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Lightning Strikes San Diego Chargers\' Dave Redding\'s Unusual Methods to EffectSamson\'s NFL Strength & Conditioning Coach of the Year
by: Larry Hartstein
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San Diego’s Dave Redding, the 2006 Samson Strength and Conditioning NFL Coach of the Year, describes football as an “awkward movement sport.”
And that description shapes his strategy on training the Chargers.
“I could really care less what they bench, squat or power clean one time,” he said. “I don’t test them on that. I do test them on their ability to sustain a very intensive effort for two hours, four days a week, year round. The only thing that matters for me is that they’re ready for battle.”
Playing in the NFL is a brutal experience, and Redding sees his job as preparing the Chargers for that abuse. “In football you go, you fall down, get up, accelerate off somebody, backpedal, and so on,” he said. “Only one time do you get to run in a perfectly straight line, and that’s when you kick off. The rest of the time you’re dodging, darting, stopping, going, getting your face slapped, accelerating, decelerating. It’s about being able to decelerate and start up on a dime again, about being able to change direction in a hurry. It’s about being able to stop, plant, go the other way and be full speed in three steps.
“Most of what I do is to simulate what they do on the football field.”
Few, if any, NFL teams emphasize medicine ball work as much as the Chargers do.
“The medicine ball routine we do is very unique,” Redding said. “There’s a lot of stuff we do with them that people probably can’t imagine.” Every Tuesday and Friday during off season workouts, Redding puts the Chargers through a grueling medicine ball regimen. Each player is given a medicine ball and told to start on the goal line. The players go up and down the field doing seven different throws four times apiece.
“They throw backwards, forwards, over the shoulder, twisting, a lot of different ways,” Redding said. “They’re off balance throwing it, then they straighten up and go get it. That is their opponent. They overcome the mass of that ball and go chase it. Then overcome the mass of that ball again. Every time I make them do it a different way.”
For instance, the players might start with a chest pass. They heave the ball as far as they can, which might be 10 or 15 yards. Then they sprint to the ball and throw, say, a backwards pass. This taxing process would continue until they have completed 28 throws. Other throws are underhanded, like pitching a softball; underhanded with two hands; and a discus throw with the right or left.
“Each time you’ve got to sprint to the ball and do another throw with maximum effort,” Redding said. “You’ve got to heave that bitch, sprint to it and keep heaving it.” After the 30-minute medicine ball workout, players invariably are exhausted.
“At the end they don’t want anymore,” Redding said. Besides being a great conditioner, the medicine ball puts players in awkward body positions like those they experience during games. “It’s an unbelievable flexibility and awkward movement thing,” Redding said. “You’re knocked off balance and you have to regain your path. When you do those medicine ball throws, it puts you in that position where you’ve got to get to the ball again, overcome that opponent and get back on your path.”
Free agents who sign with the Chargers often are overwhelmed by the 30-minute workout. And it’s just part of a two hour daily workout during the off season program. “When [the medicine ball portion] is over, they say, ‘Can I go to the shower now?’” Redding said. “Some guys really dread it at first.”
But done right, there is nothing more valuable in the training regimen, according to Redding.
OFF SEASON PROGRAM, PART I
(See Off Season Strength and Conditioning Chart)
From a strength and conditioning standpoint, Redding wants every Charger to be “the same guy on the first play of the pre season and the last play of the Super Bowl.” He lays the foundation for achieving that goal during the mandatory off season workout program, which runs seven to eight weeks. “It starts very generically, because they haven’t done much in 10 weeks [since the end of the season],” Redding said. “By the end of our off season program, they’re ready to eat nails. They’re in peak condition.”
To understand the importance of the off season program, consider the amount of time Redding has with the players. He gets them two hours a day, four days a week during the off season program. In training camp, Redding gets them just 30 minutes a day three days a week. Workout time is just as limited throughout the season. Redding works with players Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays for 30 minutes each.
“During the season they’re beat up and you hope they can come in three times a week,” Redding said. “Sometimes treatment by the trainer takes precedence.” The off season program runs on a Monday-Thursday/Tuesday-Friday schedule. Monday’s and Thursday’s begins with hurdle drills on the practice field for 10 minutes or less. “Then it’s on to flexibility drills: walk over/walk under/crawl under,” Redding said. “Then dynamic flexibility, high knee skips, backwards running and side shuffling.”
Then comes speed training. For the first time, players are divided according to size and position. “The big guys might do resistance training [with a harness around the waist],” while smaller, faster players like running backs and defensive backs do “overspeed training.”
Everyone then moves on to weight training. “Everybody goes in and does Olympic lifts, clean, clean and jerk, snatch,” Redding said. “We do that with dumbbells and Olympic bars, pullups, seated rows, lat pulls.
“Then we go into our conditioning,” he continued. “We have a 100 yard hill that we run. It’s a very hard hill to run. Then we do half-gassers, over and back the width of the field sideline to sideline in a certain amount of time. Every position has a different time to make it in.”
And they’re still not done. “Receivers will run routes, running backs will run routes and running back movements, while linemen are doing movements according to what they do on the field. Push this sled, etc. That’s another time where the variable comes in for their position.”
OFF SEASON PROGRAM, PART II
Tuesday and Friday workouts start with the medicine ball routine (described above). Then comes plyometrics – exercises that use explosive movements to develop muscular power. Plyometrics help players generate a large amount of force quickly. These exercises include jumping over hurdles and boxes, lateral hopping movements, high jumps, all done in a series.
“We probably do 50 to 100 contacts. That’s every time you hit the ground,” Redding said. “You might do a set of six to 10 reps, then rest.” Then it’s off to the weight room for leg and upper body work, followed by interval training.
“They have a choice of five different things: stairmaster, jump rope, slideboard, etc., or they can run the hill again if they want.”
Players get Wednesdays off. As for the other four days, “it’s two hours of hell,” Redding said. “If they’ve got anything left, I’m not working ‘em hard enough.”
IN SEASON MAINTENANCE
During training camp and the regular season, Redding focuses on weight training and dynamic flexibility. “Lifting is generically the same for everybody,” he said. “QBs, RBs, DBs - they may not spend the same amount of time in the weight room, but they do basically the same movements in the weight room.”
Running backs and D-backs do less squatting and more one-legged work, such as step-ups on a box. Big guys will squat twice a week “because they need the mass,” Redding said.
Everyone does power-cleans, some form of squats, military press, bench press, pull-ups, and ab work, but quarterbacks and other skill players spend less overall time in the weight room. Redding gets more position specific out on the field.
“I’ll keep little guys out on the field longer and do more stop-and-go, dynamic movement and plyometrics,” he said.
“We do a lot of movement and activity related to their positions. If you want to condition a lineman, have ‘em push on a sled for 1.5 or 2 seconds, then release and sprint. They have an opponent in front of ‘em. It’s 100 percent effort for 2 seconds or less, then release and run.”
AVOIDING OVER TRAINING
Redding has seen the effects of over training. “I’d rather have a slightly under trained football player than an over trained one,” he said. “That leads to tendonitis and injury problems.
"You do not grow in the weight room or get faster on the football field. You grow and get stronger when you're resting." During the relentless off season program, Redding tells players to eat three solid meals, get plenty of sleep and relax on the weekends. "If you do anything exercise wise [on weekends], I'd rather it be yoga, boxing or martial arts. And not too crazy. Yoga is very beneficial for people who are into weight training."
Redding calls weight training "sophisticated manual labor." Done properly, "it protects them, makes them more durable, helps them perform better at the job," he said. "You don't train twice a day every day. If you're not taking time off, you're not growing, you're not getting stronger or faster.
"On days off, take days off," he concluded. "Sometimes I tell them just to float in the swimming pool."
Redding, 54, grew up in the weight training business. His father, 85-year-old George C. Redding, was a pioneering figure in Nebraska high school football in the 1950s. George Redding took a head coaching job on the condition that the school build him a weight room. He won a state championship his second year. His son, then in kindergarten, helped him train the high school players.
"I'd take a galvanized pole, put it in a bucket of concrete and that was our barbell," Redding said. "My dad was one of the first people to install weight training programs where he was coaching, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. "He was way ahead of the curve," Redding continued. "He learned it during World War II, when he was in Europe. I've basically been doing the same stuff he did. It hasn't changed a whole lot since I was a little boy. I just have more sophisticated equipment."
Legendary Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Bob Devaney took note of George Redding's program. "Not long after that, they had a full year round weight program at Nebraska," Redding said.
A three year letterman as a defensive end at Nebraska in the early 1970s, Redding became the first ever strength coach at Washington State University in 1977. He has served as strength and conditioning coach for four NFL teams: Cleveland (1982-88), Kansas City (1989-97), Washington (2001) and San Diego (2002-present). At every stop, Redding has worked for Marty Schottenheimer. Redding holds the distinction of being the Browns' first ever strength coach.
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