Conditioning for Big Men

How do you condition the big men?

Let’s look at this differently. Let’s unwind a schedule. Why are you running out of gas at the end of the 2nd and 4th quarter? Think of it as the amount of energy you have for a set period of time. For football game that maybe 3 to 4 hours depending on when you start your warm up and how long the game lasts. Let’s make an imaginary figure out of 100 units of energy for that 4 hour period of time. If I spend 30 minutes of a pregame dynamic warm up, that will cost 20 units of energy. When I’m marching with the drums and I have my equipment on and we go through all the pageantry of the pregame, which includes another 20 to 25 minutes of being on the field and some hard energy expenditure whether it’s running through the banner or my individual drills, team drills and my Under Armor hype up period, that cost another 20 units of energy. I’m going to throw in some adrenaline, because that’s what happens Friday Night under the Lights. All of that will cost me 10 units of energy. By the time the game kicks off I’m already down 50 units of energy. Also, my adrenaline comes down from the spike and I’ll be adrenaline depleted and that will exhaust you as well. Maybe, even though we’ve done all the conditioning, if we are focused on how much time we spend warming up in pregame maybe we can have a little more energy at the end of the second quarter or the fourth quarter.

What if we use the same concept for the entire week of practice? We’ll start with the imaginary 100 units of energy. Monday maybe a walk-through, which will cost 5 units of energy. Tuesday and Wednesday we amp it up and let’s say each of those days, with the two to three-hour practice, will cost 20 units each.  Thursday will be another walk-through.  That will cost another five units. Going into the game we are at 50 units of energy. I understand that there has to be hard workouts, but maybe we can be a little more conscious about how much and how long we practice.

We can apply this principle to the season as well. What if you have a hundred units for the entire season? Too many coaches are really anxious at the beginning of the season, and always feel the need to condition because “we are not in shape.” Rarely do I see a coach who feels their team is in shape when the season starts even though they have spent all summer conditioning. I think it is a deep-seated fear. Conditioning is one thing that a coach can control. Through the first week of practice, you have overzealous coaches that wants to get everything done now. The first week may cost you 20 units of energy. There usually aren’t as many injuries at the end of the season because coaches have pulled back. (In fact, to show you the expenditure, NFL teams have found that most injuries happen at the beginning of their practice season because athletes cannot handle the amount of work that coaches expect right off the bat.)  For the first game, I always like to see how many injured players are on the sideline before the season even starts. It is usually an indicator of how difficult “doubles” were. The same can be said for the beginning of an off-season program when attendance is great. Peaking early usually means a weak finish.

 The follow-up question has to be, “Is there a way that we can increase the number of units of energy so we can go a little deeper, especially for the lineman?” I’m going to make a reference to the Triphasic for Linemen manual for some really good ideas on how you can condition your big men without pounding them into the ground. 

First, we set a pretty strong GPP base during our morning workouts. Whether we are in the running drill phase or the agility phase, both are very taxing on their energy systems. Will try to keep all drills regardless of the phase in about 10 seconds and try to get between a 30 to 40 second rest in between. In the second phase, the Friday warm-ups will consist of some form of obstacle course that takes between 15 and 20 seconds. The rest periods will be two and three minutes. During the GPP, I’ll have athletes keep water in their mouth to force  nose breathing. If you want more information on the impact of this, check out the book, Oxygen Advantage.

We will also have two-week periods where we focus on aerobic work.  We schedule these two-week periods at times when I’m not certain athletes have access to weight room, but everyone has access to some form of aerobic  equipment. I usually do the two weeks during Christmas break, and the two weeks in between the end of the offseason and the start of summer football. If we do not have access to a weight room, they can do 40 minutes of an aerobic type workout, either on a bike, rowing, or any other type of aerobic equipment. Athletes who have access to a weight room can do a wide variety of things. Again all of this is lifted from Triphasic for Linemen.  Most lineman do not enjoy aerobic work, so we have come up with some very effective alternatives. For example, set-up a squat rack and a bench and load the bars with 50-60% of their max. Have them alternate a single rep on each lift consistently for 10-15 minutes. Cal Dietz also has a great contralateral workout where we can add in various reflexes that the big men don’t often get when they are pushing the big weight. 

If you want to add the adrenaline factor to workout, add some fight or flight. Dan Fichter figured how to trip the response. Have an athlete stand against a wall. Two players will pin his back to the wall, he has five seconds to try to escape. An animal pinned to their back will trigger that fight or flight response. (That is why Jiu-jitsu is so cool. Put an athlete in the most disadvantageous position and get them to win.) You can also put two linemen on their knees and have them hand fight for 4-7 seconds. 

Once in season, we haven’t focused a lot on conditioning. The day after a game, we will do isometric holds for 30 seconds. This allows us to get a little conditioning in but it also forces some good blood flow to flush out all the waste generated from the night before. We will also use the vertical jump mat to determine how hard the players should practice on Tuesday.  If the  vertical jump is 10% to 20% less than what their normal vertical jump is, we will cut back their reps and get rid of any type of excessive running. They have not recovered from the game yet and we want to give him every opportunity so they are at their best by Friday night.

You can get traditional and go with 7-man sled pushes for appropriate time or create something that may be more fun than lining up for gassers or 40’s. I think the key is monitoring your players and pulling back to see where your “energy” goes.

By Chris Korfist

THREE Track Football Consortiums in THREE states this winter!

Showing 2 comments
  • Jon Beyle

    Great articles! Thanks. For your isometric holds, do you have certain ones you do?

  • Christian A Korfist

    We do feet and ankle hold like in the Tri-Phasic spring ankle model, split squats, hip-lock/toe-off.