Former NFL Strength Coach on How to Approach Offseason Programs

Former NFL Strength Coach on How to Approach Offseason Programs

In The 33rd Team’s most recent Wednesday Huddle, we continued our overview of offseason activities within the NFL. Having covered rookie minicamp and the processes surrounding it, this past week we covered how teams go about minimizing injuries and remain fresh when they return to football activities with former NFL strength coach Sal Alosi.

“From a big perspective, everything that you do depends on everything else,” Alosi said. “And a team’s ability to resist injury is indicative of all the work that they’ve done in the training period leading up to the practice period.”

He further explained how teams would have end goals for different points in the offseason schedule, and the performance staff would then “reverse engineer that end goal working all the way back to the very first team meeting that you have after the last game.”

“Everything that you do and the decisions that you make leading up to your OTA practices are indicative that the appropriate distribution of volume and intensity in your practice plan must be indicative of the previous training period. The training period leading up to the on-field activities must prepare the athletes accordingly.”

Alosi then broke down some common mistakes that he sees in various offseason programs.

The first was simply the amount of time given:

“I feel it is extremely difficult to get five weeks of offseason training to address the strength needs and provide minimal effective dose for volume intensity and running. It takes about three to four weeks to reestablish running power when you get the guys back in a training environment. And it takes about three to four weeks to transition that power to running capacity.

“So, in layman’s terms power means large rest periods. So, giving guys complete rest periods and improving speed and then capacity means repeatability sustainability, getting them ready for practice. So, the first problem I see is that the window is really small.”

Another issue for Alosi is the schedule structure that some teams use.

“The second problem that I see is using Monday through Thursday, phase one and phase two schedule…That’s a really hard schedule to have four intensive days consecutively. It is a much better scenario to train hard for two, recover for one, and to train hard for another two, if you have a perfect world scenario.”

Third on his list was something most people are familiar with after the past few years of dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The third problem that I see, and I know what’s happening sporadically is this virtual phase one. Some teams you have guys that are off campus that are throwing their quarterbacks that are even out of state. The first two weeks are critical and reestablishing work capacity. And now you have your strength and conditioning coaches, and your athletic trainers don’t have their hands on your players for the first two weeks when they return to coming back for phase two. You’re already potentially two weeks behind from a volume intensity perspective in terms of how to ramp up that volume in those five weeks.

“From a strength perspective, it is important to create structural balance assessments. The way I look at that is you’ve got to know your athletes; you’ve got to be able to establish training plans for your athletes. So, finding stiff joints and improving mobility, planning tight plans, improving their flexibility, finding their weekly links, and strengthening them. And then from a strength planning perspective and providing our strength training programs have very similar philosophy exists and it takes about three weeks to build volume up, and then you want to intensify that low demand of little over three weeks to give you about six weeks of a nice balanced strength program leading into launch competition or competition.”

Alosi then further elaborated how that plays into training camp intensity and competition.

“Coaches have talked about establishing culture and finishing through the line, and you have new position coaches and coordinators getting after their players and getting in the finish and the intensities are super high. If you practice four days in a row, which is very common, or at least three, you will inevitably have a decrease in intensity because it’s almost impossible to sustain. So, generalization of fatigue sets in therefore speed will decrease.”

For Alosi, proper scheduling of intensity rest is one of the more important factors in keeping players healthy and ready to go.

“The other problem that we have is that Sunday is an off day and it’s immediately followed by our biggest spike in volume and intensity on Monday. And that inevitably can create a tremendous amount of soreness and puts our players behind the eight ball for the next two or three practices consecutively. So that’s the second problem with that practice schedule.

“The third problem is if we continue to use this practice model Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday for week one. We repeat that week two. We repeat that week three, and then we repeat that schedule to week four. We’re going to have a drastic decrease in the overall speed of our skilled players.”

Load management is something most fans of the NBA are familiar with, but it is not a concept one usually associates with football, but that is essentially what Alosi’s solution is in a roundabout way.

“I think Monday coming in off the weekend should be like a feeder session where it’s the lowest of the three practices of the week. Lots of installs, lots of mental reps kind of loading up for the week. Tuesday is your second biggest practice. Wednesday you come in and you have classroom day and recovery day, and then you have big practice on Thursday…

“Giving the guys a recovery option on Friday. It’s really simply having three off days before you’re on the field again, so you’ll have the biggest practice on Thursday and then tapering down on Friday for the weekend. Coming back on Monday for your lightest practice.”

He then broke down various ways coaching staffs can manage that intensity through positional drills and different types of practice periods which allow players to still get the appropriate amount of work in with minimal stress on their bodies.

In terms of lifting, Alosi had the following approach:

“Offensive linemen, defensive line, linebackers, and tight ends, I would always have them lift in the morning before meetings. Skill guys, wide receivers, quarterbacks, running backs, I always have them lift after practice. My big guys I would lift lower body one and upper body want at the beginning part of the week.

“Skill guys, I would flip that. So, your skill position players are not going to touch their legs in the weight room until after the second practice. They will then have a regen-day before they go and repeat the Monday schedule where they’re not going to touch weights again until after the Thursday practice. And then on Friday, on Thursday, get the opposite lift that they’re missing.

“So, lower body one, upper body one, body two, bonus lift for your big guys is their upper body two…Guys that are bought into the weight room are more likely to come in for that bonus lift. And we’ve been a lot of success in New York at the time getting guys in on Fridays and there’s many, many ways to incentivize attendance during those days.”

He broke down what his “regen-days” would entail while he was with the New York Jets.

“Wednesday and Friday the sports medicine and strength and conditioning staff work on players on their specific needs. Treatment, rehab, massage, chiropractic, ART, flexibility work, investing in IV therapy, hydrotherapy, infrared sauna, whatever the end goal recovery modalities are at the time. You budget for that feeding into the year. We can have specific days to have that available. That gets guys in the building on those off days as well. It’s not complex to do. If you plan in advance.”

When asked about his thoughts on Mike Shanahan’s middle of the summer minicamp by Mike Tannenbaum, Alosi felt that it was a great idea.

“If you made me emperor of all galaxies today, and asked me to write the perfect offseason program, I would probably have two, maybe three camps throughout the year. Then I’d let you give the performance staff access to train the players and make the facility the best place in town for guys to come in and get all the medical leads they needed. Still having your classroom work and I think now we’ve got this other avenue of virtual meetings to keep guys up to speed.”