Coaches Must Get Creative With In-Season Strength And Conditioning

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by Paul Markgraff • Managing Editor • This Is AFCA Magazine

When football season rolls around each year at the beginning of August, the strength and conditioning landscape changes for football coaches across the country. Until August, coaches can spend time helping players pack on weight, build power and explosiveness, and maximize endurance.

As August begins, strength coaches see a new wrinkle enter their programs. Practice begins in earnest. For Oklahoma State University’s Rob Glass, who is the Cowboys’ assistant athletic director for strength, speed and conditioning, that variable changes the way he conducts his strength and conditioning program.

“When my players are training in the off-season and even during the preseason of June and July, that is all they are really doing,” says Glass. “Once practice starts, we’ve got a whole new variable that their bodies are dealing with. As strength coaches, we need to modify our volume of work.”

Glass says when he started 25 years ago, most programs ran the I-formation, players were big and strong, and offenses used the 45 seconds between snaps. As up-tempo, no-huddle offenses have spread across the nation, they have changed how players practice, and thus how hard strength coaches can push players in the weight room and during conditioning sessions.

“We still keep our intensity levels pretty high, but now the duration for which we train is really reduced because of what’s going on at practice,” says Glass. “The percentages that we hit are still pretty high, but the multiple number of sets or the repetitions within the sets are greatly reduced because players’ bodies just can’t handle it.

“You’ve really got to stay on top of your in-season training and make sure you aren’t doing too much in the weight room,” he says. “We train three times a week during the season. We still do cleans, squats, bench and the Olympic lifts. It’s always there, but there are variances in the movement. Maybe one time it’s a back squat, then it’s a front squat, maybe a hang clean or a split-snatch. You just have to watch your volume and restrict your volume.”

Glass says endurance training is much the same.

“Our practices are so intense,” he says. “The kids have to run so much.”

Glass says the Cowboys push the envelope at practice, with players flying around from drill to drill. Athletes keep their work capacity up through that style of practice.

“We hardly do any conditioning post-practice other that what we do the day after a game,” he says. “Most of their cardiovascular fitness – other than the day after games where we are kind of just flushing out – most of the fitness work is at practice when we get into our team periods.

“It’s truly a juggling act,” says Glass. “You’re trying to manage current fitness and you are trying to monitor the volume of work over an extended period of time to make sure you don’t drop athletes off a cliff in the middle of November because they finally hit a wall and they can’t do any more. It’s really difficult because so many variables come into play.”

As the season nears an end, strength coaches must get creative because athletes tend to get nicked-up down the stretch. Coaches must still address specific training requirements and keep players dialed in.

“You are probably going to have more guys doing different modifications of the lifts to try and get the training session in,” says Glass. “We need to get done what we need to get done. I think coaches that are doing really well are coaches who are open, guys that look at the variables that are going on and are able to adapt.”

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