In this article, I will help high school coaches in developing a conditioning training program to optimize the performance of their athletes. This program is not just for football, many other high school athletes can benefit from a weight training program.
Understanding The Benefits
Improved Performance Potential
- Improving Force Output - Since all movement requires the application of force, this is an important consideration for all sports.
- Improving Explosiveness (power) - Since power = F x V (force x velocity), an increase in force can result in an improvement in explosiveness.
- Improving Speed - Since a greater ability to apply force quickly (power) can result in an increased stride length. A two-inch increase in the stride will result in a one-tenth of a second decrease in the 40-yard dash time!
- Improving Coordination - Since muscles develop sufficient strength to perform the necessary physical tasks of sport. Agonist (prime movers) and Antagonist (opposites) muscles become balanced so that smooth and coordinated movement is possible.
- Improving Flexibility - Since muscles are exercised through a full range of motion, this area can be improved upon. The old myth of "muscle boundness" is unfounded if the athlete is in a properly designed weight training and stretching program.
- Improving Muscle Endurance - this is especially important in events that require stamina (i.e., middle/long distance running, basketball, soccer, etc.) since increased muscle strength means that an athlete doesn't have to work as hard to complete a given task. He is able to expend less energy to accomplish the same amount of work and thus, will have more energy available at a later time period. The result is increased efficiency in endurance activities.
Reducing The Incidence Of Injury
- Muscles adapt to training by becoming thicker and stronger which allows them to more effectively combat strains.
- Connective tissues (i.e. ligaments and tendons) adapt by becoming thicker and tougher which reduces the incidence and magnitude of sprains.
- Bones adapt by becoming stronger and more resistant to trauma and fracture.
Understanding The Scientific Principles
Principle of Overload
This principle states that in order for the body to improve it's functional state (i.e. strength level), that it must be overloaded with a stimulus that is greater than it has ever experienced before.
The weight trainer, overload can be accomplished in these ways:
- Increase the intensity of work by handling more weight (i.e. increasing from 185 to 195 lbs.).
- Increase the intensity of work by doing more repetitions with a given weight (i.e. 3 sets of 10 reps at 185 pounds instead of 3 sets of 8 reps at 185 pounds).
- Increase the difficulty of work by reducing the recovery interval between sets of an exercise (i.e. resting two (2) minutes between sets instead of three (3)).
Principle of Progression
This principle states that in order for the body to continue it's improvement, that the overload placed on it must be progressively increased. This means meeting the body at a new level after adaptation to the previous stimulus has occurred.
- Increasing the weight for an exercise when you have accomplished the required sets and reps for that exercise. Weight increases should be five (5) pounds for smaller muscle groups, and ten (10) pounds for larger muscle groups. More on this later.
- Increasing the number of repetitions done at a given weight. This means that you would first increase reps at a given weight before increasing the weight. Beginners will find this type of progression most appropriate.
- Increasing the number of sets done of a given exercise. This is a special type of progression technique that is advanced and more appropriate for an experienced weight trainer. An increase in sets (i.e. volume) can be combined with an increase in weights and repetitions.
- Decreasing the recovery time between sets of an exercise makes the workout more difficult. This type of progression is popular with bodybuilders but can also be used during the initial (foundation) period of an athletic training regiment.
- Increasing the amount of exercises that effect a given muscle group. This type of progression is advanced and allows the athlete to increase the total amount of work done (volume).
As you can see, progression is a systematic process of increasing the overload placed on the body. Thus, the term PROGRESSIVE - OVERLOAD. The most common methods of progression are the first three mentioned above.
Principle of Supercompensation
This principle states that each weight training session contains a stimulus that acts to break down the body or reduce its functional state. After this stress (i.e. workout) is applied, the body must be allowed sufficient recovery time to allow for adaptation to occur.
This adaptation leads the athlete to a higher level of strength if it is optimum. At this point of supercompensation, the next workout should be conducted. If the next workout is too soon (i.e. prior to adaptation to an elevated strength level) the athlete will overtrain and actually lose strength. If there is too much time between workouts, the athlete will also experience a decline in strength
The recovery between workout sessions that effect a given muscle group must be between 48-96 hours in duration. Less time is too short and more time is too long. Beginners are able to train three (3) times per week (i.e. Monday-Wednesday-Friday) which gives them 48-72 hours of recovery between sessions.
More advanced athletes handle greater weights and thus, can only handle two heavy sessions per week and need longer recoveries of 72-96 hours respectively. In a typical split routine program, the advanced lifter will work his upper body on Monday and Thursday and the lower body on Tuesday and Friday.
Recovery must be conceptualized as PART OF THE TRAINING PROCESS. Without sufficient recovery, there can be no strength gains.
Factors In Determining A Program
Four factors play a primary role in determining a program
- Equipment - Once you know where you will be working out, you will have an idea of what equipment is available for your use. This allows you to choose your exercises.
- Available Time - This also has an effect on your workout program, since the amount of time you have for your workout will dictate or limit the number of exercises that you can accomplish. Also, the time that you have available for the entire program (i.e. number of weeks) win also have an effect on your weight training progression.
- Purpose - This will form the basis of your program. If you want to be strong, you must progress to heavy weights and lower repetitions. If you want muscular endurance without size, you must stick with lighter weights and very high repetitions. If you want to increase muscle size, you should use a program that utilizes repetitions in the 8 - 12 range. If you are recovering from an injury, you must develop a special program for that purpose. Etc...
- Restrictions - If you have a medical problem (i.e., injury), this may limit what you can do in a program. If you are young (i.e. still experiencing your "growth spurt"), you should restrict your lifting to lower weights and higher repetitions with perfect form, since the joint structures are not yet ready to accept heavy load lifting.
If you are an inexperienced lifter, you should used lighter weights and higher repetitions until the movements become comfortable and natural. If doing a particular exercise causes discomfort, then you should terminate that exercise and consult a physician or athletic trainer. Etc...
Guidelines For Setting Up The Program
Weight training should be done 34 times per week making sure that you allow for 48-96 hours of recovery between exercise sessions that effect a certain muscle group.
A three-day per week Monday-Wednesday-Friday program is excellent for the beginning and intermediate weight trainer. On these days, you work on exercises that develop all of the major muscle groups of the body.
A four-day per week split routine, working on upper body exercises on Monday/Thursday, and lower body exercises on Tuesday/Friday, is an excellent program for the more experienced lifter. It allows for greater recovery between workout sessions and works each major muscle group two (2) times per week. Also, for athletes, a split routine lifting program will allow for more time for running, agility, power, and conditioning work.
Between workout sessions - should be 48-96 hours.
Between sets of an exercise- should be 3-5 minutes.
An entire lifting workout should take between forty-five minutes and one-hour to complete. Remember that quality is far more important than quantity in the development of strength.
Each exercise should be performed in a controlled fashion, so that the involved muscle group is properly isolated. Bouncing the bar off the chest, jerking the weight, cheating on an exercise (using other muscles to assist), and failing to control the bar as you return to the starting position of the lift are common technique faults.
When you allow momentum to become a factor you are not developing strength, but rather the likelihood of injury.
an exception to this is Olympic and explosive training which is for the more advanced athlete who has proper instruction and supervision).
In a given exercise, the positive portion of the lift (i.e. pushing up of bench press, overhead press, and squat) should be under control and take about a two-second count to complete.
if the weights are appropriate (i.e. heavy enough), the athlete will still have to be aggressive with the weight.)
The negative portion of the lift (i.e. lowering the bar to the chest in the bench press, to the shoulders in the overhead press, or to the bottom position of the squat) should also be under control and take about a three-four second count to complete.
You should try to complete a full range of motion on all of your exercises to ensure proper development. Short reps can result in a loss of flexibility and strength gains in only a partial range of movement. In some exercises (i.e. machine movements) proper seat adjustments are necessary for correct execution of a given exercise.
Safety All athletes should observe the following safety precautions
- Warm up properly prior to lifting to ensure that the body is ready for the stress that will be placed on ft. This means general (light physical activity to raise core body temperature) and specific (doing a warm-up set or two for each exercise using a lighter weight than you will handle in the workout) warm-up methods.
- Use correct weights so that you will be able to perform the exercise correctly. If you use a weight that is too heavy, you must do the exercise wrong (i.e. cheat) and are more likely to injure yourself.
- Always use correct form in an exercise. Too many young athletes try to "show off" and do the exercise wrong in order to lift more weight in a movement.
- Use collars and spotters when using free weights, so that if you get into trouble, the weights won't slide off the end of the bar and someone will be there to assist you if you have a problem. This is very important!
- Don't try to progress too quickly. Make sure that your increases in weights handled are progressive and only after you have mastered the previous weight on a given exercise.
Number Of Sets
For compound exercises (i.e., those that effect more than one muscle group at a time, like the bench press, squat, pulldowns, seated press, etc. movements) the athlete should do between three (3) and five (5) sets of an exercise in a given workout.
For isolation exercises (i.e., those that effect a single muscle group at a time, like arm curls, leg extensions, triceps pushdown, etc. movements) the athlete should perform one (1) to three (3) sets of each exercise.
In a workout program, both of these types of exercises will be included to varying degrees.
Number Of Rep
Basically, high rep training (i.e. more than 12 reps with light weights) causes an increase in muscular endurance and does little for strength and size development.
Repetitions in the eight (8) to twelve (12) range are excellent for building muscle mass (hypertrophy) and will do more to increase strength than higher reps.
Repetitions in the four (4) to eight (8) range will build less muscle mass but will do more to increase strength.
Repetitions in the one (1) to four (4) range will develop strength to a high degree but do little for hypertrophy.
The number of reps that one does for a particular set of an exercise depends on what he is trying to accomplish.
High repetition training is good for the cross-country runner who wants some strength and muscular endurance without gaining body weight. An athlete who is lifting for strength should progress from higher reps (i.e., 8-12) and gradually increase the weights through a carefully designed training cycle until he is doing medium reps (i.e., 4-8) and finally increase the weights further until he is doing lower reps (i.e., 1-4).
The exception to this is the young or inexperienced athlete who should not progress to such heavy weights as the 1-4 rep phase calls for. In my opinion, they should not go under 6-8 reps in a given exercise, since their joint structures are more vulnerable to injury if heavy weights and low reps are used.
Choosing The Exercises
In developing an exercise program, it is necessary to group the body into the following three areas:
- Upper Body
- Middle Body
- Lower Body
Another area that needs to be addressed is any Special Exercises that need to be included in the program. For example, if an athlete has a history of groin pulls, you would want to include a remedial exercise for this area to prevent future injuries. For the football player you would want to include neck exercises since this is an area vulnerable to injury.
A good weight program develops the entire body and not just certain parts of it. A symmetrical and balanced development is essential for improving performance potential, improving coordination, improving flexibility, and reducing injuries.
Areas that need to be developed in a comprehensive weight program are:
- Barbell Bench Press - Medium Grip
- Barbell Incline Bench Press - Medium Grip
- Dumbbell Bench Press
- Incline Dumbbell Press
- Machine Bench Press
- Dumbbell Flyes
- Cable Crossover
- Front Dumbbell Raise
- Machine Shoulder (Military) Press
- Seated Dumbbell Press
- Front Dumbbell Raise
- Seated Side Lateral Raise
- Seated Bent-Over Rear Delt Raise
- Upright Barbell Row
- Wide-Grip Lat Pulldown
- Smith Machine Bent Over Row
- Seated Cable Rows
- Smith Machine Bent Over Row
- Triceps Pushdown
- Preacher Curl
- Decline EZ Bar Triceps Extension
- Lying Dumbbell Tricep Extension
- Close-Grip Barbell Bench Press
- Dips - Triceps Version
- Hyperextensions (Back Extensions)
- Barbell Deadlift
- Stiff Leg Barbell Good Morning
- Hyperextensions With No Hyperextension Bench
- Barbell Squat
- Front Barbell Squat
- Smith Machine Squat
- Dumbbell Lunges
- Barbell Step Ups
- One Leg Barbell Squat
- Leg Press
The minimum number of exercises that you should include in a well-balanced weight training program is eight.
They are as follows:
- (1) Chest Exercise - i.e., Bench Press (3-5 sets)
- (1) Shoulder Exercise - i.e. Front Press (3-5 sets)
- (1) Upper Back Exercise - i.e., Pulldowns (3-5 sets)
- (1) Abdominal Exercise - i.e., Crunches (2-3 sets)
- (1) Low Back Exercise - i.e., Backups (2-3 sets)
- (1) Total Leg Exercise - i.e., Squat (3-5 sets)
- (1) Hamstring Exercise - i.e., Leg Curl (2-3 sets)
- (1) Calf Exercise - i.e., Toe Raises (2-3 sets)
The above list of exercises works all of the major muscle groups of the body. Specific exercises for certain muscles are not included since other movements (i.e., triceps - bench & front press, biceps - pulldowns, quadriceps - squats, etc) work them.