Many athletes lift weights during the off-season then dismiss the importance of maintaining strength during the season. Working hard to get strong merits a long-term commitment to stay strong during the sports season—to prevent injuries and for peak performance.
For athletes who have reached adolescence, in-season training is an absolute must to reduce the occurrence of injury and to succeed at high levels. Strong athletes can produce added ground force, enabling them to jump higher, run faster, throw harder, and change direction more quickly.
A well-monitored, safe, and functional strength training program reduces the possibility and severity of injuries and shapes athletes to be more resilient to the aches and pains that can accompany a high volume of competition.
For most people, loss of strength sets in after only 2 to 3 weeks away from resistance training. The longer the break, the more strength is lost. That means, athletes who skip in-season training can be at their weakest during end-of-season games—when winning matters most.
Goals for in-season training are to maintain strength without causing fatigue or soreness. It’s not the time for high-rep training nor a dramatic increase in weights.
These are my recommendations for in-season training:
Note: My rep and load ranges are for experienced lifters who have reached adolescence—those who have been consistently, progressively, and safely lifting weights for a year or more and who have also mastered mechanics for core lifts. While an increase in certain hormones will make it easier to gain size and muscle during adolescence, be aware that growing bodies are susceptible to injuries when form is compromised or loads are increased too quickly. Because bones and connective tissue strengthen at a slower rate than muscle, it’s imperative to take a conservative approach when considering increasing load for any particular exercise.
- Strength train 2 to 3 times per week for 40 to 60 minutes each session. The benefits of maintaining strength through the season far outweighs the minimal time commitment.
- Use heavy loads with low reps and increased rest periods between sets to maintain the highest strength levels while reducing soreness and fatigue. For trained athletes who have reached adolescence, 3–5 sets of 2–6 repetitions, with 2–5 minutes of rest between sets is optimal. Beginning lifters should maintain a low to moderate load with higher rep ranges of 6–12 in order to allow time to create efficient neuromuscular patterns.
- Leave one or two reps in the tank. Athletes who stop reps before muscles become exhausted are able to maintain or increase strength while retaining energy and stamina to compete. Avoid doing what bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts sometimes endorse: Burnout sets that push muscles to complete failure, which breaks down muscle fiber and increases cellular waste causing soreness and fatigue.
- Warm up and cool down. Dynamically warming up muscles and joints with exercises like Butt Kicks, High Knees, Pendulum Kicks, Arm Swings, Bodyweight Lunges and Squats, Hip and Core Rotations, and Arm Swings reduces the chance of muscle pulls, muscle fatigue, and soreness. Following workouts with static stretches like Downward Dog, 3-Point Hip Flexor Stretch, Knee to Chest Hold, and TRX Lat and Shoulder Stretch will improve flexibility and range of motion while also helping muscles recover faster.
- Drink plenty of water. Taking in plenty of water lubricates joints, allows muscles to work efficiently, and aids in removing cellular waste—all key to preventing injuries and speeding up post-workout recovery.
- Eat nutrient-rich foods and avoid sugar and processed foods. Good nutrition is imperative to athletic performance, muscle recovery, and overall health. Teaching kids to make healthful choices will improve their ability to gain strength and recover quickly from workouts. For more information about nutrition for athletes click HERE.
- Sports massage and foam rolling can help flush out toxins, improve mobility, and speed up recovery. Look for more from me on foam rolling for athletes in the future.