5 Training Tips for In-Season Athletes
A common misconception is the belief that athletes should stop training entirely while they are in-season. It’s always a headscratcher when an athlete I’ve been working with is steadily progressing, then I get the “hey coach, I’m going to stop training because my season is starting” message. Of course, collegiate athletes heading back to school who have their specific strength programs are an exception. This usually applies to adolescent and high school athletes whether they are single-sport or multi-sport athletes. It’s foreseeable that in-season athletes schedules will be hectic due to all the practices and games. It can be difficult finding time, sure. But that doesn’t mean it’s wise to completely detach yourself from the gym. There are 168 hours in a week, finding one or two hours is likely possible. It’s important to remember that the gym is where improvements started to blossom. All of that progress can diminish throughout the season if you don’t uphold a routine.
Qualified trainers who are educated in periodization understand sport season training protocols and they will manipulate the intensity and volume assignments of programs appropriately in order to prevent overtraining their athletes. Periodization can be defined as the preplanned, systematic variations in training specificity, intensity, and volume organized in periods or cycles. Those athletes who make time for just one or two workouts per week while in-season will benefit significantly. These training sessions do not need to be very high in intensity or of long duration. If time is a factor, have a professional guide you through some effective 30–45-minute sessions. Here is a list of safe ways to maintain those gains made in the post-season, off-season, and pre-season.
Maintain Proprioception (Balance Training)
Balance training is a great way to deliver a not so physically demanding stimulus to the body and central nervous system. Single leg training and unstable surface training keeps communication between the body and the brain fresh. It will continue to enhance overall coordination and reduce one’s risk for non-contact injuries. Keep your mind-body connection sharp, here are some video examples:
Moderate volume anaerobic work (Power)
It’s important to understand that strength and power are not the same thing. Simply put, strength is one’s ability to produce force and power is one’s ability to rapidly produce force. When it comes to power and explosiveness, if you don’t maintain it, you will lose it. Sufficient rates of force development (RFD) are how competitions are usually won. In terms of specificity for the in-season athlete, moderate volume power work should hold precedence over max strength training. Doing too much strength work can have an adverse effect on performance because the body will be overworked. Let’s compare a basketball players 1 rep-max back squat to their 5 rep-max hang clean. The hang clean is going to have better carryover to sport because it is a high velocity, explosive movement and basketball is a fast-paced game with intermittent bouts of explosive movements. With the old saying “train slow, move slow” in mind, the 1 rep-max back squat won’t be very sport-specific for the in-season basketball player. Strength training certainly has its place throughout the different training cycles in variable volumes, but it’s important to know when to prescribe it. To keep the fast-twitch muscle fibers fresh in-season, I am a huge fan of medicine ball slam variations, box jump variations, low-volume olympic lifts, and sprint intervals. Here are a few video examples of in-season power drills:
Retain strength, but avoid eccentrics
Physically demanding sports like football, hockey, basketball, and wrestling to name a few, are going to stress the body. It’s critical for the joints and muscle tissues to preserve adequate strength in order to withstand the demands placed on them in competition. It is recommended that intense eccentric exercises should be avoided for in-season athletes. Eccentric muscle contractions occur when active muscles are lengthening under load. An example would be a negative pull up (going slow on the way down), or a Romanian deadlift (RDL). While eccentric exercises are great and certainly have their place, the downside is they elicit greater feelings of soreness, and we do not want athletes to be sore heading into competition if we can control it. Appropriate strength exercise prescription mixed in with power maintenance will uphold an athlete’s motor unit recruitment abilities as well. Motor unit recruitment can be defined as the central nervous systems ability to call certain muscle groups into action. Any lag time in this recruitment can hinder performance, so we should keep this fresh. Here are a few in-season strength exercises that I recommend:
Make time for mobility / soft-tissue work
Getting in and out of certain positions without restriction is vital for athletes. Several factors contribute to one’s mobility. Sufficient flexibility, muscle tissue health, motor control, joint capsules and bony architecture all play a role. Athletes do not train like bodybuilders; they train to move. Careless overkill will leave athletes dealing with stiff joints and sore muscles, putting them in a competitive disadvantage as well as higher risk for injury. Here are some video examples of mobility drills:
Give yourself a rest day
This is for the athletes who feel they need to push themselves hard every day of the week. Their heart is in the right place, but their body will be in danger of breaking down. As mentioned earlier, in-season athletes have busy schedules that may consist of anywhere between 4-6 practices per week, as well as weekly competitions. There should be at least one day each week dedicated to active rest or complete rest. Active rest may include activities like a light bike ride, walking, swimming, a yoga class, etc. Active rest days can be great for helping clear lactic acid buildup, healing microtraumas in muscle tissue, relaxing the nervous system and normalizing hormonal balance. Or you could take a page out of strength coach Ben Bruno’s program and do some ‘couch side planks’ for a day.
Michael has been a strength coach at Olympia Fitness and Performance for three years. Michael graduated from Rhode Island College where he studied Community Health & Wellness with a concentration in Wellness & Movement studies. After graduating, Mike went on to get his CSCS (certified strength and conditioning specialist) through the NSCA. He is also a Certified Speed and Agility Coach, as well as a TPI certified coach. In his three years as a strength coach, Mike has helped clients from all walks of life improve their fitness levels. He has a strong passion for helping young athletes not just improve their athletic performance, but also helping them build confidence.
- Pfeiffer, Ronald. Mangus, Brent. Trowbridge, Cynthia. Concepts of Athletic Training 7th Jones & Bartlett Learning. 2015.
- O’neil, John. (2017, March). 7 Ways to Maintain Strength During Baseball Season. https://ericcressey.com/tag/in-season-training-for-baseball
- Beachle, Thomas. Earle, Roger. 2012. Essentials of Strength and Conditioning. Third Edition. National Strength and Conditioning Association.