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  • Writer's pictureJo Clubb

Measures That Matter in American Football: Training Load and Recovery Management

American football stands as one of the most physically demanding sports, requiring a fine balance between training stimulus and recovery. In this post, we explore which sports science practices and measures may matter most in this sport.


I had the pleasure of working in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills for four seasons, witnessing first-hand the incredible athleticism of these athletes. American football, which I will now refer to as purely football for the rest of the post (sorry Brits), challenges sports scientists in unique ways. I've spoken about these challenges before as the ultimate test of translation skills when moving between sports.


With strictly one game a week, the remaining six days must be expertly managed to balance training load and recovery. Managing these athletes is no easy task, especially when considering an NFL roster size that starts in preseason at 90 players, before dropping to 53 plus 16 on the reserve squad. Meanwhile, in the college setting they have to juggle up to 120 student athletes!


The Focus on Recovery and Readiness


When thinking about which measures matter most in this sport, my mind went straight to measures of recovery and readiness. Unlike other team sports with multiple games per week, we have six days of the week to plan in order to achieve the right balance between training exposure and recovery. Measures that can assist in managing these aspects during the training week are incredibly valuable.


This is multiplied when we considered the vast within-squad/roster differences that exist in the sport. The phrase "Next Man Up" is widely used to emphasise the need to stay ready should injury occur (which is often does in such a demanding game). So while recovery may be the focus of the starters nursing issues and bruises from the game, the rest of the roster may need greater training exposure to maintain their condition.


In the video below, I detail these measures on the Global Performance Insights YouTube channel. This is the first video in a new series in collaboration with Output Sports that will discuss measures that matter across different sports.



Of course, sports science practitioners now have an incredible array of potential data streams and metrics to consider. So in trying to hone in on the measures that matter most, I have focused on three specific data collection areas that can help with the day-to-day management of training and recovery in football: Countermovement Jump (CMJ), Velocity Based Training (VBT), and wellness questionnaires.


Countermovement Jump Assessment


One of the most popular assessment for athlete monitoring is the CMJ. This popularity is probably due to its simplicity, time-efficiency, and familiarity among athletes. There are a number of different ways that jump, including the CMJ, can be collected and assessed. In the case of Output Sports, their inertial measurement unit (IMU) is strapped to the foot and can measure jump height via flight time. They provide extensive normative data for comparison on their website.


Typically in the applied setting, jump height is assessed two to three days post-game to evaluate recovery timelines (I certainly struggled to get athletes to jump the day after a game, and understandably so!). This timing helps avoid the immediate post-game fatigue and soreness, offering a better indication of how athletes are returning to baseline norms. Adjustments in training loads can then be made based on these assessments.


Velocity-Based Training (VBT)


Given the physically intensive nature of football, maintaining strength and power throughout the season is crucial. The focus cannot be on recovery alone, otherwise athletes will de-train. VBT offers a way to monitor lifting outputs by measuring the speed of the bar, providing insights into training intensity without additional testing. This is another form of invisible monitoring, which we continue to discuss on the blog as it helps to reduce the data collection burden on our athletes.


Unlike traditional percentage-based training which relies on one rep maximum (1RM), VBT adjusts training loads based on day-to-day fluctuations in maximum capacity. Ideally, real-time velocity measured by a VBT device helps individualise a subsequent training session. By integrating this approach into regular warm-up sets, training can be effectively up-regulated or down-regulated. This approach is known as autoregulation.


Importance of Wellness Questionnaires


Beyond objective measures like CMJ and VBT, subjective measures such as wellness questionnaires provide crucial insights. These questionnaires allow athletes to report on their physical and mental state, covering elements like fatigue, sleep, and mood. This holistic approach ensures that all facets of an athlete’s well-being are monitored.

A picture of someone holding a phone in their hands. On the phone the Output Sports app is shown, on an athlete tracking page with wellness scores entered and the numbers shown.
Output Sports Wellness App Entry

I know people argue over compliance and accuracy issues with wellness but I am a strong advocate of the process. It provides athletes with a voice, and a means of communication on how they are responding to their programme. But they'll only take advantage of that opportunity if the process is simple and streamlined. A user friendly approach where athletes can quickly and easily submit their wellness data is essential for both value and burden.


Similarly, creating a streamlined system where sports science practitioner can access, analyse, and disseminate both objective and subjective measures is vital for practitioner value and burden! This is an even greater need in football, given the large roster sizes that are being managed. It requires efficient data handling. Ideally, dashboards with alert systems facilitate quick decision-making around training and recovery programs.

Final Thoughts


(American) football demands make it imperative to focus on sports science practices that can help manage training load and recovery. A multivariate approach that utilises both objective and subjective measures of readiness can help guide training loads, both on and off the field. Tools and metrics like those provided by Output Sports enable sports scientists to achieve this delicate balance. In summary, I think the measures the matter most in sports science in football include those from jump testing, VBT, and wellness questionnaires. Integrating these measures helps create a comprehensive approach to quantifying athlete readiness and recovery in football, contributing to sustained performance throughout the season.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


Why is recovery particularly important in football?

Recovery is crucial due to the high physical demands and the contact nature of the sport. Proper recovery ensures players return to optimal performance levels and reduces injury risks.

What is a Counter Movement Jump (CMJ) and why is it used?

What is Velocity-Based Training (VBT)?

How do wellness questionnaires contribute to athlete management?



This article is supported by Output Sports. For more information about their technology, visit their website.

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