In-Season Training for Competitive and Everyday Athletes
One of the most common questions we are asked is what is the difference between in-season training and off-season training for athletes.
While our training philosophy doesn’t change much, what does change are the constraints on our athletes.
They have less time to dedicate to training as they are practicing or playing 5-7 days per week.
In playing 5-7 days per week, they also have less time to recover and energy reserves available.
Lastly, and most importantly, when our athletes are in-season they are usually also in school and overly stressed.
With many of our athletes taking Advanced Placement classes, participating in the student advisory board and being captain of math team, stress levels are at an all time high, exacerbating the lack time and recovery.
Also, many of our athletes will get into (or stay in) the habit of staying up all night long
watching Netflix doing homework , and lack of quality sleep becomes a big issue.
With these factors in play, we can not place as much volume, intensity, frequency and overall demand on our athletes during the in-season as we can during the off-season. If we do, it will likely result in decreased performance, and even worse, can place them at a greater risk for potential injury.
The goal is to keep them as healthy as possible, moving well and to maintain strength and power output throughout the season (although with proper programming we have seen many of our athletes continue to improve strength and power as well!).
While we are talking about competitive athletes in the middle of a season, this is not unlike our everyday athletes who work a full day, worry about paying bills, taking care of the kids (if they have them) and who are training to be healthy, strong and look damn good naked.
The following tips for training in-season athletes apply to the competitive athlete as well as the everyday athlete…let’s do this!
Maintain tissue quality and proper movement.
When high loads of similar patterns are placed on the body the body adapts to those patterns, likely decreasing the efficiency with other movements.
The stiffness in certain tissues (muscles, fascia, etc.) is lost while the stiffness in other tissues is gained, which is most of the time going to cause problems down the road if left unaddressed.
Let’s just take a look at a quick example: the calves.
During the off-season most athletes will not compete at the level they will during the in-season and will not do so as frequently. For most this means less overall volume with jumping, sprinting, cutting, etc.
While we address these components in our off-season training, there is just no way to truly mimic the demands without actually playing the sport.
So once the in-season rolls around, more frequent stress is applied to the calves via increased jumping, cutting, sprinting. Therefore the tissue is likely to become more stiff. A stiff calf can lead to decreased ankle range of motion and/or an achilles that is pissed off…and a pissed off achilles is never a good thing.
In case you don’t get this reference, that is Achilles in the movie Troy…a must see!
If this happens, overuse injuries to the calf or achilles itself, or unwanted movement compensations can occur, leading to overuse injuries further up the chain.
So the number one goal is to maintain tissue quality and range of motion within the calves and ankle complex. We can do this via placing an even greater emphasis on foam rolling or other soft tissue work paired with some ankle mobility work.
Again this is just ONE example and one area that we need to be aware of with our athletes…there are many others.
Certain segments of the body are more at risk for different sports, or even within the same sport in different positions, so an individual approach is warranted.
And putting this into an everyday perspective, if we are spending increased time at the desk because we have a big project to complete at work, or are taking part in a video game weekend tournament, we are will experience tissue changes in our hips, upper back, pecs, neck, etc. that will all have to be addressed.
Once tissue quality and range of motion are taken care of, we then work on maintaining quality movement through an extended warm up that targets all of our major patterns: squat, lunge, hinge, lateral movement, rotational movement, etc.
This is goal number one, which allows our athletes to stay healthy and work more efficiently with the next goals.
2. Prioritize your strength and power
While we all want our athletes to be the biggest, strongest and best conditioned athletes this planet has ever seen, if we train our athletes for all of these qualities during the in-season you will burn them out.
When energy reserves are low and recovery is likely to be compromised, the goal is to reduce the volume of training first and foremost.
While we can also reduce the intensity if necessary (amount of resistance used), keeping the intensity high and dropping the volume is the best approach. This allows the athletes to obtain the training effect we are looking for without completely draining their bodies.
This means placing a heavy (pun intended) emphasis on strength and power.
Strength and power movements such as squats, deadlifts, pull ups, bench press variations and heavier single leg movements such as RFE split squats and front squat grip reverse lunges are the big players for strength.
When it comes to power development, we want to reduce the amount of impact stress as athletes are undergoing high volumes of impact forces in sport. This means replacing jump variations with movements such as KB swings, DB push presses and utilizing bands as a form of resistance with the intent to move quickly and explosively.
Completing 3-5 sets of 3-6 reps with a few of these exercises should make up the bulk of the lifting program.
Although putting a number on total sets will vary, staying at or under 20 total sets for a session is usually enough stimulation for the athletes. A quick example would look something like this.
1a. Plank holds 2x30s
1b. KB Swings 3×6
1c. 1 Arm DB Push Press 3×5/side
2a. Side Plank Holds 2x25s/side
2b. Trap Bar Deadlift 3×5
2c. N. Grip Chin Up 3×5
3a. Face Pull 2×15
3b. Lateral Lunge Plate Press 2×10/side
While quality over quantity is always the goal, for in-season athletes whose time and energy reserves are limited, this becomes even more paramount.
3. Hit only a couple key accessory movements.
After the strength and power work are taken care of, finishing the session with a couple key accessory movements, not 4,5 or 6 movements is best.
These movements will change depending on the athlete’s needs, but if an athlete is moving well and pain free movements such as face pulls, lateral lunges (these are the two listed in the example above), single arm rowing exercises, KB bottoms up pressing exercises, hip bridge exercises, single leg deadlifts, push ups and even some arm work (those bis and tris) are good choices.
The goal is to work through movements that the athlete may not experience much during sport in order to balance the body as much as possible. And doing this in a fashion with few sets allows the athlete to work through the exercise without accruing too much volume and damage.
Again, these exercises are meant to assist with the main lifts of the program so 1-3 sets is all that is needed.
4. Switch the focus of conditioning.
When we have our off-season athletes our goal is to get them as conditioned as possible before the season starts.
We progress them accordingly and work them up to high intensity repeat conditioning sessions to help them get closer to “game shape.”
With that we sprinkle in some lower intensity sessions to help them recover for the next training day, as well as increase their aerobic base.
When it comes to in-season conditioning, we are not sprinting our athletes. We are not completing interval work or asking them to repeat any other high intensity efforts.
The goal with conditioning is to encourage recovery by increasing blood flow throughout the body as well as maintain a solid aerobic base.
This is accomplished by lower intensity outputs for 10-30 minutes.
This can be a light jog, bike ride, row machine work or swimming. This can also be a lower intensity circuit of lunges, push ups, sled pushes, sideboard touches, etc. The key is to make sure that the effort is appropriate and not to turn this session into a “grind” where they are left fighting for oxygen in a puddle of your own sweat.
I always remind the athlete that a session like this should be a 4-6 on a 10 scale. Above 6 and you are going to hard. Below 4 and you are likely not getting the adaptations we are going for.
And for the most part, these conditioning sessions are performed outside of their training sessions at The Athletic Way. We advise them and give them the conditioning program to complete on off days.
5. Education, education, education…oh and education!
This could (and probably should be) the first point as it is the most important of all, but this is a good “wrap up” point.
If our athletes simply come to training sessions during the in-season (which at most is usually 1-3x/week if we are lucky) and don’t do anything the rest of the week to stay healthy, strong and helping them to recover, the season is going to be very, very long for them!
We have to help our athletes understand that they can and should work on tissue quality (foam roll, lax ball, tiger tail, etc.) and mobility exercises outside of training. A couple 3-5 minutes sessions per day will make a HUGE difference.
We also have to help them understand that the weight room and training program overall is not to “grind them out” as it may be sometimes during the off-season.
We have to educate them on the fact that training during the in-season is meant to help them maintain (and improve) performance, but most importantly keep them healthy and free of injury.
And we must emphasize the hell out of recovery!
Placing an even greater emphasis on sleep, nutrition, hydration and strategies to decrease stress is critical!
Although we do this as much as possible throughout the entire year, athletes have to be reminded even more during the in-season about the importance of recovery and all the components that go into it, and the fact that in-season training is first and foremost meant to keep the injury free and maintain performance outputs.
The Final Word
Hopefully any of my online athletes or the athletes we work with at The Athletic Way realize that in-season vs off-season training (for competitive athletes and everyday athletes) is not that different after all.
The principles are still the same, but certain components get more attention during different parts of the year.
The goal of anytime during the year should be to improve health, performance and to prevent injury. But when time, energy reserves and recovery capacity are limited, the program must be adjusted accordingly.
There is absolutely and individual factor that we take into account, but the principles above are key in each program.
If you want more help in building a program that works around your “season” whether that is in-season or off-season simply reach out and fill out the ATHLETE APPLICATION.
And if you are in southern New Hampshire and want to train with the best athletes and coaches this side of the universe (I may be a little biased), stop by The Athletic Way.
To your health and performance,