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Energy Systems

We all realize that in order to be successful in the game of football, high levels of physical condition are required. Many times, teams that have a better conditioning level are able to take over games late in the 2nd and 4th quarters.

We have all seen games where one team seems to become stronger and more aggressive as the game goes on while the other seems to fade away. We often attribute this phenomenon to "a shift in momentum" but regardless of any change in situation, the athlete must have the physical ability to perform at a very high level at a moments notice.

There are lots of coaches who believe in "playing their players into shape".....this simply does not work! This is like saying that we don't need to train in the weight room or perform Plyometrics because the sport itself takes care of these things! We must train our football's players metabolic (energy) systems just like we train for strength and power.

The game of Football requires short bursts of activity (4-6 seconds) followed by 30-40 second rest intervals, this is an essentially 100% "anaerobic" activity. The term Anaerobic means "without oxygen," this means that your energy system is going at such a high rate of intensity that it is impossible to keep this level up for extended periods of time and the body requires adequate rest to reach that high level of performance again. An example of an anaerobic activity is running ten 60-yard sprints and resting 30 seconds between sprints....without adequate rest, it would be impossible to continue to run at full speed right?! Compare this to "aerobic" or "with oxygen" activities such as jogging or cycling at a moderate pace. These are activities that require the body to work at a rate that let's the body utilize oxygen (resting is not necessary).

Since I have already stated that football is essentially 100% "anaerobic" in nature, why does the title of this article contain the word "aerobic"? As a conditioning coach, I believe that when building a sound anaerobic energy system it is nearly impossible to totally disregard the aerobic system. This does not mean that a football player who does repeat 100's everyday will be able to run a 16 minute 5,000 meter race...rather, the athlete that does repeat 100's (or 50's or 200's etc.) will have built a body that can withstand extremely high levels of intensity over and over and over again. In research that I have done using heart rate monitors on football players during conditioning AND games, I found that heart rates average well into what is considered "aerobic exercise guidelines" (60-70% of maximum heart rate levels) for well over the minimum duration requirements for aerobic fitness (20+ minutes). Confused?! Let's see if the following information can help you better understand.

Without getting too scientific let's examine the two energy systems. This anaerobic system can be broken down into two sub-categories, the Phosphagen or ATP-CP and the lactic anaerobic category. Phosphagen can support high intensity activity for approximately 0-10 seconds while Lactic Acid metabolism can support high intensity activity for 10 seconds to 1.5 - 2 minutes maximum.

The aerobic system can support moderate levels of work for long periods of time and low levels of work almost indefinitely.

The concept of "Interval Training" has given coaches a means of incorporating all the necessary energy system components vital to football performance and customizes conditioning workouts. Interval Training involves repeated bouts of exercise (low, moderate, or high intensity) with specified rest periods. It is possible to train components of both Aerobic and Anaerobic systems in one workout using interval work. It is wise to incorporate all 3 types of running (low, moderate, and high (sprint)) in these workouts, as this will specifically tax those energy components mentioned earlier.

The following tables highlight some ideas to help coaches formulate a sound football running conditioning program:

TABLE 1 Intensity and Work: Rest Ratios
20-60 Yards Sprint *1:3-6 Phosphagen
100-400 Yards Stride - Moderate 1:1 Lactic Acid
>2 Minutes Jog N/A Aerobic


TABLE II Football Workout Incorporating Anaerobic & Aerobic Components
Warm-up & Stretch Warm-up & Stretch
10 x 100 Yard Striders w/1:1 work: rest ratio 10 x 200 Yard Gassers (Striders) with 1:1 ratio
15 x 30 Yard Sprints with 1:5 ratio 10 x 20 Yard Sprint/backpedal drill with 1:5 ratio
10 x 20 Yard Agility Run with 1:5 ratio 10 Min. of Running - Walking Around Field (1 minute intervals)
10 Min. 110 Yard Fartleks (Stride 30 / Hard Run 40 / Stride 30 / Walk 10 ... continuous)  

When interval training the athlete's heart rate will stay relatively high (up to 95% of Max heart rate). The rest intervals will allow this rate to decrease but usually not more than 20-30%. This means that if the above workouts take approximately 20+ minutes to complete and the athlete's heart rate DOES NOT drop below "aerobic" guidelines (65-70% of Max heart rate), we will obtain both aerobic and anaerobic training effects. It is also beneficial to use position drills as part of the players conditioning regimen (using the same intensities and work: rest ratios).

Scientific Basis of Athletic Conditioning, Fisher, G. and Jensen, C, Lea & Febiger, 1989

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