In-Season Training Guide
Strength training, tissue care, and quality nutrition can be difficult paths to navigate while competing in a sport. By the end of the season, most athletes lose up to 10 lbs of lean muscle mass, gain 2-3% body fat, and lose upwards of 20% of strength /power output. Athletes re-enter the weight room after 3 months of competition and start their off-season training back at square one. Why bust your ass in the weight room 6-9 months out of the year if you’re going to lose what you’ve worked so hard to gain during the season? This is what I call the “Yo-Yo” training effect. After working hard to make gains in lean muscle, strength, power, speed, and overall athleticism during the off-season, an athlete stops training to focus on competing. During that time, the athlete loses their off-season gains, and begins the arduous “gains journey” all over again. Over the course of 4 years, the athlete has minimal overall development in size, strength, or power. The “yo-yo” effect is real. The following information will make you much more aware of the intricacies of proper in-season training and how to not fall victim to the “Yo-Yo Effect.”
Let’s begin with the most common in-season variables and how they apply to you.
1) Sport & Position. A starting pitcher in an established rotation is much different than a starting midfielder on a lacrosse time.
2A) Playing time & frequency. How much wear and tear are you actually putting on your body? This could be week to week or over a whole season. If you haven’t earned quality playing time yet, then you should be training differently than a starter. This also pertains to the volume of game play. Multiple games per week, double headers, overtimes, tournaments, and jamborees should be accounted for within the training schedule. Pro-tip: Have foresight and adjust your training program in advance to high volume spans of games. Sneaking in a couple heavy lifts “because you can’t do it next week” isn’t effective planning. Adding excess training stress to the body BEFORE having to put excess gameplay stress to the body will almost certainly increase the athletes chance for injury or at the very least, hinder their level of play on the tail end of the high volume gameplay.
2B) Perceive Rate of Exertion (PRE): Listen to your body! As a fitness professional, we are taught to help our clients gauge how much stress they are putting on their body. Some games/weeks are much more challenging than others. We get dinged up and feel warn down at times. An athlete’s given PRE will permit certain amounts of intensities and volumes with in-season training. This is probably the most dynamic variable and hardest to accurately gauge. Obviously REST IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT. The variable within the variable here is the athlete’s personality. There is a wide spectrum of athletes that range from “soft” (athletes who simply do not want to put the extra work in) to “meathead” (athletes who will want to lift heavy and often regardless of PRE).
3) Training Experience. If a younger athlete hasn’t been introduced to deadlifts and hang cleans I would not recommend that they start learning these exercises in-season.
4) NUTRITION, HYDRATION, and SLEEP. Maybe the most important variable is how well you take care of your body (a la Tom Brady). The three pillars of body maintenance, recovery, and preparation. If you aren’t taking care of your body in the first place it won’t be wise to add a training program on top of your games and practices. These pillars can be your best friend or your worst enemy. More on this outlined here: In-Season Nutrition: 4 reasons why your performance will decline over the season and how to prevent them from happening.
5) Time Management. Student-athletes have a lot of on their plates that pull them in multiple directions at any given time. It’s important that coaches, teachers, parents, and more importantly, athletes understand this. If you do not manage your time appropriately it’s nearly impossible to optimize nutrition, get good grades, play well consistently, AND maintain an in-season program.
The Objectives: End Result
Now that we understand the many variables that go into an in-season training program let’s simplify things by understanding what we want to accomplish with a “quality” in-season training program. “Quality” does NOT mean finding time to lift heavy 3-4x per week trying to reach PRs while improving vertical jumps and 40 yard dashes, this is not the time. A “quality” training program is subjective to the individual athlete where the athlete makes the most out of the variables/opportunities presented to them throughout the season.
1) Reduce Chance of Injury. Proper nutrition, body maintenance, and in-season programming will allow the athlete’s body to be more resilient late in the season.
2) Maintain (or minimize the loss of ) Lean Muscle Mass. Allowing your body to shed more than 5% lean muscle mass will diminish the above goal while bringing you to the Yo-Yo door step. Enjoy a steeper up-hill climb for off-season gains. Losing lean muscle mass will mean losing strength, power, athleticism.
ProTip: Establish performance based testing before the season begins. This will allow you to analyze and adjust future in-season programs.
The Goals: Process-Based
With so many variables pertaining to each individual’s in-season training program it’s important to plan ahead and control the things you can control. My favorite coach that I like to study, John Wooden taught his athletes and colleagues to “build a shelter for a rainy day.” If we are responsible enough to be consistent, plan ahead, and always take care of the things we have the ability to control then we should be in good shape once we hit the inevitable turbulence the competitive season brings. Athletes should plan for unexpected in-season events, have a process, and follow through.
1) Systematize Nutrition, Hydration, and Sleep. These three concepts should be a constant with little to no variation. There’s no excuse to why these components can’t be met. (See the above Variable #5: Time Management for more information). Mastering these components will not only give you plenty of energy and adaptability to an in-season training program but will also keep you playing at high level, consistently.
2) Establish Your In-Season Training Program Early (and Plan on Modifying). As long as we can establish a north star of what we think is an ideal program for the individual athlete then we can adjust accordingly as the season progresses. A bench player with little playing time might earn herself a starting position, thus adding much more stress on her body than anticipated.
3) REST when you are not tired. Every seasoned strength coach knows that planned rest days and deload weeks are essential for any training program, in-season training is no different. Most players and coaches can look ahead and see when there is a stretch of tough opponents, lots of travel, or just a high volume of games in a short amount of time. It is extremely beneficial to give athletes rest even though they may not need it. Winning is important but winning in the post-season is even more important, keeping your athletes healthy and fresh will have big pay offs. Progress and taper your training accordingly.
Final thoughts on In-Season Programming
I can’t prescribe an exercise program to someone or some team without analyzing a schedule, their training experience, injury history, etc. But here’s what I can tell you:
It doesn’t take a lot of effort to sustain a quality in-season training program, maintain lean muscle, and reduce your chance of injury.
Let’s review a quick example using high school hockey and lacrosse athletes that are already familiar with the training room and let’s assume they have adequate nutritional practices. These athletes typically have two games and 4 practices a week. Let’s also assume that these athletes spend 10-15minutes before and after each practice and game following sound warm up and recovery practices: soft tissue work, appropriate stretching, etc.
These athletes should be training 2x week in addition to their practice and game schedule.
Workout #1: Light to Moderate Workout
*Can be performed before or after any practice and no more than 30minutes. Soreness not permitted.
*This work out focuses on tissue maintenance, mobility, stability, and injury reduction. For example: these athletes have a high rate of shoulder and hand/wrist injuries so let’s make sure we hit these areas as well as core strengthening and full body mobility exercises.
*Athletes who don’t get much playing time can train with higher volume,high intensity, or even adding more demanding exercises (ie Hang clean, or squat variation paired with an upper body lift)
Workout #2: Moderate to Challenging Workout
*Ideally performed two days prior to actual game play and no more than 45minutes. Some soreness is permitted.
*This work out focuses on all the same things as workout #1 but includes at least two demanding lifting exercises for both upper and lower body, usually paired together to maximize weight room time. I personally like to pick at least 1 exercise from each of the following categories:
1) Hip-dominant exercise (DL variation
2) knee-dominant exercise (squat variation)
3) Upper Body Push (DB press)
4) Upper Body Pull (DB Row or Pull up)
*There would be another bracket of supplemental work supporting core/hip/shoulder strength.
*Sets and rep ranges vary from athlete to athlete
And there you have it. Everything you need to know about attacking your in-season training program.
If you have any further questions on how to maximize your in-season nutrition and training programs please feel free to hit me up on insta: @Compete_sc or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Avoid the Yo-Yo Effect and best of luck this season.
Joe Drain CSCS Pn1
Owner, Strength Coach, Nutrition Coach