Reinventing our off-season program, but not the wheel

Growing up in a household with a stud athlete for an older brother and a coach for a father, I’ve seen just about every strength and conditioning approach I can think of. I’ve ran 40’s with tourniquet tied around my waist and attached to the goal posts. I’ve eaten bee pollen. I’ve ran laps in the pool. I’ve even jumped off bleachers in those funny shoes “The Jimmy” loved on Seinfeld. But with all the creative and wacky things I had done, I got stuck in a mundane if not easy off-season program with my players.

When I got to CCA and had to start building a weight room and an off-season program, I went traditional. I wanted a power rack and a bench rack, and a lot of dumb bells. We went with the traditional three phase system of strength and conditioning: hypertrophy or 3×10-12 at 60% for four weeks, strength or 3×6-8 at 80% for six weeks, and power or 4×2-4 at 90% for three weeks. For beginning lifters it felt perfect. We would use 90 second sets and 30 second breaks in between each exercise. We could teach the lifts, teach spotting and team work, and the results were easy to see. We would test for reps every month at a certain Rx. For instance, bench could be 65 for the weaker group, 95 for stronger kids while Squat was 95 for weaker kids and 135 for stronger ones. Eventually we could test our 2-rep max the last week of the off-season program.

We did bench, db press, back squat, shoulder press, curls/shrugs, pull-ups, push-ups, crunches, med ball passes, dips, and dots. Our routine didn’t change a whole lot from day to day.

On the field I went with standard exercises like agility ladders, short hurdles, agility bags, and mat drills on most days. We would test 40, 10, and pro agility…. and never practice any of them! I’m not sure what I was doing but I was doing something and our players got better. It was obvious during testing and even on the field.


After that first season we finished the spring game with a close loss, and the regular season with a 2-8 record (about a dozen points shy of 4-6) with only 18 or so guys on the roster and one senior. I was semi-satisfied with the results but needed to bring on a real assistant coach. I brought in a QB coach that would serve as my OC. We added different types of exercises including sandbags for power cleans, we taught hang cleans, front squats, and mixed our workout routine up every day, with regards to exercises. We started doing lateral lunges, had plyo boxes made for jumps, and taught straight leg dead lifts. We still had the focus on safety and repetition but we got caught in a lull there too. We still did 90 second sets with a partner and workouts lagged on and on as kids were confused on their 60% or what have you.

We finished the fall 5-5, 5 points away from 6-4, and saw vast improvements. We were faster and stronger than we had been. Our roster bumped from 18 to 35. Our weight room had adapted into a functional training room with 4 plyo boxes, a lot of jump ropes and med balls, three adjustable benches, three power racks, and plenty of space to workout. But we hadn’t figured it all out yet (and who ever truly does?).

We adjusted our workout this spring to a more tabata style of workout with 30 seconds on and 10 seconds off for sets, 30 second movement in between exercises. We set up partners not by guys that could lift together, but with guys that couldn’t! We needed an Rx set up for a weaker guy and an Rx for a stronger guy, this way both guys could lift at the same time while coaches spotted instead of players. We were under the rules of “go until the whistle” so three days a week we were maximizing reps and slowly increasing weight once our kids looked like they had slimmed down and toned up. We even threw in a circuit day of one arm/one leg exercises.

Outside on the field we had two circuit days with bags, hurdles, ladders, and mat drills, and a speed day where we ran 100’s, 40’s and 10’s. We’ve seen our speed times drop into the sub 5’s for five of our 20 regular attendees and only one kid ran over a 5 (he’s 300lbs). We had players get insane amounts of reps at 185 on the squat and 135 on the bench. One player repped 185 around 40 times. Our muscle endurance and flexibility was vastly improved from the first off-season. But we could tell it wasn’t a perfect system.


This summer we will test the waters on a new formula. This formula will see 4 completely different days in the weight room, and 4 completely different days out in the field. Gone are the days of repetition and in are the days of tricking our bodies and minds. Ronda Rousey believes in constantly tricking the body and mind by shuffling workouts in every facet of the program.

Mondays will feature a circuit of 30/10 on both feet with our -Rx and +Rx as mentioned above, so we will have a weaker player with a stronger player as a workout duo. This not only helps the weaker player see what is expected but also helps the stronger player as he teaches his partner and learns leadership skills. We will do hang cleans, front squats, alternating hanging db press, thrusters, good mornings, dead lifts, and dots.

Tuesdays will feature a circuit of 30/10 with mostly one arm-one leg exercises. One legged squats, lunges, one leg box jumps, triangle dot drills, rows, single leg dead lifts, one arm/one leg shoulder press (kneeling position) and the such. We do three sets, with the third set having a “half way” call so they know to switch to the other arm/leg.

Wednesdays will be a body weight day. We will do 150 count of bridges, 100 air squats, 75 crunches, 50 push-ups, 25 burpees, and 10 tuck jumps.

Thursdays will be power days. We will bench, back squat, straight leg dead lift, and hang clean weights that justify 3 sets of 3-4 reps. We will work with like-skilled partners and have 90 second sets like our traditional workouts mentioned above.

On the field, Mondays will be our power circuit with sandbag drags, mat drills, sledgehammers, and tire flips. Tuesdays will be our agility circuit days with ladders, bags, hurdles, and zig-zag runs. Wednesdays will be our sprint series with intervals (spring-jog-sprint), 10’s, 40’s and 100’s. Lastly, Thursdays will be our football specific day where we work on 7on7 drills (we play our 7on7 games from 5-6 on Thursday evenings).

I will report the outcomes here on the ironman football blog.