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Developing football's energy system: a multifaceted approach.

Football is unquestionably one of the most physically and mentally demanding of sports. It requires strength, power, speed, intelligence, toughness, and a generous allotment of courage.


Sprinting around and smacking your body into others--and getting yours smacked in return--for three hours in intense heat or bitter cold requires a high level of specialized conditioning. Over time, this conditioning model should encompass the following constituents of training specificity:

Energy system specificity -- targeting football's primary energy source in training procedures.

Movement specificity -- emphasizing footwork, body posture, and skill patterns in the individual positions.

Open-based skill specificity -- responding to specific visual and verbal cues before and during the execution of agility or skill pattern drills (e.g., cadence, ball snap, hand signals, and change of direction while "on the run."

Tempo specificity -- administering drills in work: relief sequences that match the pace and intensity of your drives.

Notice that we did not use the term football specific. Unless you are on the field in full football gear, performing the exact movements required under game conditions, complete with all of the visual and auditory cues, the given activities may be football similar, but not football specific.

The following segment presents an overview of the organization, administration, implementation, and rationale for our football conditioning process.


Somewhere in your coaching travels you will learn about the importance of both simple and complex carbohydrates in the athlete's diet (check the December '01 and March '03 issues of Scholastic Coach).

Carbohydrates in the moderate to low glyceric index category are especially effective, due to their gradual introduction into the system

A major reason for the inclusion of appropriate amounts of this nutrient lies in its role in producing glucose and, subsequently, the chemical compound Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP), which provides the fuel for muscle cells and initiates muscle contraction.

Phosphocreatine (PC) is another energy-rich compound closely related to ATP. In tandem, ATP and PC provide the energy needed for the execution of the explosive skills used in football. The work capability of these compounds working in conjunction is known as the ATP-PC energy system.

The total muscular stores of ATP-PC are very small, limiting the amount of obtainable energy. It's the rapid availability, rather than the quantity, of ATP-PC that makes it so vital.

As is the case with football skills, high-intensity efforts of 30 seconds or less rely on this system as the predominant energy source.

Due to the fact that oxygen does not play a significant role in this metabolic process, it is termed an anaerobic (without oxygen) energy system.

In order to accommodate the body's need for an efficient, high-powered ATP-PC energy system, the brunt of the training procedures should fall within the parameters of a high-intensity, short duration, moderate recovery protocol.

It is the fuel that ignites football's fire.


One of the most efficient methods for improving anaerobic metabolism is interval training (IT), which consists of performing high-intensity exercise bouts with the manipulation of several key components in order to annex progressive overload.

Attention must be paid to the following variables in order to derive the desired results:

1 Performed Reps--the total number of reps performed should be tracked and gradually, progressively increased.

2 Work Interval Distance--the distance of the work bout should coincide with the targeted energy system. For the ATP-PC system, an all-out effort completed under the 30-second intervals is essential, thus an appropriate distance must be determined for each run/drill. In actuality, most of the football-related drills to be discussed here could be completed in 20 seconds or less.

Remember, the average football play lasts approximately 6 seconds, albeit a brutal 6 seconds. Eventually, your energy system training must align itself within that window.


3 Relief Interval--this is the allotted time between work bouts. Recovery is essential, but intensity is a vital component for amplifying metabolic adaptations.

For the ATP-PC system, this is accomplished with a timed work:relief ratio of 1:4 or 1:3. In other words, the athlete receives approximately 4 or 3 times the work bout duration for relief (e.g., a work bout lasting 10 seconds receives a 40 or 30 second relief period).

It is wise to start out using the higher end of the relief period, while gradually taking some ticks off the clock. For overload purposes, a progressive decrement in relief periods enables a heightened level of metabolic conditioning effects.

As the athletes adapt, they will be able to handle the shorter relief periods--something they must be mentally and physically conditioned to handle in the heat of battle.

4 Total Workout Distance--most of the workouts in the ATP-PC category involve between 1 and 1.5 miles in accumulated distance (1,760-2,640 yards). When designing the program, you should account for the total yardage in the main body of the workout (excluding dynamic warm-up drills) for each training day.

5 Workout Frequency--the magnitude of the intensity of these workouts dictates two nonconsecutive days in the early phase of the program (2-3 weeks) with a prudent progression to three nonconsecutive days in the middle and late phases. At that point, we suggest managing the volume and intensity within each of the three days to address needed overload requirements rather than adding additional workouts. If a fourth day is added, it should be a very low volume affair.


Depending upon the alignment of the summer calendar and NCAA compliance considerations, we have worked anywhere from 6 to 9 week summer training regiments. Regardless of the duration, we stay true to the funnel principle--an approach that is initiated (first two weeks) with general running/agility activities geared to developing the appropriate energy pathways, and gradually evolving into movement-specific and open-based agility drills.

Even though the workout plan may call for primarily straight-line running during this segment, the aspect of energy-system specificity is still called into action by the nature of the runs (usually in the 110-200 yd. distance range).

The work plan is then gradually narrowed into short, quick agility stations emphasizing sharp foot plants and cutting. Straight-line runs are now performed in the 10-110 yd. range. The distance of the runs can be alternated during the training week for variety. Remember to adhere to the work:relief ratio and total yardage recommendations as closely as possible.

Skill pattern running should be performed at least once per week--preferably mid-week. The protocol for skill-pattern training entails the performance of position-specific footwork executed with IT (interval training) parameters.


Offensive linemen line up from tackle to tackle and execute the techniques for various plays (e.g., zone blocking steps, combo blocking steps, pulls, pass sets, etc.) and finish with an all-out 20 yd. sprint. The group jogs back to the starting position at the completion of the sprint. The next group steps up to the line and executes the given drill as soon as the first group finishes.


Receivers, tight ends, and running backs line up and run designated pass routes at full speed and turn up field for an all sprint through a designated point on the field. Their entire passing tree should be scripted.

Quarterbacks should make their calls, verbalize the cadence, and take their drops. During times of the year when it's impermissible to use a ball, a "fake" throw is executed by the QB's, followed by a 20-30 sprint for conditioning purposes. Running backs must also work on run play steps, angles, and fakes, followed by 20-30 yd. all-out sprints.

Defensive linemen practice stance take-off on movement (provided by someone snapping a ball, or just a hand/foot if a ball is impermissible) for 10-15 yards. A variety of pursuit and reaction drills can be incorporated and finished with hard 20-30 yd. sprints.

Defensive backs and linebackers can work on pass drops and breaking on passes (or simulated passes) for varying distances. Pursuit drills and angle cut-offs are paramount activities for these positions.

As stated, we devote at least one day per week to skill pattern training. Each position group consists of 3-4 sub-groups, which allows for a built-in relief period between reps--i.e., when one group is running the assigned pattern, the other 2-3 groups are in a recovery period.

Depending upon the total weeks available, we start with one quarter worth of reps (usually 15-20), and gradually add a quarter as the summer progresses for overload purposes. All of the patterns for each position are scripted and called out as the players approach the starting line in order to help them develop the efficient memory recall processes so intimately involved in skill acquisition.

Five-minute breaks are allotted between quarters and a 10-minute respite is given at halftime. We top out the final week of the program with five quarters, thus accounting for an overtime period.

That's 75-100 reps of quality skill and conditioning work!


When planning the summer conditioning program, football coaches must remember that their players' performance capabilities encompass the biomechanics, timing, agility, skills, and energy system specifics of the paradigm described here.

Quite simply, this approach prepares them for the fast approaching day when they will don the pads and start reaping the rewards of their hard work.

Best wishes for a great kickoff to the 2004 football season!

Next month: A closer look at some of our favorite agility drills.

By Ken Mannie Strength/Conditioning Coach, Michigan State University

SEND YOUR QUESTIONS TO: Ken Mannie, Michigan State University Duffy Daugherty Building, East Lansing, MI 48824 or via email at
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Title Annotation:PowerLine
Author:Mannie, Ken
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2004
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