Getting big, strong and jacked up is a priority for many football players during the summer months. Packing on some mass is a major concern for many football players wanting to take their game to another level.
I watch this cycle play out over and over every year, and it’s great to watch guys build up by doing simple things. Unfortunately, it often ends the same way – by the end of the season, much of that size and strength has evaporated and the advantage disappears.
If you’ve been attempting to pack on size and weight, you’re probably at your biggest right now. If you’ve been watching your weight increase steadily during the off-season, be warned – you’re at risk for losing it once the season begins. Most high school football players slowly begin to drop size and strength during two-a-days because you aren’t lifting weights as hard and, more importantly, you probably aren’t eating nearly as much as you need.
Let me assure you that this does not need to happen. Maintaining weight in-season is not that difficult, and it’s even possible to make gains if you’re serious about gaining weight and staying strong.
Think how amazing it would feel to be at your biggest and strongest at the end of the season when it matters the most. Instead, most athletes look in the mirror late in the season and can’t believe what has happened. It’s not uncommon for guys to drop 15 pounds over the course of a season, which would definitely make you look and feel different – not what you want if size is important to you.
In-Season Strength Training
The first thing you should do when maintaining weight in-season is continue to lift weights twice a week during the season. Your lifts don’t have to be marathon sessions with tons of volume, but you need to get it done on a consistent basis. I recommend lifting on Monday & Wednesday or Sunday & Tuesday if most of your games are on Fridays and Saturdays. A Thursday game may change your plans slightly, but that shouldn’t be very difficult to work around. Just change that week’s schedule so you’re not lifting the day before a game.
Many coaches and players are concerned with being really sore or tired from lifting, and they don’t want it to affect their game performance. Rest assured that as long as you continue lifting consistently, this will not be a problem. Consistency is the key to this process and consistency will allow you to lift without soreness or excessive fatigue.
The problems occur when you take 3-4 weeks off, then hit the weights hard the day before a game. You’ll definitely be sore because your body isn’t used to it anymore. Any new stress will cause this kind of response, but lifting consistently will help you avoid this problem.
I recommend doing a relatively heavy training session with low reps one day a week, preferably not the day before a game, and a lighter session with higher reps on days closer to a competition. Both days will be total-body lifts that last 30-40 minutes, so you don’t need a ton of time. On the heavy day, you’ll be doing 2-4 sets of 3-6 reps per exercise, using 80-85% of your 1RM weight on multi-joint exercises like bench press, squats, trap bar squats and rows.
You’ll need to establish your 1RM early in the season so you know your capabilities. Don’t take these sets to failure and take plenty of rest between sets so you never feel completely fatigued. A gradual increase in the number of reps or the weight is also recommended.
For example, your first two weeks should include sets of 3-4 reps with approximately 80% of your 1RM. Weeks 3-4 should be 4-6 reps with 80%. After week 5, move up to 85% and go back down to 3-4 reps for a couple of weeks. By week 8, you should be doing 2-3 sets of 4-6 reps with 85% of your summer max weight. That should be difficult, but still very doable. You won’t get sore or overly fatigued from this because you’ll be lifting consistently, gradually building up to this point. If you’re able to do 4-6 reps with 85% of your max 8-10 weeks into your season, you’ve done an excellent job of maintaining your strength. There’s a good chance you’ve even gotten stronger if you’ve pushed yourself.
On the second day of each week (closer to competition), include a single-leg strength exercise like single-leg squats or single-leg leg press and a hamstring exercise like a glute/ham raise, RDL, ball leg curl or Nordic Hamstrings. Do 2 sets of 8-12 reps and that’s it for lower body. Focus the rest of this session on upper body strength training, using rep ranges of 6-12 and doing 1-3 sets per body part. Take each set to near failure, but keep the volume low. Feel free to include extra arm work on Wednesdays to keep your guns blown up.
Eating for Size During the Season
Because you burn so much energy at football practice every day, it’s absolutely vital that you increase your food intake if maintaining weight in-season is the goal. Follow these simple eating tips to maximize your results with minimal effort:
- Kick-start the day with a high quality breakfast. I often hear people tell me they’re not hungry in the morning, and that they can’t eat much for breakfast. That’s nothing more than an excuse. You’re not hungry because you’re not used to eating in the morning. You may have to teach yourself to eat more in the morning for a while by forcing the issue, but you’ll start getting used to it quickly. Eventually, you’ll wake up hungry and it will be much easier to put on weight. Most football players get up late and grab something very small for breakfast, if they eat anything at all. Why not wake up 15 minutes earlier so you can take full advantage of breakfast? It just makes sense to get a jump on the day if your goal is truly is maintaining weight in-season. Here are a few simple breakfast ideas: Scramble 3-4 eggs with cheese and some chopped up veggies and throw it on a bagel with an extra slice of your favorite cheese. Pour a large bowl of cereal and have a piece of toast with peanut butter and a glass of juice. Try a big bowl of oatmeal with walnuts, fresh fruit and a big glass of milk. Blend up a shake with protein powder, frozen fruit, milk or yogurt and grab a bagel to go. All of these breakfasts will start the day off in a way that will help maintain your weight and give you energy. You’ll recover quicker from workouts and feel better at practice.
- Pack a snack. The time between lunch and dinner is often a problem if you’re trying to gain weight, especially if you have football practice right after school. The time right after school is an excellent time to eat a quick snack, but you have to be prepared. Throw a meal replacement bar or PBJ in your backpack so you it’s ready whenever you need it. You might also want to try a bagel, a meal replacement shake or a piece of fresh fruit. If you have a refrigerator available at school, or time to go home, the possibilities are obviously unlimited.
- Bedtime snacks aren’t for babies. One of the easiest ways to help put on weight in-season is to throw down a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a cold glass of milk right before you go to bed. You might want to try substituting the jelly with a sliced up banana or some honey for a little variety. If you’re not into PBJ, you could have a piece of pizza, a bowl of cereal or a fruit smoothie with some protein powder. The point is to eat something that has a good combination of protein, carbohydrates and fats and plenty of calories.
Of course, you still have to eat a quality (and large) lunch and dinner and drink plenty of fluids, but taking advantage of the tips above will make it a lot easier to maintain, or even put on weight during the season.
Remember, consistency is the key in both the weight room and with nutrition. Take time to plan and you’ll reap the benefits as the season rolls on.
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