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Vol II 2015

Vol II 2015

A Nine-Week Off Season Super-Cycle Strength and Conditioning Program

by: Jeff Connors
Strength and Conditioning Coach, East Carolina University
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This article was published in the January edition of American Football Monthly with factual errors. The revised version is posted below. AFM regrets the errors.

True developmental training at the collegiate level can be defined as two mandatory, nine-week training phases per year. The remaining time each year could be considered in-season, discretionary or possibly maintenance. The other possibility in the yearly scheme that might be considered as mandatory developmental would be the in-season period of the red shirt season. During these mandatory phases, it is crucial that a sound plan is in place to meet specific objectives. Throughout three decades of training, my thought processes have primarily been influenced by one factor - results.

From January to March, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, we have 20 minutes of linear work and 20 minutes of multi-area segments before lifting. On Tuesday and Thursday, we have a one hour segment of speed work and position specifics. This approach has produced significant strength gains, improved athleticism, enhanced fast twitch qualities and a high level of improvements in linear speed development. I believe what I see. That’s why I continue to hang my hat on real numbers and not fictional assumptions.

Another important reason why we have met our training objectives is the quality of our facility. It allows us to optimize the time available toward specificity of training. We have a sixty-yard, five-lane track, a 40 x 50 turfed area, a linear multi-jump area, twenty four power racks and eighteen platforms. We have a run rocket dedicated to each lane of the track as well as a variety of equipment that facilitates multiple speed training modalities.

The lifting schedule that I use during this period could be considered a total body approach with a rotating focus on specific body parts or exercise choices. We employ three types of barbell, dumbbell or kettlebell categories in our program. These would include primary lifts, component movements and variation exercises. They are organized in the following manner:

Hip Rotary Power Primary                      Component                 Variation

Power clean                                             Block clean                 KB clean

Hang snatch                                            Halting deadlift           KB snatch

                                                                   RDL                         Vintage DB clean

                                                                 Jump shrug               Vintage DB sweep                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Squat  clean

Upper Body Strength Primary (supine press)            Component                 Variation     

Bench press                                                                Board press                   BB incline

DB incline                                                                    Floor press                     CGBP

                                                                                                                          2 chain BP

Upper Body Strength Primary (overhead press)                              Variation

Push jerk                                                                                             KB shoulder press

Kb jerk                                                                                                 KB seesaw press

                                                                                                            Push press

                                                                                                            Bamboo press

Beyond this menu of multi-joint exercises, we include extensive shoulder work designed for the prevention of injury and an adequate number of exercises to maximize strength in the glutes and hamstrings. We will also include a full complement of pulling movements as well as grip and neck strengthening.

 Our program has a very strong focus on strengthening the specific muscle groups necessary for acceleration. Multi-directional acceleration is of vital importance in our preparation, which influences our approach all the way back to developing foundational strength. Coming to balance and multi-directional restart strategies are all interrelated. All twenty two positions are required to engage in these types of demands whether programmed or reactive in nature. We also want our offensive and defensive linemen to be solid from the ground through the punch. This demand influences the method employed to develop strength / power and most importantly the means of conversion to the game.

 Our inventory of multi-jumps is first influenced by the fact that 52% of energy return is connected to the elastic response in the lower leg. We employ a sequence of single leg short hops with the objective of quick response and thickening the connective tissue. These are not cyclical drills. In fact, we teach nothing cyclical throughout our speed program. Our jumps are both vertical and horizontal and we like to complex them between sets. What I’ve discovered is that when jumps are combined with Olympic lifting progressions they assist in amping up fast twitch qualities. Some of our best 1RM power cleans have been preceded by several sets of jumps. We like to use box jump sequences once a week and horizontal double leg progressions once a week. 

 The number one form of elastic response training in this program is fly-in speed bounding over 4” mini-hurdles. We have a number of athletes who have built up to 12’ increments without any over stride. This is a good indicator that we are developing force at a high level regarding projection of the hips. We also include a large dose of resisted straight leg bounding to improve power in the upper hamstrings and glutes. I also believe that stadium bounds are very effective in developing the posterior chain and smoking the hip flexors. We also perform a three count pose chop up the stadium which requires over thirty reps of concentrated hip flexion.

 The most effective progressions of strength development in the primary lifts have been three-week mini-cycles and max effort training. When considering mandatory nine week periods, the limited time available requires that you get under some weight relatively early and often if you expect to improve your numbers. Deloading is generally obsolete unless there is evidence of a lack of recovery in your hardest workers. With eight discretionary weeks mandated, rest and recovery should be at a premium.

 The linear speed/ position specific component of the total program is a five day approach. Training specifically to optimize acceleration is our primary objective. This requires mastery of very specific coaching cues and the implementation of drills that enhance power and separation. Just as within many other programs, our terminology is unique to what we do, but should be relatively understandable to most strength and conditioning professionals. Our menu is divided into several primary categories. These would include postural cueing, functional hip strengthening, bounding, stride separation, neural drills, stride frequency and tempo running. The following chart is the breakdown for each category.


Postural Cueing                                     Functional Hip Strengthening

Focus                                                   Resisted pose chop

Arch                                                      Resisted mann run

Rotate                                                    Resisted scissors march

Hammer                                                Run rocket

Snap                                                    Stadium progression

                                                             Sled work

Stride Separation                              Bounding      

Target swing                                       Ankle bounding

Power scissors                                   Build up bound

Elevated power scissors                     Run Run bound

Wall drill                                             Straight leg bound

Tape drill (ACC quotient)                    Speed bound

Wicket drill                                          Contrast bound

Fly in bound (hurdles)                          Power bound


Neural drills                                       Stride frequency           Tempo running

Acceleration fast leg                           Fly ins                              Partner tempo

3 count rhythm                                    Downhill running             Tempo 40   

3 count fast leg                                   Towing                            Speed maker

Single leg fast leg                                                                      Fifty meter walk back

Command fast leg

3 count build up



This training phase is referred to as a “super cycle” because it is extremely intense and time efficient. It is designed to take advantage of every minute of available training time. It must be ultra-specific to the game of football. The general format for each training day is provided in the following outline.


  • Dynamic warm up
  • Rope jump and low-tempo foot patterns
  • Max effort power clean
  • (Four progressive warm ups – max-effort triple-three knockdown sets and vertical plyos)

*The bar must be racked within 10 seconds of the previous repetition.

  • Barbell step up 4 x 5 + board press 6 x 3
  • BB RDL 4 x 6  + DB incline press 4 x 6
  • Push jerk 5 x 5 (cycle to threes) + Shoulder pre hab series
  • Turkish get up + grip + neck

Linear speed segment (indoor track)

Wall drill progression

Power scissors 3-5 sets

Elevated power scissors 3-5 sets

Tape drill     6 x 20 M

Wicket drill  6 x 20 M

Multi-area segments (turf)

Hurdle series - line specifics (short space)

Cone patterns

Lateral speed (bag drills)

Cool down flex


Dynamic warm up

Hip strengthening drills (overhead resistance)

Contrast sled work

3 x 15 M  speed bound (resisted)

3 x 15 M  speed bound

3 x 15 M sprint ( resisted )

3 x 15 M sprint

Functional strengthening

Low lunge


Pull throughs

Position specifics (metabolic)

Cool down flex


Dynamic warm up

  • Turkish get up / windmill
  • Max-effort bench press ( four progressive warm ups )
  • Max-effort triple – three knockdown sets and horizontal double leg plyos
  • Box squat + bands + tendo  ( .7 dictates resistance) 8 x 3
  • Steep DB incline press 4 x 5
  • Hang snatch 6x3 + SKB RDL 4 x 8
  • BB pull circuit
  • DKB dead clean + press 4 x 3+3
  • Get up sit up 3 x 12

Linear speed segment (indoor track)

Run rocket warm up

3-4 Rotations:

Run rocket resisted drill rotation

Straight leg bound

Speed bound


Fly speed bound over 4” mini hurdles 6x15 M power scissors 3x10

Multi area segment

Foot quickness drills

Multi start / come to balance 

Hurdle sequence (speed reps)


Dynamic warm up

Postural cueing sequence

Partner tempos 4x60 M

Contrast sled work

2 x 30 M speed bound (resisted)

2 x 30 M speed bound

2 x 30 M  sprint (resisted)

2 x 30 M  sprint

Contrast power bound - sand pit

Sand drills

Position specifics (metabolics)

Cool down flex

*overspeed every other week


Specific warm up

Pry squat / overhead squat

  • Max effort back squat ( four progressive warm ups ) - max effort five reps and cycle down to three reps over nine weeks- three knockdown sets + lower leg drills, ( multi hops)
  • Block clean and tendo ( 1.2 MPS dictates resistance ) 8 x 2
  • Double chain bench press 6 x 3
  • Glute ham raise 4 x 8

               + SL glute bridge 4 x 8

  • Push press

              + shoulder pre-hab series

  • Med ball core + grip + neck

Linear speed segment

Tape drill progressive build up

Neural fast leg drills

Ins and outs

Tempo 40s with two partners

*stadium progression every third week

Multi area segment

Bag drills

Cone patterns / line specific drills

Hip flexibility sequence

Cool down flex

On any if the days that we lift, we may also incorporate exclusive kettlebell routines for athletes that need to lose body fat and achieve a higher level of conditioning. We would plug this in as an alternative to the multi-area segment. Typically, this would not allow for more than 30-40 seconds between sets and would include multi-joint combination exercises. This is a great method for incorporating a training component that addresses both strength and conditioning as well elevating the level of mental toughness.

The number of full “winter football conditioning” sessions varies from program to program. I’ve done as maybe as fifteen and as few as four. It really depends on your football staff and what they are thinking at the time. One thing is certain - you will be required to subtract that time from your weekly eight hours. That’s another reason the three-day lift is favorable because you can plug winter/ conditioning on Tuesday and Thursday and not interfere with the progression of the lifts.

The bottom line concerning the winter training phase for football is that we need to make every day count. We choose to focus on results that are evident through a sound battery of specific tests. Our athletes clearly understand that every day is urgent. They realize that they will be evaluated relative to the numbers they produce. Each player is recognized and awarded for achievement based upon a position specific standard of one to ten points related to each specific test. We evaluate our players with the following tests.

  1. Power clean 1 RM
  2. Back squat ( convert up to 6 RM)
  3. Bench press ( convert up to 3 RM)

*225 max reps also

       4.   Push jerk (maximum wattage)

       5.   Timed 40-yard dash (3 watches, same conditions, 2 reps) average 2 best times

       6.   Timed acceleration test

                6 steps for distance and time

                 acceleration quotient

                 distance ÷ time2 x2

       7.    Power quotient 5 x VJ

                                           3 x BJ

                                           1 x PClean

         8.  Flexibility battery

        9.  Vertical jump

      10.   Broad jump

       11.  Pro shuttle

       12.  3 cone agility

       13.  60 yd, shuttle / lineman-shot toss

       14.  Marine Corp sit-up test

 The tests throughout the summer programs are somewhat different. A player has the opportunity to achieve “Ironman of Summer “ if he can pass fifteen tests. He must pass the conditioning test upon reporting to camp. Six of the fifteen tests are conditioning oriented and require mental toughness.

 The most significant factor in a formula for a successful off-season program is education. Athletes want a “why” for everything and they want to know that their efforts are well spent. Most of them are aware that they will grind at the utmost level and they should expect results that are realized in the form of tangible personal gains or team wins. We always have a meeting prior to every training cycle to specifically discuss what we are about to do and why it is ultra-specific to football. No questions go unanswered. In fact, there are usually no questions. If the presentation is complete, most questions would appear to be somewhat unintelligent.

 The other factors of primary significance are tempo and micro-supervision. Anything that is slow in tempo is unlike football practice and enables people to get distracted. We keep everything on the clock and divide and conquer the larger groups. I am convinced that collegiate football players must be coached and or supervised through every minute of the program to ensure the best results. There must be a continuous flow of energy and enthusiasm that is grounded on a belief in the system.

About the Author:

 Jeff Connors recently completed his fourth season as Director of Strength and Conditioning for East Carolina University. It was his second stint at the school, having also coached there from 1991-2000. Connors also coached at North Carolina for a decade and also at Bucknell. A 1980 graduate of Salem College (WV), he was a four-year starter at cornerback.


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