In-Season Strength Training with Ohio State Football

October 1, 2006 | Featured in the October 2006 Issue

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By Josh Staph

Tim Cheatwood, LeCharles Bentley, Nate Clements, Donte Whitner, Anthony Gonzalez, Troy Smith and Ted Ginn, Jr. It's no coincidence that every one of these recent Ohio State football standouts hails from Cleveland. Besides reppin' the 216 area code, each member of this gridiron gang developed his athletic prowess at Speed Strength Systems, under the guidance of Eric Lichter and Tim Robertson.

With these players continually returning to campus jacked, fit and ready to explode, OSU Head Coach Jim Tressel recognized the impact Speed Strength was having on his program and invited Lichter to join the Buckeye family. As director of Ohio State football performance, Lichter now has access to the entire team year-round, giving the Bucks a new weapon for their 2006 national championship chase.

Lichter's first summer at OSU was a bit of a honeymoon period-no injuries, classes or games getting in the way of his time with the team. However, once Sept. 2 rolled around, the harsh reality of in-season training set in. "The biggest obstacle to training in season is the fact that the players have to balance practice, meetings and academics," Lichter says. "The second obstacle is creating a program that allows for physical recovery and well being between games. Finally, there are injuries. Once a guy is hurt, he has to spend time with the medical staff, which cuts into the time we get with him."

Taking into account all of these new challenges, Lichter created a straightforward in-season training program. He says: "Our main goal is to stimulate-not annihilate. We use core and priority lifts to stimulate the large, fast twitch muscles quickly and intensely; then we let them recover. We don't perform any supplementary or secondary lifts in-season. This approach helps us maintain strength, power and explosion without spending time on less important exercises."

Using off-season workouts during the season is neither possible nor effective. "Overtraining during the season is the biggest mistake football players make," Lichter says. "They think they need to perform the same number of exercises with the same weights they use in the off-season, or else they'll lose everything they've built. That's not the case. The body is already being taxed on the field; unnecessary stress in the weight room can cause serious problems."

Barring any major injury, a football player undertaking a proper in-season training regimen should finish the season close to where he started physically. "There will be some drop-off in strength levels throughout the season-it's unavoidable with all of the contact," Lichter says. "But if you maintain 88 to 92 percent of your original strength levels, then you've done a good job."

Every other day during preseason camp, Lichter and the Buckeyes replaced their second practice with a lift. Once the season kicked off, the team dropped back to lifting on Mondays and Wednesdays. "Some people like to schedule a lift on Sundays to give the players more rest before the next game," Lichter says. "I prefer lifting on Mondays-two days after a game. The body experiences such an incredible amount of trauma and stress during competition that it needs a complete day of total rest to heal swollen tissue and cartilage."

To avoid common pitfalls and emphasize what's really important, use these five Lichter-recommended priority lifts during your in-season training.

High Priority Lifts

Power Shrug

• Grip bar just outside athletic stance with shins touching bar
• Assume deadlift position, with back locked, shoulders up, and abs and chest flexed
• Begin initial pull by extending hips and knees
• When bar is just above knees, explode upward by forcefully shrugging with straight arms and fully extending hips, knees and ankles

Sets/Reps/Intensity: 4x3 at 88-94%

Benefits: Maintains explosion in hips and lower body like a Power Clean, but doesn’t aggravate already-tender wrists and elbows with a catch.

Power Pull

• Grip bar just outside athletic stance, with shins touching bar
• Assume deadlift position with back locked, shoulders up, and abs and chest flexed
• Begin initial pull by extending hips and knees
• When bar is just above knees, explode upward by forcefully shrugging with straight arms and fully extending hips, knees and ankles
• Pull bar up, keeping it close to chest

Sets/Reps/Intensity: 4x3 at 88-94%

Benefits: Has same explosive benefits as Power Shrug, but pull portion of lift also works back and shoulders.

Squat

• Begin with bar on back in athletic stance with feet just wider than hip width and toes pointing slightly out
• Keeping weight back on heels, initiate movement by driving hips back
• Squat down with control and good posture until tops of thighs are parallel to ground. Keep knees behind toes
• Drive forward and upward out of squat position, keeping eyes up and chest out

Reps/Sets/Intensity: 4x5 at 85%

Benefits: Stimulates fast twitch muscles of hips, glutes, hamstrings and quads while simultaneously working core.

Bench Press

• Lie with back on bench and grip bar just wider than shoulder width
• Keeping elbows tight to sides, lower bar with control until it touches lower part of chest
• Drive bar up until arms are straight

Sets/Reps/Intensity: 4x5 at 85%

Benefits: Maintains strength in chest, shoulders and triceps.

Bent-Over Row

• Bend over at waist and grip bar slightly wider than shoulder width
• Keeping back flat, pull bar to sternum by driving elbows toward ceiling
• Lower bar until arms are straight; repeat

Sets/Reps/Intensity: 4x5 at 85%

Benefits: Maintains strength in upper and lower back, shoulders and biceps.

A One-Sided Affair

Just because you're injured on one side of your body doesn't mean you should give up on your entire in-season training program. "Definitely train the other side," Lichter says. "The body has a neuromuscular way of compensating. Research shows that when a motor learning pathway is shut down on one side of the body from injury, it can still receive benefits from training the other side. In fact, training the healthy side can help the injured side heal faster."

If you're dealing with a sore right shoulder, knock out some single-arm dumbbell bench or shoulder presses on the left side. If you've got a sprained ankle, rest the injured leg behind you on a bench and get some single-leg squat work with the healthy leg.

Always get your trainer's clearance before performing any sort of workout activity when you're dealing with an injury.

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