Moving Upfield

With limited space and resources, NCAA Division III power Bridgewater College makes the most of its strength and conditioning program.

By Joey Soltis

Joey Soltis is the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach and Wide Receivers Coach at Bridgewater College in Virginia.

Training & Conditioning, 14.3, April 2004, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/tc/tc1403/movingupfield.htm

Over the last four years, the Bridgewater College football team has become one of the top programs at the NCAA Division III level. This year’s senior class finished with a combined 45-6 record that included four straight NCAA playoff appearances, two South Region Championships, and an appearance in the national championship game. One reason for our success has been the student-athletes’ commitment to the strength and conditioning program.

Like most Division III schools, we have limited resources and space available. One of our goals from a strength and conditioning standpoint is to not let any of these limitations keep us from fully developing our athletes.

We consider ourselves fortunate to have a strength and conditioning facility dedicated to student-athletes. (There is a new fitness facility for the general student body elsewhere on campus.) And contributions from our football alumni have helped transform our weightroom from a place with old Universal machines and a few bench presses into a very effective weightroom with no shortage of weights, platforms, and power racks.

However, the football team does share the weightroom with the other student-athletes at our school, and the facility is usually pushed to its maximum limits. In addition, we have less mandatory practice time at the Division III level, thus less time to work with our players. Therefore, when developing a strength and conditioning plan for our football players, we pay close attention to scheduling, constructing efficient workouts, and figuring out how to motivate players without using a lot of hands-on supervision.

Scheduling & Space
We currently have 115 football players in our off-season program. In order to effectively deal with such a large number of players, we utilize several strategies. First, to keep lifting groups small, we organize hour-long time slots during the day for athletes to receive supervised instruction. We begin sessions at 11 a.m. and go every hour thereafter. If they can’t make any of those sessions, they can come in at 6:30 a.m. Either myself or my assistant is always here to supervise the group.

We also try to fully utilize our weightroom space when designing training programs. We do this by splitting our team into Cardinal lifters (beginner level) and Gold lifters (advanced level), with each group having a different emphasis at different times. For instance, on Monday, the Cardinal group will emphasize upper-body pushing movements while the Gold group will emphasize the lower body and upper-body pulling movements.

To perform agility and speed development work during the winter, we utilize our rubberized hallways. In this limited space, we perform drills such as pro shuttles, tennis ball drops, arm action drills, speed ladder drills, resisted speed drills, and start drills. One of our resisted speed drill adaptations is performing belt starts instead of harness starts. Using practice pants belts, we are able to have a resisted start without the extra expense of purchasing harnesses.

Because off-season work is voluntary in Division III, communication between myself and the head coach is important. By maintaining consistent communication, the head coach has a better understanding of who is putting forth the effort needed to improve. Since the head coach is aware of their weekly performance, the players see the strength and conditioning program as a high priority. Thus, they are less likely to miss workouts and more motivated to exert maximum effort each week.

Olympic Lifts
Here at Bridgewater, we mainly focus on explosive Olympic lifts and their variations. Since we started emphasizing these lifts six years ago, our players have become more explosive and more successful on the field.

As a general rule, we have found that athletes in Division III do not have the same hip mobility as Division I athletes. Therefore, we perform about 90 percent of the power movements from the floor. By performing lifts such as power cleans instead of hang cleans and adding hip mobility drills such as hurdle drills to the training regimen, we have fewer "stiff hipped" players than before we incorporated these lifts.

We also like Olympic lifts and their variations because complex movements allow us to incorporate multiple body parts at once. This allows us to more effectively use our limited time and space. For instance, some of the lifts we frequently perform are the clean and jerk, snatch squats, split squat and press, and the power clean-front squat combination. All of these lifts also enable our players to learn better body control.

We break our training year into five phases. The first phase generally consists of a six-week cycle that begins in January when the student-athletes return from semester break. During this phase, the student-athletes lift four days a week and do agility and acceleration drills twice a week. After completing this phase, we test each student-athlete.

The second phase begins after the student-athletes return from spring break. Again, this is generally a six- to seven-week cycle with four days of lifting. However, we begin to incorporate more agility work as well as speed development work twice a week. Upon the completion of this phase, we test our athletes before giving them the two-week exam period off.

The third phase, consisting of the next six weeks, marks the start of our summer workouts. In addition to our lifting and agility work, we begin to add sprint conditioning drills twice a week.

We become more position specific in the workouts during the fourth phase, which covers the last six weeks of summer before our players report. Skill players lift weights three days a week and perform sprint conditioning and agility drills five days a week. Linemen, tight ends, and linebackers maintain their previous workout regimen. We test our players when they return from summer break at the end of this phase.

Most of our players do not stay on campus during the summer, so we don’t introduce any new lifts during the third and fourth phases. Many of our athletes use the strength training facilities at their former high schools while home for summer. If they can’t, we work with them to find an appropriate work out venue. We find they are self-motivated to complete the work, since it helps determine whether they will win a starting spot in the fall.

Tables One and Two provide an example of how we prepare our linemen for the final six weeks leading up to the camp reporting date. We use a variety of explosive lifts in addition to our core lifts consisting of the power clean, squat, and bench press to peak our athletes’ strength and power for the upcoming season. We also work in hand-speed drills to reinforce hand placements and generate punching power and upper body endurance. Hip mobility drills are another important area we try to address throughout this phase.

The fifth phase is our in-season work. Our top 60 players lift twice a week, while the other players lift three days a week. The extra day of lifting is designed to help those players develop enough strength and power to be effective on the field.

Motivational Tools
One of the best motivational tools we use at Bridgewater College is our award level system. We test our players in three lifts—the squat, bench press, and power clean—then categorize them by their scores. We break down the players by position and have four award levels for each position.

Our first award level is the Cardinal level. These numbers represent the minimum amount of weight we think a player should be able to lift to be competitive. A player must meet these requirements in all three lifts to achieve Cardinal status. If they don’t reach Cardinal status, we keep working with them until they do.

Our next award level is the Gold level. This level encompasses players who generally are able to make a bigger contribution to the program. As a player approaches the Gold level, his playing time usually increases. In order to achieve Gold level status, a player must reach Gold level in two exercises as well as the total. We do this to acknowledge progress and to ensure we get explosive athletes, not just bench pressers.

The Iron Eagle level is reached when a player meets the Iron Eagle requirement in one exercise and the total. Players who achieve this level tend to become starters and often reach all-conference status.

And finally, our last award level is called Super Iron Eagle. To reach this level the athlete must achieve the Iron Eagle requirements for all three lifts. Players who achieve this award level—almost to a man—are starters and many reap postseason honors. The players who have achieved Super Iron Eagle status include numerous all-conference players and All-Americans as well as school record holders in passing, rushing, receiving, and total yardage. Thus, it is evident our strength and conditioning strategies have been effective in producing game results, not just weightroom numbers.



TABLE ONE: Preseason Strength Work

The following plan is for our linemen during their last phase of summer workouts before reporting to training camp.

MONDAY
Jump Rope
Abs, 50-100 reps
Clean & Jerk, 5x3
Bench Press (cycle)

Weeks 1-3:
Close Grip Rack Lockout, 6" lockout, 3x3
Lying Triceps Extensions with Curl Bar, 1x15, 1x12, 1x10
Straight Bar Curls, 3x10

Weeks 4-6:
Incline Dumbbell Bench, 3x5
Bodyweight Dips, 35 reps
Incline Dumbbell Curls, 3x8

Neck Machine, 10 reps
Bar Hang, 1:00-1:30

TUESDAY
Speed Ladder
Abs, 50-100 reps
Split Squat & Press
Weeks 1-4: 3x4 (each leg)
Weeks 5-6: 2x3 (each leg)
Power Clean (cycle)
Clean Pulls (cycle)

Weeks 1-3:
Lateral Squat, 1x6
Speed Squat (50% of Max), 4x5
Pull-Ups (vary grip), 3x5-10

Weeks 4-6:
Snatch Squat, 2x5
Box Step-Ups, 3x5 (each leg)
Barbell Lunges, 2x5

Explosive Dumbbell Core Rows, 3x8
Calf Raises, 20 reps

THURSDAY
Dot Drills
Abs, 50-100 reps
Snatch, 4x3
Bench Press (cycle)

Weeks 1-3:
Alternating Dumbbell Bench, 3x5
Weighted Dips, 4x6
Dumbbell Curls, 3x8

Weeks 4-6:
Plate Raises from Squat Position, 2x10
One-Arm Core Press, 3x6
Dumbbell Lying Triceps Extensions, 6x8 (15 sec. rest)
Straight Bar Curls, 1x15, 1x12, 1x10

Farmer’s Walk, 1:15-1:30 min.
Neck Machine, 10 reps


FRIDAY
Jump Rope
Abs, 50-100 reps
Push Jerk Warm Up, 3 reps
Weeks 1-2: 5x3
Week 3: 3x3, 3x2
Week 4: 3x3, 1x2, 3x1
Week 5: 4x3
Week 6: 3x3, 1x2, 2x1
Squat (cycle)

Weeks 1-3:
Dumbbell Rows, 3x8
Stiff-Legged Deadlift, 2x10

Weeks 4-6:
Lat Pulldowns, 3x10
Glute Ham Raises, 2x10 OR Reverse Hyperextensions, 2x10

Calf Raises, 20 reps


TABLE TWO: Preseason Conditioning Work

MONDAY
Pre-Workout
High Knees
Walking Toe Touches
"B" Skips
Low Shuffle
Form Starts, 5 sets x 10 yd.
Jump Rope
Abs

Post-Workout
Weeks 1-2:
3 x 400s (Rest 2:50 between sprints)
4 x 200s (Rest 1:30 between sprints & 2:00 after last 200)
5 x 110s (Rest 45 sec. between sprints)
6x 40s (Rest 15 sec. between sprints)

Weeks 3-4:
14 x 110s (Rest 45 sec. between sprints)

Weeks 5-6:
16 x 110s (Rest 45 sec. between sprints)


TUESDAY
Pre-Workout
Walking Knee Hugs
Butt Kicks
Power Skips For Height
Carioca
Position Starts, 5 x 10 yd.
Speed Ladder, 6 sets
Abs

Post-Workout
Half Moons, 5 each way
Circles, Individual & Chase, 4 sets each
Figure Eights, 4 sets
Tennis Ball Drills, 3 sets
Punch Drill (upper body)
Hip Mobility - Hurdles (cycle)

THURSDAY
Pre-Workout
High Knees
Walking Toe Touches
"B" Skips
Power Skips For Distance
Form Starts, 5 sets x 10 yd.
Dot Drills, 4 sets x 15 sec.
Abs

Post-Workout
Weeks 1-2:
11 x 110s (Rest 45 sec. between sets)

Weeks 3-4:
Pattern Run Speed Pack
Four-Quarters (Arm Action Drill)

Week 5:
18 x 110s (Rest 45 sec. between sets)

Week 6:
Pattern Run Speed Pack
Four-Quarters (Arm Action Drill)

Hip Mobility-Hurdles (cycle)


FRIDAY
Pre-Workout
Walking Toe Touches
Walking Knee Hugs
Low Shuffle
Position Starts, 5 x 10 yd.
Jump Rope, 1:30
Abs

Post-Workout
Weeks 1-2:
Cone Drills
Four-Corner Drill
Butterflies
Iron Cross
Figure Eights
90-Degree Power Cut
Get Up and Sprint, 5 sets
Punch Drill (cycle)

Weeks 3-4:
Pattern Runs (speed cuts, power cuts, spins)
Circles-Individual & Chase (4 sets each)
Punch Drill (cycle)

Weeks 5-6:
Cone Drills
Four-Corner Drill
Butterflies
Iron Cross
Figure Eights
90-Degree Power Cut
Get Up and Sprint, 5 sets
Punch Drill (cycle)