Football is a stop-and-go sport made up of quick and intense bursts of energy.
For a football player, being in top physical condition is important for both performance and injury prevention. Because of the nature of the game, football players need aerobic endurance to run around the field without becoming winded, but anaerobic fitness plays a more critical role in the development of strength, quickness, speed and power.
Strength is foundational to the sport of football, and strength training is anaerobic in nature. To build optimal strength, strength and conditioning coach Jeff Paluseo of Sports Fitness Advisor recommends performing a variety of resistance-training exercises including bench presses, incline presses and squats. To stay in the anaerobic zone, use training loads of 80 to 90 percent of one repetition max, or 1RM, which is the maximum amount or weight you can lift one time in a given exercise. During the playing season, sports coach Brian Mac cautions that attempting to maintain off-season training volumes could diminish strength and compromise performance. He recommends reducing your training volume during the playing season, minimizing eccentric work, and performing compound exercises that use multiple joints and muscles. Perform whole-body workouts each training session as opposed to focusing on isolated muscle groups.
Football is a stop-and-go sport, with quick bursts of intense activity interrupted by rest periods. According to the "NSCA's Guide to Program Design", the average play in college football lasts only 5.49 seconds, followed by a rest interval between plays averaging 32.7 seconds. College games run between four and five plays per series with each play lasting about five seconds, and three or four series per quarter. To meet the quick anaerobic demands of play, the NSCA recommends interval training at a work-to-rest ratio of 1:5, where bouts of maximal intensity are followed by longer sub-maximal bouts. For example, sprint all-out for 10 seconds, then jog in place for 50 seconds. Repeat this cycle 15 to 20 times.
The Need for Speed
According to Sports Fitness Advisor, the quick, high-intensity sprints required to move the ball down the field are fueled by anaerobic glycolysis, an energy pathway that produces lactic acid as a metabolic byproduct. A buildup of lactic acid can interfere with muscle mechanics, causing a decrease in force production and velocity. Speed training can reduce early lactate formation and enhance the clearance rate of lactic acid from the muscles. Unlike the short intervals used to improve your quickness, speed training requires longer intervals ranging from 30 seconds to three minutes, with only 90 seconds of sub-maximal rest between intervals. A 2010 study of trained athletes published in the "Scandinavian Journal of Medicine, Science and Sports" found that speed-endurance interval training spared energy reserves during rest periods, allowing athletes to ward off fatigue over the course of play.
Power is a combination of speed and strength, according to Paluseo, and at the end of the day, the most powerful players are the ones who get the job done and win the game. Power training requires explosive moves like Olympic lifts, power jumps and squats. Both Paluseo and Sports Fitness Advisor warn that aerobic endurance training is of limited value in football, and excessive endurance training can slow you down and interfere with anaerobic enzyme activity.