May 18, 2017
Focus on Football
Kevin Vanderbush

The year-round strength and conditioning program for a high school football athlete who is not involved in another sport can be broken down into five phases:

  1. In-season
  2. Off-season — Winter (End of season — Mid March)
  3. Off-season — Spring (April — End of school year)
  4. Summer- June -July
  5. Pre-Season(Last three weeks prior to the start of official practice)

Before I get into the specifics of the football phases, it is important to note that our football team, as well as the other 19 boys’ and girls’ sport teams utilize a unified approach, where all of the athletes get their base work done in an advanced weight training class during the school day. All athletes lift four days per week on a split program with two days of upper body lifts and two days of lower body lifts. They are on a five station routine with seven minutes per station. Wednesdays are used for athletic enhancement, with a routine that consists of plyometric jumping drills, footwork ladders, lunge variations, and medicine ball activities. All students are tested in the bench, squat, clean, vertical jump, 10 and 40-yard dash every nine weeks.


During the football season, the weight training class takes care of almost all of the strength and conditioning needs. It is our philosophy that all of our athletes can continue the program in-season and lift on the day of competition. We feel that in order to continue to develop throughout the competitive season, it is necessary to continue to lift on the days of contests. Athletes who take days off tend to lose many of the benefits of the strength program as the season progresses (especially come tournament time) and put themselves at risk of injury.

The five station lifting program requires approximately 35 minutes of work per day. Any athlete who has been a part of a lifting routine, and who is a part of an athletic team should be able to compete without any detrimental fatigue. Athletes participate in practice sessions that sometimes last even longer than the competitive events on a daily basis, yet are not negatively affected by the lifting workout that occurs earlier in the day. The most important factor is the mind-set that the athlete takes. If an athlete understands the rationale for continuing the lifting program, and tells himself how much stronger he feels by staying on his normal routine, then he can perform at a very high level. If the perception is negative, then the performance will suffer.

In addition to the class routine, the varsity team will come in on Saturday to do a dynamic warm-up, medicine ball activities, some type of running or agility program, and then a stretching routine before heading out to the football complex to watch game film. We have found that some activity on Saturday morning — after Friday’s game — helps to speed up the recovery process.

Off-season Winter

During this phase, the emphasis is on increasing the lifting volume in order to maximize strength and size gains. The athletes continue the class program but will also come after school four days per week to do an additional lifting workout. In addition to the five station — 35 minute — routine that is done in class, another six stations will be completed after school with lifts on the same side of the body that was worked in class earlier in the day. Even though the emphasis during this time is the increased volume of lifting, we have found significant improvement in our players’ 40-yard dash times at the end of this phase. We will finish this phase with a lifting competition usually involving 10 other schools, and test the bench press, squat, clean, and 40-yard dash as well as compete in an 11-man tug-of-war. The competition is set up to be an off-season motivator for the athlete rather than run like a typical powerlifting or weightlifting meet.

Off-season Spring

Two days per week during this phase, the players will come in after school and continue the after school lifting workout (1 lower day, and 1 upper day to align with class workout). Monday and Friday mornings before school, the athletes meet to work on speed, agility, conditioning, and competition workouts. During these morning sessions we do station work that includes battling ropes, pushing and pulling sleds, agility/cone work, obstacle courses, and mirror drills, with some competitions to finish the workouts.


Once school has let out, we transition into a three day per week total body lifting routine. The lifts on Monday and Friday are the same, with Wednesday used to complete some supplemental lifts. The routine is six stations of seven minutes each, with half the stations involving two lifts during one time block. In addition to the lifting routine, we spend 30 minutes on athletic enhancement/conditioning activities. Monday is a power day where we do plyometric jumping and medicine ball passing exercises. Wednesday involves footwork and agility drills, while Friday is used for competitive drills. We have time blocks available in the morning and the evening to ensure that all athletes can fit the workouts into their summer schedule.


During the three weeks prior to the start of official practice we will run a 90 minute conditioning session that includes dynamic warm-up/conditioning drills, interval sprints run in timed/team fashion, and finish up with some stretching. The workouts are called “co-captains workouts” as we are also culminating our year round leadership development by allowing the co-captains to run some of the drills, and receive coaching on their leadership methods.

The sprints are called team sprints, as they are timed and require a team effort to complete. There are three groups based on speed. Each sprint starts with the first group taking off on the whistle with the clock starting. Once the last person in the first group crosses the line, the second group takes off on the whistle, with the third group taking off in the same fashion. When the last athlete in the third group finishes, the watch stops. This method encourages the athletes to work together, and build each other up to make the time standards. The sets and rest intervals mimic the energy system used in football.

We feel that this five phase routine has been a big part of our success on the football field. The Head Coach at Ben Davis has averaged 10 wins per year for the last 30 years, while winning the state championship eight times, being named National Champion once, and making it to the state semi-finals 16 of those years.

Kevin Vanderbush has been Strength and Conditioning Coach and Physical Education Teacher at Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis for the past 32 years. He was named the Samson High School Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year in 2008, the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) High School Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year in 2007, and the Professional Football Strength and Conditioning Coaches Society's National High School Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year in 2001. He is also the Co-Founder of the National High School Strength Coaches Association (NHSSCA) and information about the organization is available at A Registered Strength and Conditioning Coach Emeritus (RSCC*E) and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), he currently serves as Chair of the NSCA High School Special Interest Group Executive Council. He can be reached at: [email protected]us.

Shop see all »

75 Applewood Drive, Suite A
P.O. Box 128
Sparta, MI 49345
website development by deyo designs
Interested in receiving the print or digital edition of Training & Conditioning?

Subscribe Today »

Be sure to check out our sister sites: