Football Training and Burn Outs: Are They REALLY the Best Option?

Walk into most high school (or college) weight room during the football team's training session and a plethora of sounds attacks your ears. They typically include, but are not limited to: Grunting.


Loading and unloading of plates.

Shouting. (usually "UP! UP! UP! at an athlete who has horrendous form and too much weight on the bar)

The inevitable clatter and crash of weights falling (usually by the same athlete who was the object of the yelling).

Ah, the sounds of a Burn Out.

For those of you who don't know what a Burn Out is, allow me to explain. We'll use a pretty typical example: the bench press. The bar is loaded with five ten pound plates (give or take a plate) on each side. The athlete bangs out as many reps possible with that weight until failure. Then, a plate is stripped off each side and the reps-unto-failure is repeated. This goes on until the athlete is struggling, shaking, and gasping for breath as he pries the unloaded bar off of his chest in an attempt at one more rep.

Logically, does this sound like a good idea? Before you decide, here are some objective points to think about:

1. No matter who is doing a burn out, an experienced lifter or a younger lifter (which most of these high school boys are the latter), their form is going to break down horribly by the second or third "burn out" set. When form degrades, so do joints and ligaments. Isn't one of the goals of weight training to PREVENT injuries?

2. Not only is form degradation a landmine of ligamental explosion, but it also teaches the athletes' bodies to continue to

My shoes have more years than most high schoolers.
My shoes have more years than most high schoolers.

perform with poor form. Practice doesn't make perfect, it makes permanent. It's imperative the inexperienced lifters (such as every high school boy. I don't care how long they've been "lifting," they don't qualify as "experienced" if they haven't even been alive longer than my Chuck Taylors) learn and practice safe and proper biomechanics for lifts, especially compound lifts such as the bench press, squat, and deadlift. They won't be able to safely handle heavier loads (which is, by the way how one develops strength) because at some point in the future, something is going to give and it ain't gonna be that barbell. Teaching kids to just bang out reps willy nilly is setting them up for a long (or short) life of frustration and injuries in the weight room.

3. Consistently training for failure, especially in new lifters, fries the nervous system. It's really taxing and I don't think most coaches or athletes understand the impact these burn outs have on their field performance. See, the nervous system is kinda important, it drives ALL muscular movement. For example, the faster the brain can send a signal to the muscles to contract, the faster the reaction time, or sprint speed, or the more explosive the tackle will be. Having a fresh, charged up nervous system means faster, stronger, and better players.

Grinding out reps  hinders recovery, which will negatively impact performance both on the field and in the weight room, again that opens the door for potential injuries (and losing games). The goal of a weight training session for football players should be to recharge and energize them and let them walk out the door with some gas left in the tank. It shouldn't be to run them into the ground and let them limp out of the door in an exhausted puddle of teenager.

4. Goose said it well in his article about pre-season training: "If the goal is to move fast, then you have to train fast." If a football player needs to be explosive and quick on the field, how is training dozens of reps at a snail's pace going to help? The body is remarkable and adapts to imposed demands (SAID principle). Simply, if you train the body to be slow, it's going to be slow. Again, isn't that the OPPOSITE of what weight training is supposed to do?

There are more reasons, but for now, swish these around in your brain and let them marinate a bit...

Now, back to the original question: does this seem like a good idea to practice with young, inexperienced, testosterone-fueled young men? (who, to be quite frank, need to be slowed down and taught proper form).

If we're focused on strength, shouldn't training sessions include:

1. 1 compound lift, executed with solid technique at an appreciable load for sets of 3-5.

2. 3-4 accessory lifts that are both somewhat sports-specific and balance out some of the inherent assymetries of football players.

3. Tight control on the overall load and volume (especially for in-season athletes) so as not to hinder recovery or overload their systems. This is a SUPER important point.

4. If time, some soft tissue work and some correctives to help prevent overuse injuries.

By managing to load and volume or each work out, the coaches can help their players recover (thus grow stronger and faster) as well as boost their confidence by setting them up for success instead of failure.

Hold onto your helmets because next week we're going to look at specific training techniques for the various positions.