The PreseasonThe notion of general to specific represents one of the most basic rules of strength and conditioning. While the off-season program focuses on general strength development and aerobic conditioning, the preseason program begins to focus much more narrowly on sport-specific exercises, anaerobic conditioning and speed training. The college preseason can generally be defined as beginning at the start of summer classes and continuing until the beginning of fall training camp.
Strength training in the preseason combines a mixture of general strength development, specific strength development and anaerobic conditioning. The core exercises, lifts like bench press and squat, continue to be performed with set and reps prescribed much like in the off-season. However, during the preseason, strength coaches begin to pay much more attention to rest periods, generally assigning a work to rest ratio. This ratio might be 1-3, 1-2 or even 1-1 at some point. This means that for every second spent lifting, a multiple of that time is spent resting. The less rest between sets, the more the stress on the anaerobic energy system. Players adapt to the decreased resting time as their anaerobic energy recruitment system becomes more efficient. For laymen, one would refer to this as "getting in shape."
Many strength coaches use circuit training in order to more accurately monitor work-rest periods. When I served as a strength coach, my means of compelling work-rest ratio was to assign players into groups. If I wanted a 1-3 work-rest ratio, then I would create groups of four, if I wanted 1-2, then I would create groups of three and so on. I then instructed players to begin their set immediately upon the conclusion of the previous lifter's set. While this wasn't perfect because of time spent changing weights, it was a fairly adequate means of training the anaerobic energy system.
Strength coaches, training players in the preseason, and in adhering to the notion of general to specific, also utilize much more sport-specific, or in the case of a single sport, position-specific exercises. For example, when training a quarterback, I would have him do a series of exercises designed to stretch and strengthen the muscles of the rotator cuff. Other skill position players would spend time training the hamstrings and the calf muscles. These two muscle groups protect the knees and ankles respectively. I would specifically prescribe stiff-legged dead lifts because it not only strengthened the hamstrings but also stretched them. As an added bonus, there is a considerable body of research that indicates that stiff-legged dead lifts enhance speed development. I always had offensive linemen perform an exercise called the Neider Press. This involved pressing a weight at a forty-five degree angle from the upper chest while standing with their feet a shoulder width feet apart with the knees bent. This lift mimics pass blocking and should be performed explosively with fairly light weights.
The preseason also features intensive speed and agility training. To be sure, both speed and agility is trained in the off-season, and in-season for that matter, but it is during the preseason that these two things become a primary focus.
There are some basic principles of speed that should first be explained. Two simple factors determine running speed. The first is stride frequency or how often one can pick up his feet and put them back down. The second is stride length or how far each stride takes the runner. In order to increase speed, one must increase either stride frequency, stride length or, preferably, both.
As a result, certain activities that, in the past, were hailed as being great for speed development, actually are not. One that immediately comes to mind is running uphill. In reality, running uphill actually decreases both stride frequency and stride length, the exact opposite response that one wants for speed development. Running downhill is a much more efficient means of increasing speed. Parachutes served as one of the primary tools that we used for speed development. Players would attach the chute and then begin to sprint. After a certain amount of distance, typically twenty or twenty-five yards, they would release the chute and see a drastic increase in both their stride frequency and length.
In addition to chutes, we just sprinted and did so as position-specific as possible. Linemen might line up and run five, ten, fifteen and twenty yard sprints. Skill position players would typically run twenty, thirty, forty and sixty yard sprints. Receivers might run stop-and-go sprints, defensive backs might start in a backpedal and then turn and sprint, and linebackers might run laterally and then turn and sprint forward. Regardless of the specific sprint drill, players did so only after a sufficient warm up period and I allowed them plenty of rest in between each sprint.
It is very important that sprint training be performed with relatively fresh athletes so it should come first on training days. Speed cannot be developed in an environment of fatigue. After posting my first article, a poster on the Members Only Forum questioned the usefulness of Notre Dame's 110's as a speed training tool since they created so much fatigue. He was absolutely correct in his questioning that. As I said then, I'm fairly certain that the 110's serve as a conditioning and team bonding tool but not as a speed development tool.
The preseason also focuses on agility development. Dot drills, cone drills and shuttle runs can be quite useful tools. The point is to improve the quick explosive response of each athlete. Agility drills should involve all players at every position.
Of course, what should be obvious by now is that in preseason strength and conditioning, athletes spend less time in the weight room and more time on the conditioning field and agility room. Because of the simple necessity of time management, one does prescribe less weight room time in order to have adequate time for conditioning, speed and agility development, but by decreasing rest periods and using circuit training at least once per week, adequate amounts of strength training can be prescribed.
Many strength coaches also spice up this time with competitions and creative conditioning procedures. A member of this site, tonynd, a high school strength coach in Ohio, told me that he has players flip truck tires, carry logs and lift them to the top of a wall and carry regular car tires but with the rims still attached. All of these exercises are great for developing the anaerobic energy system and for using muscles in a real world way. By turning these conditioning tools into games, he not only feeds his players competitive drive but also makes it more fun. I used simple little games like touch football and keep away to develop both speed and agility. Once again, they were fun, competitive and served my purpose of improving speed and agility.
The strength coach's primary responsibility in the preseason is to enable players to improve their physical skills as they relate to football. The strength that was gained during the off-season is translated into improved football-specific physical skills during the preseason. I don't mean to be redundant but it cannot be stated often enough that it is the strength coach's job is to produce better football players, not better weightlifters or faster sprinters. Every single exercise that he (or she) prescribes should be in pursuit of this goal.
The next article in this series will take a look at in-season strength and conditioning.