August 10, 2015 • FootballStrength & Conditioning

Football: Preparing to face up-tempo offenses

As many teams begin to adapt to up-tempo offenses, the practice and conditioning components should also change. Fast-paced offenses are dictating and controlling the tempo of the game, and they can ultimately expose conditioning weaknesses among the defenses. A “fast-paced” offense refers to one that does not huddle nor substitute personnel on most offensive plays during a drive.

One benefit for the offense in a fast-paced system is to force the defense to commit to a cover scheme and to player personnel, since there are no substitutions. This can be advantageous for the offense if it can expose a weak area or two within a cover scheme, and if multiple plays are successful, then a fatiguing defense can begin to deteriorate.

Conditioning the defense separately from the offense is critical, especially if your offense follows a more traditional, huddle-up style. Otherwise, your defense can fall victim to offenses that operate a fast-paced, no-huddle system. Conditioning the defense properly calls for a not only a shift in traditional conditioning and training, but within practice design. And essentially, if the goal is to have a fast-paced offense, then this conditioning and practice program works for both sides of the game.

While a conditioning program should be multi-faceted and year-round, practices should be an extension of conditioning. In fact, practice should be the conditioned rehearsal for how a team wants to play.

Understanding this concept can help you design practices that accomplish conditioning goals, potentially reducing overall time and volume spent solely conditioning. Most fast-paced offenses condition and practice for the speed of the game they want to produce on the field. Many offenses that run the fast-paced system probably practice faster than game speed.

Usually, offenses are running multiple plays in sequence and practicing on air, with no contact from the defense. They are training their bodies to line up, go and repeat as quickly as possible. When a conditioned, fast-paced offense gets into a game, they are potentially conditioned beyond the speed of the game on the field, reducing the effect of fatigue for the offense. Unless defenses are practicing the same way, fatigue will be a factor if offenses can run multiple plays successfully. A fatiguing defense will only increase the probability of success for the offense.

Recovery time

Traditionally, football is viewed as an explosive sport, with average plays ranging three to five seconds, and rest periods between plays anywhere from 25 seconds to several minutes, depending on the point of the game. However, with the popularity and implementation of a fast-paced offense, the time between plays is greatly reduced. For offenses that run this system, the “recovery” time between plays can be very short, often just a few seconds. There are several college and professional teams that run their entire offense this way — fast-paced, no huddle, no substitutions.

The short time between downs that a fast-paced offense is capable of generating equates to a very short recovery time for the defense. Without sufficient length of recovery, athletes are limited in the ability to generate explosive, high-energy movements, which only deteriorates as long as the offensive drive sustains at a fast pace.

The best practice in addressing this concern is to train the defenses to be able to recover more quickly and maintain high levels of speed and explosiveness.

Modification of training protocols

Think about each drill you currently perform during practice. This could include individual drills, positional drills or drills for the entire defense.

The questions you should ask are:

  • How long does each drill typically last for one rep? Basically, how long is the athlete working? Is this consistent with the style of play that is desired on the field?
  • How long do the athletes have to recover between the drills/reps? Is this consistent with the style of play that is desired on the field?

Practice design to prepare for fast-paced offenses should include more game-specific training. The main focus is to modify the practice design, but also understand that these recommendations can and should be applied to a comprehensive offseason, preseason, and in-season conditioning program.

Here are five things to consider.

1. Increase the work phase of the drill without changing the rest time between reps. Increase individual sprint, agility and skill-based drills slightly longer than normal with respect to time. Continue to progress with the length of the drill up to 20 to 25 seconds, if possible. Maintain a consistent rest time of 20 to 25 seconds and repeat the drill at least three to five times without an extended rest.

It is important to closely monitor the work-to-rest periods in order to achieve the goal of improved conditioning within the sport. While individual plays will not increase in time in the actual game, this type of training can result in delayed fatigue.

2. Decrease rest time between reps without changing the work phase. The concept here is similar to the first recommendation but challenges the body to adapt to a reduced rest phase, which trains the body for a faster recovery time.

Push athletes to perform at maximum level with each drill repetition, which should be at game speed (three to seven seconds maximum). However, reduce the rest time between each rep (seven to 15 seconds) to mimic that of a fast paced offense. Initially, the intensity will start to decrease as the number of repetitions increase, since full recovery is not provided. Adaptation to this training will allow the high intensities to return.

The program should be designed for slight incremental decreases in recovery time in order for adequate adaptation to occur without increasing the risk of injury.

3. Use video analysis of opponents to structure a model that can be simulated in practice. Take into account the following information during film analysis for conditioning purposes:

  • Number of offensive series
  • Number of offensive plays
  • Average field position
  • Average yardage per play
  • Average length of time per play
  • Average recovery time between plays

Simulate this as closely as possible within practice. Preparing the athletes on the field for what they will experience during the game translates into best performance.

4. Speed up everything. Once technique for a new skill or play is mastered, push the tempo in practice. Drills, repetitions and even recovery time should be shortened in order to allow the body to adjust to a fast paced system. Remember, fast paced offenses are often practicing on air, at a very specific speed, potentially faster than game speed. Performing drills and individual plays at a slower pace will not translate into fast paced game speed.

5. Maintain maximum intensity. The sport of football will continue to advance conditioning programs to new levels. Football will always be explosive, and as the tempo changes, players will adjust. Moves will be quick, hits will be big. Even as fatigue sets in during conditioning and practice, push the athletes to always perform at maximum levels.

Prepare your football team for every game by conditioning them to play at a faster pace in practice. Training and adapting to the demanding needs of a faster pace will allow your football team to maintain explosiveness and speed, and reduce the effect of fatigue.

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