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An In-Season Strength and Conditioning Strategy

by: Scott Sinclair
Strength and Conditioning Coach Marshall University
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After completing a successful summer off-season program, I began to look at our in-season training and evaluating what we wanted to accomplish. The typical goals for an in-season program are to keep the players healthy and maintain what we achieved during the summer training. Not only did I want to accomplish this, but I also wanted our players to feel energetic, explosive, and powerful come Saturday. Since the beginning of my career in strength and conditioning, it has been common for football players to squat on the day after a game or the next day, and that would be the only squat training of the week. I have also been accustomed to having most players do a very similar workout the day after a game regardless of how much playing time the player had. Going into my second year as the Head Strength Coach at Marshall University, I decided to change that familiar habit and we have had tremendous results.

I have always believed in training the athletes on their feet and using multi joint, compound movements to train. Through a variety of constantly changing exercises, we have kept the athlete stressed enough to maintain or improve their strength and power, while still keeping the central nervous system excited and not over-trained. My foundation is with the Olympic and power exercises, but I often pull from other forms of training, including strong man, bodybuilding, Triphasic training, and the Westside method. I often changed our workouts on a daily basis. For instance, we may perform a power clean on the first training day, but the next day we may perform a hang shrug. As I dissected our program, I realized that our players weren’t getting efficient at certain exercises because I was constantly changing them. This was another area I would address with the new program.

I first looked at our schedule. We had a perfect schedule set up for me to design our in-season program. We played four games, had a bye week, four more games, another bye week, and finished with four games. I designed our program to change every four weeks. The exercises, volume, and intensity changed every four weeks, with some primary exercises varying in how they were performed. For example, we performed squats on Wednesday but I changed it each week. Week one we performed a back squat, week two a front squat, week three an isometric pause at the bottom of the squat, and week four we implemented a three second eccentric squat with an explosive concentric squat contraction. The bye weeks were de-loaded weeks. These consisted of bodyweight exercises, tempo runs, twenty-yard short sprints, and light volume and intensity compound exercises.  

I bounced the idea off multiple colleagues about squatting on Wednesday instead of Sunday. The idea was met with mixed reviews. Most of the negative comments came because of the quick turnaround to Saturday’s game. My thought behind this was that stressing the body after another stressor (the game) was too much on the body. I felt like allowing the body to recover and come back on Wednesday would be ideal.

After discussing this idea with my staff and friends in the field, I decided against the sub-max squat on our second day of lifting, but I included a dynamic squat that day instead. I believed that a dynamic squat on our second day would provide the athlete with two things. The first being that it would allow me to get a second squat day in with our players, which was something that I wanted to try. Previously we only did a bodyweight lunge or 45 lb. plate squat on Wednesday, but never a loaded squat. Second, I believed that by including a dynamic day we could excite our players’ central nervous system and have them primed and ready for Saturday’s contest.  That would combine to keep our players’ rate of force development high.

We had our players lift the day after a game which was usually on a Sunday. I believed in keeping our intensity high and volume low. I wanted to try and maintain the strength of our players, or increase it if possible. In order for this to happen we always squat at or above 80 percent. I believe in quality reps, so our rep range was between 2-3 reps with no more than 5 sets. I would auto-regulate the percentage sometimes. For instance, this year we played in a physical away game, and kickoff was later in the evening. We arrived back in town after 3 am and it was also the last of the 4-week cycle. I decided, based on the players’ mental and physical state, to drop the percentage to 76% and decreased the volume slightly as well. 

I also used the French contrast method for our players on Sunday with both our squat and bench. With this method, you combine both contrast and complex training together with 4 exercises all performed consecutively. This was done for the second 4-week cycle. For example, we combined our squat, with plyometric hurdle hop, a trap bar deadlift, and finished with an accelerated banded squat jump. During our third 4-week cycle we only performed the complex method. This marries a heavy compound movement followed by a similar plyometric movement. When I used the French contrast on the squat it took the place of the Olympic triple extension exercise. I felt this was an effective method for achieving full triple extension, as Olympic lifts can be inhibited due to the increase of injuries and stress as the season progresses. At the beginning of the season (the first 4-week cycle) when the French contrast was not used, we would perform some form of an Olympic exercise.

During our second day of lifting, which was Wednesday, we performed a dynamic squat. This is where we changed some things. This year was the first and it was met with some hesitation from our players. I kept the percentages on a linear model ranging from 45-60% starting each new 4-week program at 3-5% higher. For example, our first cycle began at 45%, but during the next 4-week cycle, we began at 48%. We had our players concentrate on moving the bar at a high rate of speed. This is also where I would change our exercise. We would always perform a squat, but  it may be a front squat, back squat, isometric squat, or a fast eccentric squat. I wanted to keep the movement the same, so we could continue to work on technique and improve the lift, but I didn’t want our players getting bored or the body to stop responding to the stimulus. Consequently, I changed the way the squat was performed each week. 

The last thing I changed during this period was the intensity, volume, and exercises our players were doing. As I began to look at both our offense and defense, there were only a handful of players that played significant snaps. Why should our starting center, who happens to be a senior that may have played 70 snaps that game, do the same workout as our second string linebacker that only played 14 snaps?

On Sunday, I would split our group up into players that played 25 or more snaps and players that played 24 or less.  We would still perform the same core exercises, but our players that played a higher number of snaps had a reduced volume and intensity compared with the other group. I would also increase the amount of exercises for the players that had that played less snaps. Both groups would potentially bench, squat, and clean but our low repetition players would also have an additional 3-5 supplemental exercises to work through. I also made any freshman that may have played above the 25 snaps continue with the workout that was designed for the 24 plays or less group, which had more volume and exercises in it. I believe they could use the extra work, considering most have had a year or less training with the program.

After dissecting the program and looking at ways to improve it for our players, I believe we, as a strength staff, made the proper alterations regarding the program. I was somewhat apprehensive at first, but believed in improving our players’ ability to produce force rapidly, increase or maintain strength, and keep them healthy and energetic throughout the season. This was our overall goal and I feel we reached that objective.

About the Author: Scott Sinclair was named the head strength and conditioning coach at Marshall University in January, 2013. He previously was the associate strength and conditioning coach at Central Florida for nine seasons. Sinclair also coached at both Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. He received his Bachelor’s Degree from Guilford College and his Master’s Degree from UCF.


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