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American Football: In-Season strength training ideologies

While many collegiate and professional American Football strength programs follow similar intensity in the off-season, if one were to pull 10 coaches into a room for a discussion of the intensity and types of exercises to be used to support/maintain the strength of American football players DURING the season, it is likely that 10 different philosophies would be realized. The purpose of the off-season strength program is to promote functional strength & power AND prepare players for the brutal pounding that takes place during a given football season. Maintaining the gains made during the off-season, however, is often viewed as a necessary evil. Players must continue to maintain their gains, but not at the sacrifice of their performance on the field. Moreover, one must be careful to assure that the in-season strength program does not promote injury due to a weakened state realized during a pounding football season.

As such, there are conflicting ideologies surrounding the proper implementation of an in-season American Football strength program. Some coaches implement programs that utilize high percentages of a 1RM while minimizing volume in terms of reps and/or sets. Others maintain that the percentage of a 1RM must be reduced in-season while favoring higher reps/sets. Still others reduce both the percentage of 1RMs used as well as minimizing the sets/reps. Removing high intensity exercises (such as power cleans in favor of less intense rack cleans) is also considered.

Personally, I believe that in-season it is necessary to continue to maintain explosive/functional POWER over all-out strength. While weights used must be reduced to, say, 65-70% (as a percentage of tested 1RMs), I also believe that weights/sets should be reduced. Further, olympic type lifts should continue to be implemented (I.e. Cleans, Snatch Squats, etc.) as one can simply not simulate explosive movements in the weight room through any other means. Rather than "how much", my philosophy is to realize quality reps during a reduced weight/rep/set program. This quality over quantity philosophy will maintain explosive power while ensuring that the in-season weight program does not limit the recovery time of an athlete in the midst of their season.

I'm interested to hear other philosophies

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Comment by Daniel Roose on October 20, 2008 at 5:22pm
Ted: My philosophy is very similar to yours. The first lift of the week is when we get our "heavy" lower body movement in. I alternate two week cycles of back squat, front squat, and Bulgarian Split Squat. This takes us to week 6. I will then have an in season "de-load" week. I then repeat these 3 mini cycles. As far as the upper body movements are concerned. The first 6 weeks are traditional linear periodization. The second 6 weeks are broken up into 3 mini cycles where we lower the percentages and add some bands or chains with the emphasis being placed on the quality and the speed of the movement. Hang Clean and 1 DB snatch are the two "Olympic" or explosive movements we utilize during the season.
Comment by Ted Perlak on October 20, 2008 at 3:02pm
I agree that quality should be the emphasis over quantity. I utilize olympic lifts through out the season and continue to squat my guys as well. However, I use 90% of there squat max for the 2 Deep players and try to work our way up to 85%-87.5% x3 - 5 reps of the 90% by week 6, download them and then start the cycle up again and try to end up around 90% x 3 of the 90% by the end of the year. I do the same with the Clean but we work off or 95% of there max, and never go over 3 reps. We do however keep our Bench Press as a true 100% or 1RM. I do this to factor in the stress of football on the joints and CNS and to make sure the quality of the technique and the speed of the movement is there. Also, I do no stressful lower body exercises after the first lift of the week, we will still do posterior chain work on the second lift, but all other pulls and squat movements are done in lift #1. Our developmental guys train 3 days and have a more agressive program since they aren't on the field getting snaps. I'd love to hear what other coaches do as well, any new ideas are good ideas in my book. -- TP

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