By Andrew Althoff, Director of Applied Performance at Baylor University & Joshua Nelson, Associate Director of Applied Performance & Operations at Baylor University.

Author’s note:

This article is the first part of a four part series of an inside look at a performance model for American Football. It is written to give tangible insight into training means for conditioning, strength, speed and power. Throughout the series, different aspects of training will be explored with attention placed on the developmental experience of the student-athlete. This section will cover the physical qualities needed for athletic performance and will give details on how to enhance it.

Athletic qualities

Here are the four athletic qualities that an athlete should possess for high level performance (This information has been adapted from the work of Al Vermeil, Al Miller, Johnny Parker and Rob Panariello):

It is important to note before proceeding that all qualities are trained simultaneously with varying degrees of emphasis depending on the level. For example, if we are focusing on strength development it is still important to keep a moderate amount of volume in for work capacity and strength with a small amount of speed work. As we progress up to power, we would then transition to a moderate focus on speed and strength while maintaining a small amount of work capacity.

Quality #1 – Work Capacity

The foundational quality needed for any athlete is work capacity or general physical preparedness. At its simplest this is “the ability to replicate work.” We must remember that every part of training is some form of conditioning, this includes lifting weights. As performance coaches we apply a stress prescription and hope that the body responds back to it appropriately. In this level the stress we apply is for general adaptations (think General Adaptation Syndrome or G.A.S.) and is used to establish baselines for endurance, strength, power and speed while fixing any factors which may limit performance as training progresses. Additional factors to be considered in this level are those that will limit their long term development such as body composition, range of motion, or previous injury history.

Work Capacity Summary:

  • Purpose: Baseline development of qualities on pyramid and fix limiting factors
  • Why: Protecting our investment by spending time on the front end fixing issues that will limit performance in the long term. Additionally, by developing a foundation of general qualities we establish a foundation to build upon moving forward.
  • Sequencing: Done either on its own day or before strength training
  • Length: 2-4 weeks
  • Goal(s): Simply put we are ‘training to get in shape for future training.’ An athlete should be able to hit the norms for their respective body type in the chart below before cutting this work out of the program. Progressing from this level too quickly may be detrimental if foundational movements have not be taught and abilities not developed.
  • Note: This quality should be the main focus early in the offseason. However, as mentioned in the introduction, there still needs to be progress made on strength, power and speed. This can be done through work at 50-70% of 1RM on strength/power lifts, speed mechanics and low level jumps.
  • Means:
Work Capacity Recommendations
Drill Description Sets/Reps/Intensity Weekly Totals
Medicine ball, Plate or Bodyweight circuits Continuous motion at medium speed. Example exercises: Giant Circles, Woodchoppers, Front Squat, Seated ab twists, Lunge variations, Overhead press, Chest press, etc. – be creative! 2-3 sets

10-20 reps per exercise

2-3 days/week

8-16 lbs on medicine ball and plate work

500-1000 reps
Complex Clean pull+Muscle clean+Front squat to Military press+RDL+Bent over row

***Athlete performs all movements and reps before setting down

2-3 sets

4-6 reps

2-3 days/week

Bigs 20-30% of bodyweight

Intermediates 25-35% of bodyweight

Skill 30-40% of bodyweight

The weight may seem light but a simple calculation of tonnage reveals that just one set x6 each with 100 pounds on the bar will result in 3,600 pounds moved
Long Tempo Runs Bigs x70yds, Intermediates x85yds, Skill x100yds 2-3 sets of 3-4 reps. 18 seconds to finish rep, 30 second rest between reps, 1.5 minute rest between sets 1000-1500 yds for Bigs (500yds max for 1 session)

1250-1750 yds for Intermediates 1000-1500 (600 yds max for 1 session)

1500-2000 yds for Skill (750 yds max for 1 session)

***Mix and match tempo, walk/run and sled prowler throughout the week to achieve yardage goals***

Short Tempo Runs Bigs x40yds, Intermediates x45yds, Skill x50yds 2-3 sets of 4-6 reps. 10 seconds to finish rep, 10 second rest between reps, 1.5 minute rest between sets
Walk/Run #1 Athlete runs 100 yards, walks 25 yards out and back, then runs length of field again. 2-4 trips
Walk/Run Tempo #2 Athlete runs length of field, walks width of field 2-4 laps
Prowler/Sled March Big steps with good knee drive performed at walking pace. 1 set of 2-3 reps for 30-50 yards.

90lbs max total load per implement

Quality #2 – Strength

Assuming proper emphasis was placed on work capacity early in an athlete’s off-season, the strength block is where athletes will make significant gains. For the majority of football players, strength is a limiting factor for performance and/or availability. For example, increases in lower body strength improves ability in short sprints (less than 20 yards) since the athlete has more time to apply force in the ground. Additionally, strength work has shown to help build tendon strength which helps ensure force is put into the ground and not dissipated into the joints during change of direction.

Strength Summary:

  • Purpose: Increase force production
  • Why: Lower body strength is important in sprints under 20 yards and changes of direction. It is also needed to push/pull/lift opponent.
  • Norms: Should be the last part of session – Perform all running and general conditioning prior.
  • Length: 3-6 weeks
  • Goal(s): To progress to the next level, athletes should be able to squat 1.5-2x, bench press 1+x their bodyweight, RDL 50-60% of their back squat, skill/intermediate athletes should be able to rep out body weight chin ups and bigs should be able to do them with moderate assistance.
  • Note: By manipulating the eccentric (lengthening) portions of movement we can help increase tendon strength concurrently with muscles to assist injury prevention (do this by making slowing the ascent to take 5 seconds on lifts such as squat, bench, chin ups and RDLs). Also, eccentric strength is critical to performance with change of direction and force absorption. Finally, the use of eccentrics can be beneficial for teaching and for cleaning up technique on strength movements.
  • Means:
Strength Recommendations
Drill Sets/Reps Intensity Weekly Totals (80-150 reps between 3 categories)
Squat and its variations + Deadlift 3-5 sets of 3-6 reps 70-85% 45% of weight room strength lifts
Pushes/Presses 3-5 sets of 3-6 reps 70-85% 25% of weight room strength lifts
Lower pulls (RDL, Goodmorning, Glute-ham raise) 3-5 sets of 4-8 reps

(Ratio of 3:1-2 to squat – for every 3 squats, the athlete should do 1-2 lower pulls)

Dependent upon exercise 35% of weight room strength lifts
Upper (Chin up, Pull Up, Bent over row, etc.) 3-5 sets of 4-8 reps

(Ratio of 1:1 for squat – for every press the athlete should do 1 upper pull)

Dependent upon exercise

Quality #3 – Power

Force is anything that is capable of changing an object’s state of motion. Power is the rate at which this energy is transferred or power is force multiplied by velocity (P=F*V). So by definition we can improve power by doing two things: increasing the amount of force without having a significant deficit of velocity (strength-speed) or we can increase the velocity without having a significant deficit of force (speed-strength).

An often overlooked aspect of power is how it will help the athlete during contact throughout the length of the season. When two players collide, the more powerful athlete with a sturdier musculoskeletal system will deliver a more forceful blow. By ensuring the athletes are more dynamic throughout the competitive season we can help put them on the winning side of these collisions. Conversely, the athlete on the receiving end of blows from a larger and more physical opponent will have a more difficult remaining healthy.

Power #1 – Strength-Speed

Strength-speed Summary:

  • Purpose: After our athletes are capable of producing a lot of force (strength), our emphasis now changes to teaching them how to apply that force quicker while overcoming a substantial external load.
  • Why: The most successful athletes are typically the most explosive (change of direction, hitting/moving an object or opponent). This level is the first step towards a focused improvement on those abilities.
  • Sequencing: This work should typically be the first exercise(s) we perform with the barbell in our hands.
  • Length: 3-4 weeks
  • Goal(s): To move on to the next level, athletes should be able to clean 1-1.25x their able bodyweight. If situations prevent us from maxing our athletes, males should be power clean 65-75% of squat max, while females should be able to do 60-65%.
  • Note: Proper technique work in the earlier stages will help efficiency of work in this group. As a rule, speed of bar should take priority over loading.
  • Means:
Strength-Speed Recommendations
Drill Sets/Reps Intensity Weekly Totals
Clean, Snatch, Jerk 3-5 sets of 1-5 reps 60-70% of 1RM 40-80 reps
Clean Pull, Snatch Pull 3-5 sets of 1-5 reps 10% higher than what is done on clean or snatch
Dynamic Effort Squat, Bench 3-6 sets of 2-3 reps Less than 50-60% of 1RM

Power #2 – Speed-strength

Speed-strength Summary:

  • Purpose: After our athletes are capable of applying force quickly while overcoming a substantial external load, our emphasis now changes to teaching them how to produce force while overcoming no or minimal load (10% of bodyweight or less).
  • Why: To improve high velocity movement transition.
  • Sequencing: Best performed directly after the warm up as part of speed work and/or before work in weight room.
  • Length: 2-3 weeks
  • Goal(s): It is difficult to set goals based on body type for this level as there will be a lot of variance from athlete to athlete. However, we should see changes in height/distance for jumps and throws. Keep in mind that offensive and defensive lineman may actually drop in their numbers on jumps due to increases in bodyweight.
  • Note: This work is used to develop abilities such as explosion, reaction and elasticity. These qualities are not easily visible and often times the training response is delayed. Because of this, sprint volume should be slowly increased to allow time for these improvements to come to fruition.
  • Means:
Speed-Strength Recommendations
Drill Sets/Reps Intensity Weekly Totals
Medicine ball throws for height or distance 2-3 sets of 5-10 reps Max effort w/landing in good posture 200-400 reps
Higher rep/Lower intensity jumps (jump rope, line hops, etc.) 2-4 sets of 20-50 Low intensity with minimal contact time
Lower rep/Higher intensity jumps (Vertical jumps, Broad jumps, Box jumps, etc.) 2-3 sets of 2-4 reps Max effort w/landing in good posture
Resisted sprints 2-4 reps of 10-20 yards Resistance should not lower speed by more than 10%
***Work in this category should be done at low intensity and a preparatory level early in training periods

Quality #4 – Speed

This is the level that all the earlier qualities build into. If a sound progression has been followed during work with previous blocks this level can be done with relative safety and minimal injury risk. The nature of this work will require the athlete to be sound in areas outside of training such as nutrition, sleep and other wellness categories.  Due to the extreme mechanical and energetic demands of speed training, full recovery should be provided between work bouts with about 1 minute of rest for every 10 yards of work.

Speed Summary:

  • Purpose: Move the body quickly through the ranges of motion required.
  • Sequencing: Best performed directly after the warm up as part of speed-strength work and before work in weight room.
  • Length: 2-3 weeks
  • Goal(s): The sole goal for this level is to continue to develop speed.
  • Note: The majority of athletes will not possess the requisites to reach this level – that is normal. Trying to force one who is not ready into this level can lead to injury.
  • Means:
Speed Recommendations
Quality Description Example Weekly Totals
Acceleration Rate of change 5-20 yd Starts, Change of direction drills, Deceleration work 200-400 yards
Max Velocity Highest attainable velocity 20+ yard sprints
Speed Endurance Ability to maintain high velocity during a single sprint or repeated efforts Longer sprints or multiple sprints
Specific speed Sport similar Position drills
***In the case of preparation for football, it would be prudent to spend the majority of volume in this category with accelerations of 20 yds or less.


The above information has detailed a hierarchy of athletic development. By developing a good base of work capacity, athletes are better prepared to handle the demands of more physically taxing loads further up the pyramid. Maintaining a simple plan allows athletes to learn and develop athletic qualities that are critical for the progression to more advanced levels of training and competitive play.


About the Authors: 

Andrew joined the Baylor University Athletic Performance staff in February of 2009. He advanced through various roles before becoming Co-Director of Olympic Sports in 2011. Later, he was promoted to serve as Associate Director of Football, and in May of 2014, Andrew accepted the newly created position of Director of Applied Performance. In this role, Althoff strives to monitor, manage and maximize student-athlete performance. Additionally, he works as a performance coach with Acrobatics & Tumbling and Equestrian.



Josh joined the Baylor University Athletic Performance staff in June 2014 as an assistant performance coach and was later promoted to Assistant Director of Applied Performance and Operations. Nelson is also a performance coach with Women’s Volleyball and Men’s Tennis.