Tuesday 6 November 2012

In-Season Training Part 1

When it comes to training during a sport season, many athletes make one of two common mistakes. The first is to avoid training altogether. The other is to try to carry on with the same training used in the off-season. The sad thing is that both mistakes can be devastating to the athlete. 

Those who skip training during the season lose all their hard-earned lean muscle, strength & power that was gained in the off-season. They also develop imbalances (sports create asymmetries that need to be addressed in training) and often break down and get injured. 

Athletes who try to train like it is still the off-season often create overuse injuries and dip into the dangerous waters of overtraining as training stress is now combined with practices, games and travel stress. If the athletes are also students (as mine are) this overtraining burn-out problem is compounded by the extra stress of midterms and papers that have been left to the last minute (due to all the extra gym time) and now require all-nighters to finish. 

The end result is that both mistakes often lead to athletes playing their most important games of the season in their worst possible shape. Thankfully, there is a better approach - sensible in-season training. 

Keys to Successful In-Season Training: 

Maintain key physical aspects for that sport/individual
If it is was important enough to work on in the off-season, it is important enough to maintain during the season. Some things (e.g. conditioning) can often be maintained just through regular practices and games. Other things (see below) need to be addressed in training. 

Forget "Sports Specific"
If you define sport-specific training as trying to replicate sporting skills in the weight room (which is usually a bad idea), then this should definitely not be a part of in-season training. There is a small place for special strength exercises(e.g. weighted jumps for a volleyball player) in a training program, but this is mostly in the off-season. During the in-season, you get the most important form of sport-specific training - the actual playing and practicing of your sport.  If you were to look at all the programs I design for different teams, they look most different in the off-season and most similar in-season. For more information sport-specific training, click HERE.

Seek structural re-balance
Face pulls: great for structural balance
in the shoulder girdle
Virtually all sport creates imbalances in the body. They could be left-to-right or front-to-back imbalances, but either way, they can hinder performance and increase your risk of injury. In the Functional Movement Screen course, Grey Cook points out that asymmetries are the second leading cause of injury. In-season training should address these asymmetries and this often means training the muscles are that not used in the sport as much. 

Make slow, steady strength gains
Many people who buy into in-season training make the mistake of thinking that you should not try at all to get stronger during the in-season. While this may be the case for the elite, veteran athlete (who you are just trying to keep healthy enough to play out the last phase of a long athletic career), most athletes, especially younger, less-experienced athletes, can make slow, steady strength gains through most of the in-season. This gives them a huge head-start on next year's off-season training. The trick to doing this is starting at a comfortable level and gradually coaxing the weights up. For example, with the deadlift, many athletes could still add 2.5-5 pounds (1.1-2.3kg) to the lift each week through most of the in-season. 

Drop frequency down
Ideally, I like to get athletes training two times per week during the in-season. High-minute veteran athletes may even need to drop things down to once a week - if needed. This can depend on body type as some people will have an easier time holding onto strength and lean muscle. Those with lower minutes can try 3 times per week (this is especially do-able with 2 upper body workouts - Monday and Thursday and one lower body workout on Tuesday - assuming games on the weekend). More than this often leads to injury, burnout and lost time that could be devoted to sport, school and work and other important things in life.

Decrease total training time
I generally like in-season training to take about 20-40 min per session. Because the sport-specific stuff happens in the sport, the training session can consist of the following: 
  1. A low-impact speed/power exercise
  2. A few big exercises (typically done for less sets than normal) for strength and lean muscle maintenance 
  3. A few other accessory exercises as needed for structural balance and injury prevention
Stay tuned for part 2 as there are some more important things to know about in-season training...

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