IN-SEASON TRAINING: WHY IT’S IMPORTANT AND HOW TO DO IT
In-season training tends to spark some heavy debate, especially between strength coaches and sport coaches. Not only is strength training commonly thrown to the wayside, but it is also commonly botched. For the purpose of this article, I will assume I am speaking to two crowds of people.
Sport coaches/athletes who DON’T lift in-season.
Sport coaches/athletes who DO lift in-season.
I will address both of these camps separately in an effort to provide you with some clarity and actionable information for yourself or your team.
WE DON’T LIFT
I get it. You as the sport coach/athlete want to spend every second you can getting better at your sport; and that involves practicing as much as possible. Any type of in-season lifting will cut into valuable practice time; however, my goal is to convince you that the value of in-season lifting is worth the lost practice time.
Some reasons to lift in-season:
Improved Performance: Strength Training can make you faster and more powerful. When we strength train, while we ARE training muscles, we are more importantly training the brain. Long Term: By lifting heavy or moderate loads quickly, we increase the brain’s ability to produce force. The more force you are able to produce the faster, stronger and more powerful your athletes are. Short Term: There are also short-term improvements with in-season strength training. Research has shown increased strength and power lasting up to 48 hours after a lifting session. A well timed and organized lifting session the day before a game can result in boosts in power and strength.
Lost Progress: You will lose the weight room improvements in strength, speed, power, and size you gained during the offseason if you do not at least touch up on them in the in-season.
Injury Reduction: Strength training in-season can decrease the risk for injuries. Strength training increases the tissues (muscles, tendons, ligaments) ability to absorb force/load inherently increasing the threshold for injury and subsequently decreasing the likelihood of an injury.
Time Management: Lifting doesn't have to be a huge time commitment. It can be 2x per week for 20-30 min. Cut out some of those pointless conditioning drills and you may have time!
WE DO LIFT
Awesome! That’s a big first step; however, HOW you do it matters just as much as IF you do it. I value your practice time as a coach/athlete, and I want you to get the most out of your time.
Common mistakes I see with in-season lifting:
Lifting too light: I often see athletes performing 10-12 reps with a super lightweight in order to “maintain”. This is not maintaining anything and is a common misconception. In order to maintain our strength and power, we need to stimulate the brain which would require heavier or moderate weights performed quickly.
Doing too many reps: I see a lot of maintenance programs that prescribe 3 sets x 10 reps to maintain their strength and power. As I touched on in the previous point, this is doing nothing to stimulate the brain and maintain strength and power. These higher reps may improve hypertrophy and tissue tolerance, but they do nothing to increase/maintain performance. We need fewer reps to truly stimulate any changes and maintain performance while also decreasing fatigue.
Not applicable: It cracks me up watching athletes show up to the gym, perform some biceps and triceps, and call it a day. You might as well not do it if you are just going to do some curls and tricep pushdowns. While I understand fatiguing the legs is a concern for sport coaches, if you manage the loads appropriately this should not be an issue.
HOW TO RUN AN IN-SEASON PROGRAM
I encourage coaches to commit to in-season strength training 2x per week for 20-30 minutes. I find this to be a good balance between maximizing practice time and having enough time to actually lift. Our goal is to do the MINIMAL amount of work possible to maintain and minimize fatigue as depicted in the graph below.
Two terms that you should be familiar with are volume and intensity. While these play a huge role in the weight room, the terms also apply to the court or field.
Volume is how much you are doing (reps, game minutes, practice length, etc.).
Intensity is how hard is it (weight, % of 1 rep max, rate of perceived exertion, etc.).
Volume and intensity have an inverse relationship. The more volume (reps) the less intensity (weight), and the more intensity (weight) the less volume (reps). During our in-season training, we want to ensure we are operating with LOW VOLUME (1-3 reps) and HIGH INTENSITY (+80% of 1RM).
This does a couple things:
1. By keeping reps in the 1-3 range, it ensures we are not getting fatigued/sore by keeping time under tension low. If we did 8 heavy reps we are getting more time under tension which results in more muscular damage and more fatigue.
2. Is potent enough of a stimulus to truly maintain strength OR even get stronger by lifting heavy (80-90% of 1RM). To really stimulate the brain, we have to lift heavy, otherwise the stimulus is not strong enough to stimulate the brain.
Here is a general graph depicting some general recommendations based off your goals. This graph shows not only the rep ranges, how heavy to go, but also the recommended rest times. It’s important to note that the heavier the weight, the more taxing on the neuromuscular (brain & muscle) system, which requires more rest time between sets. If we do not allow for sufficient rest time we cannot lift as heavy and we start to train more of our endurance-based qualities.
I recommend using supersets for all your workouts, especially if you are crunched for time. This keeps athletes busy, allows you to hit your 2-5 min of rest between lifts while still being time efficient, and allows you to target multiple attributes at once. I tend to split the lift into two main sections.
1. Core Superset– this contains my core lift (bench, squat, deadlift) with a plyometric and another accessory, often times a core or ankle exercises. .
2. Accessory Superset-this superset is more focused on hypertrophy (muscle growth) and tissue resilience with the hopes of mitigating injury and targeting the weak areas.
MAXIMAL OUTPUT SUPERST
A1: Core Lift (bench, deadlift, squat): 4-6 sets x 1-3 reps
30 second break
A2: Plyometric (box jumps of some sort): 4-6 sets x 1-3 reps
30 second break
A3: Core/ankle exercise: 3-4 sets x 8-15 reps
30 second break
TISSUE RESILIENCE SUPERSET
A1: Single Leg Lift (RFESS, pistol, skater): 2-3 sets x 6-12 reps
30 second break
A2: Hamstring/Glute (GHR, Nordic, RDL): 2-3 sets x 6-12 reps
30 second break
A3: Core/ankle exercise: 2-3 sets x 6-12 reps
30 second break
A common question and concern for coaches are “will my athletes be fatigued?”. Now that is a very loaded question when you consider how complicated and multifactorial fatigue can be. Factors such as sleep quality, emotional stress, nutrition, sun exposure, practice intensity, working out all contribute to fatigue, so it can be hard to make any guarantees; however, I always challenge my coaches to take an inventory of their current practice model. Do a cost-benefit analysis of your typical practice and we will almost always find room for in-season strength training. By simply cutting out unnecessary conditioning drills and low return-on-investment drills we can increase your efficiency in practice and ensure we are not overworking our athletes.
You can make it as simple or complicated as you want, but the goal will always remain the same: stimulate the brain with a strong stimulus (heavier lift) and increase your tissues ability to absorb force (resilience/hypertrophy lifts).
For more detailed information feel free to reach out with any questions! We also offer online team and individual training through our training app specifically designed for training athletes. Reach out with any questions or feedback!
BIG CAT OUT🦁