I was thinking to myself about our in-season program on our bus ride to the Super Regional in College Station this afternoon and came up with a random list on programming for in-season training. I use, or have used, most everything on this list at one time or another in the training of baseball, and football athletes. Obviously, this isn’t a complete list but it does touch on several concepts that go directly into my in-season programming. Always remember the in-season period is when training should take a back seat to on-field preparation and competition. We want to do everything possible to facilitate a healthy, and fresh athlete come game day.
1. DON’T SIT OUT – Just off the top of my head the first thing that shouldn’t have be said is don’t lose what you’ve built in the off-season. The number one problem I see with high school athletes especially, is not keeping up with their training during their in-season period. It seems every time I talk to a HS athlete and ask what their training consists of they respond with “We don’t do anything in-season.” I truly don’t understand being in the best condition of your life in the off-season to watch it disappear months later. Three steps forward in the off-season, three steps back in the in-season. Don’t let what you’ve worked so hard for in the fall go to waste in the spring. We train to be at our best for the season. The younger and less developed the athlete, the quicker the progress from training is lost. So a month or two off from training can mean all the way back down to the base of the mountain.
2. 90% RULE – The goal for my athletes is to be able to maintain 90% of our strength in-season. I understand that most athletes will lose about 10% of strength throughout the course of the season. This especially applies for a sport like football due to the higher energy and CNS demands. Having been around football and baseball all my life, each sport presents individual challenges, but I have found baseball to be much easier to maintain gains throughout the year for many reasons. Regardless, starters will lose strength throughout the year, which is normal, but not losing too much is the key. If they can still hit 90% for a single than you’ve done your job as a strength coach. Anything else is icing on the cake.
Oftentimes, I use 90% as a training max to base percentages off of during the in-season period as well. We know these athletes are not at 100% everyday they step into the weight room and I would much rather err on the side of too little than too much. Remember, we want the CNS and adaptation energy to be left for what happens on the field.
3. THE HANDS – The CNS is most sensitive in the hands. We often try to limit our amount of heavy gripping throughout the in-season. Instead of doing a reverse lunge with two 50# DB’s we may hold a 100# in a front squat position on the shoulders. Obviously, we are going to use our hands for virtually every upper body exercise but limiting what you do as far as heavy lower body pulling and such can spare the nervous system. Olympic lifts, which have their place in programs, can be very CNS fatiguing for several reasons, but one that doesn’t get mentioned often is the effect of a heavy barbell being controlled through the hands and fingers.
4. STIFFNESS – One of the reasons we don’t want to change exercises frequently is due to stiffness. Adding in unfamiliar exercises during the in-season period results in increased musculo-tendon stiffness. Be conscious of exercises that create increased soreness such as heavy RDL’s, Single Leg RDL’s, and Bulgarian squats as an example. There’s nothing wrong with these exercises but a strength coach should be aware that these often cause much more soreness for several reasons. If your athletes perform them regularly in your program in-season then that’s fine, but it’s probably not a great idea to add to your program as a variation 6 weeks into the season. Control soreness as much as possible throughout the competitive season.
5. EXERCISE SELECTION – Exercises shouldn’t change frequently in the in-season period if at all. Vary volume and intensity but keep exercise adjustments to a minimum. We want the body’s adaptation reserves to be used in their specific sport, not in the weight room. This also goes back to our stiffness section above. Changing to an exercise that an athlete isn’t familiar with requires a learning period and with it being a new stimulus often involves soreness.
6. OPTIONS – I don’t have a one size fits all program. Our team is split amongst many programs and within each of those specific programs the athlete has options of what they will do. An athlete may get more out of one movement than another. Remember every athlete’s body is individual. Allowing them options within their program gives them an ownership factor as well. It doesn’t have to be a complete overhaul of a program but allowing them to control their own volume or intensity within a program can go a long way towards keeping them feeling right. Having options allows the athlete to adjust according how their body feels and daily readiness.
7. AUTOREGULATORY TRAINING – Athlete monitoring is catching fire in the last few years and having athletes train according to their readiness levels is never a bad idea in-season. We use tendo units to adjust our starters training on a weekly basis. This gives us a quantitative visual immediately as it pertains to fatigue. If their numbers are low we know they are tired and can adjust weight and volume accordingly. If speeds are fast we know they are primed today and can adjust upward.
8. ROTATOR CUFF – The rotator cuff loses strength throughout the season. Multiple studies have shown that the rotator cuff loses from 3-15% of its strength during the in-season period. Maintaining strength and especially eccentric strength of the cuff throughout the year is of paramount importance. Controlling tempos on cuff exercises should be part of a daily routine. Too many times athletes blow through scap and cuff work as they get deeper and deeper into a season. The end of the season though is when it truly becomes of paramount importance to be strong.