In Season Strength Training: An Overview
By Mark Keil, CSCS
September 8, 2022
The excitement of sport starts when the Season begins.
And with Season comes extended practices and late-night bus rides- which are on top of homework and class projects… is it even reasonable for your athlete to strength train during Season? Or better yet, should they? They’re getting a workout in their games and practices, right?
Well, yes and no (not the answer you wanted, I know).
Yes, they are getting a workout from practices and games; but no, that doesn’t replace strength training. Don’t let that cause you anxiety, though. Strength Training looks much different (shorter) In Season.
Remember, Strength Training varies depending on where the athlete is in relation to their Sport Season.
Information below is applicable to athletes ages 14 and older and may vary between athletes.
How is Strength Training segmented based on Sport Season?
Strength Training is often broken down into 4 seasons:
Why does the athlete have to move through different Training Phases?
For several reasons. First, this keeps the athlete from hitting a plateau. While athletes who are new to weightlifting may be able to continue in the same Training Phase for several months and not plateau, a well-trained athlete will plateau. By moving the athlete to a new Training Phase, their body will realize it needs to adapt, thus developing the athlete.
Secondly, the Training Phase will effect the outcome. Here are the typical goals associated with each of the four seasons:
- Pre-Season: Goal – Increase Maximal Power
- In-Season: Goal – Maintain Strength & Power; Stay Healthy for Competition
- Post-Season: Goal – Active Recovery
- Off-Season: Goal – Develop Muscular Size and Strength
Lastly, not all Training Phases are appropriate for each Season. For example, you do not want your athlete performing an Off-Season Hypertrophy (muscle-building phase) In Season. Why? Because the goal of this phase is to break down the muscle to trigger growth. And if they’ve fatigued the muscle, then they will likely be sore and unable to produce maximal power, which will hinder their performance.
So how does Strength Training look In Season?
Strength Training sessions are shorter In Season (20-30 minutes). They usually consist of fewer sets and a shorter rest period. The goal is to increase blood flow to the muscles to aid in recovery (from practices and games) and maintain strength and power developed in previous phases.
If your athlete works with a strength coach (or participates in team strength training), then it’s possible they will go through a ‘Power’ or ‘Max Power’ phase during In Season (opposed to the typical ‘Maintenance’ phase). I think this a great approach as long as someone knowledgable in the field is coaching your athlete as to the amount of weight they should lift. Why? If your athlete increases the weight too much, then they can break down their muscle (which causes them to be sore- not what you want In Season).
With the Collegiate and Pro Sports Teams I worked with, we typically stuck to a true Maintenance Phase (low weight, power focus, and plyometric movements). And training sessions were short and to the point (20-30 minutes start to finish). You may be thinking, ‘Well wasn’t your job to ensure they didn’t lift too much? So shouldn’t they have increased their weight to focus on power development as you mentioned above?’. Technically, yes. But here’s what you have to remember- Pro Sport Teams compete several days a week (if not every day) and we determined that the potential benefits of a ‘Power Phase’ did not outweigh the potential risks (the athletes being sore, overuse injuries, etc.). To keep the ‘Power’ focus while not risking muscular breakdown, we would have the athletes superset (pair) their strength training exercise with a plyometric movement.
Regardless of whether your athlete is in a true Maintenance Phase or a Power Phase, they will want to push it. They think if they’re not sore, then they didn’t work hard enough. While I love that mentality, they must be reminded that this is not the time to push their limits. They need to be at their peak performance during season and if they haven’t developed the strength and power they wanted before season, then they’ll have to wait until the Off Season.
Below you’ll find information on the Maintenance Phase.
*Note that these are the sets, reps, and rest periods we use at SportStrength and may differ slightly depending on the source.
- Sets: 1-4
- Reps: 3-15+
- Rest Period: :30seconds – 3 minutes
Note: If a program prescribes 3 Reps of an exercise, then it is likely a Core Exercise (Squat, Deadlift) that is intended to be performed explosively (referring to SportStrength programs). Exercises with 12 or more reps will be your Accessory Exercises (e.g., dumbbell curl, bodyweight lunge, etc.) and NOT a Core Exercise. When rest periods are reduced to :30 seconds, they are most often performed back-to-back with other exercises into what’s called Circuit Training. This type of training moves the athlete through the exercises quickly, making the Training Session efficient while still increasing the athlete’s Heart Rate.
Your athlete’s Strength Training will vary dependent upon where they are in their Sport Season. It’s important that your athlete move through the different Training Phases so they may develop physically and correctly prepare for sport.