Top 5 Football Conditioning Mistakes

Conditioning is probably the most recognizable term when it comes to physical preparation, especially for football. Those who are familiar with the sport and the lures of summer training, OTA’s, mini and training camps are aware of the infamous conditioning test that most teams utilize to gauge a players’ fitness level. Before this test is administered to the team, the players first complete a training program focused on conditioning.

Most teams will focus on various forms of running, usually tailoring the conditioning aspects to the demands of the test.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of mistakes that coaches (and players who train themselves) make, when it comes to conditioning for the sport of football.

This article focuses on highlighting five of the top football conditioning mistakes that are most commonly made

Mistake #5: thinking that more conditioning is always beneficial

First let’s ask ourselves a pretty basic question: “Why do football players condition?

The answer is simple: to prepare for the demands of the game.

This makes a lot of sense. You can’t just get up off the couch and play a game of football, at least not without having an enormously high risk of injury. To combat this, players will condition.

Unfortunately, coaches usually make the mistake of conditioning their players just for the sake of conditioning.

What does this statement mean?

Truthfully, a lack of performance during a practice is usually a result of fatigue. All that extra conditioning will do is create more fatigue.

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Usually, coaches will be disappointed with their teams’ performance in practice and chalk-up the reason as “being out of shape.” Consequently, the coach will be led to believe that the best way to combat this lack of performance is to condition more.

Truthfully, a lack of performance during a practice is usually a result of fatigue, and all that extra conditioning will do is more create more fatigue.

Mistake #4: testing just to test

Much like how coaches condition their players for the sake of conditioning, the infamous conditioning test often tests just for the sake of testing. Yet coaches will use this test to gauge their players’ condition, shape, or better termed, fitness.

Famous tests such as the 300-yd shuttle, 110-yd sprints, mile run and others are utilized.

Here is the problem: doing these tests does not truly gauge a football players’ condition.

Think about this: does a lineman really need to run 300 yards? That exact scenario was called into question a few years back, when an All-Pro defensive lineman, named Albert Haynesworth, was unable to pass a 300 yard shuttle test that was administered by his team in the allotted time.

ESPN and other sports networks debated whether or not this test actually let coaches know whether or not football players, let alone lineman, were in shape to optimally perform. This point will be expanded upon later in the article.

football conditioning mistakes

Mistake #3: not progressing means properly

Another very common football conditioning mistake is not properly progressing the means –such as various distance sprints, tempo runs, and sport-specific drills– that are utilized.

For example, coaches will start with a large volume of distance running (such as mile runs, 200-400-yard runs, etc.), rather than starting with a smaller amount of total volume.

Another common progression error is with sprints.

The most accepted sprinting progression is: start with a form of resisted sprinting (such as hill sprints); then move to flat, lower resistance sprinting (i.e. throwing a med-ball at the start into the sprint); followed by a flat, acceleration (0-40yd) sprints; and finally, max velocity (40-70yd) sprints.

However, coaches all to often will start their players with 60-, 70- 80-, 90-, or even 100-yard sprints without utilizing shorter sprints to prepare their athletes for the longer sprints.

Lastly, coaches will use drills or sprints that utilize the lactic energy system without developing aerobic fitness first. Having an aerobic base helps the body recover from these taxing and difficult drills or sprints.

You can’t walk before you can crawl. You shouldn’t start your conditioning at 100% and scale backwards.

Mistake #2: conditioning each position the same way

One of the biggest mistakes a coach can make is conditioning every position exactly the same way.

Unfortunately, coaches are constrained by time and various logistics during practices, forcing them to come up with team conditioning activities. When this happens, the team will perform the exact same drill.

The best way to prepare each position is to utilize drills that are similar in time, distance, pattern and rest to what actual game play entails.

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Most people who have just watched a game of football can recognize that every position demands an individual, specific and different combination of skills, abilities, and qualities.

Knowing this, most people would also realize that each position should require a specific conditioning program in order to optimally prepare for the demands placed upon them.

For instance, lineman rarely have to travel more than a total of 10-, maybe 15-yards in one play. In contrast, wide receivers cover anywhere from 20- to 40-yards per play, along with a longer jog back to the huddle between plays. The two positions have very different performance requirements to prepare for.  

The best way to prepare each position is to utilize drills that are similar in time, distance, pattern and rest to what actual game play entails.

Mistake #1: not conditioning the correct energy systems

Last, but certainly not least, is the mistake that almost every football coach has made, or does still make: conditioning the wrong energy systems.

Football is an alactic-aerobic capacity sport by definition.

Each play is brief and intense by nature, lasting anywhere from three to eight seconds on average; this calls for the use of the alactic (also known as ATP-CP) system.

The recovery or rest time between each play usually lasts 20 to 40 seconds; this brief rest period is where the aerobic system becomes vital.

In order to restore ATP-CP stores in that short amount of time, the aerobic system helps clear biochemical wastes. The more developed the system is, that faster and better the athlete can recover.

Alactic and aerobic capacity is important for football performance as follows: a series last anywhere from one to upwards of ten plays (an example of alactic capacity). The long duration of the game-which usually takes two to three hours- means the aerobic capacity is vital to continually replenish energy stores, over and over again.

Do this, not that

As you know by now, football coaches and misinformed strength & conditioning coaches make several mistakes when it comes to conditioning their athletes for football.

They unfortunately adhere to dogmatic practices that have been passed down from coaches before them.  By  administering pointless tests, prescribing countless miles on the track, failing to vary methods based off of position, not understanding the demands of the game, and progressing drills improperly, these coaches only do their team harm.

They place their athletes at a higher risk for injury and reduce the likelihood that their team will perform at its optimal ability.

So now you’re thinking, “Alright wise guy, you’ve told me what not to do.  That much is easy.  Now tell me exactly how I should be preparing for optimal football performance.”

I’ve been working with Arizona Cardinals physical preparation legend, Buddy Morris, to do exactly that.

Over the past year, we have filmed an entire video course on the BioForce Project: American Football Physical Preparation.

Throughout the course, Buddy and I talk about everything you need to know about preparation for optimal performance, ranging from biological theory, to field work methods, to strength training and even injury prevention.

We spent considerable time covering how to vary training methods based off of player position, how to design effective training programs, and how to identify specific preparation needs on the level of the team, position, and player.

The course just went live, so you can check it out and start improving your physical preparation, and consequently your performance, today. 

Visit American Football Physical Preparation

Additional Resources

In addition to the video course, Buddy and Ryan have also just released our new book, “Iron Works Preparation: The Best Way to Prepare for Football – available now on Amazon. The book goes into great detail about how to solve all the common problems discussed in this article and provides more than 50 pages of training program templates. BioForce Project members enrolled in the video course can purchase the book for 50% off.


  1. Hi,

    I purchased the Course, how do you received the discount for purchasing the Iron Works book?

    It just takes me to Amazon for $50.

    Thanks gentlemen!

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