A complete football training program takes just a little planning. But the benefits are well worth the effort…
Football players are amongst some of the finest athletes in the world and that’s a testament to their gruelling regime.
If you want to perform at YOUR best – whatever level that might be – you can learn a lot from the way the pros train.
First and foremost though, a football training program has to meet your own specific needs…
Training time for most players is limited. You might not have the resources (or the inclination) to train 6 days a week.
And you don’t have to.
Your only goal should be to maximise the time you DO have at your disposal. Do that and you cannot fail to improve.
Any effective training regime should be built on the back of a solid fitness assessment. And it becomes exceptionally important in sports conditioning…
Without objective testing you simply cannot know how effective your time and energy has been.
And if you’re shooting in the dark, there’s no way to tweak and adjust sessions to get where you want to be.
Visit the fitness testing section of the site. You’ll find all kinds of tests you can perform with little or no special equipment. Spend one afternoon developing a profile of your athletic abilities and record the results.
As a football player you’ll want focus on tests that measure strength, power and speed. For example
- One repetition max bench press and leg press
- 30 meter sprint
- 30 meter sprint fatigue
- Standing vertical jump
- Standing broad jump
- Sit and reach test
Split Your Football Training Program Into 3 Phases
A football training program lasts 12 months – even if the competitive in-season only spans from September to December. And that applies to any football player at any level…
Even if you only have a couple of days a week spare for football conditioning, you should still adapt and vary those sessions over the course of a year.
For the more ambitious players, this system of periodization is the ONLY way you can incorporate all the necessary elements of training without overtraining.
Here are the three phases or periods of a football training program…
- Pre-season phase – 7 months
- In-season phase – 4 months
- Transition phase – 1-2 months
Wow – over half a year to prepare! That’s because it takes time to develop peak strength and power.
Let’s have a look at each phase in more detail…
Individual exercises and sessions are covered in separate articles. This is how everything fits together into one, complete football training program.
Pre-Season Phase of Football Training
The pre-season or off-season is by far the largest phase of the annual plan.
The goal is to develop optimum strength and power so that it peaks just prior to the start of the in-season.
Because this phase is so long you need to break into smaller cycles – often referred to as macrocycles…
Each macrocycle might last between 3 and 6 weeks (for the sake of ease we’ll assume that each cycle lasts for a calendar month). The training objectives and methods vary within each cycle and there’s an important reason for this…
Firstly, adjusting intensity and volume helps to avoid overtraining and burnout.
Secondly, certain aspects of fitness are built on the back of others. Explosive power conditioning for example follows maximal strength training, which in turn follows functional strength training.
Strength & Power Conditioning
During the transition period (see below) it’s sensible to layoff strength training all together, at least for a few weeks.
You should also consider a functional strength program designed to correct any imbalances that occur as a result of a strenuous football training program.
This functional strength program will likely spill into very early pre-season and it’s designed to prepare your body for subsequently more demanding sessions.
Football players are one of the few groups of athletes that can benefit from a hypertrophy program. This type of weight training is designed to increase muscle mass. But contrary to popular belief larger muscles are not necessarily stronger muscles…
As such hypertrophy training in football should make up only a portion of the strength training program. Maximal strength training is an important element also and leads to significantly different adaptations than bodybuilding.
Linemen may want to place more emphasis on the hypertrophy phase than other players. As an example, they could split their preseason into just 4 phases –
Finally, following the development of muscle mass and maximal strength, conversion to sport-specific power is crucial…
It is power (and not maximal strength) that is most beneficial to football players. The cycle just prior to the season start should focus on developing peak power.
Speed & Agility Training
In the early pre-season speed and agility work is optional and should be low in intesnity. Too much running and interval training can detract from the development of muscles mass and maximal strength.
Some light aerobic training may feature but more as a form of active recovery than intense endurance sessions.
As the pre-season progresses more emphasis can be placed on speed and agility and intense interval training. If you take the time to plan your football training program in advance, quickness and agility should hit a peak just as the season begins.
A superb resource for speed training is the North / South Football Speed DVD. You can get it here..
Don’t neglect your flexibility. Your degree of range of movement impacts on your speed, agility and to some extent your power. It will also help to prevent injuries resulting from over stretching.
While too much flexibility is not beneficial either, most football players are a long way from being overly supple. Spend at least 3 days a week stretching – this is on top of stretching exercises performed as part of the warm up.
In-Season Phase of Football Training
Compared to the substantial pre-season preparation phase this should be a walk in the park!
The objective is to maintain all the gains resulting from your hard work over the previous 6 months or so.
Competitive games take priority. All of your conditioning work should be based around when you play. It’s important to either rest or perform lower intensity drills the day before a game. You’ll also have to co-ordinate your strength sessions so that you recover fully in time.
Fortunately, to maintain your new levels of strength and power takes a lot less time in the weight room.
You can afford to reduce your number of strength sessions and the volume of sets and repetitions. But don’t skip weight training all together.
Transition Phase of Football Training
The transition phase is as important as any other in the 12 month football training program. It may only last 4-6 weeks but what you choose to do over that period of time can dictate how your entire season plays out.
If you don’t take the time to rest – physically AND mentally – you WILL burnout… eventually.
Even if you feel fresh at the end of hard season take time out. Try another sport – tennis is a favourite, or any racket sport. Just avoid weight training and pounding the roads.
The only caveat is that you do something physically active…
If you do absolutely nothing it will be that much harder to return to training. It takes only 4-5 weeks of complete sedentary living to loose most of what’s taken you the best part of year to build up.
The Perfect Plan – Putting it All Together
Have a good look at the chart below…
Notice how the amount and intensity of running drills varies depending on the strength phase?
Too much intense interval training alongside strenuous hypertrophy training can leave you physically exhausted.
Notice also how the volume of speed and agility work increases alongside power conditioning. This makes sense as it compliments the objectives of the phase.
The intensity row is a rough guideline for overall training intensity. Often that can be a subjective measure so pay close attention to how you feel.
More football training programs and articles will be added on a regular basis. But this is the place where they all fit together into one cohesive, highly effective plan.
Yes, it does take a little planning to bring everything together. And no doubt that plan will (and should) change as you progress. But the changes you’ll see in your performance are worth every minute!
Jacky has a degree in Sports Science and is a Certified Sports and Conditioning Coach. He has also worked with clients around the world as a personal trainer.
He has been fortunate enough to work with a wide range of people from very different ends of the fitness spectrum. Through promoting positive health changes with diet and exercise, he has helped patients recover from aging-related and other otherwise debilitating diseases.
He spends most of his time these days writing fitness-related content of some form or another. He still likes to work with people on a one-to-one basis – he just doesn’t get up at 5am to see clients anymore.