Conditioning for Football

Posted by Jason Ferruggia on January 26, 2009

Question: Coach Ferruggia, I just wanted to let you know I have been a big fan of your stuff for years and appreciate what you do. I had a quick question about football. What do you do for conditioning with your football players? When do you do it in the weekly schedule? How often?

Thanks a lot man,

Jared Austin

Answer: Jared, this is actually a more complex question than it seems. Conditioning for football is tricky and gets confusing to a lot of coaches and trainers because what you actually end up having to do is condition guys for tests and camp, not the actual game. Running 300 yard shuttles, doing long duration strongman work, bodyweight circuits, high rep kettlebell work, etc. is actually not specific to the game of football. Most coaches and trainers, including myself, have prescribed this type of training to their athletes in the offseason because they know they will be tested for endurance when camp begins.

Think about the conditioning requirements for a game of football for a second. A play lasts about four to eight seconds. Then you get 25-40 seconds to rest and get ready for the next play. So doing anything that lasts much longer than ten seconds isn’t very sport specific at all.

Legendary running back Earl Campbell knew this and failed his teams conditioning test every year. Yet he dominated the competition come game time. Training for that ridiculous test would have forced him to sacrifice his strength and power and I guess he wasn’t willing to do so. Can you blame him?

As far as conditioning methods go, yes, we will run 300 yard shuttles to prepare for the test. But remember, long duration sets, whether they are performed in the weight room or on the field, are probably detrimental to a football player’s performance, so do as little as possible. You should do as much as you need to improve the athletes performance on the 300 yard shuttle test (or whatever else they will need to do in camp), and no more.

Having said that, please understand that I am in no way trying to downplay the importance of conditioning for football players. When you factor in the nerves, the uniform, the mouthpieces, the brutality that the game inflicts on the players bodies, a lot of things that look good or make sense on paper go out the window.

Conditioning is, in fact, critically important for football players. Vince Lombardi said, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all,” and it’s often the most well conditioned team that will prevail in the end.

It’s just that the tests and sometimes the training methods, are a bit out of whack. I’d suggest keeping the duration of the drills short but doing multiple repeats with minimal rest periods. That way you build up the exact kind of conditioning that is specific to football and not the Boston Marathon.

Strongman training is great for conditioning. We use kegs, sleds, sandbags, sledgehammers, you name it. Another tool I love is the Prowler. The Prowler works incredibly well for football specific conditioning; one reason being that you probably couldn’t push the Prowler for more than ten seconds if you wanted to. It’s brutal. One note about running with the Prowler I will make is that you should be careful when prescribing sets with the low handles. A lot of athletes can not get into this position safely and are putting their spines at great risk. Simultaneous hip and spinal flexion can often be a prescription for back problems, specifically disc herniation. But that’s another discussion for another day. Just be wary of that.

Hopefully that answers your question about conditioning for football.

Thanks for the question.

Be relentless,

Jason Ferruggia

PS. For more info on training for football pick up a copy of Renegade Strength & Conditioning for Football by clicking HERE