Pushin’ Iron For The Gridiron: Part 1 - Recovery And Hypertrophy.

Our boy Kris Aiken outlines the program that took him from a 160-pound Cornerback to a 195-pound, bone-crunching DB with pro potential. If you're a ball player looking for a serious, no-nonsense program to take you to the top, look no further.

Gettin' Your Priorities Straight

Kris Aiken hitting his stride.
What are the athletic attributes that make a great football player? Well, you've got strength, size, agility, quickness, explosiveness and perhaps most important of all, speed. The game evolves and players get faster, especially at the skill positions. No testing statistic draws more attention from coaches and scouts than a blazing 40-yard dash time.

Of course, the 40 may not be the best indicator of athletic ability, but it certainly looks impressive to the desired audience and is generally a better indicator than bench press numbers. It doesn't matter how strong you are if you're too slow to get your hands on an opponent, and even if you do get your hands on him, if you're not explosive and can't apply your force quickly, you'll probably lose the individual battle on that play.

Why, then, do so many football players train like bodybuilders year-round? All those slow repetitions merely train the athlete to be slow. To a certain extent, the old bodybuilding-type training will help the athlete during the hypertrophy phase of the training program. But is it optimal? Will it alone make you a better player on the field? The answer is no.

Behind The Scenes: Hypertrophy!
This article seeks to examine some of the factors implicated in processes of muscle growth, and, in keeping with the spirit of Mind and Muscle Magazine, elucidate the elaborate chemical pathways that transduce their effects.
[ Click here to learn more. ]

Bodybuilders are concerned with building massive, lean and symmetrical bodies that are aesthetically pleasing. Athletes should be concerned with developing athletic bodies that can produce results on the field of play. Fortunately, the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive; if you train properly for football, you'll improve both your performance and your aesthetics.

But you must have your priorities straight; if you're serious about becoming a better football player, you'll place function over form. Sure you want to look good on the beach all summer for the girls, but do you really want to sit next to the Gatorade all fall as a trade-off?

So listen up all you ball players who curl for the girls, I'm about to tell you exactly how you should train. This isn't some test program that I'm hoping you'll provide feedback on. Instead, the program you're about to experience took me from a 160-pound lightweight corner to a 195-pound heavyweight, bone-crunching DB. All these muscle gains came with no losses in speed or agility.

Program Organization

The following training program will be divided into four phases, each aimed at achieving different goals - each phase designed to improve the specific physical attributes needed as the season approaches. Keep in mind that JB and I designed this program with a Canadian university football schedule in mind. If you play anywhere else and have either a shorter or longer off-season, adjust the length of each phase based on your biggest weaknesses.

    Phase 1: 10-week, post-season recovery and strength phase
    Phase 2: 9 week hypertrophy phase
    Phase 3: 11 week strength and power phase
    Phase 4: 7 week, pre-camp preparation phase

As you can see, there are a lot of weeks for improvement. As football players, we're blessed with one of off-seasons of any sport. The physical changes that can be made with 37 weeks of disciplined training and nutrition (see JB's Massive Eating Part 1 and Part 2) can be outstanding. Yes, I know what you're thinking. Do we really have 37 weeks? Well I did the math and December to mid August is indeed 37 full weeks of hardcore training.

Massive Eating - Part I!
In this article John discusses the fact that most people fail to realize their physique goals as a result of poor dietary planning. It presents calculations for determining your caloric need when attempting to maximize your muscle gain while minimizing your fat gain.
[ Click here to learn more. ]

So what can be accomplished with 37 weeks of disciplined effort? Well, the first year I did this program, I went from an end-of-season 160 pounds benching 200 for 3, to 187 pounds benching 225 for 11, totally drug-free. I was also able to keep all of my speed even though I was only able to run seriously for the last few weeks due to a nagging hamstring injury.

This off-season, I surpassed the results from that first year. So with this program, I went from thinking that I was destined to be a small but quick skill player, to realizing that I could be a bigger and even quicker skill player, one with professional football potential.

Need another example? Well, this off-season, my training partner, who is a 280-pound defensive lineman, was able to add 5 inches to his vertical from December till mid April.

Phase 1 - Recovery and Strength Phase

The end of the season is here and it's mid to late November. If your team is like most I know, you are probably drunk off your ass most nights in celebration of your post-season successes, all the while trying to leverage your football status to obtain some female companionship. Either that, or you are drunk off your ass most nights drowning your sorrows and thinking of what might have been - while, of course, still trying to leverage your football status.

Regardless of the reasons for your escapades, don't feel bad. The season is long and - to quote rapper 50 Cent - "it can leave you physically, mentally, as well as emotionally scarred." So take a couple of weeks to recharge your batteries and get all that party business out of your system.

December brings with it a call to action. It's time to get back to work and prepare for the upcoming season.

Weeks 1 - 4

For this first post-season intro phase, I want you to train 4 times per week using a simple upper - lower split. You'll lift 4 times per week and will try to play squash, basketball, or some other athletic activity on 1 - 2 additional days of the week.

Upper Body Day:

Click here for printable workout log!

Lower Body Day:

Click here for printable workout log!

Week 5

Rest! I want you to do cardio 2-3 times this week, but no lifting.

Weeks 6 - 10

This next section of the recovery stage is geared more toward a recovery of strength and power where the first was geared more toward the healing of the body. You will train four times per week, dispersing the four days throughout the week to suit your schedule and maximize recovery.

Day 1 - Upper Body:

Click here for printable workout log!

Day 2 - Lower Body:

    Squats: 3 sets, 8 reps
    Romanian Deadlifts: 3 sets, 8 reps
    One leg Squats: 3 sets, to failure (stand on one foot, extend the free leg straight out in front of you, then squat down as low as possible)
    Side Lunges: 3 sets, 5-7 reps (lunges just step out to the side instead of to the front)
    Calf Raises: 3 sets, 8-10 reps
    Abs/Lower Back: 3 sets, 8-10 reps (pick one abdominal and one low back exercise)

Click here for printable workout log!

Day 3 - Upper Body:

Click here for printable workout log!

Day 4 - Lower Body:

    Jump Squats: 3 sets, 10-12 reps (slow on the way down, explode up as fast as possible leave ground. Go until you feel slower than 80% of the speed of your first rep)
    Power Cleans: 3 sets, 10-12 reps
    Speed Deadlifts: 3 sets, 10-12 reps (slow on the way down, then explode up as fast as possible. Try to leave the ground but you shouldn't be able too.)
    Leg up Squats (Smith Machine): 3 sets, 8-10 reps (place a box or a flat bench just behind a Smith machine, get yourself into a lunge position with one foot on the bench tops of you toes facing down. Raise and lower yourself using your front leg only)
    Abs/Lower back: 3 sets, 8-10 reps(same as day 2)

Click here for printable workout log!

Week 11

Rest! Again, no lifting! You can certainly do cardio 1 - 2 times per week if you feel like it. But you could take this week completely off to rest. Again, this last phase should help you get back on track by helping you recover from the season. When I say recover, I mean help heal up the bumps and bruises, aches and pains, and help you put back on some mass that you lost during your training.

All About Recovery!
Below I will discuss some secrets that I use with my athletes. When talking about recovery from training and competition, there are basically 5 areas to focus on.
[ Click here to learn more. ]

Be sure that recovery is prioritized because you need to be ready for the next phase. During the hypertrophy phase your goal is to get bigger and stronger than you had been in previous years.

Phase 2 - Hypertrophy Phase

All right, so now it's mid February and your body should be feeling good and ready for some serious gains. Also, most of your strength and size should have returned by now, so it's time to start making improvements for the upcoming season.

The first attribute that we are going to improve is lean mass. Muscle, baby! Even though I've already stated that I'm against training like a bodybuilder all year long, football is a collision sport, and the laws of physics state that a larger mass will make the collision go in your favor. Since bodybuilding-type training is a great way to pack on the muscle, we're going to make you beach bums happy.

In addition to packing on the mass and improving the look of your body, this type of training offers the added benefit of allowing the joints some time off from the power lifts such as cleans, jump squats and push press. We'll hit these lifts hard during the month of April.

Remember, though, it's important to keep fitness high and do some speed work as well. To this end, each workout will be followed by 15 minutes of aerobic work and one workout per week will consist of high intensity cycle sprinting.

Cycle sprinting is ideal because if you cycle at high RPMs, you can actually teach your neuromuscular system to move more quickly than you ever could when running. Of course, running is the best way to improve your running speed, but we'll hit the track work later on.

Weeks 1-8

In this phase, you'll be training 5 times per week. Schedule the two rest days as you see fit.

Day 1:

Click here for printable workout log!

Day 2:

    Leg Extension: 2 sets 6-8 reps
    Foot Up Squats (Smith Machine): 2 sets 6-8 reps
    Leg Press: 3 sets of triple drops (6,6,6)
    Leg Curls: 3 sets of triple drops (6,6,6)
    Romanian Deadlifts (wide grip): 3 sets 12 reps (these are a stiff leg deadlift, with the knees held at a consistent slight bend throughout the entire movement)
    Calves: 3 sets of triple drops (6,6,6)

    Cardio: 15 min

Click here for printable workout log!

Day 3:

    Overhead DB Press: 3 sets, 6-8 reps
    Side Raises: 3 sets of triple drops (6,6,6)

    Cycle Sprints, 15 minutes: 1:30 slow (80RPM), 0:30 all out (150RPM) and repeat

Click here for printable workout log!

Day 4:

    Skull Crushers: 2 sets, 6-8 reps
    Wide Grip Front Pulldowns: 2 sets, 6-8 reps
    Triceps Pressdowns: 3 sets of triple drops (6,6,6)
    Hammer Row Machine: 3 sets of triple drops (6,6,6)
    Hammer Bench Press: 3 sets, 12 reps
    One Arm DB Curls: 3 sets, 12 reps
    Abs: 3 sets

    Cardio: 15 min

Click here for printable workout log!

Day 5:

    Dumbbell Deadlifts: 2 sets, 6-8 reps (regular deadlift form, just use dumbbells held at your side)
    Duck Squats (Smith Machine): 2 sets, 6-8 reps (place your feet with an abnormally wide stance and your toes pointing outward. Lower yourself as far as possible, you should feel a huge stretch in you inner thigh)
    Leg Curls (upright): 3 sets of triple drops (6,6,6)
    Leg Extension: 3 sets of triple drops (6,6,6)
    Front Squats: 3 sets, 12 reps
    Calves: 3 sets of triple drops (6,6,6)

    Cardio: 15 min

Click here for printable workout log!

About The Author

Kris Aiken recently graduated with a B.A. in Honors Kinesiology from the University of Western Ontario, where he spent 5 years as a starter for the UWO Mustangs football team.

Currently, Kris is working as a strength coach and will be attending free agent camps for the CFL this spring in hopes to continue his football career on a professional level. He can be reached at mustangdb5@hotmail.com.

Be sure to also check out:
Part 2!