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Speed Report: Pre-Season Conditioning and Speed Training - The Good, The Bad, and The Indifferent

by: Dale Baskett
Football Speed Specialist
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As coaches, we must have a conditioning program in place. But that may not be the  truth for everyone. Having the opportunity to work with programs all over the country for many years, Iíve seen a variety of methods used. When the subject comes up about conditioning, one must consider what may be good, bad or just simply indifferent.

For some programs conditioning begins in January and ends at the end of fall camp. This constitutes a long series of training for what is termed, conditioning. Some programs condition just during the spring and summer months and, as odd as it may seem, there are programs that donít condition at all. That shines light on the term indifference which, in most cases, thatís thought of as strange. This approach is not conventional to the majority of football programs. However, this concept is used more often than you might expect.

Choices and Results

I know you have your design for your yearly football program, perhaps speed and conditioning included. My objective is to share some concepts for the term conditioning and speed as they should be on the same page. Speed is the most highly regarded element by every football coach. That being said, what you do for speed training should be on target. Letís begin by realizing that there is a way to condition that works well and a way that is not very productive for speed or conditioning.

It beaks down to understanding energy systems physiologically. Letís consider how the metabolic energy systems works from an exercise science standpoint. All training thatís done is subjected to the following physiological systems. There are three energy systems available when training. The ATP-CP system is referred to as the phosphogen system (Adenosine-TriphosPhate-Creatine Phosphate) which supports very high intensity activities. This system provides the fuel needed for intense maximal muscle contraction that is short lived during intense actions. Its availability lasts from 5 to 10 seconds. Then thereís a metabolic transition to the glycolysis system. When this occurs there will be less power than the phosphogen supply delivers. The by-product of glycolysis is pyruvic acid, which converts to lactic acid and thatís when fatigue ensues quickly when the athlete reaches the 9-10 second level during maximum efforts.

The glycolytic system provides energy for slightly longer durations but will have a much less dynamic effect. It would be considered 70-80% of fuel power training. You canít develop the phosphogen system effectively if youíre constantly training in a glycolytic zone.

The third system is called the oxidative system which supports long, slow minimal intensity such as distance running. This would not be a good phase to train in if youíre a football player. This system is aerobic and football is anaerobic.

Specifics for Good, Bad, Indifferent

Letís begin with the bad then go to good and finish with zero conditioning or the indifferent. Keep in mind I have called it bad conditioning because itís as close to useless as you can get for football speed and proper conditioning. Scientifically the glycolytic and oxidative systems are not well suited for ballistic energy output for a maximal return on the investment  according to scientific information.

Whether youíre running a 5, 10, 15 or 40 yard sprint, the ATP-CP system is the first to respond. Itís the one most needed for sudden energy activity and kicks in when the normal oxidative system isnít adequately providing the energy needed. A small quantity of ATP-CP is stored in the muscle body for when you need a short burst of energy in a hurry. How fast does ATP-CP gear up? Blink and youíve missed it. That is, according to Christopher Scott, professor in the department of Exercise, Health and Sport Sciences at the University of Southern Maine and an expert in metabolism.

ďIt takes just thousands of a second for the phosphagen system to engageĒ he said. ďThe downside to this powerful system is that it only stores a limited ATP-CP capacity in your muscles. Itís useful for about 6-10 seconds of serious effort and then it shifts directly to the glycogen stage.Ē

The good equates to training in the phosphogen phase metabolically. The bad represents training in the glycogen phase by delivering only 70-80% efficiency during maximal output. To train fast you must run fast. Fast puts you in the phosphogen phase if you donít go beyond the 9 to10 second period which is when it depletes its usefulness. Most plays last 6-10 seconds in duration and we want the most speed we can deliver in that  time sequence. We should train for speed and conditioning in the best zone available  - the phosphogen zone. Glycogen will hold at 70-80% for several minutes but football plays donít rely on several minutes as a measurement for success. The oxidative system has zero relativity to football. The indifferent comes in two forms Ė no conditioning and then thereís aerobic conditionibng which is indifferently bad.

Aerobic and anaerobic conditioning have been covered in past articles. These two systems must be used separately if you understand the metabolic nature of the sport of football. Football has more rest/recovery time than maximum energy moments throughout a game. All out energy in a 60 minute game is approximately 10:33 seconds long. Thereís a misconception about football and conditioning. Footballís heavily combative which alone requires 100% phosphagen energy. That does not even mention the high level of muscle contraction expenditure while running at maximal speeds.

The Choice for Ultimate Results

Using the correct energy system is a must for maximizing football speed and conditioning. Scientific  physiology research states that aerobic exercise burns muscle. The muscle wasting nature of aerobic training places a negative effect on anaerobic performance as well as muscle contraction efficiency.

Sadly, this information has been slow to spread to many anaerobic sports, especially football. It is still common to find boxers and the martial arts athletes still thinking that long, slow endurance road work is essential to their fight endurance.

Anaerobic training requires intense periods of maximum efforts followed by high rest periods. This formula is based on the fact that ATP reproduces in the system only when athletes recover for 2-3 minutes in length. If you donít measure your recovery times, you will be in the glycogen phase which is again 70-80% effective.

What systems are you using to produce the best results for being ready to play fast and sustain speed throughout a game? Anything used for training over time will give you some gain but may not be precisely specific enough if done incorrectly. In fact, you will be a long way from the most effective results.

Football Conditioning Thatís Useful
The bad would be perfoming gassers and circuit stations that require 5-6 station set-ups that players rotate from one to the other. This is more fatigue work than is metabolically useful or specific to what science indicates works best.

The indifferent for most would be conditioning instead of speed training and lifting. I work with a six time state champion high school which has an overall record of 96 wins and 11 losses in an eight year period. The team never conditions although theyíre energy system training is specific with all their speed and movement. There are high intensity periods of training and long recovery periods between efforts.
If you are interested in my mixed energy cycle
conditioning package, e-mail me and Iíll send a copy of it directly to you.   


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