Every year, I watch high school athletes put in a lot of hard work and effort during the spring and summer to get bigger and stronger. Putting on size is a major concern for many football players wanting to make a major impact on the field. By the end of the summer, most athletes are at their biggest and strongest, and it seems like all of that effort has paid off. I’ve seen this cycle play out over and over again. Unfortunately, it always seems to end the same way – by the end of the season, much of that size and strength has evaporated and the advantage that was gained through training is gone.
If you’ve been trying to gain weight, chances are you’re at your biggest right now. If you’ve been watching carefully, you’re also probably starting to lose some of it already. Most high school football players begin to lose size and strength during two-a-days because you aren’t lifting weights (at least not as hard as you were over the summer) and, more importantly, you probably aren’t eating as much as you need.
The good news is that this doesn’t have to happen. The even better news is that it isn’t that difficult to maintain your size and strength throughout the season. Just think about how great it would feel to be at your biggest and strongest during the playoffs. Instead, most athletes look in the mirror in late October and can’t believe it’s the same person that was standing there in August. It’s really not uncommon to drop 15 pounds over the course of the regular season, which would definitely make you look and feel different – not in a good way.
The first thing you should do is lift weight twice a week during the season. Your lifts don’t have to be long, but you need to get them in. I recommend lifting on Monday & Wednesday or Sunday & Tuesday if most of your games are on Fridays and Saturdays. A Thursday game may change your plans slightly, but that shouldn’t be very difficult to work around. Just change that week’s schedule so you’re not lifting the day before a game.
Most people are concerned about being really sore or tired from lifting, and they don’t want it to affect their game performance. As long as you continue lifting consistently, this will not be an issue. Consistency is the key to this process.
The problems occur when you take 3-4 weeks off, and decide to start lifting again two days before a game. That will get you sore because your body isn’t used to it anymore. Anything new will cause this response, but a consistent lifting schedule will alleviate this problem.
I recommend doing a relatively heavy training session with low reps on Monday and a lighter session with higher reps on Wednesday. Both days will be total-body lifts that last 30-40 minutes. On the heavy day, plan on doing 2-4 sets of 3-6 reps per exercise, using 80-85% of your 1RM weight on multi-joint exercises like bench press, squats, trap bar squats and rows. Don’t take these sets to failure and take plenty of rest between sets so you never feel very fatigued. I also recommend a gradual increase in the number of reps or the weight you use.
For example, your first two weeks should be 3-4 reps with 80% of your 1RM. Weeks 3-4 should be 4-6 reps with 80%. After week 5, move up to 85% and go back down to 3-4 reps for a couple of weeks. By week 8, you should be doing 2-3 sets of 4-6 reps with 85% of your summer max weight. That should be difficult, but still very doable. You won’t get sore or overly fatigued from this because you’ll be lifting consistently, gradually building up to this. If you’re able to do 4-6 reps with 85% of your max going into the playoff, you’ve done an excellent job. Just be sure to hit your lower body hard on these days because the second day will focus on the upper body.
On the second day of each week, include a one-leg strength exercise like one-leg squats or one-leg leg press and a hip-hinge exercise like a glute/ham raise or Nordic Hamstrings. Do 2 sets of 8-12 reps and that’s all for legs. Focus the rest of this session on upper body lifting, using rep ranges of 6-12 and only doing 1-3 sets per body part. Take each set to failure or close to it, but keep the volume low. Feel free to include extra arm work on Wednesdays to keep your guns blown up.
Eating for Size
Because you’re expending so much energy at practice every day, it’s especially important to increase your food intake during the season to make up for this. Three of the easiest ways to maintain your weight during the season are:
- Eat a big breakfast every morning. Most guys get up late and eat something very small for breakfast if they eat anything at all. I recommend waking up 15 minutes earlier so you can eat a better breakfast. Try these: Scramble some eggs with cheese and throw it on a bagel with an extra piece of cheese. Pour a big bowl of cereal along with a piece of toast with peanut butter and a glass of juice. Eat a bowl of oatmeal with walnuts, fruit and a big glass of milk. Mix up a shake with protein powder, frozen fruit, milk and yogurt and grab a bagel to go. All of these breakfasts will start the day off in a way that will help maintain your weight and give you energy for practice.
- Pack a snack. The time between lunch and dinner is really long, especially with football practice stuck in there. After school, it’s really easy to eat a quick snack. Throw a meal replacement bar or PBJ in your bag so you don’t have to think about it after school. You could also have a bagel, a meal replacement shake or some fresh fruit. If you have a refrigerator or time to go home, the possibilities are unlimited.
- Eat before bed. One of the easiest things to do at the end of a day is put away a nice PBJ and a glass of milk. You could also replace the jelly with a sliced up banana or honey if you want some variety. If you’re not into PBJ, try a piece of pizza, a bowl of cereal or a fruit smoothie with protein powder. The point is to eat something that has a combination of protein, carbohydrates and fats.
Of course, you still have to eat a good lunch and dinner and drink plenty of water, but taking advantage of the tips above will make it a lot easier to stay big and strong during the season.
Learn more about how to gain weight