When preparing for high school football season, summer is time to practice your position(s) skills and focus on four off-the-field elements: Nutrition, Sleep, Exercise, and Stretching. It is hard during the school year to consistently eat or sleep well, exercise regularly, and stretch daily for greater flexibility and range of motion – especially when juggling academics or playing multiple sports besides football.
Like a quarterback unable to escape the blitz, you cannot avoid skimping on nutrition, sleep, exercise, or stretching to be in football shape. Daily dedication is needed to incorporate those powerful four conditioning aspects. Also, just as coaches must effectively deal with time management during games, you, too, must wisely manage time for consuming nutritious meals and beverages, getting ample sleep, scheduling workouts, and stretching sessions.
So, here’s a summer strategy to balance improving as a football player before practices start and be well-nourished, well-rested, and well-conditioned for the upcoming season.
There’s a saying that ‘you are what you eat.’ Choosing healthier foods and beverages is not complex. Your body will favorably respond with renewed energy from nutritious foods/beverages and also support recovery and muscle growth together with sleep and exercise. Skipping meals or eating sugary processed foods or beverages (e.g., soda, juice) decreases overall energy, impacting performance. Skipping meals also impairs building muscle.
Then, to add muscle in conjunction with weight training, consume a combination of protein and carbohydrate in small meals or beverages (e.g., smoothies, shakes) every two or three hours during the day, ideally to provide a constant supply of body-building nutrients.
Drink plenty of water. Edmund R. Burke, Ph.D., author of Optimal Muscle Recovery, states, “Even a slight dehydration – as little as 2 percent of your body weight – can impair athletic performance.”
Dehydration can create other problems such as cramping particularly while playing in hot and humid conditions. Drink water before, during, and after games, practices, and weight room sessions to stay healthy and avoid mental and physical performance lapses.
Dave Tuttle, author of 50 Ways to Build Muscle Fast, states: “Your muscles are up to 70 percent water, and adequate hydration is essential for muscle function and growth.”
Young athletes and non-athletes of all ages require water to replace lost fluids from perspiration or strenuous physical activity. How to tell if you’re well-hydrated? A good indicator is checking the color of your urine, which should be clear or pale – not yellow or orange – which could signal dehydration. For more information on hydration, read The Hydration Rule That’s Worked For 400 Million Years
Don’t Skip Breakfast
It’s common for student-athletes to oversleep or be late for school and have no time for Breakfast. No excuses in the summer months to miss Breakfast! A meal comprising protein (eggs, yogurt, peanut butter, string cheese, milk), carbohydrates (fresh fruit, whole-grain cereal, or whole-grain toast), and liquids (water, tea, milk) is your fuel for productive morning practice or workout. Allow digestion time before any activity. Or, refrigerate a ready-to-go breakfast the night before: Make a fruit smoothie containing bananas or other fruit mixed with protein-rich yogurt and water.
Consume the following daily to fuel your workouts or sports performance (unless you have food-related allergies):
- Carbohydrates: vegetables, fruits, pasta, potatoes, yams, rice, and whole-grain bread
- Proteins: nuts, meat, fish, poultry, eggs, beans, yogurt
- Fluids: water is priority number one
Football involves several facets of conditioning: the ability to perform short bursts of activity and utilize strength, power, speed, and agility, core strength, and endurance – particularly during back to back no-huddle offense plays; running the length of the football field chasing an opponent; catching a long pass; or making a long run from scrimmage.
Train to increase size, strength, and power, but also to build endurance, core strength, and balance, and – especially if you’re a running back, receiver, or safety – spend time increasing your speed and agility.
Increased upper and lower body strength, power and muscle size provide an edge with blocking or tackling opponents. Building leg, hip, and core strength enable overcoming tackles and an opponent’s grips while running. And for kickers, additional leg and hip strength, power, and size from summer lifting sessions can propel longer punts, kicks, and field goals. The following tips can make weight room time advantageous:
Do a Dynamic Upper and Lower Body Warm-up
Always warm up muscles and joints before lifting (and before practices and games) to adequately lubricate your body. Training cold, tight muscles can cause injury. Examples of upper and lower body combination dynamic warm-up movements include Arm Circles and Forward Lunges; and Arm Raises and Side Lunges.
Lift with Good Form
Using proper lifting techniques is imperative to prevent injury. Awkwardly lifting a heavyweight spells disaster, which could potentially keep you out of the weight room for days or weeks with a muscle strain or chronic joint inflammation. A generally safe lifting technique: Smoothly push or pull the resistance 1-2 seconds, pause 1 second, and slowly lower 2-4 seconds to start position.
Do Full-Body Workouts Twice or Three Times Weekly on Non-Consecutive Days
Whether training at home or in the school weight room this summer, train all muscle groups; minimize overtraining by avoiding total body workouts on consecutive days.
- Option A: Monday, Wednesday, Friday lifting schedule with a day off between sessions.
- Option B: Lift every third day (e.g., Monday, Thursday, and Sunday) with two days off between workouts.
Listen to your body. Muscle soreness from the previous workout means allowing an additional day for recovery (don’t fret – you won’t lose muscle with an extra off day!). Conversely, training achy muscles create chronic soreness and overtraining – setting you back.
Make Lifting Sessions Time Efficient and Productive
Mainly do multi-joint movements (moving more than one joint during each repetition). Examples include squats, lunges, bench press, deadlifts, dips, push-ups, pull-ups, power cleans, upright or bent-over rows, and overhead press.
Combine different exercises like lunges with the overhead press or bent-over rows immediately followed by dips to save time and to build more muscle faster.
Do Speed and Balance Drills Once Weekly (And Not on Lifting Days)
Use the school track or a park and do 10 to 20-yard sprints. Increase to 30 and 40-yard dashes on subsequent workouts. For variety, add multi-directional sprints (forward, reverse, laterally, diagonally) – mimicking game action. Use markers or cones to gauge progress and yardage length during runs. Cariocas are also great during workouts. Add balance exercises (e.g., single-leg squats, single-leg lateral, forward, and backward hops, and raised leg planks) for building core strength and promoting stability.
Think of a receiver making a sensational catch while keeping both feet in bounds along the sideline. That’s the balance all athletes build in the offseason on display.
Add Endurance Training
Improve cardiovascular health by lessening the time between sets of lifting exercises. Also, on speed and agility training days, space cones farther apart to increase sprinting distance. Finish speed day sessions jogging several laps around the track to also condition yourself.
Sleep, Rest, Recovery
There’s a reason for halftime in football games. It’s perfect for coaches to make adjustments on offense and defense and/or revise the game plan for the second half and for players to recover and rest weary bodies from a vigorous first half.
And speaking of rest and recovery now’s the time to introduce another potent “player” to elevate workout and game performance: sleep.
Don’t underestimate the benefit of a good night’s sleep before workouts, practices, or games. Sleep recharges your mental and physical batteries – aiding recovery and energizing the body for the day’s activities. Conversely, minimizing rest (as well as nutrition, exercise, and stretching) negatively affects academic and athletic performance and overall wellness.
Don’t overlook getting the proper amount of sleep. Jordan D. Metzl, M.D., author of The Athlete’s Book of Home Remedies, states,
“Sleep is the only time your body has to regenerate itself, rebuilding muscle, strengthening bone, restocking red blood cells, and engaging in any number of other crucial processes that need time to take place.”
How much nightly sleep do young athletes require? According to the National Sleep Foundation, “For student-athletes in particular, research suggests it’s better to get at least nine or 10 hours.”
When it comes to your body, stretching loosens or “unties” tight muscles and joints. Like sleep, daily stretching is another invaluable “player” for enhancing recovery from workouts, practices, and games.
Stretching can also be utilized as a part of a general cool-down following weight training. Perform these upper and lower-body static stretches seated, standing, or lying on your back:
Quadriceps, Hamstring, Hip, and Groin Stretches; Shoulder and Chest Stretches; Neck Stretches; Biceps and Triceps Stretch; and Overhead, Upper and Lower Back Stretches.
Full Body Stretches
- Hanging from a Pull-Up bar for 10 seconds – great for stretching the arms and back
- Supine stretches (lying on your back with your arms extended behind your head with your legs straight and simultaneously stretching in opposite directions
- The Superman Stretch (lying on your stomach and simultaneously raising your arms and legs off the floor and holding 10 seconds);
- Bird Dog stretch (with your knees and hands on the floor, slowly raise your left arm and your right leg off the floor and hold for 10 seconds, then switch by raising your right arm/left leg off the floor and hold). These are excellent stretches for aligning the spine and also relieving back stiffness or soreness.
- Hold each stretch 5-10 seconds and slowly release. Repeat.
- Relax and breathe in and out as you gradually stretch to a comfortable range.
- Take your time stretching and do not rush.
- Feel the targeted muscle you are stretching and sense the looseness in your muscles and joints following each stretch.
After a few stretching sessions, you should see a greater difference in flexibility and range of motion, enabling you to reach a quarter or half-inch further overhead or towards your toes – when stretching your hamstrings, for example.
How does stretching help on the field?
Enhanced upper and lower flexibility and range of motion make bending down easier to recover fumbles or extend your arms, shoulders, and legs when reaching overhead, sideways, or towards the ground to catch or intercept a pass. The added flexibility and range of motion in hips and legs benefit punting, kicking, and field goal skills for kickers.
Gentle stretching can be done daily to promote flexibility and range of motion, while intense weight training and speed drills are performed on non-consecutive days to promote the necessary recovery to become stronger or faster.
Also, whenever feeling stressed, stretching and focusing on breathing in and out well reduces mental and physical tension, helping you unwind from a tough day. Stretch at your convenience – morning, afternoon, or before bedtime.
Putting It All Together
Suppose you diligently follow the nutrition, exercise, sleep, and stretching guidelines outlined in this article throughout the summer. In that case, you should be primed for that first day of practice – stronger, fitter, faster, well-rested, and more flexible – qualities needed for the intense, wear-and-tear grind of the season.
1, 3 Burke, Edmund R., Ph.D. Optimum Muscle Recovery. (1999, Avery/Penguin Putnam Inc., New York, NY). pp. 26, 21.
2 Tuttle, Dave. 50 Ways to Build Muscle Fast. (2000, Avery Publishing Group, Garden City, NY). p. 103.
4 Metzl, Jordan D., M.D. The Athlete’s Book of Home Remedies. (2012, Rodale Inc., New York, NY). p.xxvii.
5 National Sleep Foundation. “How Much Sleep Do Student-Athletes Need?” by Danielle Pacheco. (February 5, 2021).