Training Football Players: Part 1

By Chris DiSanto | In Football, Speed Training, Sports Training | on March 29, 2013

As a strength coach in the NFL, I have worked in several philosophically different weight rooms.  Most of my time has been spent in the realm of what most would consider “traditional” ground based lifting programs (i.e. Olympic lifts, back squats, bench & incline presses).  I have also been involved in H.I.T. (High Intensity Training) programs, and lots of things in between.  This is a two part series, focusing this installment on conditioning, and the next installment on strength training.

I have always believed that the most successful strength coaches have been exposed to many different training philosophies.  In the NFL, you have many different lifting backgrounds, and you are always dealing with players who are different ages and at different stages of their careers, both in years in the league AND history of injury.  It helps to have many different tools in the tool box to accommodate these differences in players.  Although there are many different ideas about training elite athletes out there, I am going to discuss MY views on training these athletes.  I know that some may agree and others will not, I hope this article can be a jump off point for discussion.

Conditioning will be discussed in this article in terms of “bouts (Repetitions),” and energy system work in terms of work to rest ratios.  Also, I will include a program that I have used with great success, and invite anyone interested in trying it out to give it a whirl and see what types of results you and/or your athletes get from it.  The program at the end of this article is broken down by position and has associated yardages to run based on the energy system.

The first system would be the Aerobic Energy System, and the workouts would consist of 2 minutes of work followed by 3 minutes of rest.  Two bout program workouts would be performed a week, on upper body workout days.  The higher volume of bouts would be performed on Day 1 of the week, and Day 3 would be 1 less rep.  An example would be 3 bouts on Day 1 followed by 2 bouts on Day 3.

I have spoken with coaches who only do sprinting with football players because that is what they are always doing on the field, and others who believe in building a base of conditioning using all energy systems and essentially “climbing down the ladder,” working from the aerobic energy system to the ATP-PC energy system.  I am a believer in the latter.  The mere fact that football players spend most of their time sprinting is the exact reason that I have come to believe in working from the Aerobic energy system down to the ATP-PC system.  We over develop one system, and in essence sacrifice the others.

Football is a sport of WORK CAPACITY, encompassing many different requirements of the players, and to me, starting the year in the Aerobic system lays the foundation for all subsequent conditioning.  Being that the word Aerobic is “with Oxygen,” it stands to reason that the stronger THAT system is, the easier recovery will be, and the greater the amount of work an athlete can do.

The amount of time spent in the aerobic system does not need to be excessive, but 3 weeks max.  What this also allows, is for your athletes to become re-acclimated to working out, without placing too high a demand on the connective tissues that are associated with short, quick changes of direction.

The next energy system involves 1 minute of work followed by 2 minutes of rest.  At this time, we will also begin to introduce change of direction to the program, given the fact that after 2-3 weeks, the body is acclimated to training and running, and we would not anticipate any connective tissue issues.  Again, this is a gradual build into changing direction, but nevertheless, it results in our first step down the ladder towards our competition phase of training.  As you will see in the program laid out at the end of this article, all of the repetitions in this program are predicated on what the max amount of repetitions performed was at the end of the previous phase.

As we continue our climb down, the next energy system bout runs are 30 seconds of work and 1 minute of rest.  Changes of direction drills have now become shorter and more intense, as we near the competition phase of training.  During this phase we really start to see the need for more speed, and the ability to recover really starts to be important.  These last two phases really rely on your body’s ability to carry and deliver oxygen.  Before I go any further, I should say that each system builds on the previous system, and again represents the importance of laying a solid foundation and always continuing to build on that foundation.

The final chapter in this book of conditioning is right before the competition phase, just before you would go into Organized Team Activities (OTA’s) or mini camp.  You will be running for 10 seconds and resting for 30 seconds.  Obviously, this is the most demanding of the phases, requiring the most speed AND the fastest recovery times.  Without a well-developed cardiovascular system, it is impossible to perform the necessary work to be successful from a conditioning standpoint.

This is one part of an athlete’s overall program.  Additionally, it is possible as you move into your 1 minute bouts, to incorporate Play Drives, and I have used play drives with an associated MET level as an alternative on Day 2 of the conditioning program as a change-up.  The conditioning program that I have outlined in this article is one that I believe in, and has yielded great results for me over many years.

With that being said, it is worth noting that this program is not etched in stone, and part of our jobs as strength coaches is recognizing what is going on with our athletes and being intuitive enough to know when to back off and when to put the pedal to the metal.   It is so important to know your personnel, and you may need to spend more time in certain energy systems than others, based on what your team’s overall level of conditioning is, or what you deem is most important.  I have laid out a basic outline here for what I would use and have used as a conditioning program.  Please feel free to contact me with more specific questions regarding this article at .

Bout Program










































































DiSanto spent the 2012 season in the same position at the University of California. While at Cal, DiSanto served as a liaison between the team nutritionist the players and the coaching staff. 
Prior to his time with the Golden Bears, DiSanto served four seasons (2008-11) as assistant strength and conditioning coach with the Oakland Raiders. With the Raiders, he was responsible for the core development training of the team’s specialists including placekicker Sebastian Janikowski, punter Shane Lechler and long snapper Jon Condo. Under DiSanto’s assistance, Lechler was named to his seventh Pro Bowl in 2011, while Janikowski was an All-Pro selection and was also named to his first Pro Bowl in 2011. During his time in Oakland, DiSanto worked with Browns strength and conditioning coach Brad Roll, who served in the same capacity with the Raiders.
After graduating from West Chester (Pa.) University in 2000, DiSanto served as a volunteer strength and conditioning coach for the Philadelphia Eagles for two seasons (2000-01), while also serving in the same role with the Philadelphia Kixx (Major Indoor Soccer League), the Philadelphia Wings (National Lacrosse League) and at his alma mater. In 2005, DiSanto served as the offensive line and assistant strength and conditioning coach for the University of Pikesville. DiSanto spent 2007 as a strength and conditioning intern with the Minnesota Vikings.
In 2003, DiSanto played four years with multiple teams in the Arena Football League and the Arena Football League 2 as an offensive and defensive lineman. During the 2006 season, DiSanto was with the Spokane Shock of the Arena Football League 2.
A native of Holland, Pa., DiSanto has been a featured speaker for the Glazier Clinics presenting on topics such as nutrition, training and recovery. He is a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association




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Can you give a specific example on what to do for each stages of training? i'm a 20 year old college student frm the Philippines and football's been recently introduced in the country. From where I'm at, it's only been 2 years old. 

There are not much coaches (or there are none) that know how to train football players here. I hope you'd respond since I'm a self-trained player. I want to take my game to the next level..

Thanks for this



  1. [...] Training Football Players: Part 1 By Chris Disanto [...]

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