Football conditioning has absolutely zero to do with jogging. I’ve been screaming this for almost a decade and many other progressive coaches have as well. But there are still way too many football teams that base their entire conditioning program around jogging or jogging-related running. For linemen, I take this as a personal insult. No one over 250 lbs should be running distance, especially if their job is to produce enough explosive force to move another huge human being out of the way.
Sprinting is a much better option for football, but it can get boring to simply do sprint after sprint, especially for linemen. Because they are the most intelligent players on the field, we tend to get bored with simple, repetitive tasks.
The bottom line is that football is a game of short, intense bursts much like powerlifting or Olympic lifting. Now, most powerlifters avoid jogging like it’s the plague, opting for conditioning exercises like Prowler pushes or sled sprints. But for some reason, some hard-headed old coaches refuse to let go of the distance work for football players. Honestly, if you’re having your guys jog, you’re being a lazy coach.
Once while in college, I went back and visited my old high school weight room. I asked our coach, who was pretty cutting edge when it came to strength and conditioning, why he sometimes had us jog in the winter after workouts. “To keep you guys out of trouble until the late buses came.”
Now, if you have come to the Darkside and thrown the jogging shoes in the trash but your guys are getting bored with simply doing wind sprints, here are a few conditioning workouts for you.
If you can find a fairly good hill with a nice incline, you have an instant conditioning machine. Hill sprints are great because they never allow you to go full speed, which will save many a poor runner from snapping a hamstring while conditioning. Linemen, especially high school offensive linemen, tend to have horrible sprinting form, pounding into the turf with a sound that rivals the Bombardment of Manilla. Having them run uphill can allow them to work on form and get conditioned at the same time.
If you have a hill that’s roughly a 30–40-yard run, you can start off with eight good sprints and work up to 12. Doesn’t sound like much, but trust me—it is. Running hills is flat out hard and builds as much mental toughness as it does physical toughness. Sprint up the hill, walk down, and repeat. Keep the rest periods short. This shouldn’t take all day.
Hill sprint and sandbag carry
Here is an excellent way to work on mental toughness that builds on the basic hill sprint. Rather than just bound up the hill, you’ll carry a medium to heavy sandbag the entire way in either the Zercher position or on one of your shoulders. Both ways can and should be used. This has the added benefit of strengthening the abs and obliques while you build endurance.
Start with five sprints and work up to ten. You can combine this with regular hill sprints by doing five with a sandbag and then 3–5 without. Again, sprint, walk back, and sprint.
Prowler high-low relays
Football conditioning and the Prowler are a match made in heaven. Obviously, for linemen, driving a sled or Prowler is an excellent way to condition and improve skills. Prowler drives and sprints are excellent ways to build your work capacity, and if you keep your hips low and your body in a good football position, a great way to build football-specific strength.
Load a prowler to a moderately heavy weight. You want to be able to move quickly but not do an all out sprint. Push it with the high bars for 15 yards. Stay low. Keep your hips down, much like blocking. Then at the 15-yard mark, immediately go to the front of the Prowler and drive it back on the low bars.
This takes much longer than a normal football play and that’s fine because this exercise goes beyond simple football conditioning. This is the type of movement that builds the kind of mental toughness that has you making the big tackle when everyone else is tired in the fourth quarter.
Start with five of these and work up to ten before adding weight.
Simulated game conditioning
This is the longest of the conditioning workouts. I know some people are fond of trying to condition for huge periods of time, but it’s unrealistic. Running 40s for an hour is boring and unproductive. The best thing you can do to get in top football condition is to play football. Of course, we don’t play all year. It’s just too much on the body. But we can simulate the game and get much of the same benefit.
For linemen, one of the biggest complaints I hear is that they don’t have any good ways to build skills and condition in the off-season, especially when they aren’t in the school weight room.
Enter simulated game conditioning.
This works best with a partner, but it can be performed alone as well. If you have a partner, one person should line up as the offensive lineman and the other as the defensive lineman. Line up in a good stance, take one of your steps (base right, pull left, etc), and sprint for a short to medium distance. Walk back and repeat.
It looks like this:
Base step right and sprint 7 yards.
Pull left and sprint 10 yards.
Pass set right and sprint 30 yards.
Base left and sprint 20 yards.
Angle step right and sprint 5 yards.
Pass slide left and sprint 30 yards.
Scoop step left and sprint 10 yards.
Scoop step right and sprint 8 yards.
Angle step left and sprint 15 yards.
Pull right and sprint 12 yards.
That’s one set. Rest 90 seconds and repeat. Start with three sets and work up to six sets.
Defensive linemen perform something similar, but they take their defensive steps (include scraping down the line, coming up the field after the quarterback, or firing out and then taking the angle of pursuit).
Some of you will recognize this form of conditioning from some of my previous articles. Normally, it’s used with wide receivers, defensive backs, and guys who handle the football. Now, linemen are better served using their actual steps, but if you want to devote your last set to running some pass routes and having someone throw you the ball, it can actually build a great deal of athleticism. It forces the body to adapt on the run, something young linemen have a hard time with.
The key points to remember are that we are building mental toughness and conditioning at the same time. And anytime you can work on skills/footwork/body positioning while you condition, you are way ahead of the competition.