In-season is a critical time of year for athletes to train appropriately. If you missed part 1, click HERE. Otherwise, here are some more important things to know about in-season training.
Seek joint-friendly variations of the best exercises
I have already written about picking the best exercises HERE. With in-season training, time and recovery are both at a premium. While there are lots of exercises you could do, there are only a few that you should do to maximize your results. However, traditional barbell exercises can place extra stress on the joints. With proper form and intelligent programming, this is often not that big of an issue. However, with the large addition of in-season stress, this can be more than the joints can handle in some cases. Here are a few examples of joint-friendly alternatives:
- Plyometrics --> box jumps (i.e. jump up onto a box and STEP down)
- Back squat --> front squat or in some cases Bulgarian Split Squat
- Bench press --> dumbbell bench press or weighted blast-strap push-ups
- Deadlift (I try to keep deadlifts in if possible because they are so effective for overall strength, but decrease their volume to not beat athletes up as much and hinder recovery. Then I use more joint-friendly and less demanding exercises for extra hip and hamstring work such as hip thrusts).
Maintain lean muscle
Muscle loss is a common, but undesirable side-effect of a busy competitive season. A loss of lean muscle leads to a loss of strength, which leads to a loss of power and performance and an increased risk of injury. Maintaining strength and muscle helps keep athletes from breaking down during the season. I like to monitor body composition on a weekly or by-weekly basis (click HERE for more information on how to do this). If you are losing muscle, you want to eat more quality food.
For those with naturally muscular body types (e.g. mesomorphs), maintaining muscle is easy - even with a low-volume, low frequency program. However for those who struggle to keep lean muscle on, this can be a real challenge. Once the food issue is taken care off, I get athletes with this body type to do a hypertrophy-focused training session earlier in the week (away from games as hypertrophy training is more exhausting). I also prescribe a bigger range of sets and reps (e.g. 2-5x5-8) on in-season programs so those who have trouble holding on to muscle can do the higher range (e.g. 4-5x6-8) to get the volume up a little.
Monitor for overtraining
Overtraining (or to be more accurate - under-recovery) is a big problem for many in-season athletes. Do your best to place a high priority on good nutrition, sleep and rest. Proper scheduling to prevent getting behind in school/work/life commitments is also very important. In addition to this, monitor how you are doing and adjust training as needed. I like to do vertical jump and possibly 10meter sprint tests regularly to monitor physical performance in-season. If there is a noticeable drop before a training session, take it easy and if you are really feeling beat up, just do some foam rolling and easy corrective exercises. I have an "easy day" option in my in-season training programs for athletes who are beat up and need a light, easy, recovery-focused workout from time to time.
In the world of general fitness, many people believe you have to be sore for it to be a good workout. Athletes cannot fall into this line of thinking - especially in-season. Soreness delays recovery and impairs your ability to preform optimally in practice and games. Having an appropriate level of intensity and maintaining proper form will go a long way. Another thing that makes you sore is changing exercises so I tend not to switch exercises as often in-season. Also, eccentric contractions produces a lot of soreness. For example, I use a short-distance heavy sled pull for the mid-week training session because there is no eccentric movement and this produces less soreness.
It is also helpful for athletes to avoid higher reps and longer duration sets. As you get beyond the 10-20sec mark, you start to produce a lot of lactic acid and muscle burning. Contrary to popular belief, lactic acid does not produce that delayed muscle soreness. It does, however, tax the body more and delay recovery. Therefore, if you need to train this energy system, you want to train it as far away from competition as possible within the training week.
As you can see, there is a lot that goes into in-season training. However, never lose sight of these two things:
- Keep your sport ,not training, your top priority
- Monitor yourself and adjust accordingly to ensure you are at your best for when it really counts