The “Old Days” before Football Weight Lifting Workouts
When people think about football they usually think about football training drills, strategies, helmets and shoulder pads. As for advanced conditioning, everyone knows that football weight lifting workouts help to build speed and strength but did you know there was a time when weight training was not considered useful by most coaches? Of course, this was decades ago before strength coaches traded in lifting bales of hay in exchange for their players back squatting and power cleaning barbells–but it actually wasn’t all that long ago. It was assumed back then (and we’re talking way back) that players in positions such as quarterback and especially running back required only endurance and agility skill drills rather than also supplemental weight training. Before there was a basic understanding of the SAID principle (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands), football players were many times also trained in distance running.
Football Skills should be Learned First
Today it is the contention of many of the top strength and conditioning coaches that although football skills involving endurance and agility are extremely important, anaerobic types of training with weights will protect an athlete from excessive injuries. This, however in no way diminishes the importance of the skill factor. Basic football skills must be taught and mastered first before strength training. Most of the best athletes excelled at their sport before they ever touched a piece of nautilus equipment rather than the other way around. A young strength athlete proficient at power or weight lifting who then chooses to get into a sport such as football usually ends up being mediocre at best. This is certainly true of weightlifters turned boxers. The reason for this is because the athlete, whose first skill was strength, will first try to muscle through an objective instead of using skills of balance, leverage, and finesse.
Gearing Up for Battle
If you say yes to this but insist that strength is also a type of skill then you would be right—and it is more than a skill. Strength and conditioning training, in the form of a solid weight training program, hardens the bodies of football players helping to protect them from all the pounding that the game inflicts.
A pro football game is an instance of war. Players have to be in hitting shape. A typical tackle is very much like driving a car at 40 miles per hour and then crashing into a brick wall. How do the players stand it? Simple, they grow up playing the game and through the years get used to getting constantly banged up both giving and receiving tackle after tackle. They endure this from the time they are pre-teen, through high school and then becoming college football players all the while they are still in their formative years. Gotta love it.
A football player if he is to remain relatively injury free must get used to making himself stronger in the weight room so he doesn’t twist an ankle, pop a knee out or pull a hamstring on the field. The practice on the gridiron should seem like a walk in the park compared to the sessions with the pig iron inside the gym. There is no substitute for a hard set of heavy back squats followed by a few brutal reps of good mornings.
Specialized Football Weight Lifting Workouts
What weight training workout should a good football workout program consist of? First off, it is beyond the scope of this article to give this subject any true justice. We are only discussing here how weight training is beneficial to protect football players from injuries. Secondly, although the weight workout should be tough, each position requires a somewhat different type of training. For instance, you wouldn’t expect a running back to train like a lineman.
The legendary strength and conditioning coach Bill Starr suggested that every athlete’s training should definitely start with the big 3: Bench press, back squat and power cleans. These basic movements should be mastered by all athletes.
Experts of strength and conditioning usually recommend programs should be broken down into periodized elements. Each macrocycle should consist of a few weeks in which heavy weights are used to develop maximum strength without overtraining. This can be followed by a few weeks of lifting lighter weights for the purpose of hypertrophy (increasing muscle size) with some explosive plyometrics thrown in to develop acceleration through speed and jumping. This will develop the fast twitch muscle fibres. As a result, athletes will become wickedly quick. Circuit training works very well at some time during training and this is not the cardio 12-15 rep per exercise type but rather, 5-8 different compound exercise each done for 6-8 reps with 2-3 minutes rest between each for 3-5 rounds. Stretching is used as a supplement after weightlifting when the muscles are warm. When stretching is done at the end of a weight training session, muscle memory is imprinted with fibers and tendons being stretched and pulled rendering the athlete not so “tight” in between workouts and therefore less prone to injury.
But We Digress . . .
There has always been a debate on how to train pro football players. When athletes get to such an advanced level, they usually have been around the block quite a few times and don’t consider that they have much more to learn about strength training than they already know. In fact many have their own personal trainers. The problem with many personal trainers, however is that they usually don’t stick with the basics of strength training. They tend to go with fads such as the so called high intensity bodybuilding type of training and the like and although many say this type of training is beneficial, most mainstream strength coaches say it actually babies the athlete. Sometimes, at that level of celebrity, the pros tend to surround themselves with those who will tell them only what they want to hear. The players who last in the game, however, are usually those who keep training just as hard—if not harder in their football weight lifting workouts as when they first started.
Bill Starr’s classic strength training book The Strongest Shall Survive is relevant to any football strength training program. It covers nutrition, recovery, heavy, light, medium training, training psychology and so much more. It emphasizes the use of the power clean over the deadlift because the book is about training the athlete. Although a little pricey, if you want to get stronger in football, you won’t regret getting this book.