Everyone knows the importance of strength and conditioning in the off-season, but when the season finally rolls around, many athletes stop training completely. This is a mistake. Not only do these athletes stop progressing, they actually regress and go backwards with their strength and speed. Within only a few short weeks, noticeable strength and speed drops will occur (1). As the season goes on, performance markers continue on their downward spiral, resulting in an athlete that is weakest and slowest at the most crucial time of the season – playoffs.
All is not lost, though. By simply implementing a well thought-out in-season training program, athletes can maintain and potentially even improve their strength and speed, without sacrificing any practice time.
When beginning an in-season strength and conditioning program it is important to acknowledge, like many things in life, less is more. With the high levels of time and energy devoted to practice and competition there is little left over for training. Add to this the pressure of school, most athletes will be lucky to find one or two hours a week to train. With so little time available, each session needs to be optimized to get the desired results, without negatively affecting performance during practice and competition.
Short and Not so Sweet
The first key for an in-season program is to reduce each workout’s duration and volume. Athletes are already “beat up” from practice and competition, the last thing they need is a 2hr training session during the week.
While reducing volume is a must during the season, it does not mean that athletes should lighten up the weight that they use. In fact, loads should be just as high, if not higher, than they were in the off-season.
The combination of heavy weight and fewer sets allows athletes to maintain/gain strength, without overly fatiguing their bodies.
The Bare Necessities
Building off the last point, in-season training requires a stripped down, bare-bones approach. With limited time and energy, only the most necessary exercises should be included – leaving many accessory-type exercises for the off-season (ie biceps curls, triceps extensions, etc.).
By only including a few “core” exercises, athletes can attack their workout with high energy, without excessively fatiguing them for practice and competition.
During a typical season, athletes can expect to twist, jam, and pull multiple joints and muscles in their bodies. With athletes never 100% during the season, extra precaution must be taken with in-season strength and conditioning training.
Every sport will be different, but the knees and shoulders tend to take a good beating during the season in most sports. For this reason, excessive jumping and over head pressing is best reserved for the off-season. Each sport will have it’s own unique injuries, which must also be accounted for.
By eliminating exercises that put unnecessary stress on certain joints, athletes can continue training at a high intensity, while limiting the likelihood of injury.
1. Table adapted from: Issurin, V. (2001). “Block Periodization: Breakthrough in Sport Training.” New York, NY: Ultimate Athlete Concepts.