In-Season Shoulder Training for Football

With the Super Bowl coming up, I got thinking about shoulder training and football.

I asked someone who works with football players and shoulders, every day.

I asked Jason Novak to share what he does working with in-season football players when it comes to shoulder training and health.


Take it away Jason:

Training the shoulder is one of the tougher programming challenges we face with our players during the season.  Due to the nature of the sport and position specific demands, our primary objective in-season is to keep the training simple and be very consistent in doing it.

As a team, we train four times per week with each session lasting 30-45 minutes.  Each day begins with a functional warm up and mobility exercises that last 8-12 minutes and generally ramps up in intensity as it progresses and complements the workout for that day.

We utilize many tools during the warm up routines including jump ropes, suspension training devices, kettlebells, medicine balls, dumbbells and bodyweight  exercises to add variety to the routines and keep our athletes mentally in-tune with preparing for the training.

There are three phases of our In Season training broken down into training camp, early/mid-season, and late season/playoffs.

Training Camp (Phase #1)

Essentially, this phase is an extension of the off-season program.

We train fairly heavy during training camp due to the higher numbers on the roster and less reps our veteran players have to take in practice and games.

We try to balance out every “push” we do with a “pull” whether it be chest pressing or overhead pressing.

For “pulls” we use suspension trainer row variations, half-kneeling cable row variations and heavy, low rep single arm dumbbell rows along with pull-ups with various grips.

Our primary strength training for the shoulder during this phase comes from the Clean + Push Press.

We use bars, dumbbells and kettlebells for this activity depending on the athlete and any restrictions they may have.

Typically we follow this with one of three dumbbell complexes (reps will vary):

1 2 3
a. Front raise a. upright row a. Turkish Getups
b. Side raise b. hang snatch -Kettlebell, Dumbell
c. Bent raise c. squat + press -whole / segmental
d. Alt. curl + press d. bent over row

Example Training Day:

  1. Clean + Press:    57.5-62.5% x 4 reps,    70-75% x 3 reps,     77.5-85% x 2 reps / 3-6 sets **
    **superset box jumps with top sets
  2. Pullups :   Skill (WR, DB, RB) group x 30reps,  Middle group (DE, TE, LB, FB) x 25 reps, Linemen (OL/DT) x 15 reps
  3. Turkish Getup x 4 on left and right side

Early/Mid-Season (Phase #2)

Once the regular season begins things change rather quickly and drastically with our training.

Due to the nature of this sport and roster size limitations etc…..our athletes play with quite a few injuries and through a tremendous amount of pain (especially in the shoulders).  A point of emphasis now becomes getting the training completed without causing further irritation to an existing injury or pain and hopefully aid in the healing process.

So, that leads you down a path of creativity to find a way for the athlete to get the work that they need done.

This is always one of the biggest challenges we face as strength and conditioning coaches.

We continue to do Olympic lifts throughout the entire season, keeping the percentages lower and emphasizing technique and speed of the bar.

It is also at this time that we begin to modify the exercises by using kettlebells and dumbbells for our Cleans, Clean + Presses and Snatches.

As the season wears on, many of our athletes prefer to use kettlebells in place of traditional Olympic bars for certain lifts because they tend to be easier on the shoulders and especially their wrists.

As for direct shoulder work like overhead pressing, we primarily stick to using dumbbells and kettlebells.

We do very little overhead work with straight bars unless it is a part of an Olympic lift like Clean+ Press or Snatch.

Our philosophy is to keep these exercises unilateral, so we typically only use one dumbbell or kettlebell at a time.  This keeps the total amount of weight a bit lighter and allows them to concentrate on form and technique.

Additionally, we perform most of our pushup variations and abdominal training using suspension devices such as TRX or rings with either our feet or hands elevated to require more postural and shoulder stability.

Two exercises that we use quite a bit during this time of year are the kettlebell windmill and the “half-version” of the Turkish Get Up which is made up of just the “ground” portion of the lift and not coming to a full standing upright position.  We introduce different implements during these exercises such as using dumbbells and bars instead of kettlebells.  This builds a great deal of stability in the shoulder and requires a tremendous amount of core strength to complete.

Mid-Season – Late/Post-Season (Phase #3)

During this time of year, our athletes are all dealing with some type of pain/injury, and their bodies have absorbed more punishment than seems possible.

Our goal is to help them maintain as much strength as possible, yet allow their bodies time to heal throughout the entire week.

We place a great deal of emphasis on incorporating chains and bands during the last half of the season.  This accommodating resistance works great for our athletes as it is easier on their joints due to the weight being lightest at the weakest angles and heaviest at the strongest angles.

The volume tends to be very low, but the relative intensity on the bar can actually be fairly high when accounting for the added resistance of the chains or bands.  At this point in the season, added volume is what has to be avoided.

For auxiliary shoulder work, we still incorporate mostly dumbbell complexes and continue with appropriate variations of the Windmill and Turkish Getup.

We tend to not eliminate anything from our training routine as the season progresses.  What we try to emphasize is rather than eliminating a movement, find a way to modify it so that it is still relevant and appropriate for the athlete.  Consistent training is crucial.  Once you stop using a movement pattern, you lose it.

Who Am I?

My name is Jason Novak.  I am the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Tennessee Titans.  This is my eighth year in the NFL, all with the Titans.  Previously, I was the Director of Strength and Conditioning at Yale University and the Head Strength Coach at Alabama State University.  I have a Master’s Degree in Sport Management from Baylor University and a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology from Stephen F. Austin State University.

Big thanks, Jason.

Great info, thank you for sharing.

Jason is a Muscle Imbalances Revealed – Upper Body Edition customer.  He email me and I saw what he did from the signature in his email.  After seeing that, I asked if he would share some info.

That is it for today.

Take care.

Rick Kaselj, MS

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