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Football 2003 in-season insights for strength and conditioning.

The demands and time constraints that engulf football coaches during the season can be overwhelming. We invariably find the coaches decrying the lack of time for strength and conditioning and asking us for schedules: "What should we work on and how much of each exercise should we do?"

These are valid questions, since overtraining and adequate recovery from the weekly grind of practices and games are legitimate concerns.

Up to this point, the coaches have spent the long off-season putting their troops through the paces with strength training, agility, general conditioning, and position-specific sessions. As fall approaches, the emphasis changes dramatically from the myriad conditioning variables to the specifics of practice and games.

For the strength coach, the most important objective during the season is the mental and physical preparation of the team for game day. Strength training and conditioning sessions are still important, but must be tempered with prudence and common sense.

We will leave the X's and O's, tape breakdowns, and practice scripts to the coaches and move on to the guidelines for the physical preparation of the athletes.


We are always surprised when a high school coach tells us that his team had a great off-season strength-training program, but that time constrictions have forced him to abandon it during the season.

This is unfortunate for two key reasons: first, because strength and power are most needed during the season and, second, any time you shelve a program you are going to experience a rapid loss of strength.

With all of the additional stresses imposed on the players during the season, it would be specious to believe that all of them are going to be able to maintain their pre-season strength levels.

However, we do know that with just a minimum investment in time they can salvage much of their strength and use it for both performance and durability purposes.

A sound in-season program consisting of two non-consecutive training days a week for at least the first half of the season will enable the athletes to maintain between 80% to 95% of their pre-season strength levels.

Think of it: How much good, productive strength work can be accomplished in those 30 to 40 minute sessions!

As the season wears on, and especially for those who are fortunate to become involved in bowl games or playoff situations, the frequency can be reduced to one day per week. Each coach can decide on tiffs, based on his evaluation of the physical stresses that have been imposed on his players.


How many of the kids go both ways and/or are on several--if not all--of the special teams units?

Is your squad so small that the players get more than their fair share of practice reps?

Are there younger kids who get a lot of practice time via scout team duties, but little, if any, game time?

Our point is that the more field work and game time a player is receiving, the more attention the coaches must pay to the recovery process. Two lifts per week will be the upper limit for the high-premium players (to avoid draining their fuel tanks).

Conversely, a younger athlete who is not getting much practice/playing time can actually get up to three non-consecutive weight room sessions in order to accelerate his development.

Exercise selection, sequence, equipment, and set and rep schemes are bountiful, and are usually dictated by each coach's background and ideology.

Some prefer fast-paced, circuit-type workouts that involve one to two sets of medium reps (i.e., 6-8) that incorporate the "push/pull" system for the upper body. This involves sequencing the exercises (free weight, machines, or both) so that a pulling movement always follows a pressing movement.

Three to four presses are strung together with the coinciding number of pulls to achieve a balanced workout for the anterior and posterior muscular chains of the torso.

Another common approach is the use of multiple sets of designated exercises in either percentage-based (of a one rep max or estimated max from reps) or range-determined pyramids (e.g., 8-10, 6-8, 4 6, etc.). This is the traditional system of stringing together several sets of the same exercise before moving on to the next exercise.

Note: Any sound strength-training program for football includes work for the neck region. Last August, we shared our neck-training series and you are encouraged to revisit that article for a refresher.

Lower-body exercises can vary as well. Many practitioners prefer to place the multi-joint movements first (e.g., squats, lunges, deadlifts, leg presses, etc.) followed by a sequence of single-joint movements (e.g., hip/back, hip flexion, leg extension, leg curl, abduction, adduction, etc.).

The thinking here is to incorporate the "big lifts" first, while the musculature is relatively fresh.

A different stimulus is initiated when the multi-joint and single-joint movements are placed in an alternating sequence. For instance, a set of leg extensions may be followed by a set of leg presses, followed by a set of leg curls, followed by another set of leg presses, and so on.

The multi-joint movements will become progressively more difficult as they are "pre-exhausted" with the preceding single-joint movement.

Whatever approach is used, we recommend that you limit the total number of sets (excluding neck work) to between 12-15. We also suggest moderate rep ranges: 6-10 for the upper body, and 8-12 for the lower body.

Is this a magical formula? No, but we have found that by maintaining the proper degree of intensity in the workload we can achieve the objectives we have established without hitting the point of diminishing returns.

Some may choose to split the upper and lower body workouts into separate days. This is fine, especially if time is extremely limited. But keep in mind that this may call for back-to-back training days, adding a stress that must be accounted for by the body's recovery mechanisms.

We choose to perform total body workouts, emphasizing the lower body one day and upper body the second day.


What about additional conditioning activities after practice (e.g., "wind sprints," etc.)? We always answer this question with, "How hard do you work in practice?"

Make no mistake about it: Practice tempo, intensity, and quality, full speed reps are your most important conditioner during the season. If you run sloppy, low intensity, poor quality drills at less than full running speed, no amount of post-practice conditioning will produce the desired effect.

From a conditioning standpoint, you cannot manufacture in the last 10 minutes of practice what you failed to accomplish in the preceding 110 minutes.

Here is a suggestion for post-practice conditioning: Tack-on an additional 8-10 minute practice period entitled "Condition by Position." Each position group performs rapid fire, game-like tempo (short rest) position-specific drills.


* The offensive line runs "on-the-line" (no huddle) plays against air, concluding with a 20-yard sprint.

* The defensive line executes full-speed pass rushes, concluding with a 20-yard burst and pursuit-to-the-ball-drill.

* The linebackers cover the tight ends and running backs on pass routes, concluding with a 20-yard sprint downfield, regardless of a completion or incompletion. The QB's must sprint 20-30 yards after the pass.

* The WR's and DB's go against each other on deep-pass routes (beyond 20 yards). Again, the QB's are given a designated distance to sprint after the pass.

Remember: the key to these drills is tempo. The pace should be such that the rotation within each drill will allow for minimal recovery time (approximately 30 seconds), so as to simulate game conditions.

This approach accomplishes skill work in conjunction with the conditioning benefits, thus giving it the tag of functional conditioning.

Coaches can devise several drills and position combinations to fit their offensive and defensive schemes. Special teams can also be worked into the plan very easily, especially the kick/punt coverage teams.

It is important to note again that the duration and frequency of post-practice conditioning activities should be based on practice tempo and the consideration of the previously mentioned stress variables. One, or, at the very most, two of these post-practice sessions performed early in the week will be more than adequate in most cases.


Somewhere in the pile of practice scripts and game plans should be some notes on recovery strategies for the players. Make sure they are eating well and replenishing their bodies with the appropriate amounts of nutrients.

Staying hydrated is also vital to both their performance and physical well-being. One of my assistants, Aaron Wellman, wrote an excellent article in the March issue on the all-important topic of nutritional recovery strategies.

The NCAA has recently established new mandates on pre-season football camp practice. In essence it calls for alternating two-a-day practices with one-a-day practices. We believe it is a prudent--and probably long over-due--system for enabling longer recovery periods between practice sessions.

Only time will tell, but we hope that the new rule will produce fewer preseason injuries and catastrophic events.

We also hope that the nation's high school athletic associations will take a close, hard look at adopting a similar amendment to pre-season practice frequency.

SEND YOUR QUESTIONS TO: Ken Mannie, Michigan State University Duffy Daugherty Building, East Lansing, MI 48824 or via email at

KEN MANNIE Strength/Conditioning Coach, Michigan State University
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Title Annotation:Power Line.03
Author:Mannie, Ken
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2003
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