Wednesday, September 19, 2012

In-Season Training for Football

By Andrew McGunagle

I still remember the first time I ever played a football game. I was in elementary school, and when I intercepted a pass I didn't know that I was supposed to run it back the other way. I just caught the ball and stood there, until the guys who were on my team yelled to me and told me to run. I was good at football, and I loved playing it. I was athletic, I could catch, I had a knack for making interceptions, and I could outrun most kids when I got the ball.

When I first started playing organized football during my freshman year of high school, I did well. I started at cornerback for my freshman team, and I made a few interceptions during the season. At the end of the year I was awarded the Best Defensive Back trophy for our team, which I was very proud of. During my sophomore year, I started playing as a wideout a lot more, and I scored a handful of touchdowns. Given my success on the field, my passion for the game was at an all-time high, and I could not wait to play for my town's varsity team under the lights on Friday nights.

Unfortunately, however, my career as a varsity player was depressingly uneventful. I expected to do well, but my performances were always disappointing. My football career ended poorly because, to put it bluntly, I was too skinny and too weak to compete at the varsity level. After looking forward to having a sticker on my helmet and making plays in front of my hometown fans for years, my football career ended on a sour note. 

I hate to sound like Uncle Rico, but I think I could have been pretty good if only I knew how to lift weights and eat in high school. My lack of success was a blessing in disguise, though, because it motivated me to dedicate myself to figuring out how to get bigger, stronger, and more athletic. Hopefully, the knowledge I have been driven to acquire can help a number of players realized their potential on the gridiron in a way that I never did.

The following article discusses in-season training for football, and it is written as if a football coach were giving a speech to his players. I had fun writing this piece, and I crammed a lot of information into it. Enjoy! (And utilize.)   

In-Season Training for Football

"Listen up, fellas. This year we are changing things up a bit. Instead of doing all of our lifting in the morning, before the sun comes up, we will do two training sessions that will occur before our practices on Monday and Wednesday of each week. I know y'all loved rolling out of bed and yawning your way through your workouts at 6 AM, but we realized that this schedule is not conducive to getting strong. Sure, rising before the rooster might have taught you some self-discipline, but adhering to a solid strength and conditioning program and practicing every weekday afternoon should be just as effective in developing your moral fiber, not to mention your muscle fiber.

"You see, muscle is important. Football can be a brutal sport, and those pads only do so much. Muscle is armor, and having it will provide you some protection on the field. Not only will this body armor make it easier to withstand the impacts of an entire season, but it will also give you some extra confidence on the gridiron. Knowing that your body is built to handle high-speed collisions will enable you to go all out and make plays that win ball games. Safety and performance? Sounds like a good deal to me!

"Getting back to our new schedule, allow me to fill you in on why this will work better. School, football, lifting, then homework makes for a pretty demanding day, and sleep is important because it allows you to keep up with these demands. If you are going to get enough sleep for a teenage boy, around 8 or 9 hours, you might have to neglect some of your homework. We don't want that; we want you to perform well both on the field and in the classroom. Back in my day, we lifted in the morning, too. I remember walking out of the gym after a lethargic workout and seeing a full moon, but I don't remember ever setting any lifting PRs before the sun came up. Forcing y'all to get up at 5:45 so you could grab a quick snack and drive to the weight room did not allow you enough time to rest and recover. What's that? Y'all usually come in here and lift on empty stomachs? Well, we are going to change that as well.

"At the very least, you should all chug a protein shake and eat a piece of fruit before you lift. Haven't you learned about the benefits of protein supplementation and its effects on muscle protein synthesis in biology? You haven't cover that? That's alright, you don't need to know all of the science behind all of this training and nutrition stuff to get results. Hell, I don't even have to know all of it, but I do make an effort to educate myself about some of those things because I want you guys to stay safe and play well on Friday nights.

"Alright, let's start talking about our new training plan. After school on both Monday and Wednesday, you will immediately eat some good food and/or drink a shake, change into your gym shorts, and head to the weight room. Before lifting, we will do a brief warm-up. Yeah, I know we didn't always properly prepare for our morning sessions, but we are changing that. We will mobilize the ankles, the hips, the upper back, and the shoulders. Ensuring that we have enough range of motion in these areas will allow us to adopt correct lifting positions, which will make our training safer and more effective, and will ensure that we are not restricted while moving about on the field.

"Once we finish this warm-up, we will start our lifting. Instead of doing a bunch of little exercises, we will focus on the exercises that are most effective: the squat, the deadlift, the bench press, and the chin-up. On Mondays we will squat and do our chin-ups, and on Wednesdays we will bench press and then deadlift. We want to get as much out of every session as we possible can in the time that we have, so we will superset these lifts with other exercises and mobilizations. Between sets of squats, you will do more mobility work for your ankles, hips, or shoulders, depending on where you are most restricted. Chin-ups will be paired with a single-leg movement, such as split squats or rear-foot-elevated split squats. Single-leg movements are important, as they will improve the stability of your hips and your knees. When we bench, we will do dumbbell rows in-between our sets, as this will improve our scapular stability, which should decrease the amount of shoulder problems we encounter throughout the season. Lastly, we will pair deadlifts with mobilizations, as we did with the squats. Being mobile is important, haven't you fellas watched Remember the Titans?

"If we have time, we may do one or two more exercises. Don't expect much variety, though. We will be doing the big lifts week in and week out while focusing on proper technique and adding weight progressively. Forget all of that P90X 'muscle confusion' BS you hear on TV. If you want to get strong, then stick to the basics. Learning to lift correctly takes time, and we only have so much of it. Let's do a few effective lifts well instead of running through a bunch of ineffective exercises poorly. We can mess around with all of that other stuff, like 'plyometrics', in the off-season.  

"After lifting, each of you will quickly grab a protein shake. If you want to bring your own protein in a shaker bottle, that's fine. But, we will have a couple of bags of protein available for those of you who need it, thanks to the money from donations that we used to spend on pizza in the past. Hell, if we all get big and strong and start winning, then you boys might start getting some free meals around town that are a whole lot better than pizza.

"In the meantime, though, y'all gotta start eating better, and more. If you keep having a Gatorade and a few fries for lunch, then you can count on getting knocked on your ass when you step out onto that field on Friday. Food is energy, and you need energy to think in school, to lift heavy weights, to run and tackle on the gridiron, and to grow big and strong. That's a lot of energy you need and, therefore, a lot of food you have to consume. As coaches, we can't control everything you do each day, but we can talk about eating habits and do our best to make sure you know they are important. Eat meat, cook some eggs, have some veggies, and, if you can, drink milk. Stay away from candy and sugary drinks, but eat a ton of food. If you eat a lot and build muscle, the wins will come.

"Sure, our lifting will cut into our practice time a little bit, but I'm not worried about that. I am tired of seeing my guys get laid out, and perfecting our plays is not going to make up for our lack of size and strength. They can't lick us if we get big, strong, and fast, so let's get to it!"


Thanks for reading!

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