Individualising your programming

‘What is the best program to do for football?’


The most common question received through this site.


Similar common related questions are ‘is this or that exercise good for footy’ or ‘how much weight should I be able to lift at my age?’


Whilst this discussion point could lead in any one of a number of directions, and indeed could end up being an essay in itself, I will keep it brief. It is also a good opportunity to talk about the importance of individuality in programming for strength and conditioning (or more accurately athletic development) work – especially for strength and plyometric training. We have covered some related themes from this article in a previous discussion about considerations when putting together your own program. But back to the question, what is the best program for footy, or the best exercises for football.


There are of course certain exercises and principles that are almost universal for football training – and will be ‘good for footy’ generally speaking – such as things like hip hinge variation, single-leg lunge/squat variations, bench press and woodchops being good, and leg press, leg extension and pin-loaded machines being not as good. However, when it comes to the ‘ideal’ program for someone to be following, there is a lot more detail that must go into it.


You only need to look to an AFL club for the ‘best practise’ when it comes to strength and conditioning for footy players. Often the question is ‘what strength program do AFL players do?’ or ‘what does this particular club get their players to do in the gym?’ The reality is that clubs have individualised programs for each player. No player is performing the same program – there will certainly be a degree of similarity between certain players, and certain exercises are almost universal (that is every player does them), however the absolute specifics are different from player to player.


So when we get this question about the best program for footy, the answer to this question is very much dependent on you. The best possible program for you and your footy would require certain information before giving an answer. Below I will cover a few points as well as examples of what I am talking about and why they are important – and to consider when you put in place your general plan.


Age. This will affect not only what is safe, but also what will actually lead to the best current as well as future results in training. Programming for a 26 year old is vastly different to that of a 15 or 16 year old. For a 26 year old, their bodies can handle a lot more, they likely have a lot more experience, and a 26 year olds training will be a lot more focused in the ‘here and now’ with their footy, whereas for a 16 year, whilst the here and now is important, there still must be one eye on the future and building for that future too.


Experience. There are vastly differing degrees of experience, even within a particular age group. You can have one particular 22 year old who already has 6 years of strength training under his belt, and the 22 year old next to him hasn’t so much as looked at a barbell. Even if these 2 play the exact same position and have the exact same goals (on top of both being the same age), I can tell you that the specifics of the ideal program will be different for the 2.


Furthermore, experience isn’t just about ‘have you done weights and for how long?’ Experience comes down to the exercises and programming variables themselves. You may have 2-3 years of experience with bench press and bicep curls (what young guy hasn’t) but when it comes to squats and deadlifts, you may have none. Or you may have experience doing exercises for sets of 10 or 12 at a moderate weight, but when it comes to lower reps (say 3-5) and heavier weight, this is something totally new to you.


Specific goals. Different goals, mean different exercises, and/or different programming variables (rest, tempo, weight, sets, etc.) Also the level of importance placed on each goal, will affect the importance of certain exercises to a program.


Current ability levels. This ties in fairly tightly with the last point. This means current ability with both certain strength training exercises, particular fitness measures and tasks (like speed, agility, etc) and also football tasks (tackling, jumping, accelerating, etc.) In other words, how well do you currently do these things, and how well would you like to do them/how important are they to your specific goals.


Position and role in the team. Again, this ties in closely together with the previous couple points. A tap ruckmans ideal program will look different to that of a forward pocket player. Then when you combine current ability levels, and the specific goals of each player, this will change their programs even further.

So females should train differently to the guys? Not really – however there are various considerations to take into account. Additionally, the are areas of focus that are more important as a female player than they are to male players generally speaking. We cover this in a lot more detail here.

Time availability
. Often forgotten, but central to any programming consideration. If you can only spare say 2 days a week for strength training work, what your sessions and progressive program will look like will differ to those of someone who can dedicate 4 sessions. That is not to say that more is always better, merely that they will inevitably be different. And also importantly here, the less time (or energy) you have available, the more vital it is to get ‘bang for your buck’ from what you are doing, maximising the return from every set and rep you do. (Example not taking up valuable time on bicep curls, shoulder abductions and leg extensions.)


These are all individual factors – this is before even considering the stage of the season that it is, or what you did over last month or 2 months in training. These factors add more layers in to impacting the answer of what should be in your program, and the specifics of how it is executed.


As you can see, even this brief overview already shows that there are many things that go into personalising a program, in order to make it the best program for footy. And this brief discussion is only scratching the surface. Also important here is that all these various factors interrelate and impact each other in various ways, meaning that there are a seemingly unlimited of potential program variations for what you may or may not do depending on all these.


As I said, there are key principles that are universal, and a great footy program will follow these all as best as possible. But in terms of the ‘absolute ideal’ or ‘best’ program, this will differ from person to person.


This is never more clear than in this season – where many players wont have a season at all given to cancellations. Clearly these players training years will look very different to those who are playing a season. But even for all the players who wont play this year, the specifics about how to go about this period will be dependent on the variables listed above.

If you would like more detailed and personalised direction, checkout our personalised online programming, or if you would prefer even more personalised and detailed in-person coaching (for those lucky enough to live in the beautiful city of Adelaide), check out our Athletic Development Coaching and Junior Athletic Development Coaching.

Strength Coach


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