Football Off-Season: Phase 3

This is the third installment in a three-part series on off-season strength training for football at the high school level. 

To recap:

The off-season has been broken into three parts…

Phase 1: Focused on developing lifting competency and building strength.

Phase 2: Transitioning our strength into power and performing more speed and agility training.

Phase 3: Built around developing power and speed while increasing our total volume of conditioning (this phase will be address in this article).

In December, we have chosen a number of ‘Big Lifts’ we want to build our strength program around.  Over the course of the las last 6 months your program has been built around teaching your athletes how to be proficient with these movements and how to translate that proficiency into explosive power.

In regards to the speed and agility, we have kept our training limited as the emphasis has been on strength and power development.  The majority of our speed work has been built around proper linear and lateral movement mechanics.  As we approach the summer everything we will do will be designed to improve how the athlete moves on the field, both in movement competency and overall conditioning.

Let’s dig in….

Off-Season Phase 3: Power and Conditioning

As we enter summer we have a number of changes coming to the strength and conditioning program.  First and foremost, the volume of training we are doing will increase as we ramp up our conditioning. In addition, we will begin to work in greater detail with our power movements, as our level of proficiency with the big lifts should be extremely high.

Some major areas of focus for the coaching staff should be as follows:

  • Managing the training loads for each athlete individually.
  • Insuring the athletes are prepared to meet the standards they are tested on prior to the season.
  • Make sure each position group is being conditioned following a position specific energy system developmental program.
  • Building team comradery and allowing leadership to develop.

As you approach your summer program you will want to take an inventory of each individual within your program.  This will allow you to make a determination regarding the total training volume you will assign your team.  If your team is going into the summer in shape and proficient in the weight room you will see phenomenal results in August as they head to camp.

This is the most important off-season time period for your program.

Many of your athletes will be training with you for 4-8 sessions per week when you combine strength training, speed and agility, conditioning, 7 on 7, and captain’s practices.  We are dealing with 14-18 year old boys, this age group will respond very favorably to a structured program that allows them to train hard, but more importantly, train smart.

My training split for the summer looks as follows – listed in order of training sequence:

  • Monday Linear Speed, Max Effort Upper Body
  • Tuesday Lateral Agility, Max Effort Lower Body
  • Wednesday Recovery
  • Thursday Position Specific ESD, Reaction, Dynamic Effort Upper Body
  • Friday Dynamic Effort Lower Body, Work Capacity Conditioning

As you get into the summer phase you will want to assess what areas your team needs to improve upon.  This is all based upon the style of team you are and what style of play you will encounter.  Once you have taken this into account you can begin to build out your conditioning protocol and strength programs.  It is absolutely vital to take team style into account when putting together your conditioning program (we will go into more detail later in this article).

As we look at our summer program it is safe to say that there are only three areas of priority we need to be concerned with developing. – Speed, Power, and Conditioning.  If we are able to really focus in on these three areas, we will have a successful summer program.

I’ll go through each training focus in order of importance…

Priority 1: Speed

Our two primary speed days are Monday and Tuesday.  These intensive speed development sessions should always be at the start of your week when the legs are fresh.  That is why we lift strictly upper body on Mondays.  With this setup, we will have our two most important training sessions of the week on fresh legs.

  • Day 1: For your linear day, I always recommend some form of Contrast Speed work. This is done by combining a resisted sprint with an unrested sprint.
    • Example 1: Band Resisted Sprint (15yds) immediately followed by a 20yd sprint from a position stance.
    • Example 2: Sled or Plate Push (10yds) immediately followed by a Push Up to Sprint.
  • Day 2: For your lateral day, I love Contrast Speed Work as well as some form of competition. On these days, it is important to make sure that the majority of your drills are reaction based and incorporate transitions from linear to lateral.  Remember, we want to mimic game situations as much as possible.
    • Example 1: Banded Cross-Over Run paired with a 3-6-3 Shuttle
    • Example 2: Partner Mirror Drill
    • Example 3: Sprint to Varied Box Drill
  • Day 3: On your Reaction and Position Specific ESD days it is vital that you make this fun and competitive. If it’s not competitive you will not get what you need out of it.  What I like about doing Reaction after their Position Specific ESD is that they are forced to perform when they are tired.  A major part of this day is teaching their minds to perform in the 4th
    • The Position Specific ESD should be built around having each position groups condition specific to their in-game demands (this will be covered in greater detail in the Conditioning portion.
      • Example: Wide Receivers run routs with rest breaks based around your team’s offensive style.
    • The Reaction drills can be anything from Partner Mirror Sprints, T-Drill Races, or playing Fox and Hound Figure 8 Chase. Just make it competitive.  Playing 3v3 Basketball or Soccer is not a bad option here either.  This takes them out of their element and forces them be athletic in a new way.

Priority 2: Power

Power is what allows us to express our strength on the field.  The goal during our summer strength work is to train with heavy weight and work on moving it at a high velocity.  The use of bands and chains are also great to implement during this phase for athletes who are physically ready.

Here are a couple guidelines to follow when training for power…

  • Reps on the Big Lifts should be kept to less than 5.
    • I like to use Prepilin’s Chart to figure out my sets and reps. This is the most surefire way to insure you are training properly.
  • Avoid putting an athlete under a load they are not ready for.
    • You should have an idea of which athletes you can progress and which athletes you need to continue to develop. The worst thing you can do is give a kid a lift or training load they are not ready for.
    • Always have s progression and regression for every lift.
      • Example: Assigned Lift – Back Squat

Progression – Back Squat w/ Chains

Regression – Dumbbell Goblet Squat

  • Make sure that you explain to each athlete why they are being assigned a regression. We have to take care of the mental aspect of training and with highly competitive athletes in an alpha male environment it is important to have clear communication.
  • Build the program around bar velocity rather than percent of 1RM.
    • Remember, we are training football players not weight lifters. The rate at which they generate force is crucial for them to develop the physical traits we are shooting for.
  • Know that there a number of methods and varied implements can be used to develop power.
    • Medicine Ball Throws
    • Box Jumps
    • Post Activation Potentiation
    • Olympic Lifts
    • Velocity Based Training with a Barbell

The bottom line with training for Power is that the athletes have to transfer their strength into explosive power.  This does not happen overnight.  Make sure that when you train for power that you are progressing them correctly and being consistent with your programming.

Priority 3: Conditioning

Ok, this is the money section. While it is listed third on the priority list I truly feel it is the section that most coaches get wrong.  The days of the 1.5 mile test are long gone.  Conditioning can seem complex at first, however, it can be very simple once you get the hang of it.

I typically like to condition at least two times per week until three weeks prior to the start of camp.  At that point I increase it to three conditioning sessions per week.

Don’t just condition for the sake of conditioning.  Everything has to have a purpose. Sometimes the purpose can be that you want them to experience extreme physical discomfort during their training so that overcoming it in a game is second nature.  That’s fine, and completely necessary.

For the purpose of Conditioning, here is how I breakdown each individual day…

Day 1: Position Specific Energy System Development (EDS)

  • Movements and work durations that are typical for each position group. Your lineman and wide receivers should be doing something completely different.
    • For example, my wide receivers may work through a route tree while the offensive line does sled push repeats and linebackers do a pursuit drill.
  • You will want to customize the work to rest ration based on the style of offense you run and the style of teams you will face.
    • For example, if you run a NASCAR offense you will want your rest times to be in the 12-18 second range. Likewise, if you run a pro style huddle based offense you will want to spread out your rest intervals.
      • Side Note: This is a great opportunity to let your leaders take control.  Allow your QB to control the WR’s routes using hand signals or vocal cues.
    • I will typically build the volume as follows…
      • Week 1: 2 Drives (8 plays each)
      • Week 2: 2 Drives (10 plays each)
      • Week 3: 3 Drives (8 plays each)
      • Week 4: 3 Drives (10 plays each)
      • Week 5: 3 Drives (12 plays each)
      • Week 6: 4 Drives (10 plays each)
      • Week 7: 4 Drives (12 plays each)
      • Week 8: 4 Drives (14 plays each)
    • Day 2: Work Capacity
      • I will use Tempo sprints here a lot. The goal is for them to build what is called Repeated Sprint Ability (RSA).  RSA is a big separator for most athletes and it has a lot to do with the mindset of the athletes as it is uncomfortable. Again, this will be broken down into position specific sprinting distances.
        • Big’s (OL/DL) – 40-60yds
        • Big Skill (LB/FB/TE) – 60-80yds
        • Skill (QB/RB/WR/DB) – 100yds
      • This builds a baseline of conditioning and teaches the athletes how to perform when they are fatigued.
        • It is vital that you set time goals for each run and that you hold your athletes accountable to those times.
      • Day 3: Sprint Endurance (typically implemented three weeks out from camp)
        • Here I like to do a ton of shuttle work. Ranging from the 60yd shuttle to the 300yd shuttle.
          • Typically, I will have a training day that looks like the following…
            • 60yd Shuttle X 3
            • 150yd Shuttle X 3
            • 200yd Shuttle X 2
            • 300yd Shuttle X 1
          • Of course, this volume will grow over the course of the three week ramp up prior to camp.

There you have it!  A full off-season guide to strength and conditioning for your high school team.  As we wrap up this three-part series I would like to finish with my five tips for a successful off-season…

  1. Don’t be afraid to slow cook on the Big Lifts. What is important is that the athletes are lifting properly and safely.  Nobody cares what your back squat is if you can’t play because of a weight room injury.
  2. The best ability is AVAILABILITY. Make sure you are taking time to assess each athlete and set them up with a plan to insure they have the mobility and joint stability they need in order to withstand the game of football.
  3. Never neglect Relative Strength. A high school athlete’s ability to control their body is critical.  Also, research on the level of relative strength and its impact on acceleration suggests that the higher the level of relative strength the longer an athlete is able to sustain acceleration.
  4. Always have a reason behind what you do. Never waste a second doing something you can’t explain.  Know the ‘why’ and ‘how’ before you implement a change in the program.
  5. If you can’t move, you can’t play. Spend as much time as possible teaching your athletes how to move.  Start simple and build to the complex.  If you follow a structured teaching progression this is easily achievable.

Now, go coach ‘em up!

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