Football Offseason Strength Training | 5 Tips For BIG GAINS!
To begin, there are multiple different facets behind becoming an elite football player. Football is a complicated game. There are so many different moving parts on the field and so many demands put on the athlete. The athlete needs to be strong, quick, explosive, powerful, fast, stout and, in general, a tough S.O.B. who transforms into a beast on the field, devouring opponents and gnawing on their defeated remains.
But what are the absolute keys to having a great offseason training program for the sport of football? What happens with a lot of strength coaches is they can get overwhelmed right off the bat because they have to sit there and think about what goes into making a good football player. The game of football has large bodies on the field running fast. The game is long. Athletes will become fatigued over the duration of the competition. Add into that all the technical demands of route running, footwork, hand fighting and positional work with the hips.
Thinking about all the nitty-gritty things that go into the game on the gridiron, it sure can be overwhelming. There can be a ton of different facets that the strength coach has to train the athletes to succeed and execute well.
Let’s take a look at the foundational aspects we use here, at Garage Strength, to create elite football athletes!
1. Absolute Strength
The foundational aspect we have to train to develop elite football players is developing absolute strength. That goes for every single position. Especially once the season ends. We can start to build athletes’ back squats, front squats, single leg squats, bench press, incline bench or whatever it might be.
Initially, think about how long it takes to develop absolute strength. What is the adaptation period? In the off season of football, there is really only five or six months before spring ball starts. That isn’t a lot, especially if the athletes are playing other sports.
This means that strength coaches don’t really have that much time to really hammer absolute strength, so it needs to be attacked right away. But it needs to be attacked in a way that doesn’t injure or bang up the athletes.
2. Hypertrophy Training
The solution is to start to focus on hypertrophy work. What is it? We want to think about working in rep ranges that work from 7 to 17 reps. Hammering the higher rep ranges the athlete can get some sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. They can start to bring some intracellular water into the sarcoplasm and really start to build bigger muscles.
A lot of strength coaches, because of the functional world, be like “If you’re not functional at training and still using machines and bodybuilding exercises...welcome to irrelevancy.” Like, what? Do you know what you’re doing?
For some reason in the strength world we’ve gotten away from hypertrophy training. It is as if we’ve forgotten that bigger muscles, when trained properly, tend to be able to produce a lot more force. Also, a football athlete who may have elbow or shoulder issues, the areas of issue can be isolated with hypertrophy work to address structural imbalances with classic bodybuilding.
But this shouldn’t be the basis of the training program.
Early on the basis needs to be on absolute strength. However, hypertrophy work needs to be utilized in conjunction with absolute strength from the perspective to help fix any imbalances football players traditionally have. For instance, based off of stances, linemen and wide receivers definitely have a dominant side.
3. Power And Speed
Now, all of a sudden, from focusing on the absolute strength work, we are able to see a better response with power and speed. Think about the physiological demands of a football game. Running backs will throw big stiff arms. Linebackers will be taking on pulling guards and fullbacks. Football athletes need to be really, really strong.
Athletes have to also have a decent amount of power that can be developed power. In the weight room, how can we develop power? We can develop power through working on absolute strength work, but we don’t stop there. For instance, we can have an athlete hit some back squats and couple them with some plyometric work. Now we’re doing some contrast training.
That contrast training is going to improve the athletes speed. Then we can start to think about what absolute strength exercises can help improve athletes’ speed. We can have athletes start hitting single leg squats. Single leg squats demand a lot of dynamic trunk control. And we know dynamic trunk control contributes tremendously to top end speed.
All of these keys need to be factored in when developing that offseason program.
4. Technique Training
There is a lot of technique in football. If a player’s hips are lower or if their first step is better, the player can maneuver an opponent into a position that is beneficial for them and disadvantageous for the opponent. There has to be some technical work that goes into the weightroom.
This is where we start to talk about olympic lifts.
A failure we see happening amongst coaches is wasting two programs, four to eight weeks, just doing GPP (general physical preparedness) work, working out to get in shape but wasting time to develop technique.
See, when we hammer technique in the weightroom by utilizing olympic lifts, we start to get football players, instead of just being huge meatheads, to embrace a technical mindset. When an athlete has a technical mindset on the football field, that is when the athlete is able to start to pull in their absolute strength and use power and speed more effectively from a technical position to really start to dominate.
So for the first 4-12 weeks in off season training, it is really important to hammer home technical work with the technical work. Use snatches, cleans and variations of both. Next thing, all of that technical work lifting starts to go hand in hand with speed, with power and the athletes start to think more technically when they are on the field. The athletes become more cerebral. What is going on in the weightroom is actually changing the way they approach the game!
5. Rate Of Coordination
Rate of coordination is all about how quickly the athlete can coordinate their high threshold motor units to fire as rapidly as possible. If the athlete has a faster first step, they’ll be in a better position. If the athlete has a faster second step, they’ll be in even a better position. An athlete who coordinates quicker can have a faster cut and avoid the tackler, or vice versa, the defender can coordinate quicker and make a TFL (tackle for loss) on the ball carrier.
When we start to think about the rate of coordination along with the technical work and power and speed work, we see athletes who can dominate their opponents because they are wired for performance.
These key factors will lead to off season success that will carryover to the field for in season performance. Start off with absolute strength and hypertrophy work, but at the same time make sure to include the technical work of olympic lifts. Now after two to four weeks, all of a sudden the absolute work, hypertrophy work and technical work is feeding into the power and speed work. Athletes are doing faster olympic lifts, doing plyometric work and both are feeding into an enhanced rate of coordination. Athletes who take a full off season to develop these five key elements will build athletic capabilities to enhance on the field performance.
Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of clients on building comprehensive programs for fitness and nutrition. Several times a year he leads a workshop for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts.