I do not believe that building a "tough and strong" football culture should be rooted in constant physical pain, puke-inducing conditioning or to take our cues from Navy SEALS during Hell Week. I believe in consistent, hard/smart work done with attainable challenges that allow for success. Here are four ways we work towards building a better, stronger football team.
Don’t Care about How Much They Lift
I do not care how much they bench press, squat or deadlift. Thus we do not chase numbers. We do not have a record board. We do not have t-shirts with “1000 pound club” or anything similar. I only ask that they work to get better. When you get wrapped up in numbers, you get wrapped up in achieving those numbers – and that becomes more important than training. We also don’t test the kids on the lifts. Testing is a waste of a day of training; this is especially true on the HS level.
It is 8 months, not 8 weeks
The off-season program is 8 consecutive months, not 2.5 months of cramming. This allows us to ease into everything we do and build a strong physical base without beating the hell out of them. It’s better to study for 5 minutes/day for a semester than cram in one night. Training is like climbing a huge ladder; every single day we try to get you up one rung. If I beat the hell out of you, I knock you off that ladder and we have to start back over again. Remember that these kids don’t have a huge training background and despite the garbage you read on the internet, kids don’t recover from everything you throw at them. Build them slowly! The slower and more consistent we progress, the bigger and better the gains we make; even in the short term. I believe this works so well just because every single training day, the kids feel fresh, ready and can give great effort.
Run Early and Often
One of the worst things is the college football tradition of Winter Conditioning. They do the most running when they are least ready to handle it. Think about it like this; at the end of a football season, your conditioning is entirely specific to what you do on the practice field and what you do in the game. For many, this isn't considered "great conditioning"; only good for what you currently do. Then after the season, you have several weeks off, depending on if you go to a bowl game or not. Then January rolls around and out come the stooges and their meticulously placed puke-buckets. All set up for 5:00am conditioning "drills".
"Gotta work 'em hard! Build mental toughness! Ain't nobody gonna outwork us!"
Not only are the kids not ready to handle this but due to the increased physical stress, they can't gain much strength in the weight room. But don't worry, spring ball is right around the corner.
As soon as the weather breaks, we run. We never run them until they puke. Most of our running is done at what I call “about 80%” meaning we run hard but we don’t do all out sprints. We also don’t do one all-out running session; we do sets of running. So we will do 8x50, rest 3 minutes and then more 50's or 25's runs with body weight recovery and rest 3 minutes, etc.
The outdated and ridiculous idea that you use 2/days to get you into shape is stupid at best, thick-tongued at worst. The earlier you run, the LESS you have to run per session and the more strength you can build as your body adapts.
Main Lifts = Power
All our main lifts, the squat,bench and deadlift, are done with one focus; power. This means we don’t really train these that heavy. There are two reasons we do this. First, it’s easier to build strength in a young athlete by using sub-maximal weights done for “strong” reps. Also, young athletes do not have the physical strength, mental strength or experience to get out of bad form. So if I load up a kid with a heavy squat and he gets out of position, only bad things can happen. Much like when you pass the ball.
Also understand that in large groups of athletes (30+) and one coach, you have to be smart about loading the barbell. Many coaches have 50 or more athletes training at once; be smart about how you load your athletes when you are understaffed.
I've been asked about what percentage we use for our training maxes. I do not know the exact percentage. But we don't miss weights and I make sure the weights are controlled, fast and crisp. At no time should the weight control you.
If I could sum up how we train in one phrase it would be this: We do NOT KILL THEM. I want the kids to enjoy coming to the weight room. I do not want them to hate running. I want them to have success EVERY SINGLE DAY.
If you don't work with athletes there is still plenty to take away here. If you do work with athletes and you're realizing that your entire strength training approach is a disaster, start with just one of the above and don't give up on the journey.