To compete at the highest level on the football field, you don't just need to be strong, fast and powerful -- you've got to have top-notch cardiovascular fitness, too. But getting fitter for football isn't just a case of running laps. This type of cardio won't make you a better player. In fact, it could even decrease your performance levels, so learn how to do cardio correctly to enhance your performance on the football field.
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The Myth of Steady State Cardio
Traditionally, many football coaches recommended steady state cardio as a method of conditioning. This inevitably involved jogging around the field, warming up with a team run or spending hours on the treadmill. But distance running places a lot of stress on your joints, notes strength coach Chad Wesley Smith of Juggernaut Training Systems. Additionally, it's rare that you'll ever have to jog long distance at a moderate pace during a game, so this form of cardio is ineffective and doesn't develop the energy systems needed for optimal performance in football.
Have Fun with Fartlek
Fartlek is a Swedish word and translates as "speed play." It is very similar to interval training, in that it combines high-intensity bursts of cardio with lower and moderate intensity aerobic work. This is extremely beneficial for football players, claims personal trainer Z Altug on the "STACK" magazine website. It mimics the varying intensities of game situations, reduces the risk of overuse injuries and prevents boredom. Altug recommends varying your sprints from anywhere between 10 and 60 seconds. The longer your sprint, the longer your walk or jog in between should be.
Switching Between Systems
On average, each play in a game lasts around 5.5 seconds and they rarely go above 10 to 11 seconds, according to strength coach and NFL Combine trainer Joe DeFranco. This means in training, you should concentrate on developing two energy systems. Your adenosine triphosphate phosphocreatine system, or ATP-PC system for short, is dominant for between four and 10 seconds, while the anaerobic glycolysis system takes over between 11 and 20 seconds. To train both of these, DeFranco advises performing tire flips, tire pushes or resisted sprints for four to 10 seconds, then going straight into a sprint or shuttle run for up to 20 seconds.
Pushing the Limits
When you're serious about your football fitness, you need to hit the prowler. The prowler is a triangular frame made from iron that sits close to the ground, with vertical poles on each corner. You can put plates on these poles to increase the weight, then either push the prowler across the ground, or attach a harness to it and pull it along behind you while you sprint. Philadelphia-based football conditioning coach Steven Morris recommends making prowler drills part of your preseason cardio. Try pushing the prowler in a low position for 15 to 20 yards, then switching to a higher position for the same distance. Alternatively, attach a handle to the prowler and drag it backward for 10 yards, then let go and sprint back to the start.