In the dark ages of football, conditioning usually amounted to nothing more than running a few miles and maybe jogging up stadium steps. It was the old standby. And, often the only reason it was done was because that’s what your coach did when he was young, and his coach before him. . . and on and on and on. . . it was the mediocre conditioning conundrum and it struck football like a plague.
If there’s one thing that all football strength and conditioning coaches should agree on it’s that running sucks for improving football conditioning.
Jogging is boring, results killing, and, if you are over 200lbs (and you all should be), it can be hell on your knees and ankles. We never run distance in a game, and usually not much more than 30yards and often only 3 – 10yards!
Yet, no matter what, some football players continue to rely on the dreaded and unproductive jogging as the mainstay of their football conditioning programs.
I’m pretty sure it’s because most coaches grew up when the aerobics craze hit. Jogging was the solution from everything from fat loss, heart health, sports conditioning to solving world peace.
But, just because you did something 25-years ago doesn’t mean you should still do it! It used to be common practice to not allow your players to drink water during summer practices. It took a few tragic accidents before this stupid practice was put to rest.
How many times must we run around the practice field screaming “4th Quarter” before someone gets that in order to win the big games. . . the close games against good teams, we have to be in extreme football condition, or, as we like to say. . . game shape.
But, if you don’t run how the hell do you get “in shape?”
If you play a sport, you should do conditioning that is similar to the demands of your sport, which is why Football players have absolutely no business running distance. Ever.
Sprinting, of course, is the usual answer. And, it should be. But, for most of the country, sprinting outside isn’t always an option. Here in NJ it seems to either rain, snow or dump buckets of ice on us at the most random times. I can only imagine what the hell goes on in places where it really snows.
Sprinting in the snow may seem cool and hardcore, but, slip on one spot of ice and your season is done.
There are alternatives for those time. . .
But, a word of warning. . . it is not for the weak hearted.
Combining three exercises, often called Triple Threats, is not new. Early strongmen would often perform triples; typically a Two-Hands Anyhow, a Press, then a Side Press. Olympic lifters often use them and guys like Alwyn Cosgrove have applied complexes to fat loss training with phenomenal results. But, we aren’t talking about just combining exercises in the gym. Using Triple Threats for extreme football conditioning is a great way to get into amazing football shape even when going outside is impossible.
1. Prowler, Farmers Walk, Sprint
This movement is brutal. There’s just no point where it lets up. Start off by setting up a Prowler (or sled) about 30-yards from a set of loaded Farmer’s Walk bars. Very heavy dumbbells can be used if you don’t have access to Farmer’s bars.
Get down low and start pushing that Prowler. This should be a sprint, so don’t overload the sled too much. As soon as you reach the bars, pick them up and do a Farmer’s Walk back to the starting point. Then, drop the bars and sprint back to the prowler.
The last sprint might feel a little funny, especially on the later sets, but tough it out. Yell out “Fourth Quarter!” or whatever cliché gets you to keep going when you just want to vomit.
Start with 3 sets of this combo, rest as needed. When you get good, try to cut the rest periods down to 45-seconds. Gradually. Trust me, go gradually. Five sets of this will be enough for most. You can use it as a stand-alone movement, as part of a conditioning day, or as a finisher after a weight room session.
You can do this in the gym if outside isn’t a possibility. The Prowler wouldn’t go over well with the school, but, you can get a tarp or even a heavy piece of rug, throw a few plates on top, attach a rope and pull. Instant indoor sled.
2. Dumbbell Cleans, Dumbbell Front Squats, Dumbbell Duckwalk
This is a favorite of mine. It’s super easy to set up, easy to do, and is excellent for conditioning and teaching your body to be coordinated when tired. By the way, this is important. I’ve heard for years that you shouldn’t put high skill exercises toward the end of your strength sessions because you’re too tired to perform the movement correctly. But, seriously, if you play football (or any sport really) you damn well better be able to perform high skill movements when tired. You better be as fresh in the 4th Quarter as you were in pre-game warm ups!
This trio is great for teaching the body to be on point even as you tire. Grab two dumbbells and knock off 5 rapid fire Cleans.
On the 5th, immediately do 5 explosive Front Squats. Then, on the 5th, keep the ‘bells on your shoulders and go right into a Duckwalk. You can go for about 10 yards. But, speed of movement is more important.
The keys here are:
Speed! You have to move fast
25-Seconds rest between sets
Focus. . . you must learn to perform when tired
Go for 3 – 5 sets to begin with. This works great as a finisher, done at the end of a strength training session.
3. Kettlebell Swing, Kettlebell Bear Crawl, Kettlebell Push ups
This trio can also be done with Dumbbells, but it’s no where near as fun. It’s best to do this combo outside, preferable in crappy weather (conditioning is as much about mental toughness as it is physical). Yea, yea. . . I just said don’t sprint outside. . . there’s not sprinting here, sucka.
Start off by doing 10 – 15 reps in the KB Swing. As soon as you finish, drop down and, with kettlebells in hand, start doing a Bear Crawl. Crawl about 30 yards. When you reach the finish line, keep your hands on the K-bells and do as many push-ups as possible.
Rest as needed at first, but eventually try to cut the rest down to under 45-seconds between sets.
Once you get used to this combo, try doing it with two different size K-bells. No one ever said the weights always have to be perfectly balanced. This will increase difficulty and keep your stabilizers working the entire time.
This complex can be used as a finisher on an upper body day or as part of a conditioning day. Start off with4 sets and work up to 6. Experiment with different Kettlebell weights, try using dumbbells, or wear a weighted vest throughout to increase the workload.
4. Sandbag Bearhug Carry, Shoulder and Squat, Sandbag Deadlift
Again, best to head outside for this one, but, if you can’t then the gym is perfectly fine. I’ve said it a million times; Sandbags are excellent for improving strength and football conditioning. . . and it’s the #1 tool for bridging the gap between the weight room and the field.
You will have to play around a bit with the weight of the bag. If it’s too heavy, you’ll never make it. But, if it’s too light, the exercise becomes too easy. Starting light and going heavier is the best way to go.
Start off with feet shoulder-width apart. Bend and grab the bag just as you would a barbell Deadlift. You will have to find the best form for you, but, a good way to start for beginners is to Deadlift the bag to the thighs, then do a high-pull/hip pop combo to get it to the chest. If you’ve ever watched World Strongest Man competitions, you’ve seen this move used when lifting the large, round stones. It’ll take some practice to find your sweet spot, but, once you do, you’ll have very little problem.
Once the bag is at chest level, wrap your arms around it and squeeze the hell out of the damn thing. If you relax your grip, the bag will fall, especially as you get tired. Once secured, start walking. When you get to the 50-yard marker drop the bag, repeat the lifting sequence but this time get it to your shoulder. Do 5 reps each side.
When you hit the 10th rep, drop the bag again and do as many Deadlifts as you can. This is quite a bit of work in a short time, so it is ideal when used as a finisher. Start with 3 sets and gradually increase to six.
5. DB Swing, DB Snatch, DB OH Lunge
Again, if you are afraid of accidentally becoming a card carrying member of a Kettlebell Kult, you can use Dumbbells for this complex. This is best done with one ‘Bell at a time.
Grab one Kettlebell or Dumbbell, take a shoulder width stance and knock off 20 Swings. Immediately do 20 Snatches then, keep your arm locked out overhead and do 10 Lunges with each leg.
This is ideal for those who are forced to workout inside or in a very small gym because it takes up so little space. You can do the swings and snatches without much fear of some dummy walking directly in the path of the dumbbell. . . though I once saw Roder drop the bar he was doing Straight Leg Deadlifts onto his foot, so I guess ya never know, eh?
This is also a great way to condition when you can’t get to the school’s weight room. . . like on Christmas break. All you need is one dumbbell and some balls.
Depending on your needs, choose 1 – 3 of the combos and work them hard 2 – 3 times a week. If you are early in your off-season, one day a week should hold you. As the season draws near, or if you are looking to lose fat for a specific occasion, start to increase the amount of conditioning you do. The old mainstay of doing 3 weight training workouts and 2 conditioning sessions is a good starting point.