Written By: Jackson Williams
Football is a collision sport. I can still see my middle school coach looking me in the face and saying this during my first year ever suiting up for football in the seventh grade. We ran a bare bones wing-t offense that was old school. Run the ball and be physical. That’s how football was twenty years ago. Lots of things have changed since then. Todays game has gone from mostly ground and pound, play defense and beat people on physicality to spread them out and run as many plays as you can in a game, as fast as you can while scoring so many points that the scoreboard operator can’t keep up. Strength and conditioning over time has advanced by leaps and bounds. There is no one way to do things in terms of strength and conditioning. That being said, there are still a lot of the same old conditioning methods taking place. Traditionally, the way to train football is short distance running, 400 yards and under. We never run more than 100 yards in one play during a game, right? So why condition that way? We need to condition how we play, right?
What if I told you in the spread happy fast pace game that we now see on most fields, that there’s a way to do more by altering the way we condition our athletes? They can run more plays at a faster pace because they will be recovered faster. But how would we do that? We already run them at the pace we use in the game by going up-tempo in practice and having strength coaches run sprints year round. Simple. We add in endurance work. I know, you have coached for more years than I have been alive and the way you do things is what you think is the end all be all. But this will give you the extra edge to go faster, run more plays and dominate your opponent. Don’t run the spread? Don’t run up-tempo? What if I told you this alteration would also allow for your big guys to have more power output in the fourth quarter and that you would dominate your opponents because their tongues will be hanging out while your guys are begging for more.
You can see by the chart above how the three major energy systems of the body work. They each have a time limit on them. Once they run out, the body has to have time to replenish them in order to keep tapping into them. If the body does not replenish them in time, then it begins to tap into the next energy system while already tapping into all three. The average play in a football game is anywhere between six to seven seconds and then the players have around ten to twenty five seconds before the next play is run, depending on the style of offense and the tempo being used. That is not much time to recover from all out effort on each play. In a typical game, both teams combined will run hundreds of plays. Meaning that the best players can be on the field for every one of those snaps. So by the fourth quarter where most games are won, the athletes on the field are already well tapped into their aerobic systems because they have depleted the stores of all the rest. No matter what you do to train your team, no matter how much conditioning you think you do to be ready for game day, your players will be tapping into their aerobic system well before the end of the game. Some hit faster than others and every body functions differently when responding to stimulus. However, facts are the facts.
Sprinting works off of the ATP-PC system, middle distance striders work off of the glycolytic system and longer distances work off of the aerobic system. At different points through any of those activities, we can be tapping into another system. If that is the case, then why do we not see more tempo runs and long slow distance training in football? Simple. There’s a way that things have worked for a very long period of time that has been improved upon and manipulated but never truly changed. I am sure I already know what you are thinking. Why in the world would I listen to this guy? Well, I have seen it work through others and myself through trial and error of this methodology of hybrid training. Whether it is football, strongman, powerlifting, triathlons, you name it, there is a group of highly educated coaches and athletes putting the proof in the pudding every single day by producing staggering numbers. It’s here to stay in all of those sports and is now making its way onto the gridiron.
My facts are straight from the source. The Hybrid Athlete Training Method, which took trial and error along with scientific facts and started the revolution. So, what are the benefits of endurance training you ask?
- Strengthens the heart
- Improves heart stroke volume
- Improves oxygen transfer to muscles
- Improves metabolite clearance
- Increases the number of energy producing cells
- Endurance training improves energy system utilization, which leads to increase in performance
- Improves lactate clearance of the muscles
- Increases work capacity; do more sport specific activity over and over with minimal detriment
- Long slow distance running speeds recovery between workouts
- Long slow distance helps athletes handle longer; more intense workouts with less decrease in performance compared to no long slow distance training
- Improved lactic acid clearance in legs
- All energy systems are used at all times; the degree of use varies based on event being done
- Resistance training eliminates the loss of strength gains while doing endurance work
The bottom line here is that in football we are always looking for that extra edge. With this in mind, not only can we score a lot of points on Friday nights, but we can flat out run people off the field because they will be tired and we will not be. Your athletes will be able to do more sport specific work without taxing themselves. You can run more plays in practice which will allow your team to become more sound from a technique standpoint. Additionally, you will never have to pull your best players off the field to rest because their bodies will be well oiled hybrid machines ready to stuff the next third and short play or run for a forty yard touchdown, then get back on the field for the kickoff just before playing defense. You will not have to two platoon your team to save kids for one side of the ball ever again. We all want to put the best athletes on the field at once, and this allows you to.
How do you integrate this style of training but also have time to get in the other types of training that you have to work on, such as speed and agility?
You only need to integrate endurance work a minimum of two days per week. You can have your hard lifting sessions and then go out and run a couple miles on the track. You can hit a hard agility session and finish with a tempo run. You can conduct a practice session and then finish with a couple miles around the field. I would recommend starting with around a one mile distance wise so that the bout is not too incredibly taxing on those who aren’t used to running long distances, but you can work up to as many miles as you see fit. The key is to mix the style of runs and not to progress too rapidly. No athlete needs to train six days a week, so you will have to give your players rest days. A four-day lifting week with three to four runs of different variety would be plenty to prepare the kids for the season. Endurance runs can be used as recovery for hard squat and deadlift training days or as a means to recover the legs after a tough sprint workout. We have all had to run 110-yard sprints in the dead heat of summer. By adding distance work your players will recover from each 110-yard sprint faster than they ever have and be able to complete more of them in the time required.
Football is a hybrid sport because on one play a player is asked to block someone ten yards down field while on the next he’s expected to pass rush or run a route as a wide receiver. To most appropriately train athletes to handle football, we have to use what provides the most carryover to sport. Football needs a hybrid of strength training, running, change in direction, conditioning, stability training and most importantly fitting all these aspects in together while also allowing maximum recovery. When you sit down to prepare your summer running schedule and your in season conditioning plan, take the facts in this article to heart. Prepare your athletes like never before, for results unmatched.
For more info on this style of training, check out other article content, give a shout to myself and Alex Viada or get yourself a copy of the Hybrid Athlete book.
- Viada, A. (2015). The Hybrid Athlete.
- Magness, S. (2013). The Science of Running. Origin Press.
- Viada, A. (2015, December 27). Special Endurance Sport Considerations for Strength Athletes. Retrieved March 26, 2016, from https://www.completehumanperformance.com/special-endurance-sport-considerations-strength-athletes/
- Viada, A. (2015, December 25). So you want to run? Endurance Training for Strength Athletes, Part 1. Retrieved March 26, 2016, from https://www.completehumanperformance.com/want-run-endurance-training-strength-athletes-part-1/