Mt. St. Joseph University’s In-Season Strength Training Program


By Mike Shibinski, MA, C.S.C.S.

Director of Football Strength and Conditioning

The importance of coaching is the ability to not only teach players, but to motivate them to do the job they have to do. The conditioning of a football player is probably one of the most important single ingredients to his success. Without conditioning you cannot achieve anything in a contact sport. It all begins here – no athlete really wants to train the way he has to train. Therefore, it is the coach’s responsibility to get him to do something he really does not want to do so he can achieve what he wants to achieve!”

Legendary Pro Football Coach

Tom Landry, Dallas Cowboys

Tom Landry, former Head Coach of the Dallas Cowboys was way ahead of the rest of theNFL in terms of paying attention to player development for his Cowboy teams. Coach Landry was quick to see the importance of strength training and conditioning for pro football players and in 1972 hired pioneer strength training coach Alvin Roy away from the Kansas City Chiefs. When Coach Roy left the Cowboys in 1976, Coach Landry brought in Bob Ward who brought with him a unique background as a track coach, college football player and coach and a strength training background. With Coach Ward, the Cowboys ran a very aggressive strength training and conditioning program that was way ahead of its time in the NFL. Besides Coach Ward’s strength training program, the Cowboys were working with speed coaches, martial arts experts, computerized personal fitness programs, and sensory deprivation tanks. Coach Ward also developed linemen striking machines, speed resistance and pulling machines. If it would help the Cowboys win a Super Bowl – the Cowboys did it!

Watch most high school, college and even some pro football player’s strength train and what do you see? Most will do some type of hip exercise (squats, deadlift or power clean), bench press and bicep curls and then call it a day. Left to their own devises very few will do neck, knee, leg and shoulder work – yet these are the areas of the body that are most frequently injured during the football season.

Strength training completed during the season was not the norm until coaches like Dan Riley of Penn State, and then the Washington Redskins and Houston Texans started preaching the importance of in-season strength training for injury prevention and strength development for players. Coach Riley revolutionized the football coach’s way of thinking about importance of in-season strength training and fitness.

How does the understaffed high school football coach juggle all the needs of his program against the ever increasing demands on his players time – school work, film study, new play installs, play reviews, limited field and practice time? One of the first things that will usually be dropped once the season starts is the team’s strength training program! “We just don’t have the time to lift during the season! We will get it started next week! Our players are too tired after practice to lift weights! We don’t have a big enough facility to lift our entire team!” They are all responses that I have heard from coaches and players my entire coaching career!

In-season strength training is the most important part of your team’s yearly training cycle as a football player. It is your program! It is important for the following reasons:

1.     In-season is when your players will be injured – not the off-season!

2.     In-season is when you will play, win and lose games – not the off-season!

3.     In-season is when you as a coach have the most control over your player’s time – they are not playing summer baseball, going to basketball open gyms, etc.

4.     If a muscle is not continuously exercised and stimulated every 48 to 72 hours it will gradually atrophy and become weaker. All the off-season workouts that you did will not keep you strong after week number one of the season. Think of how weak your team will be during the second half of the season or the playoffs if you are lucky enough to make them.

5.     As a coach you want to do everything in your power to keep your best players on the field – not in the trainer’s room. By keeping your best players on the field you will have the greatest chance for success as a team!

So, in-season strength training is a must at any level of football! But, you cannot just open the door to your weight room and expect your players to train hard. No! Just like any other part of your program, your in-season training program must be thoroughly thought out and organized to have an impact on your season.

The following is how we organize our in-season strength training program at Mt. St. Joseph University, a Division III program in Cincinnati. At the Division III level, we are probably more like most high school programs in terms of player numbers, time, space, facilities, coaching staff numbers, etc. But this format can and has been successfully implemented at all levels of football – high school, FBS and FCS and even with NFL teams.


As with legendary NFL coach Tom Landry, full support and acceptance from the head coach of your program is a must! Without the head coach supporting, believing and backing your program, your program is doomed from day one. It is imperative that you gain the support from your head coach – the head coach will sell your program to the rest of the team. Just as the head coach supports the plays and schemes called by the offensive and defensive coordinators he too must support what you are trying to do with a strength training and conditioning program. Open communication about workout updates, outstanding player developments and any positive (and negative) events that happen in your program should be shared with your head coach and the rest of the coaching staff as they occur.

Training Week:

Once your season starts, it seems that we all face two opponents each week – your next opponent on the schedule and time. Sometimes there just is not enough time in the typical week to get everything done that a football staff has to accomplish – game film, scouting reports, new installs, strength training, conditioning, player rehab, special team preparation, booster club commitments, etc. – within a blink of an eye it seems like it is game time again.

As stated before, one of the first things that will get eliminated from many programs is the strength training program – don’t let this happen to your team. Fight for the time that your head coach gives you for your in-season strength training program. Once you have a commitment from your head coach make sure that every minute and every player is accounted for in the program. That is, fom the third team kicker to the starting quarterback, all player’s must and should be involved in the program.

Your in-season program will get the best results with strength training workouts scheduled every 48 to 72 hours, or least two days a week of training. A typical training week could be like this:

Training Week








High School





*Strength Training













*Strength Training

Final Install












*Strength Training



*Strength Training

Final Install




Some teams and individual players may like to incorporate a third workout into their training week. Some may want to train the day after a game (this may be good for a player who saw limited action on game day, while most front line players will be to soar to accomplish a high intensity workout). Or, a third workout can be accomplished two days out from game day for the college player.

The Workout:

How to organize your in-season training workout exercises will depend upon several factors:

1.     Exercise equipment available – a workout featuring bench pressing will be difficult to accomplish if you have 80 players and only 3 bench press stations.

2.     Number of athletes – the more players you have to train at one time the more training stations you will need or more group training times to create smaller groups

3.     When will the workouts be done – will your strength training program be performed before school or practice, during school, after school or practice?

4.     Time allotment – how much time has your head coach given you – 20, 40, 50 minutes?

5.     Age of your athletes – your training program should be performed around exercises that are age appropriate for your team. A novice freshmen player who has never lifted weights may not be able to perform a complicated training program. Focus on form, range of motion and training intensity. Keep things simple and easy to administer.

Keeping the above points in mind, at Mt. St. Joseph University we organize our in-season strength training program as follows:

1.     Head-To-Toe – Football is a total contact sport! All major muscles, joints, ligaments and bones are used daily by a football player. With this in mind we do not neglect any of the major muscle groups. We train “head to toe”!

A major emphasis for us is the neck and trap area. We stress the development of the neck cylinder in all four directions (forward, backward, right and left); and the trapezius area of the upper shoulder!

2.     Scheduled time – Our Monday strength training workouts are scheduled on an individual bases. All players are assigned training around their morning class schedule with senior players getting first pick. The first workout of the day is scheduled for 6:30 AM, in groups of 10 players. Workout groups are scheduled every 15 minutes apart. This will free up training equipment to keep an even, steady flow of activity moving through our weight room. We have a very well equipped weight room but we can handle 100 – 120 players at one time. Smaller training groups means better flow, more training, more supervision and more coaching!

3.     Two workouts going on at the same time – after taking a hard look at training equipment and exercises we could accomplish, we came up with two separate but equal workouts. As stated above, our team is divided into training groups of ten players. For the first five weeks of the season, Group 1 (5 players) may be assigned to do machine leg curls, while the other half of the group; Group 2 (5 players) will be assigned to do dumbbell stiff legged deadlifts. They are two different exercises that are both training the hamstring muscle group. Starting with week six of the season, Group 1 will perform the dumbbell stiff legged deadlifts and Group 2 will do the machine leg curls.

Blue Workout/Gold Workout

1.     Neck – Manual 4 way 1. Neck – Manual 4 way

2.     Hammer Shrug 2. Dumbbell Shrug

3.     Leg Press 3. Barbell Squat

4.     Hammer Leg Extension 4. Dumbbell Lunge

5.     Stiff Legged Deadlift 5. Hammer Leg Curl

6.     Manual Hip Adduction 6. Manual Hip Abduction

7.     Barbell Bench Press 7. Hammer Bench Press

8.     Cable Chest Fly 8. Dumbbell Chest Fly

9.     Hammer Bent Over Row 9. Dumbbell Bent Over Row

10.     Hammer Lat Pull down 10. Hammer Underhand Lat Pull down

11.     Dumbbell Side Lateral Raise 11. Hammer Seated Press

12.     Dumbbell Upright Row 12. Manual Front Raise

13.     Dumbbell Bicep Curl 13. Hammer Bicep Curl

14.     Cable Tricep Extension 14. Cable Tricep Pushdown

4.     Sets / Reps

I only have about 55 minutes to get a group of players through their entire workout. Thus my coaching staff, players and workout has to be organized, detailed and set up beforehand. While we have a very nice training room, we do not have multiple training stations. For instance, I only have 5 bench press stations. So, I cannot have players waiting long periods of time to use a piece of training equipment. Thus, for most exercises I only prescribe 1 to 2 sets of an exercise making use of a high intensity training effort.

*Strength Training Guidelines for Athletes*


1.     NECK

·     Flexor

·     Extensor

·     Lateral Flexor

·     Traps



1 – 3



6 – 9 – 12

2.     HIPS & LEGS

·     Buttocks

·     Quadriceps

·     Hamstrings

·     Abductors / Adductors

·     Calves






6 – 12 – 20

6 – 12 – 15

6 – 12 – 15

6 – 12 – 15

6 – 12 – 15


·     Abdominal Flexion

·     Abdominal Rotation

·     Low Back




10 – 15 – 20

10 – 15 – 20

10 – 15 – 20

4.     TORSO

·     Upper Back & Lats

·     Pectorals

·     Deltoids

1 – 3

1 – 3

1 – 3

6 – 8 – 12

4 – 8 – 12

6 – 8 – 12

5.     ARMS

·     Triceps

·     Biceps

·     Forearm Flexor & Extensor

·     Hand Flexor & Extensor

1 – 2

6 – 8 – 12

6 – 8 – 12

6 – 8 – 12

6 – 8 – 12

5. Training Card

The above mentioned strength training workouts are listed on a strength training workout card. The strength training card is a very valuable training tool for both the coach and the athlete.

For the coach it enables you to have a written record of amount of weight used, proper number of reps and sets achieved, equipment used, etc. Thus the coach will be able to see and tell the athlete (as well as your head coach) if he is getting stronger, weaker or maintaining his strength during the season.

For the player, the training card will help him be time efficient during his workout. He will know exactly how much weight to use, the number of sets and reps he needs to achieve from workout to workout, and exercise to exercise. He will have a written document of progress during the season. He can thus be held to a higher level of accountability.

6.     Percent of Improvement

Tom Landry stated that it is important for a coach to find ways to motivate his players to complete the task at hand! How do you as a football coach or strength coach motivate your players to go “all out” during your in-season workouts in the weight room?

I ran across “Percent of Improvement” training from legendary University of Michigan Strength Coach Mike Gittleson. Coach Gittleson was looking for a way to motivate players to train hard during every exercise of their workout not just their favorite ones like bench press or bicep curls.

Watch most athletes train during the season, and the single most important exercise for them to monitor is their bench press. If their bench press stays the same or goes up during the season they are happy, life is good and will most likely have a good game on Saturday. If their bench press goes down the world is coming to an end, and they are going to play poorly on Saturday. Athletes will always train the bench press workout hard – but what about their neck, knee or shoulder? Will they train them hard? These are the muscles that are frequently hurt or injured during a game or practice! It is critical that a player train his entire body from “head to toe” with as much effort and interest as he does his bench or squat! A football player does not want to neglect any important body parts.

Percent of improvement will make your entire workout important – not just your bench press. It will motivate your team and individual players to give maximum effort in each and every exercise that you prescribe to them

As a coach you should instruct your players to try to train with maximum effort and intensity during each training session. Always try to do better than their previous lift or set by performing at least one or more reps than they did during their previous workout. Or to train with a heavier weight than they used during the last workout. Upon completion of the strength exercise, the player will record his important training data on his training card: weight used, number of sets, number of reps accomplished in good training form, equipment used and training method used to perform the exercise. If upon completion of an exercise, there is improvement by at least one repetition or more, the athlete is getting stronger – so he would receive a plus (+) on his training card. If the athlete’s workout effort does not improve or stays the same on his training card he would receive a minus (-) on his card.


Bench Press 200 lbs. 8 reps 200 lbs. 10 reps 200 lbs. 10 reps

In the above example the player would receive a plus for workouts number 1 (completed the new exercise) and number 2 (he went up in reps, thus he is stronger); but a minus for workout number 3 (because he stayed the same in his strength level and did not go up in the number of reps he performed or weight used).


·     Complete a new exercise = (+)

·     Use a new weight = (+)

·     Perform a least one more rep than previous workout = (+)

·     Weight the same and no improvement in reps performed = (-)

·     Weight goes down from previous workout = (-)

·     Exercise is not completed = (-)

As stated above – now every exercise is important, not just your bench press! If the team workout calls for 14 strength exercises, and he receives a + on all his exercises, his Percent of Improvement for the day is 100%. If he receives a + on 12 out of 14 exercises he receives an 86% score.

As a form of motivation, all our player Monday workout cards are graded for their Percent of Improvement. All team scores are reported to our head coach as well as being posted on a weekly scoreboard for all players and members of the staff to see. Our team and individual goal is a score of 86% or better. Taking a page out of Woody Hayes playbook – if your team uses helmet decals for rewards, you can reward all players who receive a score of say 86% or higher with a helmet decal, as well as one for a team average of 86% or higher! This is a great reward system for the 2nd or 3rd team player who is not getting much playing team on Saturdays. He still has two chances for an individual award decal and a team reward for the team average. It will make his training all that more important and rewarding – not just something he has to do on Mondays!

7.     Wednesday / Thursday Manual Workout

We perform a weight room workout Monday morning. Depending upon the travel schedule for the week, we will do a second nontraditional strength training workout on either Wednesday or Thursday evenings. This type of training was made popular by Dan Riley while he was with Penn State and the Washington Redskins. I have stayed with this type of training throughout my coaching career for a number of reasons: Time – I can train the entire team of 100+ players in about 20 minutes (our head coach loves this), it gets the players out of the weight room and into an outdoor environment (Coach Landry wanted the Cowboys training in the weather that they were going to play in – their weight room was actually outside), it is a great Team Builder with all players working out at one time together and the coaching staff supervising a station – they get to see their guys go through the workout, a game-like circuit. This type of circuit is a great game-like cardio workout with no rest between sets, and finally, little equipment is needed!

Depending upon your access to training equipment or lack of, you will not need much equipment to complete this On-The-Field-Workout. I divide the team up into 5 different groups of equal player numbers. Our standard stations are listed below, but you can add, subtract and create new stations as you see fit.

Station # 1 A. Neck Front – using Manual Resistance

B. Neck Back – using Manual Resistance

Station #2 A. Dips – using outdoor Dip/Chin station

B. Chin-ups – using outdoor Dip /Chin station

Station #3 A. Side lateral Raise – using Manual Resistance

B. Front Raise – using Manual Resistance

Station #4 A. Pushups – using Manual Resistance

B. Seated Press – using Manual Resistance

Station #5 A. Bicep Curl – using a heavy rope or towel for a bar

B. Tricep Extension – using a heavy rope or towel for a bar


1.     5 stations of equal numbers

2.     Work in groups of two – one player is spotter, one is lifter

3.     Player #1 will perform both lifting exercises before become spotter – then switch roles – Player #2 will be lifter and #1 spotter

4.     Each exercise will be performed with high intensity and effort for 45 seconds – coach then blows a whistle and switches to second exercise on second whistle

5.     Lift resistance through entire range of motion, with high effort, lift up to a count of 2 seconds, pause for 1 complete second and lower resistance to a count of 4 seconds

6.     After both players and group have completed both exercises at that station they will move onto the next station

7.     Entire workout will take approximately 20 minutes to complete

8.     Final Expectations:

This type of training program has been used to train high school playoff and state championship teams, major college conference and bowl game champions, National Championship teams, and NFL Super Bowl Champions. While the type of strength training program is not the sole determining factor on the success of a football team, (player talent, head coaching direction and leadership, good assistant coaches, team schedule, minimal injuries, and a little bit of luck are also important factors), it can be an important part of a team’s success or failure.

I have used this type of training program for most of my coaching career – 35 years – and have not changed from the format too much. I regularly get the following results like I got from one of the State Championship Teams that I coached on.

1.     Team Average Body Weight in August = 173.3 lbs.

Team Average Body Weight in November = 177.2 lbs.

2.     Team Average Bench Press Weight in August = 205.5 lbs.

Team Average Bench Press Weight in November = 233.7 lbs.

3.     Team Average Strength Index in August = 577.9 %

Team Average Strength Index in November = 1157%

By having your team follow an aggressive in-season strength and conditioning program your team can and should see increases in strength and power, reduce injury rates, reduce the severity of some types of injuries, see major increases in football related fitness levels and give your team a chance to be competitive on the playing field. A program that does not follow an in-season program is likely to see increases in injuries, experience a major of loss of strength and power by seasons end, and most likely experience a “peaking” effect of fitness and skill level around midseason – not at the end of the season when league championships, playoffs, state titles, and bowl games are on the line.


1.     Gittleson, Mike (1984) Michigan Football Off-Season Conditioning

2.     Riley, Dan (1982) Strength Training for Football: the Penn State Way, Leisure Press, West Point, New York

3.     Ward, Bob Ph.D. (1979) Trends in Conditioning In The NFL – Training for Football and Other Explosively Oriented Sports, National Strength and Conditioning Association, Volume 1 Number 3 and 4

4.     Peterson, James A. (1977) Conditioning For A Purpose: The West Point Way, Leisure Press, West Point, New York