Conditioning for Football


Conditioning for Football

Conditioning tests are a standard practice at NFL, College and High School football training camps and are for the most part poorly designed. Many of you may remember the media fiasco that Albert Haynesworth’s difficulty to pass the Washington Redskins training camp created and while I certainly won’t argue that Haynesworth came into camp ready, the test he was being asked to perform (reportedly multiple 300yd shuttles) was so poorly designed that his ability to pass it had very little correspondence to his ability to play 4 quarters of football.

While scouring Facebook the other day, I ran across the video that featured a journalist attempting the Baltimore Ravens conditioning test. The test shown was 6x150yd shuttles (Run to the 25yd line and back, three times) with 70 seconds rest between each of the 6 reps. Offensive lineman were required to perform each rep in under 35 seconds. The journalist in the video does complete the test successfully, but after the 3rd rep is clearly swimming in a bath of lactic acid, yet football is a totally alactic sport, so why do football coaches continue to insist upon conditioning their athletes outside of the proper energy systems?

The flaws in this type of test are abundant, yet this test and others like it (mile, 300yd shuttles, 110 yd runs) seem to still be the rule, rather than the exception in the NFL, college and high school football programs. It is well how NFL great, running back Earl Campbell, would routinely be among the slowest to finish his teams timed mile, yet he would dominate his competition during games. Campbell is a perfect example of how having a well developed lactic capacity does not help your ability (in fact it hinders it) to possess great speed, explosiveness and alactic capacity. It is this same reason that Usain Bolt isn’t also the World’s best 1500m runner and vice versa. To put it simply, being a great distance runner makes you a worse sprinter; what do you want on your team, sprinters or distance runners?


It’s simple. Sprint and become jacked and fast, jog and become weak and slow.


There has also been recent news of Felix Jones and two other players, failing the Dallas Cowboys’ conditioning test of 2×10 sprints of 40-60yds depending on position group. This is a far more rationally organized test that will do a better job of measuring the players alactic capacity. The other players who failed the test, Safety Brodney Pool and Reciever Andre Holmes, were ‘doing a lot of distance running during the offseason’ according to Cowboys’ coach Jason Garrett. Distance running, in addition to being ineffective in developing the proper energy systems needed for football, it is also much more stressful to the athlete’s joints. Stress fractures are a very common injury among distance runners and that problem is only compounded by having 300+ pounders performing distance work.

The Cowboy’s conditioning test is a good one, and simple to execute with large groups. Other test that would be great to utilize would be The Prowler Sprint Test or various sled sprint tests, utilizing heart rate monitors.

Conditioning is a big word that encompasses many different things. Ask anyone on the street who is better conditioned a marathon runner or a professional strongman and 99 times out of 100, they will say the marathon runner without hesitation. The question being asked though is incomplete, it must be predicated on better conditioned to do what? That is the question that too many sport coaches are failing to ask when they begin having their athletes run a set of gassers or suicides or send them off onto a multiple mile run. While the marathon runner is certainly better prepared to run, swim or bike for multiple miles, but the Strongman is better suited to produce repeated high outputs with short rest periods. You must examine what it is your athletes need to be ready for; long and slow or short and fast?

Those in charge of the training of football players, or any athlete, must examine what energy systems are primarily responsible for their athlete’s success. American football is a aerobic-alactic sport; from a time-motion standpoint it features 10-18 series of 3-15 plays which last 3-10 seconds in duration in which the athlete will usually cover 5-40 yds and encounter varying resistance depending on position. Depending on the style of offense being run and length of the play clock being used there will be 15-40 seconds between plays and 2-10 minutes between series. The understanding of this information is the jumping off point to properly conditioning football players.

Alactic capacity conditioning at Juggernaut:

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Alactic Capacity Drills-10 Series Tempo Runs Alactic Capacity Drills-14 Series Tempo Runs Alactic Capacity Drills-12 Series
Primary Bench Training Recovery Modalities Accessory Weights Recovery Modalities Primary Squat Training
Secondary Squat Training Abs Secondary Bench Training
Abs Abs

Our alactic capacity work is broken into series or 4-8 plays per series with a play being an explosive activity lasting 3-7 seconds in duration, in an effort to mimic the exact energy systems of a football game. We use 5-7 different drills each day to keep the athletes from getting stale and will do 2 series of each drill. Drills used vary by position group and include SPP drills, particularly for linemen. Rest between plays is 15-25 seconds depending on the time of year, style of offense they play in (or against) and length of play clock used at their level of play. Here is a look at some of our staple alactic capacity drills…



Juggernaut Positional Drill Progression:

Linemen Big Skill (TEs, LBs, FBs, Pro Style QB) Small Skill (RB, WR, DB, Spead Style QB)
1. Positional Start Sprint-15 yds 1. Positional Start Sprints-25 yds 1. Positional Start Sprints-35 yds
2. Mirror/Dodge Drill or 15 yd Shuttle 2. Positional Start Sprints-25 yds 2. Positional Start Sprints-35 yds
3. Double Jump Uphill 3. Mirror Drill (Defense) or 15 yd Shuttle (Offense) 3. Mirror Drill (Defense) or 15 yd Shuttle (Offense)
4. Prowler Push + Sprint 4. Triple Jump Uphill 4. Quad Jump Uphill
5. Prowler Explosions 5. Prowler Push + Sprint 5. Prowler Explosions
6. Grappler Punches 6. Prowler Explosions 6. Speed Skater Jumps
7. KB Squat Jumps 7. KB Squat Jumps 7. KB Squat Jumps

The athletes will perform 2 series of each number, for a total of 10-14 total series, depending on the day. Through a 3 week alactic capacity cycle, we will add one play per rep each week, so Week 1, on Monday, the athletes will do 10 series of 5 plays per series, Week 2, will be 10 series of 6 plays, Week 3, will be 10 series of 7 plays. Then we will drop back down to 5 plays but cut the rest between plays by 5 seconds. Rest between series remains constant at 2.5 minutes and they are given a 5 minute halftime between the median sets.

Critically think about how you are conditioning yourself and your athletes. Does it match the energy system demands of the sport? Keep learning at

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Chad Wesley Smith

Chad Wesley Smith is the founder and head physical preparation coach at Juggernaut Training Systems. Chad has a diverse athletic background, winning two national championships in the shot put, setting the American Record in the squat (905 in the 308 class, raw w/ wraps) and most recently winning the 2012 North American Strongman championship, where he earned his pro card. In addition to his athletic exploits, Chad has helped over 50 athletes earn Division 1 athletic scholarships since 2009 and worked with many NFL Players and Olympians. Chad is the author of The Juggernaut Method and The Juggernaut Method 2.0.

READ MORE BY Chad Wesley Smith
  • Matt Day

    Hey guys
    I’m a high school football / strength coach
    I love the football specific conditioning
    I train my kids base on the 5/3/1. Program adjusted to my kids
    I stick with the 5 big exercises each week
    Power cleans
    Trap bar deadlifts
    Bench press
    Military press
    Lots of pull ups , rows & pull downs and tons of an work
    I have just been approved to up date our wt room & I’m going with 4 of he EliteFTS power racks. What is your opinion of the most important equipment for football kids and all athletes high school age
    Matt Day

    • Chad Smith

      A barbell and squat rack can accomplish pretty much all training goals.