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5 Fallacies of High School Football Off-Season Strength and Conditioning- PART 2

Part 1-Part 2-Part 3

The Off-Season for a football player is such an opportune time to focus on development. Reviewing where one fell short of expectations and why, identify holes in their game, and establish goals they need to accomplish in order to compete.  In Part 1 of our high school football series we learned a lot about the fallacies seen in the initial creation and implementation of off-season strength and conditioning programs at this level.  These included lack of assessment, improper application and execution, and an obsession with numbers that don’t translate to the football field!  At Power Athlete, we are all about the big picture, but never overlook the details.  In Part 2 we will discuss at length two perspectives of another fallacy-ridden component on off-season S&C.

Henshaw Sealy(1)4. The Wrong Emphasis on Conditioning
Over the years, we have seen conditioning evolve as it pertains to high school athletes. Coaches with a desire to get their athletes better are trying to blend the "old school" methods with modern S&C practices with little understanding of how to marry the two.

In Laymen's terms, what exactly is conditioning?

“Doin’ work” or “Getting an athlete to survive four quarters” were two responses I got when I posed this question two varsity football coaches about their training philosophy. Regardless of what legions of high school football coaches believe, we don't want our athletes to just ‘do work’ or merely ‘survive’.  We want them to focus on quality movement and execution, giving them the greatest chance to thrive!  This section will look at the potentially detrimental practices that are often overlooked in the off-season training programs.   And the pitfalls coaches run into when trying to blend a mix modal approach with what everyone else has been doing for the last century.

“Do Work”
5 Fallacies-Part 1 introduced the concept of ‘posture and position’ and investing in the time teaching young athletes proper execution of strength training movements. Weightlifting allows us to add an external stress to the athlete to challenge position and posture through full ranges of motion.  Two other ways to challenge and stress these are moving through various planes of motion and everyone's favorite, elevating your heart rate.  Conditioning in the off-season needs begin by emphasizing and reinforcing proper movements an athlete will need in their sport and then challenging them with the aforementioned stresses.  Not the other way around.

Understand that movement, in sports or in life, needs to be learned.  Through deep practice and quality reps we begin to attain the coordination and proficiency in these movements.  Conditioning with the ‘do work’ mentality and no attention to HOW athletes get from point A to point B begins to creates a default.  This default usually consists of broken positions that impede on field performance.  The repetition of incorrect movements will turn these into built-in reflexes that will show up on the field (2).

P8130019Taking a real world example, lets examine burpees.  Teams have been using burpees as a conditioning and punishment tool long before Bear Bryant was walking the sideline. Having worked with many teams utilizing the burpee as a conditioning tool, we noticed when an athlete would get knocked down on the field, they took the time to perform a push up before getting back into the play.  Eye in the sky doesn’t lie, and the push up was clear on the game tape every time a player got up.  Solution was simple.  After observing this, the pushups were eliminated from the burpees, as seen here.  And we began using the burpee as a way for an athlete to change planes of motion and get back quickly into an athletic position.

Let’s talk big picture, performance and SAFETY.  Football players are taught to tackle in a zero stressed environment with an extreme focus on a squared up position.  They perform tackling form drills every practice in warm ups, and get reps at lower heart rate. During practice the stress increases and an athlete is put into tackle drills and scrimmages with much higher effort needed.  Game day is the ultimate test for the work done in off-season and practice.  Countless drills and screaming by a guy with a whistle around his neck about good position when executing a tackle are finally given a max effort.  When the opening kick off ensues, the athlete will default back to what they have repeatedly practiced.  If they have been taught correctly and had the proper stress placed on them, then the athlete has nothing left to do but reap the benefits on their hard work.

With practice and games comes fatigue, and when an athlete is tired they will always fall to the level of their training.  If this training allows for crappy posture and poor head position, as we see many times with players who are just 'do work'ing, then it is very difficult for an athlete to overcome this come game time.  Being sloppy through poorly planned circuits and drills sets up the athlete for potential injury and risk.  This risk becomes prevalent as the body adapts to inefficient movement patterns.  The emotional distress caused by apparently 'useless' new tackling techniques can prevent the athlete from implementing any changes (2).  I use tackling as an example, but this applies all movements on the field; guard pulls, drop steps, blocking, etc.

Don’t just ‘do work’ for doing works sake.  Reiterating points from Fallacy 2: Application and Execution; every play called on the field has a purpose, just as every conditioning session in a program should have a purpose.  Why should the emphasis on position and proper execution only be reserved for the field?  Again, invest in the time to instruct young athletes on proper execution of movements, but now with the expectation that they can maintain posture and position with the stress of fatigue.  This will create a more body aware and coachable athlete under stress on the football field.  You get what you emphasize, so if just doing work and going through the motions is what you expect during conditioning, then expect the same from your players during the fourth quarter.

RoseburgOregon-1“Run till I’m Tired”
How in "shape" does a high school football player have to be in the Off-Season?

For us, enough to survive their training and recover for the next day.  Sprinting is a valuable tool for speed development and conditioning a football player, but needs to be utilized correctly.  Just having your athletes run to build ‘4th quarter lungs’ when the season is 6 months away can impede strength, power, speed, and muscle gain; the focus of the off-season program.

In football, speed kills. What few high school coaches understand is speed is a valuable commodity that can be nurtured, as well as destroyed.  Training heavily in the oxidative pathway during the same stage as strength training during the off-season will seriously compromise the development of strength and power.  This is partly due to the fact that it is relatively easy for Fast Twitch muscle fibers to become or behave like Slow Twitch fibers with this training (2).

We understand that all three energy systems are needed for success in the game of football, but the off-season conditioning is when the focus needs to be on speed and explosiveness on the field, not running.  Just as in 1RM testing, explosiveness on the field needs a trained Central Nervous System (CNS) and the athlete needs practice and reps in developing his ability to call upon this action.  Neurologically, low intensity work and running does not provide an opportunity for this system to practice firing (2).

Endless hours of running up the bleachers, sprinting the straights and jogging curves, and other ‘4th quarter lung’ activities will ultimately rob your athlete of their ability to achieve maximum strength, power and speed.  With inexperienced coaches, they only see ‘fast’ or ‘slow’, and think that running the team until they're tired from blowing the whistle too much will carry over from the off-season to the REAL-season.  Similar as the only way to get strong is lift maximal loads, the only way to develop speed is to run at maximal speeds (1).  “Train Fast, Be Fast. Train Slow, Be Slow.”

Conditioning is a solid tool in developing mental toughness, and we subscribe to the psychology of discomfort.  However, there must be a regulation of volume and intensity to ensure an athlete progresses.  Avoiding the development of unstable default positions and undoing weight room progress should be a main focus in the off-season.  If bad technique becomes the training default, the whole goal of building strong, powerful and fast football players will be negated.

Monrovia_High_School

Conditioning has become what every athlete dreads most about playing football.  Funny thing is the conditioning they dread is what is actually making them worse at football! The only way to get in shape for football, is by playing football!  Work capacity and ‘4th quarter lungs’ will not carry over from off-season to in-season, but conditioned stress responses and speed will.  You will spend more time as a coach reprogramming your athletes on proper positions on the field if your off-season program is built around simply conditioning, versus conditioning the proper positions.  No one rises to the occasion; they only fall to the level of their training.

Conditioning goes a lot deeper than starting and stopping a stopwatch, what have you done to help your team succeed?

Part 3 will conclude our Fallacies segment with the most overlooked and misguided high school football fallacy of them all, Nutrition.

(1)Hatfield, F.C. (1989, pgs. 144,147). POWER: A Scientific Approach: Advanced Musclebuilding Techniques for Explosive Strength!. Chicago, IL: Contemporary Books, Inc.
(2)Verkhoshansky, Y., & Siff, M. (2009, pgs.58,59,71). Supertraing: 6th Edition. Rome: Ultimate Athlete Concepts.

Tex McQuilkin
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Tex McQuilkin

Director of Training at Power Athlete
MS, CSCS, SCCC, CHES
Book a consult with me regarding coaching, training, life, education... anything your heart desires. Click below:
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Former collegiate lacrosse defensive midfielder, 4-year letter winner and 3-year team captain. Coached strength and conditioning collegiately with Georgetown University football, Men's and Women's lacrosse and Women's Crew, as well with the University of Texas at Austin's football program. Apprenticed under Raphael Ruiz of 1-FortyFour-1 studying proper implementation of science based, performance driven training systems. Head coached CrossFit Dupont's program for two years in Washington D.C. Received a Master's in Health Promotion Management from Marymount University in 2010, and has been a coach for Power Athlete since October, 2012.
Tex McQuilkin
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6 Responses to 5 Fallacies of High School Football Off-Season Strength and Conditioning- PART 2

  1. Nick Miller

    I loved the first piece you wrote and agreed 100% with what you said. This second part is money as well. I hope coaches read this and learn from it. You have done a fantastic job of exposing every reason why teams look under prepared and sluggish on the field. Your point about spending too much time in the oxidative pathway and it’s affects on fast twitch muscle fibers is so important for coaches to understand. I also really appreciate the emphasis of posture and position and how something as simple as the burpee can lead to training the CNS to do the wrong things. Well done Tex!

    • Thank you, Nick, please spread this around to any sport coaches you know, at any level. If you have any high schoolers you’re training prepping for next season, keep us posted on their progress. And once you get a highlight reel after the season, send it our way too!

  2. Rook

    As a high school S&C coach unsure of how to run off season conditioning (I know how to program for strength) this affirms what I was thinking. This series is extremely timely. I was leaning towards just some really short, skill-driven conditioning for most of the year. Speed development will be a priority.

  3. mike craven

    My name is Mike Craven I would like to speak to you about a program I am trying to get to all Coaches that increases their ability to be more competitive. I work with Coach Stewart at Richmond, and Coach Hackney at Virginia State this summer with good success. I am at the moment working with VCU Basketball Strength and Condition Coach Daniel Roose. The program is about using Exercise Science not tradition to improve high tempo performance. High Tempo, No –Huddle or what some call Basketball on grass is repeated bouts of power being displayed with shorten rest periods. Being able to run your fastest 40yd in a repeat manner with 15 sec rest periods takes a combination of improving the maximum rate of force production as well as the maximum rate of atp-pc replenishment. When you evaluate all the traits for success in football. Skill in playing the game along with being more physical, Absolute, Speed, Short Term are forms from Anaerobic strength that you can see have involve in year round training. What has been neglected is the training of the Aerobic system as a measure strength that allows the body to refuel the Phosphocreatine as fast as it is use. There are teams that are beating there selves running a high tempo program that their personal do not have a high enough level of Aerobic Strength(peak Vo2) for tempo used. All the other Traits are dependent on level of Aerobic Strength if game is push with short rest periods. This is how you can take size, repeat power, and speed away from dominate teams because they have not done the prep work to compete

    . A coach under the false pretense that running play drives with short recovery’s develops Aerobic Strength can be settle by measuring the oxygen cost of this compared to three min Intervals at Peak Vo2 with one min rest for same duration of practice time. The Play Drives use the Aerobic System during and recovery though the fast component of Excess Post Oxygen Consumption ( EPOC) but does not increase Peak Vo2 ability. How much PC is replenished in recovery 10,20,30 sec after high Intensity effort is dependent on players Peak Vo2( Aerobic Strength). Once PC stores are depleted it can take 3,5.6 min to replenishment up to 100%. The No -Huddle Offense is High Intensity Effort for short duration with brief recoveries. The Plays are being run using the ATP-CP System but because of brief recoveries the PC stores are not recharge to 100%. The ability to recharge PC rapidly after repeated sprints requires an efficient Aerobic System measure by Peak Vo2 testing. How can we call Football today a 6sec sport and not understand this sport that has many Power, Speed, Anaerobic movement patterns, is still dependant on Aerobic Strength for 4 quarters to keep Power, Speed from declining. Running a high Tempo offense with below average Peak Vo2 group of players is asking for lower Anaerobic performances. Playing Defense against no-huddle Offenses means no matter how brief between down plays are ( AVERAGE PLAY EVERY 15sec )because your Peak Vo2s are higher you cannot be put on your heels.
    From your fastest sprint time to your slowest when done in repeat game type manner our fatigue index can be define from a lack of Balance between the maximum rate of force development and maximum rate of ATP-PC resynthesises. Analyzing training strategies to improve game type speed which is Repeated Sprint Ability we must recognize underlying factors responsible for fatigue. There is not one type of training that can be recommended to BEST improve Repeat Sprint Ability and all the Forms of Strength believed to be responsible for performance decrements during repeated- sprint tasks. This is not surprising as the game of football by how you play it is a complex mix of many forms of Strength ( Absolute, Speed, Short Term Endurance, Anaerobic, and Aerobic) that depends on both neural factors( muscle activation, and recruitment strategies)and metabolic( oxidative capacity, phosphocreatine recovery and H+ buffering).. Vince said Fatigue makes cowards out of all of us. This true statement means a player with a 60ml/kg/min Vo2 compared to 30ml/kg/min Vo2 will not have a higher drop off in Mean sprint performance. The more sprints that are run with brief recovery the worst the Peak Vo2- 30ml/kg/min will perform. He will be label a quitter, no heart, takes breaks between downs, or lacking mental toughness. The reality is he is playing a sport in a manner where his level of Aerobic Strength is not High enough to be competitive. What we are talking about is Balance between the three energy systems. We spend time in weight room training for Absolute Strength so max force production goes up. At the same time we are working on the Rate of force application Speed Strength. Both these forms of strength are dominate to atp-pc system. Balancing Aerobic Strength training under lactic threshold will not over train the motor units that have the most power production because they’re not going to get recruited. Any drill done for conditioning that takes player above lactic threshold will reduce power and causes Vo2 to decline as drill is repeated because mechanical work decreases with accumulation of lactic acid. There are coaches trying to make players tougher by dominating the lactic acid energy system that ends up inhibiting itself and reducing the players ability to overload the ATP-PC and Aerobic system. Overreliance on high intensity techniques ensures suboptimal development of the other two energy systems when reviewing time motion research. As Coaches we need to stop blaming the Aerobic system for power loss when repeat power movements with short recoveries makes the Aerobic system contribute more to function of athlete. Running fast and being able to repeat running fast with brief recovery are three factors most coaches would look to as increasing success when competing. Educate, Evaluate, and Exercise Prescription allow this to happen. Please contact me when you would have time to speak. Thanks Mike 8045439293

    • Mike,
      Thanks for reading the post, did you have any thoughts on part 1? I would love to hear how you or the coaches you have worked with assess your athletes before and after any program.

      You and I agree that all three energy systems are needed to be successful at the sport of football, but is the off-season the most optimal time to be focusing on aerobic capacity? What are your sources for these facts listed above? I am extremely interested in learning more.

      At Power Athlete, we look at conditioning athletes as more than physiological biomarkers such as VO2max. Conditioned or ‘in-shape’ people do not exude athleticism, but athletes can exude a level of conditioning for their sport. Our focus during conditioning these young athletes in the off-season is to build stable default position. Once established we then stress and challenge to make this stable position their default in a fatigued state. If we program this default to their nervous system during the off-season, we can focus on getting them conditioned in the manner you are referring to during the pre-season phase.

      A lot of what you have posted here agrees with our concept of, “Train fast, be fast. Train slow, be slow.”, that we discussed in the article. We are stating the long slow distance running and thousands of stadium steps during the off-season phase with the purpose of training the aerobic system 6 months away from preseason will diminish strength gains and convert Type II to Type I. Do high school football coaches make their players do this? Yes, and we are trying to make them aware this is doing more harm than good. We are all for having teams line up and sprint 100 yards on the minute for 12 minutes. 40 yds on the :30 for 7 minutes. Are these runs slow? Hell no. Do they challenge all three energy pathways, yes. But if off-season conditioning in this sense begins to take precedence over strength, power and speed gains, this is where we will disagree.

      Our goal with these Fallacies are for high school coaches to gain some perspective and think about what they are prescribing for their young athletes. We can take specifics from studies and show these coaches what has been found, but bottom line is information without application is worthless. I have not seen a high school that has had the time or resources to put all 100 varsity players through VO2max testing. If we can reach these coaches and have them understand to stop running distance and stop letting your young athletes have terrible posture while lifting, then we did our job as Coaches.

  4. Colin

    Great article! I too am putting together a S&C program for the summer and agree with a lot said here. In college, our S&C coach did a great job and put it very blunt, ‘you can get ‘in shape’ very quickly closer to the season, right now I want to get you faster and stronger’. My question is, what kind of drills do you suggest for the ‘conditioning’ part? And would you guys suggest doing the speed and conditioning stuff first and then the lifting or what? Thanks for the article!

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