Become a Titan: An Intro to Football Programming

Strength training and conditioning for athletes is not the same as that for the average Joe. They’re in a class of their own.

Can you feel it? I do. It’s the sound of giants thundering down the hallway, a team that has slaved together on the field and in the training hall. They are titans. Football is America’s favorite pastime and a dream come true for many. Today, we’re going to talk some programming for you diehards out there. Fasten your seatbelts. It’s game time!

Can you feel it? I do. It’s the sound of giants thundering down the hallway, a team that has slaved together on the field and in the training hall. They are titans. Football is America’s favorite pastime and a dream come true for many. Today, we’re going to talk some programming for you diehards out there. Fasten your seatbelts. It’s game time!

It Starts From Within

An athlete isn’t your average Joe aiming to scale the top. It’s someone with determination, drive, and passion. As D-lineman coach, Arthur Pollard explains, “Kids (I think) lack desire. So many things get their attention. It’s difficult for them to focus (even on the simple drills), but as a coach, we have to help reach their potential and stay realistic.”

It’s learning how to take the raw material (a child, or even an adult) and help them to “evolve their talent,” or what I like to call their latent ability. Pollard further explains, “Lifting with sport in mind is a challenge, it’s like trying to ride a bicycle and a play musical instrument at the same time.”

Lifting, from my experience as an athlete, was always prescribed to me based on what the strength and conditioning coach at Clara Barton High School had planned for track and field. Working with strength coaches was also a big part of my training at NYU for fencing and rugby.

During the season, my training was as exacting as Arthur expressed, “a challenge of focus.” As an aspiring professional bodybuilder, I often need to reign in my desire to lift the whole gym worth of plates on a squat or bench press for the sake of focusing on a bodybuilding program.

Someone I look up to in that regard is two-time Mr. Olympia Breon Ansley. According to his blurb, football and track were his focus from the age of seven. And he adds “I played basketball and baseball as well but they were left at the wayside.” His is a tale of focus and determination as he progressed into becoming a bodybuilder.

Inch By Inch, We Strive

Arthur expressed that his “love for the game and wanting to leave more of an impact…to do it on a bigger scale” is what led him to teach youth. He played college football in Kentucky “and never left.” His words for anyone starting are: “keep showing up (to practice) and try to improve every day. It’s not an easy game but its vastly rewarding and putting yourself through it is the only way to get through it.”

It depends on the time you have, how you set your priorities, and “no matter your physical gifts, it’s about slowly building confidence (through practice) and training your mental,” says Arthur. I couldn’t agree more. It takes a strong-willed person to pursue sport and train so rigorously. I’m truly honored to have met a great friend like Arthur. Let’s keep striving, my friends, we have a lot of work to do!

Intro to Football Programming

Conversations with me regarding programming typically go like this, “Blah blah blah. Eh, but it depends though.” My clients can attest to this. (I’m shocked I haven’t been dumped with a bucket of water yet.) Programming is a fancy word for workout methodology over time. Every athlete, whether they have the physicality or skill, will have to be “pressed, wrung out, and folded.”

Training begins with the basics: squat, deadlift, press, bench, and power clean. However, we must not forget that mobility and flexibility work to help us become more functional, according to Pollard. Strength is vital but so is functionality. If you develop a strong lifting foundation your force output will inevitably increase.

According to Tudor Bompa, PhD, almost all physical activities incorporate speed and flexibility including, maximizing quickness and frequency, overcoming resistance, and maximizing range of motion and coordination.” In my own studies I have found that balancing between bodybuilding, power training, strength training, and integrated training works best for anyone starting out.

Bompa goes on to explain that team sports typically have two prep phases and strength training is done anywhere from 2-4 times per week. This is despite the long competitive season lasting anywhere from 28-36 weeks. For football, strength-speed should dominate and if you’d like to learn more, read Advanced Sports Nutrition by Dan Bernadot for how to optimize nutrition with your training.

For the average gym-goer, this means if you aren’t training at least three days per week you may want to improve your conditioning for at least another three months at higher intensities at a minimum of three days a week

Your training should have a balance between endurance, strength, and speed but be within reason, such that you recover adequately. A training split such as Monday, Wednesday, and Friday with active rest days between training days is best. The fourth day should be used to work on weaknesses and technique.

Bodyweight Training to Master

I believe that most people are soft and building a stronger, less fragile body is of utmost importance. That being said, we will start with a sample of bodyweight training that must be mastered.

  1. The Push-Up: Master a plank, then move onto going up and down on your hands, isometric holding the top position and repeating. The second is utilizing an incline to increase repetitions. The third and final step is including variables such as military push-ups, diamond push-ups, push-ups with a medicine ball (to work on stability), reverse hand position push-ups (to engage the bicep), and advancing to the Hindu push-up (for shoulder engagement).
  2. The Dip: Master the tricep press down, face pull, dumbbell tricep extension, and tricep push-ups (sphinx push-ups). Lastly, start using the assisted machine or a resistance band. This is crucial in order to gain pressing power in the bench press—which is used in the NFL combine as a measure of strength and endurance.
  3. The Squat: Master your range of motion, hip angle, and improve mobility. Most people go directly to the barbell squat without fixing key issues such as lower cross syndrome or improving mobility first. Variations that prove useful are the Sumo squat, box squat, hip banded squat, and counterbalance squat
  4. Hip Hinge and Lateral Hip Mobility: I highly suggest doing the glute bridge and its modifications. Use the Bosu ball to learn how to overcome instability and engage the hamstrings and glutes to a greater degree. This will allow you to engage these muscle groups at will in order to move appropriately in the deadlift, Romanian deadlift, squat, barbell row, lunge, box jump, vertical jump, broad jump, etc. In my humble opinion, learning how to hip hinge is such an underutilized and underappreciated aspect of bodyweight and weight training. Lateral mobility includes side-stepping and learning how use a side lunge, thus allowing movement along the frontal plane.

Plyometric Training to Master

Plyometric training is another critical training aspect and is very beneficial because it can be done weighted or non-weighted. This kind of training most closely resembles sport and embodies athleticism therefore, as a patron of football, these might be worthwhile to add to your arsenal.

Disclaimer: Do not attempt these if you are injured and do not practice these with improper form.

  1. Vertical Jump: Jumping straight up teaches one how to improve power in the sagittal plane. Furthermore, it teaches thoracic extension and emphasizes stability throughout the body.
  2. Broad Jump: This is a lateral jump executed for the sake of increasing power similarly to the vertical jump. This is also called the frog jump/leap or rabbit jump in other practices such as martial arts.
  3. One-Legged Hop: Promoting unilateral stability and coordination, this jump can be executed over a hurdle or a line depending on the level of stability of the participant.
  4. Plyo Push-Up: This is a push-up done on an incline (preferred) by which the athlete initiates a push-up in a normal fashion but continues doing push-ups in an extended and very rapid fashion without returning to the starting position. This teaches reaction time, neural drive, and priming for explosive movement of the upper body. Clap or power push-ups are great alternatives here also.
  5. Box Jump: This is a variation of a vertical leap that affixes a height and certain level of aptitude in the ability to explode from a squatting or standing position.
  6. Power Pull-Ups: I believe these are just as important as power/plyo push-ups because pulling and pushing should be equally emphasized in sports. A muscle-up is not a necessary requirement because, unlike CrossFit, this movement is rarely ever tested.
  7. Chest Pass with Lateral Step-Up: This is a chest pass and lateral step-up combination that teaches upper and lower body coordination and power. Utilize a sturdy box and have a partner that will pass the medicine ball to you. This works both the frontal and sagittal planes simultaneously.
  8. Squat Twist to Throw: This teaches the use of the transverse plane and requires an understanding of how to squat and twist without hunching or using torque from the hip in order to generate force for a throw in the opposing direction.

Free Weight Movements to Master

Free weights provide a great opportunity to teach coordination, stability, mobility and emphasize both power and strength. As discussed by Pollard and Ansley, the barbell squat, deadlift, overhead press, bench press, and power clean are your bread and butter.

To add to this arsenal I would suggest the rack pull, one-arm row, push press, Pendlay row, Anderson squat, Anderson deadlift, weighted walking lunges, Bulgarian split squat, split jump (weighted), and squat jumps with dumbbells.

Learning to put these exercises into your regimen is a daunting task and learning to balance cardio with all this training seems to be even more problematic. Coaching can be helpful, as previously discussed. A good start to any form of programming/periodization is to start with a month to month plan then slowly gravitate toward a plan for every three months, then every six months, then yearly.

Below is an example.

Jan Anatomical Adaptation Mobility Mork Start of Strength Training (Basic Foundation)
Feb Maintain Mobility Aim for Maximal Strength  
March Max Strength Test Weightlifting Movement Start of Power Training
April Maintenance Phase Bodybuilding Focus  
May Muscular Endurance (and a slight increase in strength) Emphasize Drills  
June Work at 70-80% 1RM Combine Strength with Endurance (PR at end of two week period) Start of Cardio Intense Training

Some things to keep in mind:

  • Drills can be anything from agility ladders to technique-based drills (such as throwing or catching) to mini scrimmages where plays are practiced.
  • Spaces are left intentionally for clarity of reading and notes from your coach about eating and or energy systems.
  • Create another sheet or utilize a notebook for reps sets and weights used.

Get Started On Your Training

For those who have an interest in coaching with regard to football, you can always begin with recreational clubs or leagues in your city. For children, start with a reputable children’s program and continue with age-appropriate weight training in order for them to build a foundation.

Consider pursuing training and coaching for children seriously in middle school as it can help them prepare for high school sports. The NCAA will give you a good guideline about what’s required and provides a standard.

For most, going to the NFL is a dream and a very ambitious goal. It requires a lot of sacrifices and making connections with the right people (even more so than your training alone). Learn from others who have foundations in weightlifting and powerlifting to develop a good foundation for yourself. Learn from sprinters or middle-distance runners to maximize stamina on and off the field.

Lift with love my friends!

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