*Please note, while we focus on Football here, many of the talking points that follow are applicable to all sports*In my experience, one of the least utilized advantages for high school football coaches is that of regulated and consistent in-season training. Ultimately, this is understandable – we only have so much time with our athletes. We need to install gameplans, reinforce positional techniques, and prepare our team for Friday nights. Many coaches are understandably loathe to give up any of this on-field time for anything. So why should we make room for in-season workouts? How should we execute them? When? Let’s take a quick dive into the particulars.
In many ways, football is a war of attrition. Teams that find success are the teams that last. A team that stays healthy and out of the lower rungs of the depth chart, and a team that is moving at the same intensity and capacity throughout the season, is the team that wins more games down the stretch.The human body is an incredible machine. It adapts to anything you ask it to do on a regular basis. It’s the reason you’re asking your athletes to train all off-season long – they will become bigger, faster, and stronger. Most coaches, though, ignore the other side of that coin. The work your athletes do in the off-season isn’t permanent. If you cease your training when the season rolls around, your athletes will begin to adapt to this lack of demand. In the end, athletes will get weaker and less dynamic every day of your 3 or 4 month season. By simply continuing to train through regular in-season lifts, your athletes will maintain much of their peak physical abilities.Perhaps more importantly, however, is the issue of injury and the prevention thereof.We spend so much time during the off-season taking care of the little things in preparation for grueling physical competition in the fall. Our rotator cuffs have been strengthened and stabilized, our hips and ankles are more mobile, etc. Unless you continue to work on things like injury prevention, these important gains will decline throughout the season. Thus, injury becomes more likely during the later stages of the season, exactly when it hurts your team the most.
In-Season workouts are much simpler than their off-season counterparts. During a competitive season, an athlete is already consistently working on muscular conditioning and sport-specific mobility through daily practices and games. In order to maximize results, then, the coach wants to add a maintenance program of baseline strength, mobility, and injury prevention while keeping overall volume low. Here at PLT4M, we utilize a 12-week In-Season program that utilizes a non-linear, maintenance-driven approach. We keep mesocycles small, switching movements and rep schemes every 3 weeks, with unloads in between. Generally speaking, we want to perform weighted movements at “intensity”, not volume. As such, we are moving weight in only a handful of compound movements, while supplementing with a few select injury prevention exercises and mobility work. For example, we might pair a weighted strength movement like the front squat with light injury prevention work, say scap push ups. Then we will couple a lighter, faster power barbell movement like the hang snatch with a bodyweight strength piece like pull ups. We’ll pepper in other mobility or auxiliary pieces, like our favorite – the PVC overhead squat, and we always end with a good stretch or foam roll to ensure that the athletes are recovering (or ready to get after it again during practice). All of our percentages and rep schemes are intended to challenge the athletes enough that they lose as little of their off-season gains as possible, but not so much so that they are sore, tired, or susceptible to minor strains and pulls during practice. We still utilize work sets, but during the season it is more often to track the inevitable (but hopefully minimal) decline of strength levels. If any athlete misses his sets, he bumps his weight down so we avoid overtraining the next week. Thus, we have taken our prescribed loads down from off-season levels, and use work sets to monitor decline as opposed to improvement in order to continue to accurately program for our athletes.We aim to get athletes in and out of the gym in a half hour or less – keeping that intensity high but total volume low. Bottom line, we are trying to keep strength levels as near to off-season maxes as possible, while not overtaxing the body during the competitive season.
The trickiest part of In-Season training is adding it into your weekly schedule without sacrificing too much practice time or ruining athlete effort on the field. Stay tuned for part 2 in which we discuss the issue of scheduling in-season workouts during the rigors of a football season.