Combining American Football with Strength Training

Hey Coach,

hope all is well.

I’ve just started playing American football and am now in a bit of a conundrum with my strength training.

The football training is very intense and leaves me with a few bruises and soreness. My recovery capacity has never been great, 3 times strength training per week with 4 exercises per workout was all I could handle. Bodybuilding treats me way better (more machines, less recovery need) and I can handle 3-4 hard workouts per week.

I am 6 foot tall and around 190 lbs right now.

My question now is, what’s your advice on the following parameters while having football training 2 times per week and 2-3 times bodybuilding/strength work per week:

  1. Total calories. I usually eat around 3500-4000 kcal when bulking. I’ve thought about going for 4000 minimum now with two more workouts per week.

  2. Workout intensity and exercise selection. I am currently combining a strength routine where I train the big lifts once a week and a different one of them heavy every week. Afterwards I go for a bodybuilding routine. I combine squats and shoulders, bench and back, DLs and Chest.
    With a relatively low recovery capacity, should I just forego training the big lifts heavy altogether? Or maybe cut the bodybuilding work from 6 to 3 exercises? I don’t think the muscle recovery will be the problem, I fear my CNS will be overtaxed.

Since you have experience with sports and training, maybe you can give me 1-2 short general guidelines to follow. I’d appreciate any input.

What level of ball do you play and what position?

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In Germany the system works differently. I won’t ever be a pro athlete and the level is for sure lower than college level in America. Depending on how good I can be, I’ll either play second highest league in Germany or one-two leagues below that. Of course I need to first make the starting line up in one of the teams to call myself a player. Since I’m a rookie at 27 yo, that will be difficult enough. Good thing is I bring the right size for some positions and can easily bulk up, strength training is also not an issue. The skills are what has to be refined.

Position will be decided in the next weeks. I’m good at catching but a rather bad corner (I’d guess both stem from years of playing basketball when I was younger).
I guess I could play RB, full back, line backer or maybe a slot receiver. But we’ll see where I can make the most of my strengths.

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Depending what system they’re running, basketball players are outstanding tight ends here. Very easy transition.

I was just asking because 2 days per week seems low. Do they have mandatory track work or any of that?

It sounds like you’re still in “make the team” state, so your job is to look good for the coach. If size and strength aren’t your weaknesses, my $0.02 would be to drill whatever lifts he cares about just to show off. In the US, it’s the power clean (max weight) and the bench press (max reps with 100kg) every time.

For actual performance, I’d jump and run. I’d probably make a lot of my sprint workouts just running my route tree over and over - being a great technician can make up for a lot. If you can run crisp routes and be a big target (I’m thinking tight end), they’re going to like you.

Coach has written some football training suggestions in here before; I’m just thinking what I would do if I was in crunch time to show off.

Good luck, man! I hope it goes great. It’s cool that you can still get involved at 27. Keep us posted!

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I could write a whole book to answer your question. First, because I played football myself for years. I also coached for close to 10 years, winning 3 provincial championships and also because off-season and in-season training for athletes (mostly football and hockey) are a big part of my seminars.

But I don’t have all day, so here are some general advice

  1. You will more often be short by a meter/yard than by a pound/kilo. This is an old saying by my former coach to illustrate that, unless you play on the lines (which is not your case) speed is a lot more important than size and even strength. I made the mistake myself of focusing on size and strength but neglecting speed and that led to horrible performances and losing my starting job. For most positions you might play due to your size, speed and agility are almost everything.

  2. Contrary to what many believe (and even to what I taught years ago) strength doesn’t play as huge of a role in improving speed as many thing. Strength work without speed work (sprints, jumps, plyos, agility drills, etc.) will not improve your speed except for beginners to lifting. The main benefit of strength training is VERY general: it is simply to develop the capacity to send a strong neural impulse to the muscles, which will increase fast-twitch recruitment and will make speed training more effective. But past those initial adaptations, strength work by itself doesn’t do much for speed. There is also this whole “strength respond in a velocity-specific manner”. Explosive strength actions and slower strength actions have different motor recruitment patterns. If you want to be fast you need to train fast movements, period.

  3. Some positions will require more strength. Mostly on the lines and inside linebackers/fullbacks. But in the modern game, even FB and ILB need speed more than raw strength.

  4. If you have never played football before, I wouldn’t worry about how you train right now. As it was mentioned, focus on making the team first.

  5. If you’ve never played before (especially at your age) coaches will look at the athleticism factor OR the freak size factor. By freak size, I mean someone like a rugby player who is over 2 meters tall and 140+kg while moving well. OR being something like a 6’5" athletic guy with long arms to play tight end. You don’t have freak size, so your only real shot is to be super fast and agile, enough that it sets you apart from more skilled/experienced players. I’ve never seen someone who has never played football get a spot only because they can lift heavy or look muscular. Coaches recruit speed.

  6. That having been said, the core of your training should be speed and agility work. With enough strength work to help support your speed and agility training.

  7. A football season is not conducive to training for size and strength. Especially if you are new to the game. Experienced players are more accustomed to the demands of a season and I find that they support it better and are able to train harder, even in-season. For example, I was training a pro football player who was able to gain a few lbs of muscle and get stronger even during a season. But most will be lucky to maintain what they have (although if you have only 2 practices and 1 game per week, it might be possible to gain a bit) and most will lose some size and strength in-season. Why am I telling you this? Because if your training and your physique is more important for you than football, you might end up being very unhappy.

  8. Most gains are made in the off-season. And in football the off-season is very long (6-8 months) so it is possible to make huge improvements. But in-season the goal is mostly to maintain what you have.

  9. The way you train in-season is highly dependent on how you trained in the off-season. I’ll give you the example of the football player I mentioned earlier. In the off-season he did 3 whole-body workouts (so squatting, power snatching and pressing 3 days a week) plus a 4th day of bodybuilding work. He also sprinted 3 days a week. That’s a lot of work and we gradually built up to that. But the point is that this high workload allowed him to keep more lifting frequency and volume in-season because his body was used to hard physical labor. In fact, his off-season training was more demanding than his football season (practices and games). He was able to keep squatting, power snatching and pressing (among other things) twice a week plus one “bodybuilding” session/week on top of his 5 weekly practices and 1 game. A friend of mine trained a player on the same team, and because of the way he trained in the off-season he was only able to lift once a week in-season.

  10. In-season my favorite training (strength) tools are:

Partial lifts from pins. These are much easier to recover from, despite the heavier weights used because there is much less muscle damage occurring (there is also much less chances of injuries) due to the fact that the muscle fibers producing tension are not stretched as much. Initiating the lift from pins also reduces the amount of stress occurring at the turnaround point. And because of the heavy loads, you can more easily maintain or improve neuromuscular function.

Prowler pushing/sled dragging: These are pretty much devoid of eccentric loading and will thus be physically easy to recover from. With sled pushing/dragging I like to use the formula: 10 meters = 1 repetition. If you are using it to maintain/gain size, I recommend loading as heavy as you can keep pushing smoothly over 30-50m and for maintaining/gaining muscle mass go up to 60-80m.

Loaded carries: Farmer’s walks, Zercher carries and overhead walks are all good options to work on strength without affecting recovery too much. BUT these will cause a bit more soreness (mostly in the upper body) as some muscles are producing a lot of tension while being stretched or resisting lengthening.

Power snatch/clean from blocks: This is obviously used only is the athletic is very competent and comfortable with them. They are used to maintain/increase power, not strength so there is no need to use loads above 80%, rather focus on producing as much velocity as possible. Ideally you would have blocks on which you can drop the weights.

Reverse-band lifting. Reverse bands squats, deadlifts/RDLs and bench press greatly decrease stress on the muscles in the lengthened position, reducing muscle damage, making them easier to recover from.

Band-only work. More targeted band exercises can be used to maintain or increase muscle mass with almost no recovery cost (because they unload the muscle as they are getting lengthened). But to be effective they need to be done until there is a significant accumulation of lactate in the muscles.


I loved football - this was awesome; thanks coach!

I really hesitate to post again, because I don’t want to clutter your amazing content, but one last bit of advice for the OP going into the “make the team” camps is on how you show up for the coach and the team:

  • Be super supportive in the locker room and huddle. Don’t just “be there,” make everyone want you there and feel a void if you aren’t. Some folks make a team just by being a great teammate. Little things like coming back to your QB every time he scrambles or selling out on cutback blocks will look huge.

  • Be an absolute animal in drills. This feels the opposite, but between the whistles you should be terrifying. Coaches want to see a guy that is just determined to win every one-on-one and is aggressive. This is a little different than basketball, where drills tend to be completely about technique; one-on-ones in football camps are just as much about setting a tone.

Sorry for posting again after the big one!


If the athlete can do no more than two full body sessions in-season, would you only use workouts with a concentric emphasis?

For example one day partials in the A series and loaded carries/band work as assistance work.

The other day explosive strength work with power cleans/clean from blocks in the A series and loaded carries/band work as assistance work.

OR would you periodize partials and strength-speed from phase to phase so you could fit in a workout with an isometric emphasis? Like overcoming isometrics for example in the A-series.

In the OCTS course you mentioned that you like to use both contraction types in-season and leave out the eccentric day for less muscle damage and a fresher CNS.

However, since muscles create no movement at all when using isometrics (leaving out isometronics), you could argue that there’s no place for iso’s in-season and that it would simply be better to focus on strength-speed work in order to maintain and maybe even improve speed and explosiveness after an off-season macrocycle that included a lot of eccentric and isometric work.

I would appreciate your two cents on this CT as I have currently started writing training programs to maximize athletic performance in the off-season and strategies to maintain it in-season.

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Spot on.

Especially when someone has zero football experience. Being a football player requires a different mindset than all other sports (except rugby) and subconsciously, football coaches always assume that athletes from other sports will not have what it takes from an aggressiveness and “violent intent” perspective.


Pretty much, although overcoming isometrics also have value. But I certainly drop the eccentric emphasis.

Isometrics are actually very good at improving the strength of the neural drive without much recovery requirements. This is the most important impact of strength training for speed improvements. So yeah, it has its place.

How about using partials and strength-speed on the A-series and overcoming isometrics either as a warmup (for example pushing against pins where the sticking point is) or on the assistance exercise in the B-series (which could be the same exercise as the A-series but again working the range where the sticking point is)?

Or would that be too much for one session? I personally noticed that isometrics are really easy on recovery like you said but then again I’m not a 500 pound squatting specimen so maybe this approach needs to change when you’re working with super strong athletes.

Are you a fan of using accommodating resistance as a strength speed method for athletes that have not yet mastered olympic lifts? I especially like using bands over chains because they support the stretch reflex and you can keep trying to accelerate the load as you go up due to less inhibitory signals from the Golgi tendon organs.

No. Especially not in-season.

First, they are not really a complete substitutes for the olympic lift variations (power variations from the hang or block) because they are much slower and do not have the same force absorption benefit.

Second, I don’t like the instability of the bands. I can deal with it during the off-season, but not taking any chances in-season.

I also find that a majority of athletes are already too slow when trying to perform regular lifts for max acceleration with lower loads, Adding bands with these guys makes zero sense.

I honestly stopped using bands and chains with athletes years ago.

If someone can’t do the olympic lift variations, loaded trap bar jumps are a better option.

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I find overcoming isometrics in-season to be most beneficial when complexed with jumps of loaded jumps.

For example:

A1. Squat overcoming isometric at a 90 deg. knee angle x 6 seconds
2 minutes of rest
A2. Trap bar jump squat with 10-20% of max x 5 reps
3-4 minutes of rest

I find overcoming isos and heavy partials to work pretty much the same thing and to be a redundant complex.


While overcoming isometrics are a good tool to strengthen the weak part of a lift’s range of motion, with athletes that’s not why we use them. Especially not in-season.

Strength coaches need to get away from the mentality of focusing on maximizing performance on specific lifts with athletes. An athlete doesn’t train the squat or the bench to squat and bench as heavy as they can. They do it to increase the strength of the neural drive.

I do not see much value in spending time and energy specifically to fix the sticking point so that they can squat or bench 10kg more. It will have no effect on their athletic performance.

With athletes, overcoming isos should be used to 1) strengthen the neural drive even more (so you don’t want to use a weak position) 2) to strengthen a sport-specific position or joint angle. 3) to potentiate an explosive action (in which case you’d want to use the joint angle where the most power production comes from… e,g the depth of your dip when jumping or the same knee/hip angle as the beginning of the push phase in a sprint).


Would it still be redundant to apply both methods in the same session when you use them in different ranges? I’m actually using the concentric-iso combination because you recommended it to me in a different thread that was all about peaking the squat and OH press in a Strength macrocycle. I’m posting the example from intensification I below:

Day 1 - Squat/Overhead overload

I would use one concentric overload (partial range lift) and one isometric overload (overcoming or functional isometric) exercise for each lift

Something like:
A. Concentric overload squat
B. Isometric overload squat
Rest 10-15 minutes
C. Concentric overload press
D. Isometric overload press

By no means am I trying to put you on the spot here, I’m simply sharing it to help you understand where my point is coming from.

This was really helpful, especially the insights you shared about how to use iso’s for an athlete as opposed to using them for gen pop or powerlifters who just want to excel at the main lifts.

Thank you CT.

In that case I assume that you are using the iso to address the weak point in a lift. In which case it has a different purpose and is thus not redundant

When I said redundant, I misread your original post. I thoughts you meant doing a complex of partial overloads with overcoming isometrics.

That’s on me, I should’ve been more specific about the scenario.

What I originally meant to ask was where isometric methods would fit in the workout if you are already using partials in workout A and strength-speed or speed-strength in workout B if an athlete can only afford to train 2x/week in-season.

Based on the explanations you have given me, I see two very good options during in-season:

  1. Using overcoming iso’s in a complex to potentiate (strengthen neural drive as well) the strength-speed or speed-strength method you’re using on the traditional lift/olympic exercise/jumps in the A series.

  2. Strengthen a sport specific angle or multiple angles in the B series by using overcoming iso’s.

My thought process was to use a couple of overcoming iso sets as a warmup prior to doing partials or explosive work in the A series. I would actually do this for the same reason as mentioned in option 1, to increase neural drive and be more explosive with partials or olympic lifts/jumps.

I have yet to watch the programming course of OCTS, I think I’ll find some ‘aha now I get it’ moments in there.

Thank you again for your interest and patience.

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Oh, I get it. I thought you meant “A” as in the A series (first exercise in a program) and “B” as in B series (2nd or 3rd exercise in a workout).

Yeah, if both are are done on different workouts it’s perfectly fine