Football Weight Training Program

Weight Training for Football

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Weight training is part of a comprehensive training program for football. Use this generic program for body contact football sports, including American football, Rugby, and Australian football. It does not necessarily include football (soccer), although elements of the program could apply to soccer weight training.

Aerobic Fitness for Football

Football requires good aerobic fitness to provide endurance for sustained effort, and strength, and even bulk, to break through or effect tackles.

The part of the program outlined here is confined mostly to the weights and strength development part of the program. You will need to do cardio training to develop aerobic fitness early pre-season and then build up anaerobic fitness with sprints, shuttles and intervals to be fully prepared for the season start.

Aerobic fitness means you can jog, run, cycle or ski for a long time at moderate pace without getting too tired. Anaerobic fitness means you can keep going longer at high intensities before your legs and body slow down. Both are important in football, especially if you are likely to play the whole or most of the game. When you optimize all elements of fitness — running fitness, strength and power, you can claim to be at peak fitness.

Periodized Weight Training for Football

Periodized training breaks the year into three or four training phases, with each phase concentrating on a particular fitness development.

Periodized programs provide a progressive buildup to peak fitness and performance. Each phase has different objectives and each successive phase builds on the previous one.

A year-round football weight training program could look like the program I’ve outlined below. When I use the term “football” I mean any of the body contact sports I included above.

If I mention something that doesn’t apply to your sport, just modify it appropriately.

Early Pre-Season

  • Players are preparing for the season and starting to build up after the off season.
  • Emphasis is on building aerobic fitness, basic functional strength and muscle bulk, which is called “hypertrophy.”

Late Pre-Season

  • Players are working up to the start of the season and pre-season trials are imminent.
  • Emphasis is on building anaerobic fitness and maximum strength and power.

In Season

  • Competition is underway and players are expected to be fully functional for competition.
  • Maintenance of speed, aerobic and anaerobic fitness and strength and power is emphasized.

Off Season

  • You won the title, or you hopefully came close; time to relax for a while but you need to keep active.
  • Emphasis is on rest and recovery with maintenance of light activity — cross training, light gym work — and go easy on the booze because you don’t want to have to lose too much weight in the next pre-season workup. Several weeks break from serious fitness and strength training is helpful.
  • As pre-season approaches, more regular work can resume with an emphasis on building aerobic fitness once again for the pre-season training.

Role-Specific Training for Football

Within a generic training program for a particular sport, further specialty programs may be useful, especially in teams where members have specific roles and certain advantageous physical attributes apply. For example, a quarterback and a defensive lineman (US), or a halfback and a front rower (rugby), will probably have a somewhat different program in the gym. One emphasizing speed and agility, and the other bulk, strength and power.

Consider the program presented here to be an all-round program, best suited to beginners or casual weight trainers without a history of weight training for football. The best programs are always specific to an individual’s current fitness, role in the team, access to resources, and, no less important, the team coaches’ essential philosophy. You will be best served by using the following program in conjunction with a trainer or coach.

If you’re new to weight training, brush up on principles and practices with the beginner resources.

Always warm up and cool down before and after a training session. A medical clearance for exercise is always a good idea at the start of the season if you have not had one previously. Now, let’s get started:

Next: Pre-Season Football Weight Training

Phase 1 - Early Pre-Season

Foundation Strength and Muscle for Football
How this phase is approached will depend on whether a player is new to weight training or is coming off a season of weights. Building foundation strength means utilizing a program that works all the major muscle groups of the body. Less-experienced weight trainers will need to start with lighter weights and fewer sets and work up to heavier weights with more sets.

Start early in the season to get used to this phase if you have not used weights previously.

Repetitive sports activities can strengthen one side of the body at the expense of the other, or emphasize one or two major muscle groups with less emphasis on others. Inevitably, weak areas can be susceptible to injury and can perform poorly. This is not to say that your non-kicking leg has to be as “skillful” as you kicking leg, but it should be as strong. You need to allocate sufficient training resources so that you achieve functional foundation strength in all areas including opposing muscles and left and right sides of all major muscle group areas -- back, buttocks, legs, arms, shoulders, chest and abdominals.

In the early pre-season, the foundation program encompasses a mix of endurance, strength and hypertrophy objectives, which means that the weights are not too heavy and the sets and repetitions are in the range of 2 to 4 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions.

In this phase, you build some strength, some muscle size and endurance.

Duration: 4 to 6 weeks
Days per week: 2 to 3, with at least one rest day between sessions and a lighter week in week 4 to promote recovery and progression.
Reps: 10 to 15
Sets: 2 to 4
Rest between sets: 30 to 60 seconds

Phase 1 Weight Training Exercises for Football

Points to Note

  • By trial and error, find a weight that represents a taxing lift for the last few reps of each set. If you're unsure, start with a light weight and increase it as you get stronger within the training period so that the perceived effort remains similar.
  • Don't lift too heavy in this phase. The last few reps in a set should be taxing -- yet without extreme effort to "failure," especially for the arm and shoulder exercises. You want the arm and shoulder prepared for work and beefed up but not overtaxed.
  • Circuit training, off-rink cardio and other aerobic exercise should be added to this program where possible.
  • Stop immediately if acute pain is noticed during or after a weights exercise, and seek medical and training advice if it persists.

Phase 2 - Mid Pre-Season

Strength Development
In this phase, you will build strength and muscle.

The fast and agile players should be careful not to bulk up too much. You have a good foundation from early pre-season workouts and now the emphasis is on lifting heavier weights in order to train the nervous system in conjunction with the muscle fibers to move bigger loads. Hypertrophy, which is building muscle size, does not necessarily imply strength. However, in the foundation phase and in this phase, hypertrophy will serve you well for strength development.

Strength will be the foundation for the next phase, which is power development. Power is the ability to move the heaviest loads in the shortest time. Power is essentially a product of strength and speed, and is an important component of a successful football skill set.

Time of year: Mid pre-season
Duration: 4 to 6 weeks
Days per week: 2 to 3, with at least one day between sessions
Reps: 3 to 6. The players relying most on speed and agility and who need least bulk should do the lowest number of reps.
Sets: 3 to 5
Rest in between sets: 3 to 4 minutes

Phase 2 Weight Training Exercises for Football

Points to Note

  • Adjust the weight so that the final few repetitions are taxing but not to complete failure. The fewer reps mean that you will be lifting heavier in this phase.
  • Get sufficient rest between sets. You need your muscles recovered so that you can complete a heavy lifting session.
  • If you are unable to recover from a session with only one rest day in between, reschedule this program to two sessions each week rather than three. Strength training can be physically and mentally demanding.
  • You will be sore in the muscles after these sessions. Muscle soreness or delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is normal; joint pain is not. Be sure to monitor your arm and shoulder reactions to this phase. Back off when you feel any joint pain or discomfort.

Next: In-Season and Post-Season Football Weight Training

Phase 3 - Late Pre-Season to In Season

Conversion to Power
In this phase, you build on the strength developed in phase 2 with training that will increase your ability to move a load at high velocity. Power is the combination of strength and speed. Power training requires that you lift lighter weights than you did in the strength phase, yet with explosive intent. You need to rest adequately between repetitions and sets so that each movement is done as fast as possible.

The number of sets can be less than phase 1. There is no point to training like this when you're fatigued.

Time of year: late pre-season and in-season
Duration: 4 weeks ongoing
Days per week: 2 to 3
Reps: 8 to 10
Sets: 2 to 3
Rest between repetitions: 10 to 15 seconds
Rest between sets: at least 1 minute or until recovery

Phase 3 Weight Training Exercises for Football

Points to Note

  • In power training, it's important that you're relatively recovered for each repetition and set so that you can maximize the velocity of the movement. The weights should not be too heavy and the rest periods sufficient.
  • At the same time, you need to push or pull reasonably heavy loads to develop power against reasonable resistance. Lift heavier than phase 1 but lighter than phase 2.
  • The Olympic lift elements — hang clean, deadlift, push press — require some technical ability to get right. Use a knowledgeable strength and conditioning coach, if possible, to fine tune these lifts.

    Phase 4 - In Season

    Maintenance of Strength and Power
    Alternate phase 2 (Strength) and phase 3 (Power) for a total of two sessions each week. Every fifth week, skip weight training to assist recovery.

    Points to Note

    • Try to allow at least two days between any strength session and a game.
    • Try not to do strength training on the same day as you work out on the field — or at least separate workouts morning and afternoon.
    • Rest completely from strength training one week in five. Light gym work is OK.
    • Use your judgment. Don't sacrifice ball skills training for weight work if you have limited time available.

    Phase 5 - Off Season

    Now it's time to rest up. You need this time for emotional and physical renewal. For several weeks, forget about football and do other things. Staying fit and active with cross training or other activities is a good idea.

    Give yourself plenty of time to do it all again next year.

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