In-season Training for Football and the Weekend Warrior

By Chris Carlsen 

One way for me to connect with my athletes is to continue to be an athlete. In addition to playing for the love of the game, two-hand rough football forces me to plan my own programming year round. The yearly program is broken up into offseason, preseason, in-season and recovery cycles. The In-season training cycle is one of the hardest seasons to program and continuing to play gives me great feedback with respect to what is the right training volume at that time. In general, the challenge with this particular program is training to stay strong and mobile throughout the season, but not doing too much and overtraining the athlete (burning out their nervous system). This is also a great program for weekend warriors who love to powerlift. It becomes very hard to juggle both and stay healthy, but this program will allow you to maintain your strength and seamlessly pick up where you left off when the season concludes. 


To write a good in-season program, you must know the demands of the sport at play. Although two-hand rough football is not tackle or rugby, I find it to be one of the most demanding recreational sports. For starters, everyone usually plays receiver and most guys play both ways. This leads to a lot of sprinting, deceleration and re-accelerating. Each play takes about 5 -7 seconds with 30 seconds of rest between plays, which rely heavily on the creatine-phosphagen system. In other words, a large amount of power is needed to be produced by the muscles, creating a high demand for ATP. It’s also physical, being strong will ameliorate your performance. It will help you hold on to the catch when you get hit, and help jar the ball away when you hit your opponent.  Being 6’2 and having good speed, I run predominantly long routes (sprinting 20 plus yards) and have to cover a lot of ground on defense. This demands precise programming to play at an explosive level (energy system from above) week in and week out.


Over the last few years I have been toying with my in-season programming. For the most part I felt good, but sporadically my legs will feel heavy. This year I put a lot of thought into my in-season training. I wanted a program that wouldn’t have me estimating how I would feel on Sundays. A big influence on this program design was the Strong First Methodology & their Plan Strong Seminar I attended last March. The Strong First Methodology is based on Russian Weightlifting Programs of the 1970’s and 80’s. Not only do they have records that still stand today, they are also known for their longevity. It’s not all that uncommon to hear of a Russian lifter strong like an ox well into his 60’s. This is due to their elite programming. Strong First programming is also based on training tactical units. They need to be strong but also fresh daily. Feeling overly sore or fatigued can lead to their demise. In-season training should be treated the same way. A pulled hamstring will ruin your season!


The program calls for three weight workouts a week. Tuesdays are medium, Thursday are heavy, Saturday is light and Sunday is game day.  The medium, heavy, and light days signified a change in the amount of repetitions; the weight however stayed at 72.5% of my one rep-max. The medium day was 3 reps, the heavy day was 5, and the light day 1 to 2 reps. This set up allowed my body to recover from the previous game and be fresh for the upcoming game. I did mobility work and stretching on M/W/FRI.

Exercise selection – The Big 5 movement patterns - I would pair Deadlifts and Bench, Squats and 1 arm presses and then do Pull-ups later in the day.

1.      Deadlift- Other than being the king of lifts, the lack of deceleration made this a perfect choice for my main lower body lift. The eccentric portion of the lift produces muscle tearing and soreness. This not a bad thing, just something we want to minimize during the season.  72.5% of Max (500) = 365

2.      Bench press- Main upper body lift 72.5% of Max (390) = 295

3.      Kettlbell Squats- I wanted to maintain the squat pattern without too much load (deceleration). Squatting with a pair of 36kg bells challenged my body (feels like 275) without having to load up. It is also a great anterior core exercise. More often than not, I found myself putting the squats before the deadlifts. This would open up the hips and give me better pop on my deadlifts. I would also have to clean the bells to the rack position. Nothing simulates taking a hit like a heavy kettlebell clean, you will never shy away from contact again. 

4.      One arm K.B Press- I chose the press to challenge my anti-rotational component and because I love it– 72.5% = 36kg

5.      Tactical Pull-up – To counteract the pressing – 72.5%= 36kg.


Prior to the Program

I started tempo runs 6 weeks before the season.  In this time, I was also finishing up my off-season strength program. The tempo runs progressively gets my body ready for the repeated sprints I have to endure in the game.

Tempo-Runs – 75% intensity

Day 1 Day 2
Week 1 20 yards - 6 reps 20 yards - 8 reps
Week 2 20 yards - 10 reps 20 yards - 12 reps
Week 3 40 yards - 6 reps 40 yards - 8 reps
Week 4 40 yards - 10 reps 40 yards - 12 reps
Week 5 60 yards - 6 reps 60 yards - 8 reps
Week 6 60 yards - 10 reps 60 yards - 12 reps

 *I run short 10-15 yard hill sprints most of the year

Off-season weight program – This can be an article in itself, so I will keep it brief. I would wave between loads of 60% and 92% and use kettlebell swings and snatches for conditioning.

The Program

I started the in-season program two weeks before the season and 4 weeks into the tempo runs. I wanted to give my body time to acclimate to the new program before playing in the games.

Week 2 of the season – In the previous years, I always felt great in week 1 and heavy in week 2. I think this is due to the fact that you play at such high speeds in the game and it takes time for your body to adjust and recover. I’ve noticed this is a week most guys get hurt or banged up. This year, I felt really good in week 2 and it was because of the program.

Week 3 – I was feeling strong and fresh daily, almost too easily. The week before Strong First published SFG 2 Derek Miller’s Daily Dose Deadlift Plan, there were a lot of similarities to the program I was running but with a wave load every 7 days. Derek would have the deadlift at 75% for 6 straight lifting days and then up percentage of a max to 80%. He would then go back to 6 days at 75% and on the 7th day go up to 85%, he would drop back down to 75% and then up to 90%. He would then repeat the cycle but starting at 82% instead of 80%. This gave me an idea of how to refine my program.

I don’t like to make changes to a program on the fly, but based on how I felt, I thought an increase in intensity every other Thursday wouldn’t be too much. It would also keep my CNS dialed in, as it wouldn’t be months without lifting over 80%.

The demands of the sport and position played will determine how many weekly sessions and repetitions (volume).

Week of Football Season Tuesday / Medium Thursday/ Heavy Saturday / Light
Preseason Week 1 3 singles with 72.5% 5 singles with 72.5% 1 single with 72.5%
Preseason Week 2 3 singles with 72.5% 5 singles with 72.5% 1 single with 72.5%
Week 1 3 singles with 72.5% 5 singles with 72.5% 1 single with 72.5%
Week 2 3 singles with 72.5% 5 singles with 72.5% 1 single with 72.5%
Week 3* 3 singles with 72.5% 5 singles with 77.5% 1 single with 72.5%
Week 4 3 singles with 72.5% 5 singles with 72.5% 1 single with 72.5%
Week 5 3 singles with 72.5% 5 singles with 82.5% 1 single with 72.5%
Week 6 3 singles with 72.5% 5 singles with 72.5% 1 single with 72.5%
Week 7 3 singles with 72.5% 5 singles with 87.5% 1 single with 72.5%
Week 8 3 singles with 72.5% 5 singles with 72.55 1 single with 72.5%
Week 9 3 singles with 72.5% 5 singles with 79.55 1 single with 72.5%
Week 10 3 singles with 72.5% 5 singles with 72.5% 1 single with 72.5%
Playoffs 3 singles with 72.5% 2/3 singles with 85% 1 single with 72.5%
Playoffs 3 singles with 72.5% 3 singles with 72.5% 1 single with 72.5%
Season Over 3 singles with 72.5% 5 singles with 90% 1 single with 72.5%

·         By week 3, my body has acclimated to all the running and I can begin to wave the loads.

·         You can reduce your heavy day to 2 to 3 reps during the playoffs and Championship.

·         We failed to make championship so I lifted at 90%, if I wasn’t I would have done a 2 singles with 80% instead.


            I felt great all season and this will be my go-to in-season program for years to come.