What’s the best way to prepare for the upcoming football season? If you were to run that question past 100 different trainers, you might get 100 different answers.
With that being said, from a strength training perspective, I’m willing to bet that most of them would agree with the concepts I’m going to share with you today.
When our clients get trained for their NFL pro days and the NFL Combine, their regimens include two fundamental things, regardless of the facility where they’re being trained:
1. Functional movement assessments
Just because you’re not paying thousands of dollars to get trained in the off-season, doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of these concepts.
To maximize your potential in the game of football, you need to be powerful, strong, explosive, fast, quick, and have the muscle mass to absorb the punishment you’re going to take on the field.
You also need to correct functional deficiencies that might be limiting your physical abilities or putting you at-risk for injuries.
Besides, you can’t make plays on the sidelines, right?
You want to make sure your off-season training regimen helps you in “all” of these areas. Otherwise, you’re probably leaving some of your potential on the table, and you don’t want to do that.
To get the most out of you off-season football fitness program, I recommend that you incorporate periodization and functional movement assessments into it.
Before the players start the “meat and potatoes” of the training programs, their trainers will normally put them through tests to reveal their physical weaknesses and movement deficiencies.
From there, they’re assigned correctional exercises designed to fix these issues.
Note: What I’m giving you today are “concepts,” and should not be taken literally as an exact training regimen for you. To get the most out of your program, it needs to be tailored to your physical strengths, weaknesses, and goals. On top of that, the amount of time you have before your season starts varies from player to player, so it’s impossible for me to give you a cookie-cutter regimen.
So before you start training, get a functional movement assessment done. There may be other options in your local area, but you may want to check into Functional Movement System to get this done.
They have people around the nation that you can find on their website. From what I’m told, you can get an assessment done for about $100 or so.
I have no ties to their company, so feel free to search around to find another provider, if you want.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about strength training, and the concept of periodization.
Periodization is designed to get you better in all of the areas you need to be successful on the field.
Below is a simple, high-level breakdown of the four phases of periodization.
Note: When you research periodization after reading this, keep in mind that different trainers and experts might have slightly different names for each phase. Also keep in mind that their philosophies regarding how to approach each phase may differ slightly.
Phase 1: Anatomical Adaptation (a.k.a. “AA” phase, or the “Functional” phase)
The AA phase is where you’d apply the correctional training that was prescribed for you from your functional movement assessment.
This phase is designed to enhance the stability of your body, including your legs, hips, and spine, which plays a vital role in having a strong core.
The exercises in this stage should also increase the mobility of your hips and shoulders, which will help reduce your risk of suffering knee, ankle, and shoulder injuries.
A lot of trainers put their clients through circuit training during this phase. This phase tends to use high repetitions and lighter weights, usually around 50-65% of your one rep max (1RM).
Phase 2: Hypertrophy
In football, you need muscle to withstand the pounding and punishment, and that’s what you get in this phase.
The hypertrophy phase builds the cross sectional area (CSI) of your muscles, which increases your lean muscle mass.
The more size you have, the more potential force you’ll be able to produce on the field, as well as in the next stages of the periodization regimen.
Players that play along the line of scrimmage (offensive and defensive linemen), where bulk is vital, tend to spend more time in this phase than other positions.
But even if you’re a lineman, you don’t want to spend more than 50% of your time overall in your off-season training in this phase, because you’ll end up too bulky, which will damage your flexibility, agility and speed.
Being big is important, but if you’re too slow and stiff to make a play, what’s the use?
The weights get a little heavier in this stage, and you’ll likely be doing lifts at about 65-80% of your 1RM.
Multi-joint exercises like bench press, squats, and deadlifts are introduced into the training at this stage.
The number of reps will drop as well. For example, you might do 3-to-4 sets of 8-12 reps in this phase.
The “time under tension” philosophy is used a lot by trainers in hypertrophy phase, where you’re moving very slow during the descending portion of the lift. The time under tension technique helps aid muscle growth.
For example, if you’re on the bench press, you might take four seconds on the lowering of the bar to your chest, with only one second spent on the pushing up of the bar.
Phase 3: Max Strength
As the name implies, the focus in this phase is on improving your strength.
In this phase your weights will be the heaviest, in the 80-95% 1RM range. You’ll likely be doing 3-6 sets of 2-6 reps, but again, it all depends on the philosophy of your trainer.
The lifts you’re doing are to be done explosively.
The lifts in this phase can resemble many of the lifts done in the hypertrophy phase, as you’ll still be doing multi-joint lifts like power cleans, squats, and deadlifts.
Phase 4: Power
This is where you convert your strength and muscle gains into power.
A lot of people think power and strength are the same, but they’re not, although they are closely related.
Think of it this way: Let’s say that you and one of your buddies both have a 1RM on the bench press of 450 pounds. You guys might have equal strength, but the one that can move that 450 pounds faster is likely the more powerful of you two.
This is why your trainer will probably recommend that you perform the exercises as fast as possible in this phase.
The weights will be lighter in this phase, in the 40-70% 1RM range. Depending on the training you’ll be doing about 3-to-4 sets in this phase per exercise.
It’s common for trainers implement a combination of plyometric (such as box jumps), ballistic (medicine ball throwing, for example), and isotonic exercises (like power cleans) in this phase.
1. Before you begin any specific football fitness program, make sure you consult with a doctor to make sure you can physically handle the work load.
2. Make sure that the person providing you with your workout is credible, and knows what they’re doing. The information provided in this article is intended for educational purposes only, and to help you identify the best workout for you specifically.
Best of luck.
Alvin serves as Director of Mid-West Operations for Elite Sports Agency. To educate prospective pro players on what it takes to play professionally, he maintains Get2TheLeague.com as an online resource. He’s also the author of Move the Chains: Keys to Unlocking a Pro Football Career for the Undrafted Player, a manual designed to help prospective players improve their chances of achieving their football dreams.
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