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Fitness Corner -- In-Season Training

After an extended hiatus in which he was deeply immersed in thought (and free weights), Texans strength and conditioning coach Dan Riley has made his triumphant return to the popular Fitness Corner column.

Riley and assistant strength and conditioning coach Ray Wright will continue to post selected answers to your questions throughout the year. Join in by shooting over an e-mail to

Here is an archive of past columns. Dan and Ray have also made the club's strength and conditioning manual available. Click here to download it.


Do you utilize the Olympic Lifts in training the Texans?

David R. Miller

Vice President

East Coast Gold Weightlifting


Currently we do not use the Olympic Lifts in the Texans strength program. There are however, many teams that do incorporate these lifts.

There are many ways to administer a well-organized strength program for football players. We have learned during the past 30 years that it is possible to implement a total body strength program for football players without using the Olympic Lifts. We've trained many players that never performed an Olympic lift throughout their entire NFL career.

All NFL strength coaches are confronted with long seasons and a minimum amount of time allocated for strength training. Each strength coach must decide how to most effectively utilize the time reserved for lifting.

Some teams use the Olympic Lifts and some don't. It's a matter of choice. This is usually dictated by personal preference and past experience. We include some exercises in our Texans strength program that other strength coaches exclude from theirs. Again it is a matter of choice. Our players only have so much time and energy to expend.

We compare it to the systems used by football coaches. Some prefer one style of offense or defense to another. Football coaches have a personal preference based upon their experience and background. Strength coaches are no different.

We've learned through many years of experience that the strength system used or the exercises performed will not be the difference between winning and losing games. Good players and sound coaching make the difference, not the exercises performed in the weight room.

We have stressed to our players the importance and the necessity, of in-season strength training. Our in-season program mirrors our off-season program. We wouldn't recommend doing an exercise during the off-season, if it is not performed frequently during the season, and with enough weight to maintain near maximum strength levels.

The NFL season is long and physically very demanding. The accumulative effect of joint trauma is significant over the course of a season, and a player's career. Our goal is to select exercises that minimize additional trauma.

Our players are older than high school or college athletes. Many have experienced physical ailments that come from playing the game for so many years. It would be quite difficult for many of our players to perform the Olympic Lifts with near maximum weights during the course of an NFL season.

Every week we have players that injure parts of the upper body to include fingers, hands, wrists, elbows, and shoulders. Each week after a game we have some players that literally can't grip or hold onto a bar.

When this happens we have a routine we call our "No Hands Routine." This allows our players to perform a variety of exercises without using their hands or elbows. We supplement this routine with some manual resistance exercises. Our players use this workout any time they have a difficult time gripping, or have an elbow problem. We are fortunate to have a well-equipped facility that allows us to do this.

I enjoy your column and utilize many of the principles you advocate. I see now the trend is to start with your top set after warm-ups and then descend downward on the two remaining sets. Could you explain the warm-up sets? How do you warm up your athletes? Do you do specific exercises for each exercise? Good luck with the Texans.


-- Thomas Shaffer


We don't know if this is a trend Thomas, but we've learned this protocol is the most logical and efficient system we've used. Many years ago we were led to believe the one of the keys to maximum gains was the number of sets performed (the more the better).

Athletes performed many sets never working as hard as possible on any one set. They would pace themselves by gradually adding more weight each succeeding set. More often than not they would work their hardest and use the most weight on the last set.

We've learned it's not how many sets you perform that stimulate maximum gains … but how you perform each set. We currently teach our players to perform as little exercise as possible to stimulate the best gains in strength.

Thomas if your time and energy is limited, we suggest you work as hard as you are willing to work while completing each set and perform as few sets as possible to generate the best gains.

Our players expend large amounts of time and energy meeting and practicing. Wasting energy in the weight room on non-productive exercise lacks logic. Once our players are warmed up, every set must have one of two purposes.

  1. Maintain a near maximum strength level.
  1. An attempt to improve strength.

We encourage our players to warm up as much as they need. Perform five warm-up sets if necessary. Remember, these are non-productive sets. These sets are not performed with the intent of gaining strength, or, maintaining near maximum strength levels. They are performed to prepare the muscles for the first set of strength producing exercise.

We use the first upper and lower body exercise in a workout as a warm-up. We select a weight that is very light and have them perform 10 - 12 reps, using the same form they will use when they begin working out. I encourage an additional 4 - 5 sets of warming up (sets of 5 - 8 reps) before beginning the workout. A multi-joint upper and lower body exercise is used. There is no need for additional warm up.

You can gain strength completing one set or ten sets. It's also possible to gain no strength regardless of how many sets you perform.

During the season most athletes barely have enough energy to recover from game to game. Your goal must be to perform as few sets as possible while stimulating maximum gains. It must be a priority to eliminate non-productive exercise. Once you have warmed up, why perform a set that is not designed to increase or maintain your current level of strength.

For those athletes that want to perform more than one set the same rules apply. Perform ten sets if you must but don't change how you perform a rep or complete the set. Record the amount of weight used and the number of good reps performed for each set. Add weight whenever possible. Don't pace yourself by holding back and saving your energy for the next set you perform.

Do not decrease the intensity or effectiveness of an exercise when more than one set is performed. Sub-maximal efforts will produce less than maximum gains in muscular strength. Listed below are several examples of less effective techniques used when more than one set is performed.


Example # 1 - (a sub-maximal effort)

If you can use the same weight for three sets of eight reps (or whatever number of reps are selected), the weight is too light on the first set. In the past we have used a similar set/rep protocol. If an athlete can use the same weight on the third set as he did on the first set, the weight is too light. Logic dictates that the weight must decrease each succeeding set…. if an all out effort is being exerted each set. If you exert an all out effort on the first set, the weight must decrease each succeeding set. In the example below the athlete uses the same weight each set indicating that the first two sets were sub-maximal efforts.


Set # 1 - 100 lbs. x 8 reps

Set # 2 - 100 lbs. x 8 reps

Set # 3 - 100 lbs. x 8 reps


After you have warmed up use as much weight as you can properly handle each set. Select a weight that causes a maximum effort to complete the 8 th rep (or whatever number of reps you selected). The weight must decrease each set if a maximum effort is exerted the previous set.


Example # 2 - (a sub-maximal effort)

* *

Another less effective technique we used in the past was to add weight after each set was performed. Why use 100 pounds on set number one, if you were able to use 120 pounds on the third set?

Set #1 - 100 lbs. x 8 reps


Set #2 - 110 lbs. x 8 reps

* *

Set #3 - 120 lbs. x 8 reps

If you can lift 120 pounds for eight reps on your third set, lifting 100 pounds for eight reps during your first set is a waste of time and energy. Use as much weight as you can properly handle each set. A sub-maximal effort will produce sub-maximal gains.


Example # 3 - (a maximum effort)

* *

For maximum gains, use as much weight as you can handle on the first set, the second set, the third set, and for each additional set you perform.

Each succeeding set the weight must decrease, if the first set was an all out effort.

Set # 1 - 140 lbs. x 8 reps

Set # 2 - 120 lbs. x 8 reps

Set # 3 - 95 lbs. x 8 reps

If you are trying to generate maximum gains, why perform a set that is not as productive as it could be? If you can perform another rep but stop, you limit how productive that set can be.

Once you have warmed up, make each set as productive as possible. Don't waste time and energy on non-productive exercise.

Some people spend endless hours in the gym performing meaningless exercise. Our goal is to eliminate non-productive exercise for the Texans. If your time and energy is limited we suggest you do the same.

It's Monday morning of the Browns week. Our first lifting group arrives before 7:00. It's time to get busy.

Have a great workout. Go Texans!



Riley, Dan, Wright, Ray, Houston Texans Strength & Conditioning Program, Training Manual.

Riley, Dan, Arapoff, Jason, Washington Redskins Strength and Conditioning Manual, Spring 2000.

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