By Paul Markgraff • Managing Editor • This Is AFCA Magazine
Following their active recovery and lifting during the first part of the new year, players should move once again into an active recovery phase around mid-April, according to Lee Munn, strength and conditioning coach for the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor.
Athletes must cut down on lifting to three days per week and cut back on the volume of lifts in the weight room.
“It’s a time for reloading,” says Munn. “In the end of May or early June, I’d like to see them work their way back into a nice, slow 8-week program again, so right about August 1, the athlete is at his peak. Once summer hits, it’s great for them to get back at it with another cycle. Once August comes, they are peaking at just the right time.”
Form And Function
Every strength and conditioning coach knows it, and many high school athletes ignore it: the form of their lifts. Unfortunately for these athletes, they ignore proper form at their own peril.
If they aren’t lifting with the proper form and technique:
- they are probably focusing on the wrong lifts;
- they are lifting more weight than is helpful for building football athleticism;
- they are ignoring the need for speed and explosiveness.
“We’ll see freshmen coming in on the first day doing squats, and they’ll be doing three-quarter squats or half squats. They got away with that in high school,” says Munn. “So we have to spend five or six weeks beginning in August helping them understand what we are looking for.”
What Munn is looking for – what every single football coach in the nation is looking for – is speed and explosiveness from each and every player.
“High school players sometimes are infatuated with how much they can lift; how much weight they can put on the bar,” says Munn. “But here, especially on our power lifts, we stress how fast they can move the bar. That’s where they get explosive athleticism.”
If that means athletes need to lift less weight than they customarily lift, “all the better,” says Munn. The focus on bar speed will generate power that translates directly to the football field.
To refocus athletes, Munn emphasizes specific queues in the weight room that remind the athlete that Munn doesn’t care how much weight is on the bar. He’s looking for speed.
“We’ll use the words speed and explosive over and over to really make sure they are focused in their mind when they are on the platform,” he says. “Using those queues reinforces the concepts in their head.”
Diet And Exercise
Though a focus on speed and explosiveness is highly valuable when preparing for the next season, high school football players may as well forget about it unless they are eating right.
Lifting right is only one side of the coin. Nutrition is the other.
“Coming out of high school, I was so naïve,” says Munn. “The biggest key is fast food. Athletes need to limit fast food to one cheat meal per week at the most. I see young guys come in here all the time at 17, 18 and 19 years old, and their bodies are getting away with eating all that fast food right now, but eventually, it will wear on them.”
He also sees younger athletes eating more processed food than they should. He says athletes should eat food that is as close to its natural form as possible.
“They have to realize that if it comes in a can or a box, and has a long shelf life, they probably don’t need to be eating it,” says Munn. “If they’re eating stuff that is close to its original form, they are going to be on the right track.”
Following workouts, Munn says it’s important to eat quick, simple carbohydrates in order to replenish glycogen stores in the body. Athletes must combine that with immediate protein to rebuild muscle.
“For quick, simple carbs, protein shakes have a 4:1 carb-to-protein ratio, perfect for after workouts,” he says. “Chocolate milk is getting a big push right now; it’s a great recovery drink that gives athletes carbs and protein.”
Simple carbs can also be found in fruits, such as apples, oranges and bananas. If athletes are eating simple sugars right after a lift, those sugars will hit the system quick and replenish the glycogen stores athletes lose during a workout.
Young athletes must also be eating small meals every two to three hours during the day, which is a real departure from the classic “three-meals-per-day” mantra. As soon as they wake up, they need to be eating breakfast within 30 minutes. Their next meal needs to come two or three hours later.
“One of the worst things you can do as a high school player is skip breakfast,” says Munn. “Here’s what happens. They skip breakfast and start the day off slow. They may not eat until lunchtime; then they eat a big lunch and become lethargic. Then, they may not eat again until supper. This is followed by a poor-quality, late-night snack.”
If athletes eat every two-to-three hours, they train their bodies to expect more food soon. When the body expects to eat this way, it doesn’t respond with a need to gorge oneself at mealtime. Rather, it focuses on processing the quality, nutritious foods it has received.
“These young guys need to make sure they’re eating the right stuff too,” says Munn. “Fruits, vegetables, lean proteins like chicken, tuna and salmon are all good. They don’t need to be eating donuts for breakfast.”