By: Casey Stutzman
Most weight room workouts for high school football players tend to look strikingly similar to the style of programing a bodybuilder or weight lifter would perform. On paper this seems like a good approach; Bigger + Stronger = More Athletic. However, as any coach knows, just because it looks good on paper does not necessarily make it true (that is why they play the game!).
The purpose of any training regimen designed to increase performance is to build athletes. Athletes cannot be built by simply picking up heavy things or isolating muscles with specific lifts. Athletes need to be reactive, adaptive and become masters of controlling their bodies and positions in space. Traditional weight training alone desperately lacks in these areas. When I played football in college, I remember four offensive linemen who could bench press over 350 pounds, but only one of them was a starter. They were all “strong,” but only one was able to harness that strength into performance on the field.
Don’t get me wrong, heavy resistance training provides a number of benefits when developing athletic bodies. My point is that to develop true athleticism, static lifting alone will not cut it.
There is also a huge difference between performance training for college or professional athletes and for high school athletes. Younger athletes’ bodies are still growing and developing, and at this crucial point in their lives strength is far less important than movement literacy. With each new growth spurt they must relearn how to move. This is why someone can be a superstar one year, and then grow 4 inches the next year and “forget how to walk.” Building great athletes at this stage is all about building good movers and teaching efficient movement mechanics. For example, have you ever noticed that stronger barbell back squatters in the weight room are the same players who stand straight up on the snap of the ball and get blown off the line of scrimmage? This was a problem I ran into constantly when coaching high school football until I realized that those larger and stronger players were actually using the weight from the barbell to help create stability in the bottom of their squat position. When we backed off the weight and taught them how to effectively bodyweight squat, they were then able to transfer that to the field and stay low off the line.
In my experience, performance in any sport or activity comes down to two factors:
1) The ability to create tension to get into good positions.
2) The ability to maintain that tension in an unstable or unpredictable environment.
In a chaotic environment like the game of football, we see these characteristics being challenged in every single facet of the game. We drill our players over and over in practice so that come game time they can react to situations without thinking. The same should be true for their movement training. They need to learn what good positions are, how to get into them and how to maintain them when things change unexpectedly.
To train these characteristics, one of the tools I use is called the Surge®.
The Surge® is a large cylinder filled with varying amounts of water, much like a slosh pipe that has been used in weight rooms for decades. I find this tool unique because of the dynamic load it provides. Instead of static weights, the water is always moving so athletes can never “take a break”. The water provides immediate feedback on movement quality. If an athlete moves too fast, shifts or loses tension (core activation), the water will highlight destabilization and force the athlete to correct the movement pattern.
In a performance training environment, the most effective way to illicit positive change is through constant feedback to each athlete. The shifting water in the Surge® provides that environment and allows athletes to make the necessary corrections without a coach having to hover over them constantly.
Using the Surge® provides major benefits in performance training. Athletes are given direct feedback on their movements, teaching them how to maintain consistent movement patterns in an ever changing and unpredictable environment, just like sports. As an added bonus for young bodies, the Surge® challenges muscles and creates tension in the joints with a relatively low amount of weight. This can reduce the risk of weight room related injuries and avoids adding excess load to unskilled movement.
By adding a tool like the Surge® to your weight room programming, you can expect more functional strength gains. Basically, what that boils down to is the abilities that players develop in the weight room will directly transfer to increased performance on the field.
Casey Stutzman, AFAA-CPT, ACE-CPT, FMS L2, is the owner of The Performance Locker Personal Performance Training Studio in Alpena, MI. He is a Master Trainer for Surge, BOSU, TRX, and RealRyder. Casey coached high school football for 3 years as a Varsity defensive line coach and a JV defensive coordinator. He was a walk-on with the Western Michigan University football team.