Planning Strength & Speed Training For Football (Part I)

Reggie Johal looks at training methods to assist an American Football player improve their speed and strength during the football off-season.

American Football, like many other sports, has a history of coaches with a poor understanding of the sport’s demands inflicting upon players the necessity to run laps of the pitch, and engage in other forms of training at odds with the sport’s unique demands. With a constant stop start style to the play, with the average play lasting no longer than ten seconds, followed by a much longer rest period, its demands are closer to traditional sprinting and weight training methods, than sports such as Rugby or Boxing, where there is a much greater endurance element required. At the same time, the sport has a big element of lateral mobility and technical considerations to consider, absent from pure speed or strength sports.

Given the wide range of requirements for the different positions in football, this article will focus on planning the training for a typical week for Linebackers, Backs and Strong Safeties, although the advice is applicable to most positions except Kickers and Offensive/Defensive Linemen. Even then, many of the elements would remain broadly similar for these positions.

Strength Training

Most American Football players today will already place a large emphasis on strength training as this has been emphasized for a comparatively longer time in the sport due to the ever increasing demand for larger and stronger athletes. This does not mean that players should automatically follow the training advice handed out in bodybuilding magazines, or follow a generic college training program. Unfortunately, most college programs suffer from being overly simplistic due to the need to try to train 40 or 50 athletes at once in a facility. This type of training leads to the most simple, easy to administer programs being handed out to athletes, rather than the most effective. Similarly, athletes who believe bodybuilding programs can enhance sports performance may potentially gain some muscle size but at the expense often of relative strength and speed going down, as well as a decrease in joint mobility if emphasising single joint exercises. Additionally, bodybuilding programs’ emphasis on training to failure and exhaustive work on individual muscle groups will lead to less energy being available for the high intensity, explosive work which football demands.

Split Training v. Whole Body Training

Most players will often follow a typical bodybuilding protocol where individual muscle groups are trained once per week with very high volume. Unfortunately, while this may work under certain circumstances for bodybuilders, football players cannot afford to adopt this method. Most significantly, this method of training makes it very difficult to integrate training with the demands of improving other elements vital to success in football. For example, many bodybuilders will train back, quadriceps, hamstrings on separate days. This will mean for most of the time players will have insufficient energy to perform their other drills, sprint work etc due to excess muscular fatigue. Furthermore, split training will mean the central nervous system is always under stress from constantly performing high intensity activity leading to impaired recovery and ability to perform other drills outside the gym with the required intensity.

This leaves two options. The first is to adopt a lower/upper body split and the second is to adopt a full body training program. Both options have their advocates. Splitting the body into lower/upper will mean legs get trained twice a week meaning five days are left for rest. By only training legs on those two days, a greater volume of work can be performed on training days compared to a typical whole body approach consisting of hitting the weights on a Monday, Wednesday, Friday basis, where because of the increased frequency and need to train upper body as well, leg training volume would need to be reduced.

Depending on the athlete’s needs an upper/lower split is usually more useful for increasing strength and muscle size as many will struggle to maintain the intensity needed for a long, whole body training workout. A sample lower/upper body split would be as follows:


  • Squats 4 x 4-6
  • Romanian Deadlifts 4 x 4-6
  • Step Ups 2 x 8
  • Pullthroughs 2 x 8
  • Ab Rollouts 2 x 8


  • Incline Bench Press 4 x 4
  • Hang Cleans 3 x 3
  • Shoulder Press 2 x 6
  • Pullups 2 x 6
  • Tricep Extensions 2 x 8
  • Barbell Curls 2 x 8


  • Power Cleans 5 x 3
  • Snatch Grip Deadlifts 3 x 5
  • One Legged Squats 2 x 6
  • Glute Ham Raise 2 x 8
  • Hanging Leg Raises 2 x 10


  • Close Grip Bench Press 3 x 5
  • Pullups 3 x 5
  • Incline Dumbbell Press 2 x 8
  • Seated Row Machine 2 x 8
  • Tricep Extensions 2 x 12
  • Dumbbell Curls 2 x 12

Note: 2 x 6 means 2 sets of 6 repetitions.

Disclaimer:  ES Sports suggests that each Athlete consult their Coach, or a Training Professional for their individual needs and Training Programs.