3 Guiding Principles to In-Season Training

Don’t Lose Motion

Joint motion often gets overlooked as a part of training programs, especially in-season. Motion, often loses out to strength, and power development in the grand scheme of time but restoring tissue length may be just as important as anything to keep athletes on the field.

It’s well known that pitchers can easily lose motion in their throwing arm throughout the course of a long baseball season. This has been detailed at length in not only the shoulder but the elbow as well. Study after study show correlations between loss of motion of injury. What they don’t always agree upon is which motion loss is most important. For years, we have heard of the glenohumeral internal rotation deficit or GIRD being a significant cause in throwing injuries. More modern research has pointed to loss of external rotation, and even flexion as being possible key factor. Regardless, I believe what this research is telling us is motion loss in any direction with the throwing arm causes problems.

What many don’t think of is loss of motion elsewhere throughout the course of the year. Several more recent studies have noted hip motion losses in-season. The hips are a key component in the kinetic chain. Loss of motion can contribute to energy leaks, and increased stresses up the chain, namely in the shoulder and arm. There have been an increasing number of studies detailing the hips as a key component to performance and injury mitigation.

Earlier this year, a study by Camp showed loss of hip motion in professional baseball players over the course of the season. Ninety-six pro players including both position, and pitchers were followed. There was a trend toward loss of hip external rotation as well total range of motion over the course of the year. An earlier study in 2015 by Zeppieri showed similar findings in loss of hip ROM, especially for 14 Division I pitchers throughout the course of the season as well.

Eccentric stresses are high throughout the arm and hips to decelerate the throwing and swinging motions in baseball players. Athletes must be diligent to restoring normal ranges of motion at all cost. Making the lacrosse ball your best friend during the year can go great lengths toward restoring tissue quality. Maintaining motion in-season may be as important as anything for resiliency and performance. The best ability is availability and staying off the injury report should be a priority. Move well and move often.

90% Rule

The aim of any in-season program should be to at least maintain strength developed during an offseason program. The 90% rule means we want athletes to maintain at least 90% of their offseason strength during the year. If an athlete can maintain 90% of their strength the coach has done their job. Understanding development levels are key to this rule. With younger less developed athletes maintenance should not be the priority. We can make gains easily in-season…..a lot of gains. The 90% rule is dependent upon the level of development and applies more readily to the advanced athlete.

Advanced athletes who have already developed a large foundation of strength will not have the ultimate goal of strength gains in-season. The larger the foundation of strength an athlete has built the more adaptation energy it takes to make even minimal strength gains. Add on top of that starting multiple games during the week and energy resources can run thin. Those minimal strength gains are not necessary at the expense of competitions. We know that playing 140+ games over the course of 180 days or so doesn’t lend itself well to outside physical development. Pro athletes are naturally going to lose gains from peak offseason form. Maintaining as much as possible can go a long way towards staying healthy and performing optimally.

Listen To Your Body

In my opinion the in-season period is the most important time for athletes to listen to their body. The long grind of a season takes its toll on athletes differently. No two athletes show the same response to stress. Adjusting and adapting training sessions based upon how the athlete feels can be insurance against individual stress and fatigue. Readiness changes on a daily basis from the stresses of not only playing, but academics, travel, disrupted sleep schedules, relationships, etc. All stressors factor into physical development.

As Buddy Morris, strength coach for the Arizona Cardinals says repeatedly, “The athlete’s body is always right.” If you’re tired and beat up do what’s necessary and that’s it when it comes to training. Live to fight another day. Adjusting volume, or intensity, or both can have huge benefits to an everyday player beaten down from a long in-season. The plan must adjust to the athlete, not the other way around.

Doing only what is essential allows athletes bodies to catch up for the day or week. On the flip side, the days or weeks where an athlete feels great, they can let it rip. Some days you have and some days you don’t. Don’t argue with the body in-season. Learn to listen to it.