In-season training 101

To change things around a bit, I’ll write this blogpost in English.  While doing so, it will give me some practice since I’ll start training both basketball teams at McGill University in less than a month.

The topic of today’s post is in-season training.  Football season, at both the CEGEP and the intercollegiate, either just started or is starting in the next few days, hockey season starts in a month or so, and basketball pre-season games will start on Friday for the McGill Redmen.  Players who participated actively in a well-organized strength and conditioning program will be ready for the start of the season but yet, they must retain these gains for a few months at least.  Sometimes, it can be a difficult task due to practices, games, tournaments, injuries, school, etc.  However, it is the job of the strength and conditioning coach to adapt his programming to the players’ situation.  In the following, I’ll address the various points to consider when building an adequate in-season strength and conditioning program.

Soft-tissue quality

The importance of soft-tissue work can often be overlooked in a training program.  However, I feel it will help players recover from their aches and pains.  With the repetition of sport-specific movements on a daily basis, in addition to other daily activities, some muscles can become stiffer and limit proper movement of various joints.  Foam rolling prior to the weight training session and on a daily basis can help maintain tissue quality throughout the season.

Mobility and activation drills

Mobility and activation drills have become a must in every strength and conditioning program.  Not only can these exercises provide an adequate stimulus to the cardio-respiratory system when done in a circuit fashion, they’ll also help in correcting imbalances or re-establish proper function of joints like the hip and shoulder joints.  They also help prevent chronic injuries that can be a result of postures held for an extended period of time, like sitting in class for a few hours per day.

Hypertrophy work

For sport games that involve contacts between adversaries, maintenance of adequate muscle mass is important in preventing injuries.  Notwithstanding that muscle mass is a prerequisite to increases in maximal strength and that maintenance of maximal strength will prevent losses in power.  However, I must add that adhering to a program that targets structural hypertrophy (i.e bodybuilding program) will bring about negative gains to the athletes.  Usually, these programs involve performing complex movements like the barbell squat at a slow tempo for example in addition to isolation exercises like the leg extension and the leg curl exercises.   In planning weight training sessions, hypertrophy work will often be considered as recovery work as this type of training can be conducted with some level of fatigue.  Usually, such training session could be done 24-48 hours after a football game for example and will serve as the first of two training sessions to be done weekly.

Maximal strength and Power work

At this point in one’s annual training plan, the main goal is to at least maintain strength and power gains until the competitive season ends.  Different means and methods can be used to achieve this goal.  One could make intensive usage of Olympic lifting movements like the power clean and snatch or use traditional exercises like the barbell squat, the deadlift, and the bench press.  However, one must maintain a high level intensity (i.e % of 1RM ou 9-10 RPE) and greatly reduce the total volume when performing such exercises during the in-season period since too much volume could lead to overtraining.  Moreover, selected exercises must be highly specific to the actions that the athletes perform on the field to assure a better transfer to performance.  A great attention must be taken to avoid excessive delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS) that could result from this training session (although the same thing can be said when training for hypertrophy on Day 1) since a game or competition is coming up in just a few days.  Exercise selection will be important at this point; you must choose exercises that are specific to the sport.



Energy systems development

Again, the main objective of conditioning work done during the competitive season is to maintain gains done in the preparatory period.  A big part of the conditioning requirements will be matched during practices and games.  A single conditioning session can be done during the week to improve the athletes’ ability to recover from numerous boosts of high-intensity work coupled with incomplete rest periods.  An interesting prescription would be to perform short running intervals where work duration will match the length of the rest period (ex: 4-6 sets of 10 reps at 10s/10s).  Such prescription will help develop maximal anaerobic power while maintaining anaerobic-alactic power.  Once again, the exercises can be highly specific to the situations one can face during a game.

Recovery modalities

With practices, games and training sessions, one must take good care of his/her body to assure adequate recovery in order to get through the entire competitive season.  Different types of massages can be used to provide a relaxing effect on the body and mind (self-myofascial release, Active Release Technique, sports massages, etc.).  Also, hydrotherapy, where you alternate hot and cold showers/baths, can be a great tool.  However, I believe the two best recovery strategies are quality (and quantity) of sleep and proper nutrition.  Moreover, nothing beats taking some time for yourself and just let go of your daily obligations.

When implementing these strategies into your strength and conditioning program, you’ll provide your athletes with the right tools to help them get through the competitive in a great shape and injury-free.  But one must not forget that a strength and conditioning program must remain high flexible during that time of the year since you’ll have to deal with injuries, study time and exams, and quite possibly a coach’s decision that will make you change what you had planned on doing during a particular weight training or conditioning session.  Make sure you have a solid system that you can work around and adapt to the present situation when that time comes.  Let’s put it this way, in-season training is more about damage control, limiting what you do with your athletes outside them playing their sport so that they can be at their peak when playoffs come.

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