An easy to implement and effective off season strength program.
Being the Head S&C coach for the past four years, it would be safe to assume that I place a huge importance on strength development. I feel it makes the difference between good seasons and great seasons, between bad seasons and average seasons. I am not writing this article to convince you to establish a strength program, most successful schools do this anyways, I am writing this to give a simple and very effective way to develop all around strength to a football team, without having to break out physics calculators and go percentage crazy. Simple, effective, easy to implement, easy to track, easy to hold athletes accountable.
THE BARBELL IS KING
Use the barbell, Dumbbells are great, bands serve purposes, machines are fancy looking. The meat of your program needs to be moving a loaded barbell. In this program the barbell always starts from the floor. Even upper body lifts. The loaded barbell has no equal in developing strength.
What every program you decide to use, you must have progressive overload. The weight needs to get heavier overtime. The slower you do this the longer you can keep it going. Sub maximal lifting will increase maximal strength by progressively increasing weight and using proper set/rep schemes to utilize time under tension for placing proper stress on the body. The stress stimulates response in form of thicker tendons and muscles which in turn increases maximal strength.
SETS & REPS
For effective hypertrophy, you need between 20-30 total reps. For strength most studies agree with 1-5 reps per set. In this program the bulk is done with 5 sets of 5 at a set weight. This gives us 25 total reps, and 5 reps per set. I have experimented with 8 sets of 3 and 5 sets of 3 and 3 sets of 5. But the most bang for your buck and time spent in my experience use the tried and true 5×5 rep scheme.
All freshmen start with just the bar. They are not allowed to use a loaded bar until they have mastered the 3 movements (yes just 3). Once mastered we increase weights with big plates only. So from the bar it will go 25’s, then 25’s are replaced with 35’s, then 35’s replaced with 45’s, then once they reach the weight of 135 pounds, they increase in multiples of 10. So 145, 155, 165 etc.… The weights are only increased when all sets of 5 have been completed, so if the lifter goes 5,5,5,3,2 he stays the same. If he goes 5,5,5,5,4 he stays the same. Only when the lifter has attained 5×5, can he move up to the next load.
THE BIG 3
I only track strength development in the Big 3. The Push Press, the Front Squat, and the Dead Lift. That is the meat of this program. I can already see the furrowed brows out there from those reading this and thinking, where the hell back squat, power clean and bench… but hear me out before you pass judgment.
Push Press-the push press is an awesome FULL body movement. You start in the rack position and dip the knees, high the hips slightly and extend locking the elbows at the top. DO NOT drop under the bar. Drive the bar up push the head through the arms to lock it out before returning the bar. I prefer Push Press to bench because it is an explosive movement, and you do it standing up…like we play football.
Front Squat– we choose front squat because almost everybody can front squat correctly. It is a more natural and athletic movement than the back squat. It is very natural for the lifter to be able to sit below parallel (yes we squat below parallel). The lifter remains upright and in an athletic position. We still use back squats which ill cover later but they are not the in the Big 3. When coaching the front squat the simple cue of “elbows up” seams to take care of 90% of form issues. When front squatting always use the front rack position, NOT the arms crossed position! This rotates the AC joint forward and the bar will roll forward instead of sitting back on the front deltoid/pectoral shelf created by the rack position.
If you have a lifter with bad wrist mobility, this is the accommodation that you should use. This allows the lifter to maintain the “elbows up” position.
Dead Lift-the dead lift is the king of strength development. The entire posterior chain is activated during the dead lift as well as the trapezius, biceps and quadriceps. Strengthening the hinge movement is crucial to athletic strength, you use the hinge when block, tackle, jump and even run. When dead lifting I cue with “eyes up” before they grab the bar. They are not allowed to look at the bar when grabbing it or lifting the weight. This forces a low hip high chest position that we want. The lifters will use a double overhand grip on the dead lift to limit weight and promote balance. Once a lifter can dead lift 405 for a set of 5…then I will discuss with him on using a cross grip or a hook grip. We focus on perfect technique and bar speed over weight, bar speed trumps maximal weight here, save that for max outs.
Back Squat-while the dead lift is king of strength. The back squat is king of mass accumulation. We use back squats for high reps once a week at the end of the work out and ill show where and how it fits accordingly.
Pre Workout-do whatever normal warm up you like. I prefer short and sweet, get them moving > static stretches. Such as high knees, A-Skips, but to each his own. After the general warm up I insist on 2 sets of 5 of broad jumps or vertical jumps to do a pre lift explosive primer. Get the fast twitch muscles going.
Once in the weight room, 2 sets of 5-10 pull ups and dips. Not looking to wear them out. Just get the blood moving and body prepared for the strain of lifting. For your big bodies, sub with rows and push ups but encourage them daily to do pull ups and dips, eventually they will be able to complete some.
Then you have:
Push Press 5×5
Front Squat 5×5
Dead Lift 5×5
Remember, only increase load once all reps are attained.
The days you will lift are Monday, Wednesday and Friday. After the big 3 on Monday we go outside for loaded carries, med ball throws and core work. Mix it up, make it competitive, have fun with it. After the big 3 on Wednesday we open weights for 15-20 minutes. After the big three on Friday we have widow makers! We get out the boxes and do back squats. We are going for 30 total reps. We start with the bar just like the other lifts and progress the same! Once they can get 30 reps in 2 sets, they can increase the load as prescribed. These really gas the lifters, and you will see lots of rubbery legs the first few weeks, after a while the kids will get competitive with them and then it gets impressive to watch.
BUT WHAT ABOUT BENCH AND POWER CLEANS?
Bench-let me tell you something about high school boys. You will never have to program bench press and curls for them. On Wednesdays as soon as you say open lift, they will scramble for bench and the dumbbell rack in front of the mirror. If all that curling really worked every high school boy in America would be sporting 20 inch pipes, it’s all they want to do. As far as bench goes, I tell my players this: do it on your own time or during open lift. The only time you need bench is if you’re on your back pushing somebody off you. Push Press takes care of your on field upper body needs.
Power Cleans-I LOVE THEM. They are great… they are also expensive to teach. It takes a lot of work and technique coaching to perfect them. You can work the explosiveness of the triple extension with, box jumps, med ball throws, long jumps, vertical jumps, dead lifts because in this program we do them for bar speed. All these are safe, take little teaching and let you focus on football.
This entire lift should take no more than 45-60 minutes to complete. If it’s longer than that your wasting time somewhere. You want be on the move, in and out! It’s simple, it translates well to football, it has only 3 lift days but 75 total weekly reps. Plenty of time left to focus on football fundamentals, whether you do that after the lift or on the off days. As always please feel free to comment and share. Follow me on twitter @thecoachvogt and subscribe with your email so you will get updated every time I release an article!