Athletes are generally very motivated to succeed in their sport, putting in a tremendous amount of time and effort training in the weight room in preparation for their season. However when the season arrives, far too many athletes completely abandon their training. This begs the question, “Are you training for tryouts and training camp, or are you training to be at your physical peak ability for when it really matters, the post-season?” The basis of a solid in-season training program should include: maximizing your competitive sports advantage while maintaining previous off-season training gains and reducing injury occurrence. During the season, time is at a premium; but as a serious, dedicated athlete, can you really afford not to make time?
Even the most talented player is rendered useless if all their time is spent on the bench nursing an injury. Strength training greatly reduces the chance of injury by making muscles, ligaments, and tendons stronger. By maintaining an athlete’s strength throughout the season, there is a greater probability that an athlete will be able to avoid injury. While in-season play may leave the body battered with reduced performance, a proper training program can accelerate the body’s recovery process. Strength can diminish in as little as two days, so athletes that aren’t training in-season, are getting weaker. Considering that the average high school and college season is 2-3 months long, the athlete that decides not to train during the season is at their weakest come playoff time. That athlete would have to spend several weeks after the season ends just to get back to where they were. This leaves limited time to reach new levels, while the athlete that trains in-season is able to pick up where they left off, giving them a head start on development.
Addressing in-season training factors of safety, time, and soreness are all important. Strength training is important and the preferred type of in-season training. In a general sense, strength equals force production and force production equals athleticism. Significant force production is what gives great athletes the ability to run faster, jump higher, and change direction quicker. Without strength, the body doesn’t have the necessary tools to perform at its highest, so maintaining strength throughout the season should be of top priority.
To ensure that injury does not occur during in-season training, it is important to choose simple, fundamental strength movements that the athlete is comfortable executing. Learning and perfecting new and complex exercises is best left for the off-season. Having familiarity with exercises comes with the additional benefit of reduced soreness. When switching to new movements, there is an acclimation period which results in muscle soreness. Lowering the total volume that is performed in each training session can also greatly reduce soreness. Hundreds of reps do not need to be performed to benefit from in-season training and can often be detrimental.
One to two 20-30 minute sessions of strength training each week is all that is needed to maintain strength. When coupled with mobility work, the body will remain strong, mobile, and feeling fresh throughout the season. Sprinting, jumping, and rotational work do not need significant attention during an in-season training program as the athlete should be getting significant work from their sport to maintain these areas.
In-season training should be focused on higher training loads with low training volume. This doesn’t mean that an athlete should try to max out on every set, but high reps with light weight has been ineffective at maintaining strength levels. With proper technique and guidance, low volume strength training will result in maintaining strength or even increasing strength while simultaneously limiting the amount of soreness. In-season strength training is extremely beneficial and should be considered a necessity for the serious athlete because when everything else is the same, the stronger athlete always wins.
-Brett Velon, CSCS