In-season training and conditioning can be a challenge for football players. After all, they’ve already endured rigorous offseason programs followed by preseason training camps in the August heat. Now they face the weekly pounding of games that can continue into December, January, or even February, depending on the level of play. The key is to walk the line between preseason conditioning and shutting down completely.
It’s unrealistic for players to think they can maintain an ambitious program. At the same time, focusing solely on football and ignoring recovery strategies is a recipe for injury.
“As players go further into the season, they can start forgetting about the little things they did at the beginning of the year,” says Nick Winkelman, director of education and performance systems for Athletes’ Performance. “Remember that what got you there will keep you there.” Here are three ways to stay on top of your game, minimize your exposure to injury, and prepare for a long schedule that could end with a run deep into the postseason.
Maintain Pre-Game Rituals
Brett Bartholomew, a performance specialist at Athletes’ Performance, has worked extensively with college and NFL players. He sees how players get beaten down over the course of a season and compensate by taking it easy from proper pre-game rituals and in-week conditioning. That, of course, only contributes to the downward spiral and exposes the athlete further to injury. Instead, dial down the volume on strength and power training during the week while sticking to pre-game Movement Prep rituals.
Bartholomew suggests players follow a circuit during the week of seven to 10 movements, spending just 30 seconds on each one. The movements emphasize strength, rotational movements, and flexibility. “Do the circuit, grab a (post-workout recovery) shake and you’re out the door,” Bartholomew says. “As the season drags on, there’s a tendency for guys to go into robo-mode. Maybe they come into the weight room before games at the beginning of the year, but that gradually slides. The key is to stick with the program with reduced volume.”
Stay Ahead of Aches and Pains
Football players interpret soreness during the days following a game as a natural byproduct of the sport. And to some degree it is. But it can be minimized by focusing on flexibility and mobility work. AIS stretching, foam rolling, and trigger point work can make a huge different. One often ignored area is the foot, which can translate into turf toe and other nagging injuries that can keep an athlete out of action. Spend time standing on foam rolls, rolling on tennis balls, and using a massage stick on your feet.
Focus More on Recovery
Recovery is part of any successful strategy, one of the four pillars of the Core Performance system. It’s especially true with football players because of the pounding they endure. Foam rollers, massage, and other soft tissue work become more important. So does getting proper sleep (eight hours, ideally), nutrition (especially post-workout), and hydration.
Hydrotherapy also is a key tool. Even on the off chance the player isn’t suffering from inflammation, getting in a whirlpool speeds recovery. “Guys are practicing two or three times a week, all revved up, with coaches sometimes pumping in crowd noise to practice,” Bartholomew says. “The biggest benefit of hydrotherapy is relaxation. It brings an athlete back into that parasympathetic state.”
Feeling pain? Check out www.CorePerformance.com/injury for more tips.
Pete Williams – Pete Williams is a contributing writer for CorePerformance.com and the co-author of the Core Performance book series.