Of all the sports there are, American Football has to be one of the most physically demanding. What’s more, it asks players to be able to combine features that normally would be in direct conflict with each other. For example, what other sport would require an athlete weighing 240 lbs to complete a 100 yard dash in under ten seconds?
It’s also remarkable for the extreme flashes of action and acceleration for which players in key positions need to be ready and primed to go.
Obviously, different positions need different skills and facets. So quarterbacks’ main ability has to be throwing the ball over a long distance with pinpoint accuracy while it’s the wide receivers who need to run like the wind. Defence, on the other hand, need to be large and solid enough to block the runs that are made towards them.
In preparing for the NFL career that, hopefully, lies ahead of them, college footballers need to develop the skills and features needed for their particular position. Indeed, their stats are going to be scrutinised carefully and this will play an important part in how they are evaluated and, eventually , how quickly they might be picked up in the draft.
Nothing short of 100% fitness will do for college footballers, especially if they’re going to end up playing for the kind of team that you’ll find attracting the lowest odds when they play.
And while playing in actual or practice games will help to refine skills and maintain fitness, the college football player will need to follow a constant and rigid training regime. This will have two main purposes – to build muscle mass and to maximise cardiovascular fitness.
So let’s start with muscle building. Inevitably, this is going to mean many hours spent in the gym engaged in weights and resistance training. Within this there are several principles that footballers need to stick to for maximum effectiveness.
The first of these is to concentrate on using free weights in preference to machine exercise. Barbells, dumbells, weighted squats and pull-ups are all far more beneficial as they allow the athlete’s body to move naturally rather than in ways dictated by a machine.
In a typical session, players will generally divide it into four different sets, each including two different exercises with a recommended number of reps each. You might expect these sessions to continue for quite a long time but, in fact, the most effective training is over and done with in 6o minutes or less.
The critical factor is that the hour must be quite an intense one without too much rest time between the sets. It’s only through this that the young footballer is able to build up muscle stamina and the physical resilience they will need in actual match-play.
Avoiding injury is another important consideration. So great care is taken to ensure players are well trained in proper form when lifting weights – and ensuring that they rest for long enough for muscles to fully recover between sessions.
CV and speed training
Cardio vascular conditioning is a question of completing circuits against the clock that can include many different activities including the treadmill, exercise bike, burpees, rowing machine and anything else that will get the heart and lungs working to maximum capacity.
For the players like wide receivers who need to show explosive bursts of speed then a classic form of training is the beep test. This not only increases fitness, it’s also directly measurable to show how their speed is improving over time.
To fuel all this training, and to have the right energy levels on the football field, having the right nutrition is key. For footballers there is also the additional consideration that it needs to help build muscle mass and put on weight too.
The solution to this is to eat calorie rich foods regularly but in small amounts. Within the food groups, protein is always key and it’s reckoned that any athlete in training should eat a gram of protein a day for each pound of body weight. So a 210 pound defender needs to eat 210 grams of protein daily. This can be obtained from foods like lean red meat, chicken and fish like tuna and mackerel.
Also important as a source of instantly-available energy are carbohydrates from bread, rice, potatoes and other starchy foods.
Alongside this, a high level of hydration is also vital and can have a very important effect on maintaining an athlete’s metabolism at the optimum level.
Proper Rest & Recovery
First, make sure that you get enough sleep each night; eight hours should be the bare minimum, with ten being ideal. Make sure that you create a comfortable sleeping environment and avoid looking at screens within an hour of going to bed, as this can stimulate your mind and make it harder for you to drift off into slumber. As well as cutting back on caffeine consumption throughout the day so that you avoid any unwanted jitteriness when trying to get some shut-eye.
Second, plan regular breaks during training sessions; taking five minutes between sets allows your body time to both recover from the previous activity and mentally prepare for what lies ahead (mentally preparing yourself is just as important as being physically prepared!). This also gives you a chance to rehydrate with water or electrolyte drinks, so that you can go again with full energy levels when practice resumes.
Finally, pay attention to both external (temperature) and internal (soreness) factors; if it’s too hot outside then take more frequent breaks indoors in order to cool down and prevent overheating – likewise if certain parts of your body are feeling tender after heavy use then introduce extra rest days into your workout schedule until these pains have been sufficiently addressed.
So these are all the bare basics for college footballers who want to be fit and strong enough to be effective players. Then all it takes is luck and opportunity for them to make it through to the highest level of the game.