A big part of developing as a football player at virtually every position is getting in the weight room both in season and out of season. However, all too often athletes get less than optimal results because of a few avoidable mistakes. Below are some of the most common mistakes that athletes make when hitting the weight room -
#5 - Following Fad Workouts
All too often football players are pumped up after the season and are looking to get back in to the weight room to make gains for the next year. There is certainly nothing wrong with that and having the motivation to push forward in your football career is something you should bottle up and use all year.
However, many times that ambition is followed up by downloading an app, reading a few exercise blogs and copying the basics of the workout or following a friend head first in to their mythical workout.
Workout design is one of the most important areas of performance gain. You should be following a well laid out plan either designed by your coach or that you have thought long and hard about. If you need some guidance on designing a workout plan you can visit my articles on annual workout planning.
#4 - Peaking When It Doesn't Count
So it is the beginning of the off-season and you're on a hot streak, you gained 30lbs on your bench and 10lbs of pure muscle. So what do you do next, spend every workout for the next 3 weeks maxing out to show your teammates and any members of the opposite sex who may be in the area what you have been gaining.
Wrong, in reality you should only be maxing out at most once a month and really every 2 months or longer is perfectly fine. Also, once you have maxed out, especially if it was a large max, you should back off your workout a bit. As your body is not used to the heavy weight, you can risk physical injury or mental over-training if you perform repeat maximal effort attempts over multiple workouts.
#3 - Working Hard not Smart
It always seems like a badge of honor to outwork your teammates or competitors in the weightroom. You know the saying, give 110%, pain is weakness leaving the body, yada yada yada, that is all crap.
You know what happens if you give 110% all day, every day? You end up injured or having to spend days recovering from delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) or even worse overtraining.
I'm not saying you want to take it easy or do 50% of your max for every exercise, but you want to work smart. What you want to have happen is a nice super-compensation as shown in the graph above. You want to work hard enough to put your body in a deficit, but then also provide it enough time to recover so that the result is - a few days out you are better than you were before your workout.
Ambitious athletes tend to put themselves in that deficit, but don't give themselves enough time to recover. So instead of super-compensating, they either plateau or go further into deficit and end up over-training - which can take weeks or even months to recover from.
#2 - Focusing on Muscle not Strength
Many football players and really the public in general equate muscle size with a persons strength. While someone with bulging muscles will certainly be stronger than someone who has never picked up a weight in their life, muscle size is actually a pretty poor indicator of a persons strength.
Studies have shown that muscle size actually only accounts for about 10% of change in strength. The majority of strength gain is due to neurological adaptation, aka your mind and nervous system learning to lift heavier and heavier weights.
A rule of thumb is to gain muscle you will want to be using limited rest between sets of 10 to 15 reps for most exercises. In order to gain strength you will typically want to keep your rep range in the 3 - 6 range with almost full recovery between sets which can mean 3 to 5 minutes between sets or even longer.
#1 - Not Having a Goal in Mind
The biggest mistake football players and athletes in general make when going to the weight room is not having a goal in mind. All too often players go in the weight room and room around endlessly doing a few sets here and a few sets there. Then chatting with some friends and working in with them for a few sets. Failing to plan is planning to fail. The easiest way to see consistent gains is to plan out each workout and have that plan be in the context of when you are planning to workout out in the future, i.e. don't do high rep incline press if you are planning to max bench press the next day or don't do max squat if you are planning to do a heavy speed workout the next day.
You don't need to have to have a PHD in exercise science to get your workouts right, but you need to game plan when you are going to lift and why you are going to lift. You shouldn't be focusing all of your efforts on max bench if you are the punter and cardio shouldn't be the main focus of your workout if your training to gain explosion or put on weight.
In conclusion - set goals for each and every workout, focus on strength gains, give yourself time to properly recover, don't try to max out too often, if a workout sounds too good to be true - it probably is.