Use This 4-Phase Summer Football Program To Peak For Game Day

Ah it’s finally here! The college guys are home, all of the high school guys are finishing up school, and our summer strength and conditioning program is underway!

Football is a very special game. You not only need physical strength and toughness, but also psychological strength as well. That is what has always intrigued me about it. Having been an average player who only played at the high school level, I still always had a true love for the game.

This time of year always takes me back to the hot summers here in New Jersey with the smell of fresh cut grass and the sound of helmets and shoulder pads colliding for the first time of the year.

Ahh the good ol’ days! Anyway enough of my reminiscing…

Now it’s my job to help young men prepare for the game we all love. It would be impossible for me to give you the exact training template we use, since each template is individualized based on each athlete’s specific needs.

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However, what I am going to do is show you how we structure our summer strength and conditioning program. To keep it simple, I’m going to use an athlete I am currently working with.

Let’s call him Nick.

Nick is an athlete with no injuries or restrictions. He already has a solid foundation of strength and power. He just graduated high school and has a goal of getting stronger and packing on 5 lbs. of lean, functional muscle by mid-August when he reports to camp.

Nick is training with us three days per week and began this cycle May 22nd. Our goal is for him to peak by August 14th.

Week 1: Evaluation

The first step is to evaluate Nick on his flexibility/mobility, general conditioning, speed, and strength.

Being this is an athlete who has worked with us in the past, and has already “earned the right” to bench, squat, and deadlift (as Joe Defranco and Jim Smith would say), we assess him on a 3RM for those movements, plus a standing Military press, push-up rep test, and chin-up rep test to give us some baseline numbers. We also do an assessment on the vertical jump to get an idea of his power.

To assess his conditioning, we use a circuit-like 5 rounds of 30 jumping jacks, 20 mountain climbers, and 10 squat thrusts. We record the time it takes to accomplish the circuit and see how he performs during it.

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I like to get an idea of the athletes' levels of conditioning, so I know how much time we will have to spend on it as the season approaches.

Weeks 2 - 5: Foundation

After our eval, we start with programming variations of the big lifts to develop some of the stabilizers and smaller muscle groups (as well as accessory work, of course). We do this with the intent to improve the athlete’s strength and muscle mass.

Once our baseline numbers are recorded, we then design the program based on our athlete’s specific needs. In this case, strength and hypertrophy are our top priority. Of course speed is always important for a running back, but in this case, if Nick improves his strength and mobility, we are confident his speed would also improve.

During this phase, we spend our time on partial movements to develop weak areas and help improve quality of the movement patterns. We begin the first phase with an upper/lower/upper/lower split over a three day training week (since Nick could only train three days per week).

One week was upper, lower, upper. The next week was lower, upper, lower.

The first upper and lower days are designed to improve Nick’s maximal strength, while the other days are more geared toward hypertrophy and muscular endurance.

In this phase, our max effort days incorporate barbell floor presses as our main lift and we do sets across at 4 sets of 4-6 reps.

For our max effort lower day, we stick with goblet squats at the same rep scheme. Hip mobility was a slight issue for Nick, so we don't want to stick him under a bar just yet.

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On our second upper body day, we focus more on volume and on the second lower day, we incorporate some jumping and throwing to work on his power. We also work in RDLs to improve Nick’s hinge pattern since he had a tough time getting his hips back.

As far as accessory work we do a whole lot of horizontal and vertical pulling, unilateral work, ab circuits and neck flexion, extension, and lateral movement.

Weeks 6 - 9: Progression

Once our foundation is laid, quality of the movement patterns improve as well as stability and mobility, so we can now progress to more advanced movements.

Following the same split as the first phase, we now work on bench press with a fat bar on the max effort upper days, and the squat or deadlift on the max effort lower. On these days we work up to a 5RM on our big lift of the day.

On the first three weeks of this phase (weeks 6, 7, and 8) the second upper and lower body days are still focused on volume. However, once we get to week 9, we’ll start to work in some dynamic effort movements to emphasize speed and power.

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I want to get at least three weeks of dynamic effort lifting in since we will be retesting on the 12th week of this program.

So starting week 9 we begin shifting our focus to benching, squatting, and deadlifting with bands and chains during our second upper and lower body days to work on bar speed.

If Nick were a raw beginner, I would not incorporate lifting with bands or chains. It just isn’t necessary if the athlete doesn’t quite possess a solid level of strength yet. If that were the case, we would continue to work on hypertrophy.

During this phase we begin placing more of an emphasis on conditioning as well. We start adding in finishers after max effort days. Stuff like conditioning circuits, jumping rope, and strongman exercises to finish off the day.

Typically we do 3-5 sets of an exercise for time, reps, or distance with about 30-60 seconds recovery.

We don’t address any conditioning work on our dynamic days because we want the emphasis to be placed on speed. When you are emphasizing speed, you don’t want to fry your athlete out with conditioning. That becomes counterproductive.

Weeks 10 - 12: Peak

On our last phase we move to strength training four days per week, with an added fifth day for strongman training to place more of an emphasis on conditioning.

Remember that strength ain’t shit without conditioning.

We want our athletes to be fast, strong, and explosive, but they also need to be prepared for training camp. We start with a very moderate amount of conditioning, then really start to add more in toward the halfway mark of the program and increase it up until the last week of the program.

During these last three weeks, we work up to a 3RM on our big lifts on max effort days and continue to use bands and chains on our dynamic days. Our goal is to peak on our 3RM on week 12.  

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The fifth day is a strongman day. This is one of my favorite ways to condition athletes. Not only do you get a tremendous benefit from a conditioning standpoint, but you also develop real-world strength that has tremendous carryover to any sport.

On the strongman day we are pushing and pulling sleds, carrying heavy objects, and doing sledgehammer work, tug of war, and all things alike. This is always a “fun” day all of our athletes have a love-hate relationship with.

I can honestly say these are my favorite days to coach.

On the dynamic effort days during this phase, we start to incorporate contrast training to develop more of Nick’s power. We save this for the last three weeks of the program with the idea of “peaking” Nick’s power for when he arrives at camp, and help us hit PRs on week 12.

If you are unfamiliar with contrast training, it consists of a heavy lift followed by an explosive movement which mimics the strength exercise.

For example, you can hit a heavy squat followed by a vertical jump.

Doing so can cause something called post activation potentiation or PAP, which can help increase explosiveness in movements that are high velocity.

Again, I recommend saving this for your more advanced athletes that are close to their training camp or testing date.

I have been using this model for the last few summers with my athletes. The results have always been great. Guys have crushed their PRs, packed on muscle, and got faster, conditioned, and explosive as hell.

More importantly, they were prepared for their sport!

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About The Author

Chris Tutela is a strength and conditioning coach in Clark, New Jersey. He is the owner and operator of Tutela Training Systems, where he trains mainly athletes and some regular people. He has multiple years experience as a strength coach at the high school level as well a professionally in the private sector.

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