The demands of an athletic season are extreme. No matter the sport, it puts a significant amount of stress on an athlete’s body. Fatigue and overtraining are concerns for every athlete. All the same, training in-season is an important component of optimizing performance that should not be overlooked or taken lightly.
Every athlete, even those taking part in the most demanding sports, will experience some degree of detraining while in-season if they do not continue incorporating speed or strength training into their schedules.
Vladimir Issurin’s evaluation of residual training effects showed that our bodies retain training adaptation for periods of time after discontinuation of training. We retain strength and endurance capacity the longest with speed and power being the quickest to return to baseline.
Knowing this information can help with sport specific in-season programming.
Not all sports are the same. Similarly, the demands of these sports are not created equal. This means that training in-season and off-season should be approached differently from sport to sport.
For example, a soccer player probably doesn’t need an additional endurance workout when they’ve had five or six days of practice and games. A better option would be one or two short resistance training sessions after practice. Thirty to forty minutes of weight training two times a week will provide enough stimulus to maintain the players strength while not intensifying levels of fatigue.
Alternatively, a baseball player does not run for extended periods of time during a game. Ever. Unless they’re jogging in and out of the dugout, they’re either sprinting or standing.
So why would long distance running be regularly incorporated into their training?
Endurance can be maintained by training as infrequently as once a month. So rather than having a baseball player run long distance regularly, find exercises that transfer to the sport. That way more energy is spent on things that will directly improve athletic performance.
Strategies for In-Season Training
1. Focus on high carryover movements – If an athlete doesn’t need it to perform, it probably shouldn’t be a focus during in-season training. That doesn’t mean disregard it entirely, but a baseball player doesn’t need to be going on multi-mile runs every week.
2. Consolidate stress – In season, most athletes only get one, maybe two, days without a game or practice. Those days should be used for rest and recovery, not additional training. Incorporate the additional training into practice days.
3. Reduce training length – Training sessions do not need to be an hour or an hour and half long. Thirty to forty minutes of resistance training can provide more than enough stimulus to maintain strength levels.
4. Optimize Reps – Taking extra shots, swings, or throws will only help to a certain point. Once fatigue sets in and an athlete can’t perform quality reps, they may actually do more harm than good. Instead, use that energy to improve your strength, which will then translate over to that skill anyway.
In-season training needs to be approached systematically with the demands of an athlete’s sport being the main consideration. The overall goal should be to maintain the speed and strength improvements that were developed in the off-season, while simultaneously managing fatigue and avoiding injury.
Rønnestad, Bent R, et al. “Effects of in-Season Strength Maintenance Training Frequency in Professional Soccer Players.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Oct. 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21873897.