Saturday, November 22, 2008

Five Major Facts on Player Development - By Ken Mannie

Ken Mannie is the Head Strength/Conditioning Coach at Michigan State University.

One to three sets of any particular exercise will provide the stimulus for size and strength improvement. The physical development of football players is a multifaceted endeavor involving several key factors. Inherited attributes are essential, as there is no substitute for genetic potential - or as coaches would put it, the "right hook-ups."

The year-round training regimen will determine the improvements in the athlete's strength, speed, conditioning, and position-specific skills.

The five major constituents in the process include: force production, anaerobic capacity, comprehensive strength training, timing, and specificity.


The power for any given activity can be enhanced by increasing the output of force over a given distance. Strength training, especially high-tension movements, can help generate this force. Such training will enable the athlete to train without the primary nemesis of force production - momentum.

A study of the force/velocity relationship reveals that controlled movement produces a higher force output. In short, by creating and maintaining tension in the tension muscle groups, you can force the muscles in question to do more work per repetition. This increased work will heighten the intensity of any given exercise set from a metabolic standpoint and produce a stimulus for proper overload. The capabilities of force can be optimally increased by selecting a lifting movement that will recruit the greatest number of muscle fibers for a designated area and executing it in an all-out manner. Granted much of the ability to efficiently recruit these units is governed by one's inherent neuromuscular proficiency, but maximal intensity will assist greatly in the process.

The "size principle" in motor unit recruitment is the most widely accepted precept in neuromuscular physiology. It states that muscle fibers are recruited in relation to the requirements of force. This recruitment depends primarily on the intensity of the exercise rather than the speed of movement.

This is one of the major reasons why we advocate high-tension strength movements. By training in this fashion, we progressively activate the "fast-twitch" muscle fibers as we approach the point of momentary muscular fatigue. Rationale: The more difficult the repetitions in the set become, the more force we have to generate to complete those last, very intense reps.

These higher force requirements demand activation of the larger, stronger, more powerful fast-twitch units - which is one of the primary goals of the strength-training program. To accomplish this we must instruct our athletes to do most of these exercises the maximum number of times (reps).

The exception to this rule would be with movements (such as the barbell squat) that could compromise safety, or with multiple sets that are being used as the primary source of overload.

Set and rep schemes need not become overly complicated. Both scientific and empirical evidence indicate that one to three sets of any particular exercise will provide the proper stimulus for progressive size and strength improvements.

In many cases, the number of sets/reps chosen will be more of a personal preference than a dictum supported with definitive data. If your lower body rep system is in the neighborhood of at least eight and as high as 15, you are usually operating within safe and effective parameters.

Most upper body systems suggest rep ranges somewhere in the 6-12 area, a model with which most practitioners would concur. I believe that lower rep training (e.g., 1-3 reps) should be done sparingly, as low rep sets usually involve heavier weight loads, amplifying the injury potential. With good technique, the high-tension strength training protocol is at least as effective as any other and less risky than some. There are basically two schools of thought on the speed with which these movements should be performed. One school suggests ballistic-type weight training; the other, a stricter, more controlled speed with emphasis on eliminating as much momentum as possible.

For many of the reasons already mentioned, we have adopted the latter. Since both systems involve progressive overload, I would merely suggest that coaches check their system of strength training thoroughly before implementing it.

Further information on the specifics of the organization and administration of the strength program will be given in the section on "comprehensive strength training."


Football involves short, quick, powerful bursts of activity followed by relatively short relief periods. In preparing for the metabolic demands of the game, it is important to focus on the specific energy system being stressed in the conditioning drills. The major goals to keep in mind in the running workouts is to improve the players' "anaerobic capacity."

There are actually two anaerobic energy systems - the ATP-PC-LA system, which governs runs between 30 and 90 seconds, and the ATP-PC system, which manages the bursts from a few seconds up to about 30. Both have a place in the preparation scheme.

Let's say you are working with an eight-week summer-training calendar prior to your two-a-day camp period. The early phase of the program (2-3 weeks) should include 200-to-400 meter runs of moderate intensity to allow the players to adapt to both the soft-tissue stresses and the lactic acid (a by-product of the glycogen breakdown in the muscle build up) incurred with this mode of training.

Upon completion of this preparatory phase, the distances should be gradually reduced in order to shift the emphasis from the ATP-PC-LA system to the ATP-PC system. In our program, this involves runs and drills ranging from 10 yds. to 110 yds. in length.

Several variables must be monitored for quality control when training anaerobically in interval fashion. These include: Frequency, sets, reps, distance, intensity, relief interval, and duration.

* Frequency: the number of scheduled workouts per week. During the summer months, when strength training and skill-specific work are also part of the program, we plan a minimum of two and a maximum of three interval sprint workouts per week.

* Sets: A group of work and relief intervals (e.g., eight 200-meter sprints with a designated recovery period).

* Reps: The number of repeats within the set.

* Distance: Total distance covered in the workout - usually between one and two miles.

* Intensity: The individual's heart rate (H.R.) is the most practical way to determine whether the workload is inducing the appropriate response. The target H.R. for the work intervals of high school athletes is usually between 180 and 190 beats per minute, and between the mid-170s and mid-180s for the college athlete.

H.R. can also be used to aid in the timing of the relief interval. The high school athlete is usually ready for the next repeat when the H.R. drops to around 150 beats per minute, while the college-aged athlete should be ready when the H.R. drops to around 140 beats per minute.

Obviously, these are general guidelines, and the coach must also pay attention to the "perceived exertion
" of the athletes (i.e., how "good" or "bad" the athlete is feeling during the workout), especially during the early phase of the workout program. The athlete's inability to produce the required effort in the work interval would indicate that the relief interval requires adjustment.

* Relief Interval: Allotted time between work intervals in a set, which can consist of light activity (e.g., walking) or moderate activity (e.g., jogging). The R.I. depends on the time required for the heart rate to recover to the approximate bpm's previously discussed.

Work intervals taking between 10-70 seconds to complete usually require a 1:3 work/relief ratio - which means the R.I. should be three tunes as long as it took to complete the work interval.

Work intervals taking over 70 seconds and up to 90 seconds to complete are usually given a 1:2 work/relief ratio.

Again, these are merely suggested guidelines. Each coach must assess his players' response to the workout and adjust accordingly.

* Duration: As previously mentioned, you will need an 8-10 week summer program to allow for proper progression and overload. As with strength training, you can gradually make the workouts more demanding by manipulating the sets and/or reps (increasing them), the relief intervals (short-erring them), demanding that the work interval be performed faster, or any combination of the three.


Having discussed our philosophical approach to strength training, we can now take a closer look at the specifics of the workout plan.

* Tools: The modes of exercise we use are not nearly as important as the manner with which we use them. We use a combination of free weights (barbells and dumbbells), a variety of machines, manual resistance, ropes and towels, and even sandbags

. Any tool will increase strength when used properly with some system of progressive overload.

* Exercise selection: One may choose from a broad variety of exercises. The important point is to train all of the major muscle groups (i.e., neck, legs/hips/low back, chest, upper back shoulders, arms/forearms, abdominals) in an efficient, progressive manner. We suggest the incorporation of as much variety in exercises as time, equipment, and imagination will allow. Strength training is hard work and anything that can offer new challenges to the trainee - while remaining true to guidelines of the program - should be done.

Caution: No single collection of "core" lifts can provide the magic bullet for growth and development. There are simply too many good, proven ways to get the job done, and you will have to keep an open mind to find them.

The accompanying chart demonstrates the variety we have in our system of training. It is a sample workout (Day #1 in a three-day-a-week rotation) and you will notice how it adheres to many of the principles mentioned earlier.

Also notice the feedback the trainee receives with each workout sheet: the weights used for each exercise the last time this workout was performed, the number of reps achieved on the last workout, the weight adjustment (if any) for the current workout, and a minimum goal for reps on the current workout. This system provides both an organized approach and built-in motivation for the trainee.


What we refer to as "explosiveness" is often actually great reaction time. Think about it. Isn't football a constant series of reactions to auditory and visual cues?

A player's ability to respond properly, quickly, and precisely to the myriad of information being sent to him through the keys he has been taught to "read" is of utmost importance in determining his success at his particular position.

Decreasing his reaction time to these cues is just as vital to his total development as any of the conditioning procedures already discussed.

A three-pronged approach is essential in the teaching program.

1. You must intensify the arousal level of the individual. In other words you must motivate the individual to perform his responsibilities with pride and determination! After all, what is talent without desire?

2. Reduce the number of stimulus-response choices. There are numerous ways to accomplish a task, but some are better than others and a few may be considered the best. You would be well-advised to teach your players the best responses to various stimuli. The fact is that the average person has a limited ability to acquire, store, and use "meaningful" information when it comes to learning and repeating specific tasks. In other words, teach them to do a few things very well as opposed to doing a lot of things just normally or poorly.

3. Insure quality practice with the specific task. Once the best responses have been defined, you should drill the players with both the correct cues (keys) and the appropriate reaction(s).

Repetition of the proper responses in game situations is the best way to develop the player's responses and skills. The adage, "Repetition may not entertain, but it teaches," applies here.


This leads us into the final point under discussion - specificity. In this case, however, we are speaking in terms of skills rather than responses. Regardless of the skill in question (blocking, tackling, passing, receiving, etc.), coaches must be aware of the correct meaning of the term, specificity, to avoid installing techniques that may hinder rather than aid the teaching/learning process.

Ignore anyone who claims you can duplicate a football skill with a weight-training movement (the concept of specificity). Remember, specificity implies exactness - not similarity, but exactness.

In other words, if A is specific to B, then B is specific to A. If a lifting movement can improve a football skill, then the football skill should improve the lifting movement. You can't have it just one way when it comes to specificity.

Remember also that most football skills are "open" in nature, meaning that they involve actions that occur "on the run" and require responses to varying feedback. As coaches, you are well aware of the fact that your players are often taught to change or adjust a technique based on the cues they receive after the snap.

The motor-learning literature refers to these as "forced-paced" skills and they add tremendously to the degree of difficulty in both the teaching and learning processes. It also reinforces the tenet
that to get the desired results, you must practice it in the anticipated circumstances.

The point I am making is that the only realistic way to develop a skill is to practice it with precise accuracy as often as possible in game-like situations.


These tips on football preparation are not meant to be a panacea, but rather one systematic, practical, and scientific approach to assist in the development of your players. Each coach must add his own philosophy and personal touch to the formula.

Remember, it is only a recipe. And the success of this recipe, or any other, will be ultimately determined by you (the cook) and your players (the ingredients).


E.L. FOX: Sports Physiology (2nd edition), Saunders College Pub., 1984

E.L. Fox, et. al.: "Metabolic Responses to Interval Training

Programs of High and Low Power Output", Medicine and Science in Sports, 1977

R.A. Magill: Motor Learning: Concepts and Applications (4th edition), Wm. C. Brown Pub., Dubuque, Iowa
, 1993

D.A. Winter: The Biomechanics
of Human Movement, Wiley and Sons Pub., 1990
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