Most athletes think the sports season is all about focusing on that sport and nothing else. They are right. The season is all about focusing on what you can do to make your team a Championship team. If you are a baseball player your mindset should be all about baseball, and if you are a swimmer your mindset should 100% be focused on swimming.
In the private sector, this is where we lose a lot of athletes. The season starts, things get extremely busy with the ramped up practices and competitions, and strength and conditioning training isn’t even a thought. However, if you want to maximize your performance in season, and help your team win some hardware, then you might want to give smart strength and conditioning training a second thought.
Why Train In Season?
There are many reasons why an athlete still needs to have a performance training program during the season. Even though playing sport can help keep all the gains made during the off season, if you want to perform at the best of your abilities it is necessary to continue to train during the season.
Reasons to train during the season:
1.) Injury prevention / Movement Quality
I really don’t like using the phrase injury prevention, because as performance coaches we really can’t prevent injury. We can just do our best to make athletes the most resilient athletes on the field of play, but we can’t stop a 300lbs man landing on someone’s knee or ankle the wrong way. We can only get athletes strong enough to be able to be resilient to external forces.
During the sports season athletes are very subjected to the same movement patterns. Pitchers mostly just pitch, swimmers only swim, and point guards usually just dribble and make a lot of really cool moves. As a performance training center we can help athletes be more adaptable and resilient on the field by exposing them to different movement patterns and various planes of motion in the gym. This can keep the athletes healthy, strong in all planes of motion to be resilient against injury, and ready to perform at the top of their game. Locking yourself into the same movement pattern during the season is a sure way to create a “stale” athlete.
2.) Keep Power Output High
I believe it is a huge myth to say that you can’t get athletes strong in season. I believe you can definitely get them stronger during the season, you just have to go about it a different way than during the off season. Most sports revolve around moving fast in multiple directions. This means that during the sport, central nervous system activity is high to stimulate various muscle fibers to perform fast on the field. S0, during season there is a lot of work being done on game day, but nothing really going on in between. This is where I think you can keep power output high or even increase it during the season. If you can take advantage of the time in between games to work on some moderate intensity speed movements in training, I believe you can perform better and faster in sport. With so much time being spent pushing on the gas pedal during competition, most of the times athletes lack down-regulation after competitions or up-regulation before competition. Athletes can relate, but during the season there is a lot of times when the tank is on empty. This is the time where I think you can keep the athlete fresh and ready to go with the proper training plan.
3.) Stay Stronger Longer
What I mean by staying stronger longer is developing an athlete in-season to perform at the top of their game at the end of the season. We have all seen the athletes who start really strong at the beginning of the season and die out towards the end of the season. They seem to just have nothing left. From a pitching standpoint their velocity might not be as high, a quarterback might not have as much zip on the ball, or various athletes just feel the overall toll on their body where they physically can’t perform like they know they should. This all relates to the first two points. Being able to keep an athlete more resilient to injury and getting them even a slightly bit stronger or more powerful during the season can yield great results for the athlete by the end of the season.
How To Train In-Season
A couple important things to note while training in-season is training frequency and volume. As mentioned at the beginning, sport holds the most importance. Therefore, it is a recipe for disaster to prioritize strength and conditioning training before sport. The overarching goal should be to keep the athlete healthy and ready to play the entire season. Coaches should adapt their plan to the athlete not the athlete to the plan.
1.) Training Frequency
During season, it is to my belief that athlete’s should only be training 1-2x per week. I think 3x is really pushing it unless one of the days is strictly a warm-up and mobility session. First off, I don’t think athletes have enough time to train more than 3x a week in-season and if they do they should use that extra time for rest or different recovery strategies. You can still get quality work in with only 1-2 training sessions a week as long as you are smart about the work that goes into those training sessions.
2.) Training Volume
The training volume during the season should be relatively low. Each training session shouldn’t last any more than an hour. If it does, then the athletes are most likely over working, which could potentially have some negative effects to performing optimally on the field.
The amount of work that goes into an hour training session should be a lot of quality work and not an excess of quantity. If athletes are back squatting during a training session it should be no more than 20 reps of total volume. You also have to factor in the intensity of each exercise, which is what I’ll get to next.
Trying to fit in too much training volume in a short amount of time could potentially over work an athlete whose main goal is to just be healthy enough to perform at their best on the field.
3.) Training Intensity
Training intensity refers to the amount of load the athletes are lifting in the gym. If an athlete is working to a 1-rep max deadlift, then training intensity would be very high.
I am a believer that training intensity should be kept moderate to high during the season. However, it all depends on the amount of volume. If you keep training intensity AND volume high I think you are asking too much out of the athletes and could be a recipe for poor performance.
Training intensity should be moderate to high to stimulate adequate central nervous system involvement and development. Training at too low of an intensity could potentially be doing useless work because it isn’t stimulating enough nervous system involvement to get the athlete to adapt to any mechanism.
Velocity is the big kicker for pretty much any training. You might think you have the best program written but then come to find out the athletes aren’t training at specified velocities to ensure strength, power, or speed gains.
To keep it simple, velocity refers to the speed at which you move something. In a way, velocity trumps everything I just mentioned above. You could actually keep training intensity low and seem some development if the athletes are moving the load really fast. An example would be jumps or really light and fast back squat or squat jumps. The intensity is low, but the athletes are moving at high enough velocities to develop and adapt.
In my opinion, training velocity needs to be on the high side during the season because it replicates what the athletes are doing in sport. Athletes perform at high velocities during their sport so asking them to move slow in the gym is not adequate.
Training velocity should be high and replicate the speed at which the athlete moves in their sport to ensure optimal development in season.
The off-season is a time to keep velocity on the lower end when you want to strictly be developing strength and hypertrophy.
What An In-Season Program May Look Like
To put all of this information together and to show what our philosophy at Force Barbell looks like for athletes training during season, below is an example of a one-week training program. Applying the principles described above the training program below is an example of what an athlete might see if he or she is training with us during the season.
Example: High School Baseball Player/ RHP
Day 1 (Tuesday)
Foam Rolling (Glutes, Quads, IT Bands, anything that needs it)
Deadbug Breathing x10 breaths
Glute Bridge x10
Glute Bridge March x10/side
Side-lying rib roll x10/side
PVC Prayer Stretch x10
Wall Slides w/Foam Roller x10
Goblet Squat to Reach x10
Box Jumps 3×3
Medicine Ball (MB) Rotation From Hip 3×3/side
Speed Back Squat
8×2 on the minute (@50% + 1 chain per side) superset with Box Jump x2
8×2 on the minute superset w/MB Lying Chest Pass x3
1-Arm Dumbbell Row
4×8/side superset w/
Day 2 (Friday)
Warm-up: Keep Same
Speed Bench Press
8×3 on the minute (50%) superset w/MB Chest Pass x3
Speed Goblet Squat
6×3 superset w/box jump x3
Shoulder Series (front raise, lateral raise, rear fly)
3×12/each superset w/
4x50ft (w/45lbs plate only) ; 90 second rest
(For videos of exercises check out our YouTube page: https://www.youtube.com/user/ForceBarbell/videos)
Here is some brief training footage from one of our throwers just days before the State Track and Field Championships..
If You’re Still Not Bought In
While a strength and conditioning/performance program shouldn’t be your first priority during the season of your chosen sport, you can still develop traits necessary to keep improving on the field throughout the season. The key component is to find the best coaches around that are willing to work with athletes and develop a plan that meets the athletes current needs while being adaptable because the season can throw many wrenches into a well laid out plan.
Last important key points when developing an in-season training program for athletes:
1.) Keep things simple. In-season is not the time to experience with new training ideas, and don’t try to develop strength and power to the detriment of the athlete. Save heavy lifting for the off-season. During the season the overarching goal should be to keep the athletes healthy and durable. Save the PR’s for the off-season.
2.) Be adaptable. Most likely, during the season is when you are going to find athletes most beat up and with a very low willingness to train. Now is not the time to jam training down the athletes’ throat. Be willing to adapt your plan to fit the athlete. This will show the athlete that you truly care about their success and are willing to set your ego to the side and change the course of action.
3.) Less is more. A lot of times strength coaches, much like myself, think that more is always better. This shouldn’t be the case even in the off-season. However, during the season you need to really stick to this principle. Don’t freak out if an athlete isn’t able to get their two training sessions in any given week. Sport is the priority, and just because they didn’t get their training session in doesn’t mean they are going to underperform. During the sports season is when I believe athletes are most aware of their body and what they should or shouldn’t do. Work with them on this part and be willing to cut some things out of the program if need be.
4) Sport is the priority. I think I harped on this enough in this article so you should get the point. Your job as a strength and conditioning coach is to get athletes performing well on the field. Prioritizing strength and conditioning over sport during the season is doing just the opposite. We aren’t the most important coaches out there no matter how many times we tell ourselves we are. Let the kids play ball.