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Sport-specific goals of a resistance training program

This is an excerpt from Strength Training for Football by NSCA -National Strength & Conditioning Association,Darren Krein & Jerry Palmieri.

By Jerry Palmieri, Darren Krein, and Zac Woodfin

Football has many physiological requirements, but the primary goal of a resistance training program is to develop strength and power. Creating consistent overload will increase strength in the untrained athlete, but when training a more conditioned athlete, there is more to consider to create stimulus and variation that promote growth while preventing overtraining. It is advantageous to divide the time in the training period into phases. Each phase has its own goals for making progress toward the overall program goal of strength and power. The strategic manipulation of an athlete's preparedness using sequenced training phases (defined by cycles and stages of workload) is known as periodization.


A training period is often divided into three phases:

Phase I: Hypertrophy/strength endurance (fourth-quarter conditioning)

Phase II: Basic strength

Phase III: Strength/power


The first phase of the training cycle is known as the hypertrophy/strength endurance phase. There are two goals for this phase of training. The first goal is to increase the size of skeletal muscle; this is known as muscle hypertrophy. Increasing muscle size prepares the muscles to handle the heavier loads that follow in the next two phases. The second goal is to enhance muscular endurance. Muscular endurance is important not only for sustaining an athlete's strength and power into the fourth quarter of a game, but also for helping the athlete to complete the prescribed repetitions during the next two phases of training. To accomplish these goals, training volume must be high. When training volumes are high, it is necessary to use low to moderate intensities to avoid overtraining, especially during the initial phases of a strength program. Thus, during the hypertrophy/strength endurance phase, athletes should perform exercises with loads ranging from 50% to 85% of the 1RM, or 6 to 20RM. The hypertrophic and muscular endurance adaptations realized during this phase may be maintained through the basic strength and strength/power phases by providing adequate volume and using appropriate rest periods when performing supplemental or assistance exercises.


The second phase of the training cycle is known as the basic strength phase. During this phase, the primary goal is to improve the strength of the muscles that are essential to sport performance. Volume for the core exercises is decreased, while the intensity is increased. Progressing from lighter weights to heavier ones provides the necessary stimulus to promote strength adaptation. In addition, the exercises used during this cycle may become more specific to the sport. The loads used during this phase should range from 80% to 95% of the 1RM, or 2-6RM. In addition, athletes should complete between 2 and 6 sets per exercise.


The third phase of the training cycle is known as the strength/power phase. During this phase, the training volume will be lower and the intensity higher than the previous phases. The athlete should perform no more than five repetitions per set, while using loads of 87% to 95% of the 1RM to develop maximal strength and 30% to 85% of the 1RM to develop maximal power. During this phase, it is also common to reduce the total number of exercises performed within the training week. Heavy loads, which can be moved for lower repetitions, are necessary to promote the neuromuscular adaptations that will maximize muscle strength. Furthermore, moderate loads are used in this phase for power exercises, because moderate loads allow for maximal power development. For example, loads of 50% to 70% of the 1RM may be necessary to achieve maximal power production in the bench press. Thus, the training goal and specific exercises that are chosen in this phase will ultimately dictate the appropriate loading scheme. Finally, an unloading or variation week should be implemented between phases or every three to four training weeks, in addition to the week prior to training camp.


All position groups need the same basic attributes on the playing field. Football is demanding and violent, and athletes at all positions must be strong, fast, and powerful at some time during practice and game performances. Therefore, every football athlete must have strength, speed, and overall power. What differs is that athletes at different positions need more emphasis in certain areas than others. Receivers, defensive backs, and running backs require speed in longer distances, while offensive and defensive linemen require speed and quickness in shorter bursts. Offensive and defensive linemen require high levels of strength and power to push big bodies off the line of scrimmage, but wide receivers and defensive backs also need strength and power when trying to gain separation from a defender or playing press-man on defense. Furthermore, all athletes are required to block or tackle.


All positions must be strong, powerful, and explosive, even though each position may have a different emphasis. Linebackers, tight ends, and fullbacks need an equal balance of all of the attributes. They must be strong for blocking and tackling, fast for running or covering routes, and agile as they react in the open field. Furthermore, these athletes often are on cover or return special teams, which require them to be fast over longer distances. Even quarterbacks need to be strong and powerful in order to throw the ball with good velocity and distance. Without the necessary strength and power in their hips and legs, they will place more stress on the shoulder and increase their susceptibility to injury. Quarterbacks must also be able to take hits, run a quarterback sneak, avoid being tackled or sacked, keep the ball from being stripped away, and scramble when the pocket collapses.


These positional emphases can be addressed while maintaining a standard philosophy of training with some manipulation of exercise selection, intensity, and volume.


Because the physical attributes of strength and power are necessary for every football position, a base program should be established to develop these attributes. Once this program is designed, then the coach can alter the program to address the specific positional needs. Bench lockouts may be added to the offensive and defensive linemen's program to work on the finishing press of close line play. Burner-preventive exercises may be added to the programs for the tight ends, linebackers, fullbacks, and defensive backs, since these positions are susceptible to neck and shoulder burners. Wide receivers, running backs, and defensive backs may have more single-leg resistance training added to their programs because they often find themselves cutting or jumping off one leg. Quarterbacks may need more rotational exercises than the other positions. Since offensive and defensive linemen need to place a greater emphasis on strength, they may handle heavier loads than their teammates, while the wide receivers and defensive backs may be programmed to use lighter loads and faster movement to emphasize speed development. Likewise, sets and repetitions can be altered to meet the specific goals of each position.