The Importance of In-Season Strength Training

Anyone that has spent a day as a strength and conditioning coach knows very well that in-season training is not high on the list of things to do for both athletes and sport coaches. In-season the strength coach becomes the dentist, someone that no one wants to go see.

In addition to this, during the season athletes seem to always be sore. They spend a lot of time at practice. They travel a lot. School work is starting to pile up. Stress is accumulating from many other places then the weight room.

I get it – they have a lot of demands placed on them and spending 45-60 minutes in the weight room a couple times a week isn’t their idea of time well spent.

To be honest, in-season training is probably undervalued by athletes and sport coaches. Whether they like it or not, in-season training is incredibly important for injury prevention. It’s a necessary evil.

This all begs the question, how should you program in-season? As a strength coach, how should you approach in-season training? Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind.

Keep Pounding the Basics

Don’t ditch your big rocks in-season. Continue to bench, continue to do your chin-ups, continue hitting their legs hard, and keep progressing your core training. Whatever you believe in, keep believing in it during the in-season. The exercises shouldn’t change, and in most cases, your big rocks should always be your big rocks.

High Intensity, Low Volume

The volume, however, should change. Whatever your big rocks are, limit the amount of sets the athlete is performing but make sure the athletes hit 1-3 heavy sets on those exercises. For example, if you are benching 1-2 warm up sets followed by 1-3 heavy sets is all you need. Believe it or not, this is more then enough to keep your athletes strong and potentially gain a little bit of strength if possible in-season. After warming up, two hard and heavy sets is probably all you really need.

Understand the Athletic Demands Placed on the Athlete

You have to understand the cost of doing business for the specific athletes/sports that you are working with. You need to understand the demands that the sport is requiring of the athlete. For example, if you are working with a jumping athlete (basketball, volleyball, ect.) you would be wise to limit the amount of jumping (maybe more specifically landing) you perform with them in-season. The reality is, they are probably (definitely) doing too much of it as it is through practice and games. Additionally, exercises like hang clean/snatch (and others) may do as much harm as they do good because of the continued pounding on their joints. Does this mean you eliminate these exercises from you program? No, but keep them short and sweet. Additionally, I am a firm believer that Kettlebell Swings are an extremely underrated in-season exercise. They are great for horizontal force production with very little if any pounding on the joints. It’s important to understand who you are working with and program accordingly.

Spend Ample Time on Mobility and/or Tissue Quality

Not stretching is a bad idea. Whatever the sport is there is a good chance that athletes are repeating the same motion over and over again. A perfect example of this is an ice hockey player – they perform the same motion, skating, over and over and over again. As a strength coach you need to spend time trying to balance out what they are doing by attacking it with mobility and tissue quality. Stretching is always time well spent.

“You stretch today to prevent injuries in the future.” – Mike Boyle

Don’t Let Them Get Sore

If your want to lose both your athletes and your sport coach, have your athletes wake up sore the days following their in-season training. When progressing from one exercise to another you have to expect a little bit of soreness, but keep it to as little as possible. The last thing a sport coach wants to hear when they are trying to win games is that their athletes are sore because of their in-season strength program. Cut out isometric and eccentric work, it’s not the time or the place. As previously mentioned, limit the amount of volume by cutting back on the amount of sets performed. They need to still work otherwise you potentially lose strength, but make sure they aren’t sore because of it. In-season may also not be the time to introduce a new exercise, it’s a recipe for being sore the following days.

Don’t Look at the In-Season as a Maintenance Phase

One of the biggest mistakes a strength coach make is looking at the in-season phase as a maintenance phase. Even with the lower volume, with less time spent in the weight room, you need to still be focusing on getting stronger. For example, if you are working with men’s ice hockey and a freshman comes to school with a 135lb bench press, the last thing I would want to do is ‘maintain’ that number throughout the season – the athlete needs to get stronger. Furthermore, if your entire team is losing a certain percentage of their strength in-season it will take you a period of time in the off-season just to get back to square one. Losing strength in-season is the worst case scenario.

Hope that helps!

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