Strength & Conditioning For American Football!

Year-round strength and conditioning is now a must for any football team that aspires to a high level of performance. This article is an introduction to to the most important principles of an annual strength and conditioning program.
Year round strength and conditioning is now a must for any football team that aspires to a high level of performance. However, few teams can afford full time strength and conditioning coach, and most of the time the head coach or one of his assistants is responsible for this important component of team preparation.

Therefore, this article is an introduction to the most important principles of the elaboration of an annual strength and conditioning program.

Why A Strength & Conditioning Program?

The mission of a strength and conditioning program is to elevate the physical capacities of an athlete, allowing him to express his full technical and tactical potential on the field. To do that, we must therefore develop a systematic approach toward the physical conditioning of the athlete (Ref: 2,3). Maximum force, power, aerobic capacity, aerobic power and elastic anaerobic power are of prime importance in football. Those are the variables that must be developed.


Periodization is probably the most important concept in strength and conditioning for football. The concept of periodization is based on Hans Selke's general adaptation theory. This theory suggests that there are three body adaptation phases to a given stress:

  • The first one is the shock; when the body is exposed to a training stimulus, there is micro-cellular damage and performance decrease (fatigue).

  • The second phase is stimulus adaptation; a process where physiological adaptations take place and performance increases (super compensation)

  • The third phase is the stagnation phase, the body has adapted itself and is used to the stimulus. Consequently, there's no new adaptation. Also, when there is too much time without stimulation, there is a decrease in performance (Ref: 2,3,4,5,6).

Therefore, we must plan variation in the yearly physical training of the football player: i.e. variation in training volume, intensity, type of exercise, type and speed of contraction, etc.

We will set up a training schedule over a period of time and organize it into phases and macro cycles (period of 2 weeks to 3 months). Training variables like intensity and volume will be periodically modified in order to bring the athlete to maximum performance at the right time.

Strength and Training Phases

Preparation: Phase 1
(January - June)

    Preparation phase I is a phase where the coach wants to increase the fundamental physical qualities that will enable the athlete to handle the high intensity work to come during preparation phase II. The objective of the first few weeks of training is to increase maximal force by creating muscle fiber hypertrophy ( table 2). After 2-3 months, we will then improve the nervous activity of the nerve-muscle unit while inhibiting the neuro-muscular protection mechanisms with maximal force training ( table 3).

    Note that athletes under 14-years old and those without or with little experience in weight training should start with a muscular endurance macro cycle (table 1).

Preparation: Phase 2
(June - August)

    During preparation phase II, we must integrate the physiological characteristics (maximal force, velocity of contraction, etc.) to build a more specific training program. We are moving from a high-volume low-intensity to a low-volume high-intensity training as we will move into muscular power macro cycles ( table 4)

    Plyometrics can also be introduced in this phase (for the advanced athletes).

Competition Phase
(August - November)

    The main objective of the competition phase is to maintain the adaptation induced during the preparation phases, and to peak for the playoffs (end of October). Our strategy will be to alternate between a hypertrophy training ( table 2) and a power training ( table 4) with macro cycles lasting 2 weeks.

Transition Phase
(November - January)

    A football season is short, but intense both physically and psychologically. The transition phase is dedicated to physical and psychological regeneration. A force endurance macro cycle ( table 1) can be prescribed and participation in team sports should be encouraged. This period is also of prime importance for injured players, because they have 2 months for rehabilitation.

Strength & Conditioning Tables

Table 1. Muscular Endurance Training (1 month)

    Sets: 3 to 5.
    Repetitions:10 to 20.
    Intensity: 40 % to 65 % of 1 RM.
    Rest: 30 to 90 sec. between each set.
    Frequency: 3 times per week.

Table 2. Muscle Hypertrophy Training (2-3 months)

    Sets: 3 to 6.
    Repetitions: 6 to 12.
    Intensity: 70 % à 92 % of 1 RM.
    Rest: 2 to 4 minutes between each set.
    Frequency: 3 times per week.

Table 3. Maximal Force Training (2-3 months)

    Sets: 3 to 6.
    Repetitions: 3 to 5.
    Intensity: 85 % à 100 % of 1 RM.
    Rest: 4 to 5 minutes between each set.
    Frequency: 2 times per week.
    Note: Maximal force training can only be done by athletes with at least 2 years of weight training experience (Ref: 2,3).

Table 4. Speed-Strength (Power) Training (2-3 months)

    Sets: 1 to 10.
    Repetitions: 4 to 5.
    Intensity: 50 % to 80 % of 1 RM.
    Rest: 5 to 10 minutes between set.
    Frequency: 2 times per week.
    Type of exercises: Explosive (Ex: Hang clean, Power clean).
    Note that it is the type of exercise (explosive movement or high speed of contraction) that is the most important training variable and that determines the nature of a power exercise.

Also, it is desirable to alternate weeks of hypertrophy training within the power macrocycles in order to maintain the muscular mass that the athlete gained during preparation phase 1.

Practical Tips

  • The order of exercises is important. High velocity exercises and exercises recruiting large muscle groups must be placed at the beginning of the weight training session.

  • Free weight is more desirable because of its specificity to football.

  • While machines tend to isolate single muscle groups, the lifting of free weights involves the more natural co-ordination of several muscles groups.

  • Abdominal exercises should be performed at the end of the workout. Certain exercises, such as the power clean and squats require a high degree of stabilization in the trunk area for safe and proper execution.

  • Some exercises are considered "core exercises" (bench press, power clean, dead lift) because of their specificity and close relationship with the biomechanics of football. However, supplementary exercises will be constantly changed in order to bring variety. Variation of stimulus seems to be the key in effecting change in the muscle tissue and neural factors. (2,3,4,5,6). Several authors recommend changing the types of exercises after 2 or 3 weeks.

  • Neck exercises will be part of every training session because of their importance during physical contact.


Campbell, Y. (1988). Rapport sur l’activité “programme d’entraînement hors-saison, Astérix 1988�. Rapport présenté à la Polyvalente Jean-Jacques Bertrand, Département d’éducation physique. Non-publié. Farnham, Qc.
Notes de cours. Principes d’entraînement, Université de Montréal, Hiver 1990, prof.: Charles Cardinal.
Cardinal, C. (1993). Planification de entraement au volley- ball. Fédération de Volley-Ball du Quebec. Montreal.
Poliquin, C.(1987). Programmes de musculation pour augmenter le saut vertical dans la phase préparatoire chez les volleyballeurs. EPH 6382 (Principes et méthodes d’entraînement sportif), Université de Montréal, Non publié.
Poliquin, C.(1988). Variety in strength training. Sports, 8 (8).
Poliquin, C.(1988). Five step to increasing the effectiveness of your strength training program. NSCA Journal, 10 (3).
Poliquin, C.(1989). Theory and methodology of strength training Sports Coach, July-september 1989, 25- 27, october-december 1989, 23-25.
Copyright 1995 The International Communique Ltd

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