• Developing a Successful In-Season Lifting Program
    Designing an in-season lifting program for high school football players is as unique as the team. There are several factors to take into account when designing a training plan. Properly design a football training program with tips from the NSCA's Performance Training Journal.
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  • In Season LiftingDesigning a Successful In-Season ProgramDesigning a workout for a football team is as unique as the team. There is no one “perfect” workout and what works for one team may not work for a cross-town rival (4). There are several factors to take into account when developing an in-season lifting program for high school football players, including the last day for lifting during the summer, when the team leaves for summer football camp, the first day of the school year, the first day the team will start to hit, the days the games will be played, vacation days, and when the playoffs begin, to name a few.

    A long-term plan allows the coach to establish the different phases for the team to go through so they will peak for the playoffs, and not be worn out during the season.

    Writing the annual plan on a calendar allows the coaches and athletes to see exactly where they are in the training cycle, helps prevent overtraining, and allows for adjustments to be made from year to year.

    To prevent the student athletes from spending more than 10 hr a day at school, an alternative is to have the football players enroll in a weight training class. This enables them to get a quality training session in during the school day so they do not have to stay after football practice to lift.

    Oftentimes a school district does not allow a “football only” lifting class and scheduling conflicts lead to novice lifters being mixed with advanced lifters. To account for the developmental differences, it is important to assign the lifting programs to the football players based on their training age (2,3,6,7,8,9).

    The 13-Week ProgramThe lifting program prescribed by this article is set up with a 13-week periodization scheme broken into five phases:
    1. Three weeks of general physical preparation 
    2. Three-week strength phase 
    3. Three weeks of Power Phase One 
    4. One week off for Fall break 
    5. Three weeks of Power Phase Two 
    Within each phase, the athletes perform different lifts at varying intensities that correspond to their training ages (2,7,8).

    PTJ CoverPhase I: General Physical PreparationThis first phase is designed to maintain strength for those who lifted over the summer and teach the new players proper technique. With school starting, the first week is devoted to hitting and getting ready for the first game. During this time, the athletes are mentally and physically tired. When an athlete is fatigued, their speed/agility and power will decrease first then their strength levels (5).

    By focusing on lifting technique and speed, the football players can work through the little bumps and bruises when they lift. To monitor their training levels, it is suggested to use a performance test. During the first week of school and then every four weeks after that, coaches should test their athletes with a vertical jump, 10-yard sprint, and a pro agility run. The athletes graph their results so they can keep an eye on how they are doing.

    During the first phase, the players will perform basic lifts (e.g., bench press, incline press, squat, etc.) using bodyweight or a training bar for the entire phase. Coaches should make sure that the athletes have correct positioning and technique before progressing to the 45-lb bar and/or start adding weight/resistance. This phase is set up with lower body on Mondays and Wednesdays, upper body on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and a recovery circuit on Fridays.

    Lifting ScheduleThe main lifts on Mondays are front squats and clean pulls, and the auxiliary lifts are leg curls and deadlifts. The main lifts on Tuesdays are the bench press and incline press, and the auxiliary lifts are lat pull-downs and a back exercise depending on their training level. The main lifts on Wednesdays are front split-squats and clean high pulls. Thursdays focus on the bench press and standing scoops with a plate. The auxiliary lifts stay the same as Tuesdays.

    For the main lifts on Mondays and Tuesdays, use 3 sets of 10 repetitions and 3 sets of 8 reps for the auxiliary lifts with each set being performed every 90 s. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, coaches should take 5 – 10 lb off of each lift so the athletes can move the weight faster. Use 3 sets of 8 reps for the lifts with each set being performed every 80 s. The recovery circuit on Fridays has 10 stations with 2–4 athletes per station. The first athlete goes for 25 s and then their partner goes.

    The focus at each station is range of motion and technique, so the weight should be light. Be sure the athletes perform a dynamic warm-up before the circuit, go through the circuit two times, and then perform a static stretch afterwards. The first phase will take teams up to their first game. Most high school football games are on Thursdays or Fridays so if they lift legs on Mondays and Wednesdays they will rest their legs for at least 24 hr before competing.

    Phase II: Strength PhaseThe second phase follows more traditional program design. The main lifts on Mondays are front squats and hang clean pulls, Tuesdays are bench press and incline press, Wednesdays are front split-squats and 3x3 cleans (3 pulls/3 cleans/3 military), while Thursdays are close grip bench with a push at the top and scoops with dumbbells. 
    The auxiliary lifts on Mondays and Wednesdays stay the same. The auxiliary lifts on Tuesdays and Thursdays are standing rows and a back complex of a reverse fly and a straight bar pull-over. The sets for the main lifts on Mondays and Tuesdays are 4x6, and 4x8 for the auxiliary lifts. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, they are 4x8 for the main lifts and 4x10 for the auxiliary lifts. This may be adjusted based on the training ages of the athletes.

    Phases III and V: Power PhasesFor power phase one and two, the same guidelines apply. The football players who have a higher training age will have a separate workout than the football players who have a lower training age. During power phase two, teams are typically finishing up the regular season so a focus on speed and technique is important because their bodies are often beat up from the season (1).

    Having 40 student athletes in the weight room at one time with a variety of workouts is not difficult to monitor because each lifter should have their own card that contains program adjustments that correspond to their training age. Coaches should move around the room observing their athletes lift, and make notes on their lifting card if they are not performing the correct exercise or the weight is different from that which is written down.

    ConclusionIt is important for coaches to stick to their plan. A properly planned long-term program can be quite a useful developmental tool. Coaches should always adjust training programs for each individual to help promote gains and reduce the risk of injury. There is no perfect program that works for every team so coaches should take into account any unique needs or circumstances when implementing an in-season lifting program to help avoid injury and promote growth.
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    About the Author:

    Patrick McHenry, MA, CSCS,*D, USAW

    Patrick McHenry, MA, CSCS,*D, USAW is the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at Castle View High School in Castle Rock, CO. He designs the lifting and speed/agility programs for all the weightlifting classes as well as works with the school’s 20 varsity sports.


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  • Disclaimer: The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) encourages the exchange of diverse opinions. The ideas, comments, and materials presented herein do not necessarily reflect the NSCA’s official position on an issue. The NSCA assumes no responsibility for any statements made by authors, whether as fact, opinion, or otherwise. 
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