Summer conditioning for football and other fall sports (especially down south where the weather forecast is usually the same day in and day out—hazy, humid, and 90+ degrees) can be a strength and conditioning coach’s worst nightmare.
Growing up in these conditions does not always mean you are used to them, and it does not mean you can acclimate to the temperatures easily either.
When training student athletes today, there are usually many factors to consider – and not just the climate. Kids today are not outside as much as we were back in our day. They have much more access to technology, a lot have private lessons in climate-controlled facilities for whatever sport they play, and in general, they are not as tough as we were.
In the following paragraphs, I will present tips for summer conditioning which have proven to be successful for my athletes at my school.
1. Know The Schedule
Generally, when spring break (March or April) is completed, we have the up-and-coming fall sports schedule completed. This is the point where my staff and I start to formulate our conditioning plan for the summer teams that will be lifting in preparation for their fall competitions.
The absolute first thing we look at is when the team has its first competition (and you can almost bet it will be August 17, 18, or 19, which will typically give you about ten weeks until the first game).
In my state of Tennessee, we have a state-mandated two-week dead period starting the last week of June through the first week of July. It is very important that we factor these two weeks into the lifting and conditioning schedule.
2. Teach ‘Em How To Run
Another factor we look at is how our freshmen and sophomores run. Our juniors and seniors are prepared for what is about to come their way. Our younger athletes may be a very different story. How do we combat that?
We teach everyone how to run.
The first phase of our summer conditioning starts off with drills that have the purpose of teaching and refreshing all our athletes in the mechanics of running (arm drive, knee drive, change of direction like pro-agility, L-Drills, and straight-ahead speed).
The following is an example of the first few weeks of our summer lifting and conditioning phase:
Dynamic Warm Up: 30 yards, on completion of each drill jog halfway back, then backpedal the other half to the starting point
Walking Knee Hugs
Hurdle Walk (Imagine you are walking over hurdles)
Lunge w/ Trunk Rotation (Rotate toward the lead leg)
Side Shuffle (Lateral Slides), Shuffle rotate backwards then repeat to other side
Walking Dead with Quad-Pull
High Knee Run
Light Stretch: Hanging Hams, Feet Wide Down the Middle, Feet Wide to the Right, Feet Wide to the Left, Squat Stretch
Walking Drills: 15 yards jog and backpedal back to start
Side Slides Left and Right (Keep a wide base and do not heel click! Do it SLOW and keep chest up!)
Walking March focus on Knee Up and Toe Up, and Arm Action (pit to pocket)
Walking March focus on the above mentioned along with DRIVING the foot into the ground and reacting with the other foot
45-degree March 2 x 10 each leg keeps the 45-degree angle
Front to Back Leg Swings 1 x 15 each leg
Side to Side Leg Swings 1 x 15 each leg
Single Response Fast Claw Down 4 x 2 each leg
Neuromuscular: 15 yards
B-Skips (Knee up toe up drive leg out and claw down to the ground)
Acceleration Drills: 10 – 15 yards
Lunge Starts: Alternate Lunges (2 each leg) then accelerate off of lead leg) 2 – 3 sets x 15 yards
Rabbit Chase: 15 – 20 yards COMPETE!!!
2 sets Standing Broad Jumps
2 sets x 8 seconds Side to Side Line Hops
2 sets x 8 seconds Front to Back Line Hops
Arm Pump Drills: 10 seconds slow, 10 seconds medium, 10 seconds fast
Falling Starts: 2 x 15 yards (get up high on your tip toes, fall forward, and drive out as low and hard as possible)
3 Point Starts: Each phase will focus on a different point or phase of the sprint. We will a total of 4 sprints for about 20 – 25 yards.
SPRINT 1: Focus on your start position. Butt high, slight bend in the knees, shoulders over the toes, head down, and drive out low and fast.
SPRINT 2: Posture! Keep good posture while staying low through the drive phase of the sprint, ELBOW drive hard and fast as you can, stay relaxed, keep your head still, and blow the 10 out of the water.
SPRINT 3: From the starting position work on driving off of both feet. Pump your arms as fast and hard as you can. Keep everything within the frame of the body.
SPRINT 4: Bring it ALL together. Put a great start, mid-point, and finish together to have a great sprint!
3. Transition to Sport Specific Drills and Games
Once we get to phase two in our summer program, we start our passing league games or 7 on 7. Generally, once we hit this part of our conditioning, we have some sort of a base. So most of the students can start amping up the running into more game-type conditioning.
Once we get to this point, as all of you know, we are cutting the rest times down between sprints to build our conditioning on top of the phase one foundation.
At this stage of training, I keep it as simple as possible.
My lineman DO NOT run 110s! Why? Because they will never run that far in a game. I want my Big Skill guys as fast as I can get them inside of the LOS to 20 to 25 yards. My Medium Skill guys we will run 80s, and my Skill (Ponies) guys will run the 110s.
One place I have noticed trouble can arise is on the Skill guys. At a lot of schools, these kids are playing both ways. Early on in the season, this can and will be very debilitating and could cause injury to our Skill guys.
Monitor the amount of running they are doing and back them off as needed.
4. Preach The Importance of Hydration
In our southern climate, we are ALWAYS mindful that even at 6:30 A.M. with dew on the turf, the low for the night may still be in the 70s. So hydration is critical! Hydration must start way before the summer conditioning and not the day summer conditioning starts.
A very special coach once said to me, “We can explain a lot of things, but we can never explain killing a kid!”
Hydration is a FIRST and FOREMOST concern!
Our athletic training staff is very prompt and in-tune with everything we have going on regarding summer lifting and conditioning. They beat me to work; they will come in around 5:45 am and have the water coolers ready for the morning conditioning.
At the very least, have your athletes bring water bottles or have the watering stations up and running. It really only requires a little effort to make sure that your athletes have water ready to drink.
One more thing, if a kid is bent over after just a few sprints, please be mindful that yes, he/she could be “out of shape,” but the likely reason is they did not eat breakfast and are probably dehydrated.
5. Play ‘Em Into Shape
Getting into shape is something that must be functional as well as beneficial for our athletes. Anyone can go out and tell a team to run—you can have your team manager do that—but your goal is getting them in shape to ensure your team’s success on the field when it comes to competition.
There is NO better way to get into shape than to play into shape. Make getting into game shape fun every now and then.
We use what we call “trash-can volleyball” which some people call handball. We will have our team captains pick their teams, and we will play a little tournament.
Depending on what stage we are in in our conditioning, we will set up on the basketball court or at the football stadium. We will play a 20-minute running clock with a 5-minute half time. You have to be moving the entire time. Anyone caught not moving gets put into the penalty box and that person gets to carry a nine-foot slosh tube for the duration of their penalty.
Wrapping It Up
If I could simplify this, I would do so in this fashion….
Remember when programming a summer conditioning program to check when the first team competition is. Most teams do not play until August or later.
The early stages of the summer conditioning should build a foundation of proper mechanics. Everyone has heard the saying, “Technique does not get tired.” That is true! If you instill a habit of good technique, it will carry your athletes through to the end.
Lineman DO NOT need to run 110s! Medium Skill and Skill guys are usually playing both ways. Make sure that you are monitoring the amount of volume they are running. If need bec cut it down to save their legs.
Summer is hazy, hot, and humid. Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate! Always encourage your athletes to bring water bottles with them and have watering stations for them as well. Hydration does not begin the day you start conditioning. It starts days before, and we must condition our athletes to start thinking that way.
Conditioning must be functional and built up over the course of the weeks prior to your first scheduled competition. You are not going to get into shape in the first week of summer. Build it and cut rest times down as you go. The best way to get into game shape is to play into shape.