a safe and effective training program for your entire football team — from organizing your calendar to structuring the optimal training session — so your athletes are armed and ready to play hard (and stay healthy) all season long
1. Set Up Your Training Calendar
The first step in building a successful football strength and conditioning program is to set up a year-long training calendar. That’s right: 12 whole months. Why such a long calendar, especially when you may only have a couple of weeks to work hands-on with your players prior to the start of your season? Because while year-round training is important for all sports, it is most CRUCIAL for football.
DIVIDE YOUR YEAR INTO 3 PHASES OF FOOTBALL TRAINING:
PREPARATORY PHASE (OFF-SEASON)
The Preparatory Phase is arguably the most important period of training for your athletes. Not only does it correlate to how physically prepared your athletes are for the start of the season, it’s also the longest uninterrupted period of dedicated training your athletes will have all year, giving them enough time to:
- Develop comfort in the weight room
- Strengthen team unity by training together as a team or in position groups
- Rehab any injuries from last season
- Build the size, strength, and power that will translate to on-field skills and performance (and injury prevention) by the start of the season
The Preparatory Phase also gives you enough time to assess your players for individual strengths and weaknesses. The weight room is a great environment for identifying strength imbalances or faulty movement patterns that could lead to injury on the field, and the longer your Preparatory Phase, the more time you have to work toward correcting them. Depending on your facility and schedule, try to allow at least 3 months of training (including pre-season camp) for your Preparatory Phase, and ideally more like 3-5 months.
COMPETITIVE PHASE (IN-SEASON)
When your football season starts, it’s time to stop training, right? WRONG. While training in the Preparatory Phase helps get your players physically ready to compete, continuing to train (at a reduced volume and intensity) during the season affects how well your athletes maintain the gains they made in the off-season. If you’re not planning to train in-season, you’re setting yourself up for diminishing performance and potential injury down the line — not to mention a disappointing post-season. Strength training in the Competitive Phase will help your athletes:
- Maintain the size, strength, and power built in the Preparatory Phase (and therefore avoid decreases in athletic ability)
- Keep joints mobile and tissues healthy in order to avoid injuries
- Peak successfully for play-offs at the end of a long season
Managing training volume is key for Competitive Phase training. Just two sessions are enough to help athletes avoid the loss of strength and power improvements made in the off-season, while still accommodating for the high volume of games and practices. Continuing to train will also allow you to peak your athletes for any post-season competition.
TRANSITIONAL PHASE (POST-SEASON)
After your season ends (assuming you do not need to peak your athletes for a secondary Competitive Phase for playoffs), it’s time for your athletes to rest and recover — but that doesn’t mean training should cease entirely. It is recommended to give your players two weeks completely off at the end of the season. Then, training can resume (up to three sessions per week) at a reduced volume and intensity. By continuing your training program through the Transitional Phase, you’ll help your athletes:
- Bridge the gap between the physical intensity of the Competitive and Preparatory Phases
- Maintain continuity in the strength training routine
- Allow for cross-training and foam-rolling, stretching, and other myofascial (soft tissue) recovery treatments to prepare them for the Preparatory Phase
Phase training can incorporate many of the same lifts and movements patterns as
Preparatory Phase training — just keep the volume manageable and save PRs for
off-season. Depending on the length of your calendar, your Transitional Phase should last around 1 month.
2. Optimize Your Training Environment
Knowing the scope of your training environment will influence what exercises you can select for your program—and while no weight room is perfectly equipped, remember that any tool can be effective in the hands of a good coach!
THE IDEAL FOOTBALL WEIGHT ROOM
We recommend the following tools for ideal football training:
Barbells: We recommend stocking 45-lb and 35-lb bars if you train both genders at your facility Bumper Plates: Allows for athletes to drop the bar during an Olympic lift without damaging the weights or lifting platform We recommend stocking bumper plates up to 25 kg in weight
Squat Racks: (not to be confused with a Smith machine) Lifting Platforms/Designated Olympic Area Dumbbells: We recommend stocking dumbbells from 5 to at least 65 lb (though some athletes may require heavier)
Medicine Balls: We recommend stocking several different weights of the med ball, up to around 20 lb
Resistance Bands: We recommend a variety of different types and weights of the band, if possible
Adjustable Weight Benches: Allows for incline and high-incline variants of dumbbell bench press, fly, and prone row Pull-Up Bars Pull-ups can typically be performed in a squat rack, but if you have a limited number of racks you might consider stocking a few additional pull-up bars.
File these tools under “nice to have,” because while they may offer some variability in your exercise selection, they are not considered first priority when outfitting a weight room: Kettlebells Particularly useful for Turkish get-ups, farmer/suitcase carries, and swings (although you can typically substitute a dumbbell for most kettlebell movements)
Stability Balls Sometimes called Swiss Balls or Yoga Balls Great for hamstring curls and hip extension exercises
Sandbags Can be made from scratch using a gym/duffel bag and sand Tires Weight Sleds Ab Rollers Boxes We recommend stocking at least 18-inch-high boxes Weight plates can always be stacked on top to increase box height.
3. Organize Your Football Training Day
One of the most
important concepts in strength and conditioning, the SAID principle deals with
the specificity of training protocols — stating that the type of demand placed
on the body will dictate what kind of adaptation will occur . If you want to
strengthen your biceps, you have to
use exercises that train the biceps — i.e., wherever training stress is applied, that is the area that will receive the stimulus. It may seem like a no-brainer, but when it comes to selecting exercises for your training program, choosing exercises that mimic football movement patterns is crucial to your program’s success. This is another reason why free-weight training is superior to weight machines: free-weight exercises are more specific to football movements. It’s also worth noting that the MOST specific movement training will come from actually playing football. But the movement selection of your training can play a big role in how well your players apply strength to skill-specific technique on the field. The concept of SAID should influence your movement selection, especially as it relates to progressive overload. As your players progress through the off-season, all forms of training should gradually progress from general to
sport-specific. Just as your training blocks are organized to develop size first (Hypertrophy), your program should focus first on building total-body strength and size from an exercise selection standpoint, then shift to more sport-specific movements and skills nearer to the start of your season. If you’re peaking your players with Power and Speed blocks at the end of your Preparatory Phase, then you know that these more skill-intensive exercises will be mitigated with lower loading and volume to allow the most optimal adaptations to take place.
With the SAID principle in mind, you can start selecting the specific movements to use in your training sessions, depending on the block and where it lies within your Preparatory Phase.
- Multi-joint strength exercises generally performed with a barbell or dumbbells
- Recruit at least one larger muscle area (e.g., hip, thigh, chest, back, shoulder, etc.)
- Effective for sport performance training because they mimic football movements
- Should be performed directly after power exercises (and before or paired with assistance exercises) during a training session
- Some structural exercises require spotting
- STRUCTURAL EXERCISE EXAMPLES: back squat, front squat, bench press, deadlift, shoulder press, etc.
- Explosive structural exercises (Volt calls these lifts “Explosives”)
- Require the highest level of skill and concentration — therefore most likely to be affected by athlete fatigue
- Should be performed at the beginning of a training session (after a thorough warm-up)
- Do NOT require spotting, due to the unpredictable nature of the weight being moved during a lift
- POWER EXERCISE EXAMPLES: snatch, hang clean, power clean, push jerk, etc.
- Single-joint exercises that recruit smaller muscle areas (neck, abdominals, biceps, triceps, calf, forearm, etc.)
- Generally considered less important for sport performance, but very effective for rehabilitation and injury prevention
- ASSISTANCE EXAMPLES: biceps curl, triceps extension, back extension, bent row, shrug, etc.
Building a safe and effective off-season strength and conditioning program for your football players is not easy. It requires a lot of hard work and planning (not to mention research!) to organize each phase, block, week, and day of training — add properly structured conditioning plan to the mix, and you’re looking at hours and hours of work. But remember: there is no single “right” way to structure your training. The difference between a set at 67% and a set at 75% of an athlete’s 1RM is very, very small in the grand scheme of things. Because many football players are novice lifters, as long as your program is progressively overloading their bodies, they will see a positive transfer from the weight room to the field. If you’re interested in getting a football training program for your entire team — one that is specific to each player’s position, experience level, training calendar, and individual strength levels AND includes a 12-week off season conditioning program.