Pro Tip: Training In-Season

The off-season is the best time to build a foundation of strength and conditioning that will carry over to your competitive season. But just because your off-season is training is coming to an end doesn’t mean you can’t continue to benefit your game by hitting the weights in-season. In fact, you may be better off continuing your resistance training program through the in-season rather than stopping entirely. A good in-season strength training program can help athletes maintain strength levels, develop new adaptations, and mitigate weaknesses and bad habits. Just because the focus is now on practice and game-time performance doesn’t mean you can’t continue to improve, through proper training guidelines, the way an athlete functions.

In-Season Training is Not Off-Season Training

Before we go too far into the concept of in-season strength training, it’s important to note that it’s very different from the goals of your off-season strength training. First, the volume of weight room training during the in-season should be drastically reduced, to compensate for the demands of the sport. If strength programming is too intense, coaches risk over-fatiguing their athletes and compromising their performance during competition. Many coaches opt not to lift during the in-season—which may be an appropriate choice based on time, athlete training age, and facilities—but that doesn’t mean in-season training is inherently harmful. If you’ve put in the work during the off-season and seen big strength and power gains in your athletes, it’s beneficial to continue into the season to allow athletes to keep developing.

Secondly, the benefits of in-season strength training don’t just stop at performance. You can reduce the risk of injury prevalence in the in-season if you utilize an appropriate plan. With increased activity on the field, the weight room is your best tool to help train musculature and movement patterns that can reduce overuse or help bring balance back to the body. A prime example is a baseball player, who, once the in-season kicks off, will be throwing and swinging with much higher volume and intensity. This places an increased asymmetric demand on the body, and with that comes potential for overuse injuries. Training during the in-season can focus on developing the antagonist muscle groups that may become inhibited due to the high asymmetric demand of throwing and swinging (i.e., rotator cuff musculature). For baseball athletes, increasing the ratio of pulling-to-pressing movements in the weight room is important for maintaining the strength of the posterior shoulder and hip muscles throughout the long in-season. So while off-season training builds the strength foundation for performance, in-season training is focused on keeping athletes at those performance levels—addressing the specific demands of the sport so athletes maintain their functionality.

Power and Stress

The time to build and develop is over, and keeping the athletes as close to a state of readiness is key. Structuring the in-season to address power first and strength second is a winning combination. The off-season was about getting your athletes ready for the specific challenges of the season—the in-season is about implementing that preparation. Rather than training for max strength, athletes should work on speed and power: the game-time expression of strength. Maintaining the ability produce force quickly is of a higher priority than absolute force production. Keeping explosive movements in the training program and focusing structural strength movements to have an explosive concentric action will help drive the speed stimulus throughout the season. Keeping the training simple and easy to accomplish is paramount for success. You shouldn't be introducing new complex movements in the middle of the season or add new variations that they haven't adapted to. Stick to movements that are well practiced and easily completed. Athletes should get in and get out of the weight room between 30-45 minutes on the average, providing plenty of time for rest and recovery protocols.

Because of the increased physiological and psychological demands of the in-season, any weight room training during the season should be all about stress management. Practices and games add up, and that stress needs to be taken into account if you're running an in-season training program. Focus is shifted towards how athletes are responding and recovering from practice to practice, and game to game. Volume needs to be reduced to account for all the strenuous movement done outside the weight room. Each sprint, tackle, shot, lap, and throw is a rep added to the total workload. Strenuous practices or long games can add up quickly, so keeping the reps low in the weight room is a must to avoid overdoing it. So, if you need your athletes to drop a day of in-season training for a yoga or meditation session, so be it. The best coaches can adjust and adapt, always finding a way to optimize the situation. The stress can really add up near the last portions of the season, and finding a way to get your athletes to take an easy week will help them to have a strong second wind when post-season is in sight.

Will In-Season Training Hurt or Help my Athletes?

A good in-season training program, designed with the needs of your athletes in mind, can absolutely help their performance in competition. Weight training, even in low volumes, can help expose errors in movement patterns and potential injury sites. Muscular imbalances, mobility hindrances, and weak muscle groups can be corrected both in the weight room and during rehab and recovery periods between practices or games. By using resistance training as a diagnostic tool to expose any areas of weakness, you can help your athletes address and correct any problem areas so they can perform at their best as the season heats up.

Beyond injury prevention and movement pattern correction, resistance training can help athletes stay tough, mentally. Lifting weights requires focus, determination, perseverance, and confidence—qualities that will translate onto the field or court in competition. And lifting as part of a team is just another way for athletes to work together towards a common goal. Team training allows athletes to forge stronger social bonds with each other, to build trust in each other, and to work hard alongside each other. Even if strength training sessions feel like a chore, it’s a chore to accomplish together—and that can go a long way toward developing mental toughness for competition.

Keeping weight and volumes low, strength training during the in-season can help your athletes continue their athletic development by improving their physical power, creating an opportunity for movement and muscular correction, and growing the social bond among teammates. Help your athletes manage their stress by staying flexible in your programming, and in-season training can help take your athletes—and your team—to new levels.

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Jace Derwin, CSCS, RSCC, is the Head of Performance Training at Volt Athletics and is one of the regular contributors to the Volt blog. Jace manages Volt program design, content development, and educational resources for schools, clubs, and organizations. Jace is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist® (CSCS®) and holds a bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science from Seattle Pacific University. Follow Jace on Twitter @VoltCoachJace.