You poured on the effort over the previous four months, added 10-pounds of lean muscle to become a faster, more powerful athlete. The season is about to begin and it’s time to prove yourself on the testing ground. There will be long days and travels. Life outside of your sport will remain busy. It will be easy to lose most of what you gained in the off season. What can you do?
Well, don’t completely stop training!
Your in-season training will not be ideal. It will probably be inconsistent require some planning and effort. But it’s worth it.
There are a handful of decent studies that document the typical decrease in strength and power that does indeed occur as the season progresses. What they have found is that nearly any effort helps mitigate this de-training effect. Training even once per week is much better than nothing at all. Abbreviated routines completed three times per week were even better. But I think twice per week, done well, is much more realistic.
Here are a few guidelines for In-Season training.
- Avoid training the day of or the day before competition. Recovery is key for all athletes, and training on or before game day is likely going to be more of a hindrance than a help. How foolish would it be to beat YOURSELF up, even a little, right before facing the opponent?
- Keep it brief. Spend at least 10-minutes on warm-up corrective exercise and 20 to 35 minutes on the big lifts that matter. It should not take long to complete a thorough warm-up and 2 to 4 total body exercises, if you follow all the guidelines.
- Keep it simple. This is not the time to try complex splits or body part specialization. Most athletic endeavors promote asymetry in one form or another, and unilateral movements are key because they reveal and work against asymmetry. Read below for a great place to start.
- Keep the reps low and weights moderate. Remember that you are not training for general fitness or merely burning calories. You want to maintain strength and size while not cutting into recovery. Go heavy but use a resistance that your are certain to complete, even when fatigued from games and practices. Your top sets of 3 to 5 reps should be loaded with 75-80% of what you were able to do in the off season. Sure, go ahead and take a 90 to 100% attempt if the weight feels light and you’re feeling great. But don’t expect it. Don’t make PRs the top priority.
- Nothing grinding. This has a lot to do with #4 guideline (above). You do not want to grind out high rep sets of anything. Again, you are an in-season athlete who needs to load the muscles and prime the nervous system. You do not need generic conditioning, fitness, or weight loss marketed to the masses. This is not the time for fitness competition (i.e. Crossfit style) workouts. This is not the time for my beloved 20-rep Squats or sled pushes. Moving a moderately heavy resistance for a handful of reps keeps the total time under tension relatively low. Hit 3 to 8 reps in total body power movements (like med ball tosses or plyometric jumps) and call it a day.
Here’s an example of an In-Season Training Split that cover most of your bases with minimal time invested:
Athlete- and sport-specific warm up
Push up variation – challenge yourself and focus on the plank to maintain a neutral core, 3 to 4 sets
Deadlift (or hip thrusters) – 2 warm-ups and 3 sets of 2 to 5 reps
Single leg box squat or step-ups – 3 sets of 5 to 8 reps
Rotational core exercise (example med ball tosses, tubing or cable rotations, etc) 3 sets of 6 to 8
Athlete- and sport-specific warm up
Landmine shoulder press or shoulder care – 3 sets of 5 to 8 reps coupled with split stance lawn mower (dumbbell) rows
Squats – 2 warm ups then 3 sets of 5
Chin-ups with core engagement -or- shoulder care 3 sets of 5 reps
Lateral lunges or resisted skater hops – 3 sets of 5 reps