A Step-by-Step Guide to What's Going on in a College Football Weight Room

Michael Felder@InTheBleachersNational CFB Lead WriterMarch 26, 2013

Aug 21, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; General view of the weight room in the basement of the John McKay center on the campus of the University of Southern California. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Here at Your Best 11, we have worked to try and fill in some of the gaps and some of the grey areas around college football. We've talked about mat drills and winter conditioning, why spring ball matters, what's the deal with training table and what a normal day of spring entails.

In all of those discussions, we brush across the lifting that gets. Guys have to go to lift. You do all this, and you still have to lift. Gotta lift. Dudes lift. Lifting. Lifting. Lifting.

It was not until my editor pointed it out that I realized, most folks don't really know what that word means in the college football world. Sure, there are bros out there who like to get their pump on at the gym. There are also folks who do resistance training or work on maintaining their figure with the help of weights.

Stepping into the arena of the collegiate weight lifting program is a whole new world.

For college football this space has been decades in the making. Starting with Nebraska and filtering out to the rest of the nation, strength and conditioning has grown to a science that everyone has embraced. Today's current standards are more than just guys looking to get big while staying fast; every time the players step into the weight room they are executing a plan to attain a multitude of desired results.

At the core, you have two major philosophies, as Shakin' The Southland does a great job of detailing. Essentially, it boils down to the power lifting school versus the Olympic lifting and flexibility thought process. As with offensive systems or defensive styles, there are separate strands that break off from each camp, and staffs that employ methods of each.

Regardless of which camp your school works in, or how you feel about either (I'm partial to the Olympic style), the goals are largely the same: edification. That's what S&C guys like to call their time with the team. They work to get that team better, as a unit and individuals, by building bigger, faster and stronger bodies.

Here is where you see all of the mantras. Every coach has at least one motto that he swears by. No matter how he dresses it up, every school's coach has the same goal; push the players farther than they ever thought possible, and then make them take one step further.

We'll start with something that most teams don't do, or don't do much of, and that's cardio. You know, how all the treadmills at the gym are packed, or the stairmaster is occupied? Or, perhaps you’ve noticed, how the aerobics classes are jam-packed with folks looking to get their heart rates up and all that jazz.

College football teams do not have to do that. Weightlifting is part of their cardio, because unlike Joe Schmoe who likes to stand around at the gym and talk to his friends, college weight rooms are perpetual motion machines during lifting sessions.

As the music blasts and coaches blow whistles, players move from spotter to lifter and back to spotter with the quickness. The bar does not stop for very long as players strain-spot-strain-spot at a pace so rapid that the heart rates never slow down. Coaches are screaming at players to go faster, one guy off, next guy on and watching as weights get moved.

And the weights certainly do move. The core of college football is the squat, power clean and bench press. Sprinkle in some jerk and the snatch, if you're fancy, and you have the base lifts for most programs. Teams supplement those with dead lifts, step-ups, push press, reverse hypers, kettlebell and dumbbell work and a myriad of machines that often look like torture contraptions.

Everything you see when you look around that fancy weight room, serves a purpose. More than just a great photo opportunity, they get used to make your favorite team, and its players, get better.

In the name of getting better, coaches take those core lifts and then they turn them into projects. Bench press is not just bench press and squats are not merely squats. Instead, players spend their time working different variations of these exercises in an effort maximize explosion, speed and work on building top performance levels.

While there are different types of bench press, like board and floor, and teams alternate between power cleans and hang cleans, squats are where coaches go all Bubba Blue. Box squats. Low box squats. One-legged squats. Overhead squats. Front squats. Squats with bands. Squats with chains. Bottom half squats. Top half squats. Squats with knee wraps. Safety squats. Speed squats. Explosion squats where players jump off the floor. Hack squats. Dumbbell squats. Squats with the tendo unit.

Squats are a beast, and they, along with bench and clean, are the foundation of football power. Obviously, tackling and blocking show clear correlation with these fundamental lifts. The unlocking of the hips, the ankle flexion to explosion and the power through the bottom half are all evident in the power clean and the squat. The punch in blocking, jamming, separating from a block and getting arm extension is where you see the bench press come into play.

The lifts are important for a reason, that reason is football. If a guy cannot bench press, how can he get a blocker off of his chest? If a player cannot explode through power cleans, how will be explode through a ball carrier? If a kid cannot explode out of his squats, how will he explode off of the line?

Unlike when many folks go to the gym, with the goal of getting that perfect beach body, the lifting here is all tied to football. Not just the core lifts, but the supplementary work as well. Step-ups not only work explosion through the ankle, knee and hip, but they also work the smaller muscles in the hip, knee and ankle to promote balance and help ward off injuries.

Overhead lifts work a lot of those same, smaller muscles, in the shoulders. Explosive power is great, but it is also the strength and conditioning staffs’ job to help keep players as injury free as possible. Bulk strength around the shoulder is great, having that strength plus the smaller fibers working around the shoulder to avoid injuries is better.

Depending upon the time of year, coaches go between higher reps of lower weight, and low reps with high weight to achieve desired results. There are super sets and circuit training. The laundry list of what college football players go through, to get better, is as long as the lists of different S&C coaches calling the shots.

No matter the coach's preferred methods, in the grand scheme of things, every player is putting in work. From the guy on the roster who loves lifting weights more than anything, to the kid who absolutely abhors the ordeal, coaches are getting results out of them. Much like training table and nutrition, strength training is where the edge is gained on the big stage of collegiate athletics.

These coaches make their living on taking good athletes and making them contributing players and taking great athletes and making them amazing producers on the field. Hard work is the name of the game and players now living in an environment that understands the importance of the weight room more than ever.

Everybody knows, you gotta lift.