Designing A Sport Specific Training Program – Football

There can be many challenges when designing a sport-specific training program, but don’t worry in this article we will discuss how you can go about designing your own training program. In our case, we will use Football as our chosen sport. However, you can apply the same principals to other sports and achieve the same or even better result(s).

  1. Specificity, Overload, and Adaptation

In order to design a great training program, we first have to identify the physical attributes of the sport, such as the need for strength, speed, maximum power, repetitive power, lateral speed and quickness, acceleration, the ability to stop and redirect, muscular endurance, and anaerobic conditioning. These must be addressed in the yearly training cycle in other words (macrocycle) to help the athlete excel at the sport. Moreover, specificity refers to the fact that exercises should stimulate the movement pattern, velocities, contraction types, and contraction forces used in the sport. However, while the movement patterns and skills needed to play football are complex and often difficult to match in the weight room, resistance training can be used to improve strength, speed, and power. Furthermore, training the body in the weight room in the same planes, using similar power outputs, and using movements that mimic positions during the competition will maximize the muscular and neurological transfer when the athlete performs football-specific skills. Overload is used to cause strength or power adaptation within the athlete which thereby must be subjected to great stress in the training environment such as a peak week where the majority of the training has led up to one week where the weights are extremely heavy, but new PR’s are being set nevertheless. The new PR’s that have taken place are the byproduct of the adaptation to the continuous new stimulus that was presented to the athlete. Generally, a microcycle which is about 4 weeks has a stair-step approach such as week (1) bench press; will be trained at 85% of 1RM, the following week (2) will be at 90% of 1RM, and the third week (3) will be the highest at 95% of the 1RM or a new PR. The fourth week (4) will be a deload in which the majority of the adaptation is taking place.

  1. Exercise Selection

Exercise selection is critical as mentioned before with specificity. The exercises if possible should relate to the sport and how it can carry over from the weight room to the field. Furthermore, consider the athlete’s ability to properly execute the exercise(s), the availability of exercise equipment, and the time available to devote to training in the weight room. Much of the movement should be focused on the triple extension. This means the extension of the ankle, knee, and hip joints. For example, jumping, running, blocking, tackling, and cutting all require a forceful and rapid triple extension. In the weight room, exercises such as the power clean and power snatch require high-velocity triple extension under load. While these exercises do not perfectly emulate the movements used on the field, the Olympic lifts and their derivatives will have a positive carryover effect on the football field, and in many cases, they form the foundation for resistance training programs for football. 

  1. Exercise Order

Major exercises that develop maximal power such Olympic lifts should be placed first as they are the most important and require the most energy to produce efficiently. Therefrom, you can place strength exercises such as a squat, deadlift, bench, and so on thereafter. Lastly, assistant exercises should be placed after all power and non-power-core exercises have been completed. These can include exercises that isolate specific muscle groups, such as lateral raises, hamstring curls, leg extensions, biceps curls, and triceps extensions.

  1. Training Frequency

Training frequencies can be assigned in various ways. Two very popular and successful routines are the three-day-per-week (total body) and the four-day-per-week (upper/lower split) routines. More importantly, it is recommended that when structuring a three day or a four-day split, the individual should implement a routine where each core exercise is trained heavily at least once per week, such as a back squat, bench press, power clean, deadlift, etc. Once structured remember to give 48 to 72 hours of rest before training the same muscle group (for heavy training). The three-day-per-week training routine should be divided into heavy-, light-, and medium-load training days. During the first training session of the week, the exercises selected should be those that allow athletes to handle the heaviest loads, with the lightest loads prescribed on day 2 and medium loads on day 3. The same philosophy applies to the four-day, upper/lower split. For example, a heavy lower body training session may be prescribed for the first day of the week, followed by a lighter upper body session, a lighter lower body session, and finally, a heavy upper body session. Something to remember, that when in season or in competition, the training should be dropped, two or three days a week, with third session optional for assistance exercises. The intensity should remain moderate to high, but volume should remain low. High volumes can create high levels of neuromuscular fatigue. Thereby, the high volume should be avoided during in-season training. Furthermore, the use of heavy loads, in conjunction with low volumes, will contribute towards an athlete’s strength.

  1. Volume

The volume also plays a very important role in the training frequency of an individual. Volume refers to the total amount of weight that is being lifted within the training session. Volume can be tracked within and across workouts to quantify the nature of the training session(s). Such as a macrocycle in which the training would be tracked across months and years for the best possible result. For example, the volume can be calculated for all sets that were completed with hypertrophy, maximal strength, or maximal power as the primary goal in a given training session to identify the primary training stimulus. It is common to intentionally decrease volume through a training cycle as the intensity builds, or to decrease the volume when outside training or conditioning loads are high to ensure that the athlete can recover. The resistance training volume an athlete can recover from is likely to differ for each athlete and to depend on factors such as training status, nutritional status, stress, training frequency, and practice or conditioning loads. 

  1. Intensity

The intensity or the Load that is being lifted is an indicator of mechanical and metabolic power that an athlete can create and thereby express it on to an object such as a barbell. Thereby, this can be a great indicator of how the training session is going and if any modification is needed. For example, in sports such as football athletes will generally use relatively high loads and low numbers of repetitions per set.

  1. Rest

Rest Period is the final variable that can be manipulated in order to cause overload on the physiological system. The rest period is dependent on the training goal and the relative load lifted. Longer rest periods should be prescribed when heavier loads are lifted in order to maximize the quality and to ensure the completion of subsequently prescribed sets. This principle is also true for exercises prescribed to improve maximal power. In general, the common guideline for maximal strength and power exercises is to provide three to five minutes of rest between sets. For those exercises in which maximal strength and power development are not the primary goals, such as assistance exercises (e.g., biceps curl, lateral raise, leg extension), rest periods of 30 seconds to 1.5 minutes may be prescribed. If the training goal is muscular endurance, it is common to prescribe rest periods of 30 seconds or less. 

  1. Sport Specific Goals

As we know football has many physiological requirements, but the primary goal of a resistance training program is to develop strength and power. Thereby, constant overload needs to be created with a variation that promotes growth while preventing overtraining. When setting goals, one should lay out the period of training into phases such as

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

Phase II: Basic strength Phase 

III: Strength/power

All of the positions on the football field require strength, speed, power, and agility in order to perform at their highest level. Thereby, it is important to understand each position on the football field and what the demand is in order to maximize the potential to perform.

With the conclusion of this article, you can now see that there are many variables that go into developing a football player and not just another athlete. If you want to find out more or have more questions feel free to email us and we will get back to you as soon as possible. Also, check out some of the books for periodization with relation to the sport as well as football as a whole.

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