How Washington State Football Balances Size vs. Speed

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By Rob Oviatt
Washington State University
Head strength and conditioning coach

In 1979, when I was still at the University of Alabama, our football team won the National Championship. The average weight of the offensive line was between 240 and 250 pounds. Last year, an average offensive lineman in the PAC-10 weighed 302 pounds.

In the last 20-plus years, the size and weight of every position on the field have gotten bigger.

This bigger-is-better mentality starts in junior high, where the athletes see the size of high school athletes. The high schoolers see how big the college athletes are. And everybody sees the tremendous mass of most NFL players. This mentality is accepted by the athletes, their coaches and sometimes even the parents.

The issue isn't gaining weight and getting big; it's putting on the proper type of weight. Athletes at all levels try to get big using poor diets and making bad decisions. Before they know it, they're bigger but slower and less athletic. It's important to take the right road to gaining weight while maintaining the ability to move.

Sack of gold vs. sack of coal

Size is important in football, but it is not the only important factor. We put a premium on speed and quickness, so we tell our athletes: "Get as big as you can without slowing down." Basically, there are no limits on how much weight to gain, as long as you don't slow down or compromise your ability to move. If you're gaining muscle, you're just making a bigger engine for the car and enhancing your ability to move. Adding fat, though, will slow you down and compromise your abilities. It's like comparing a 50-pound sack of gold to a 50-pound sack of coal. They weigh the same but have totally different values.

How much should I gain?

Position coaches set bodyweight goals for our players. They have the most critical eye for what their players need to weigh for their positions.

Monitor your weight gain

We have a weight gain program for athletes who are considered underweight by their coach. These athletes are given weight goals weekly or monthly and are monitored through bi-weekly weigh-ins and bimonthly body fat percentage tests. We make sure the goals are safe and practical, because we know a person cannot put on 20 pounds of solid muscle mass in less than a month. He can get 20 pounds heavier, but it won't be muscle. Generally, a player can put on a pound to a pound-and-a-half of muscle per week. That's a practical, reasonable expectation of weight gain.

Too much weight

When an athlete puts on weight, the best way we can evaluate whether he has gotten too big is by watching him in practice, during games and on film. A position coach will come to us and say, "So-and-so isn't moving so well. He's not making plays or he's not getting to where he needs to be." Those are the most crucial things for us to hear to know if a kid is getting too big in the wrong way.

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