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The need for focused off-season training is well accepted. However, outside of the professional and collegiate ranks, the same cannot be said for in-season training. This is truly one of the greatest sources of misinformation that exists when it comes to progressive athletic development and minimizing the number of non-contact related sport injuries. Routine in-season training can benefit young athletes in a number of ways.
With the majority of our athletes wrapping up their off-season preparation and starting camps in the next couple weeks, we get several questions from these athletes and their parents about what 'should' or 'should not' be done during the season to continue progressing in an athletic development model.
For starters, we establish how critical in-season training is for any athlete. This is not a sales pitch, it's the truth. In-season training may not have the same public acceptance as off-season training, but that does not mean it is not valuable.
In-season training has been shown to not only maintain or improve physical qualities (strength, speed, power, etc.) developed during the off-season preparatory period, but it can improve the rate of recovery between competition and maintain healthy muscle/connective tissue qualities as well.
What does that all mean?
Essentially, in-season training is intended to help athletes feel better, minimize injury rates, reduce games lost due to injury, allow athletes to perform at more consistent levels throughout the season, and recover more quickly.
Understanding the Design of In-Season Training
Much of the reservation that exists when it comes to implementing or pursuing an in-season training program seems to come from not understanding how to design the program. Simply attempting to have an athlete perform their off-season training during their competitive season will only lead to trashing that athlete. While the off-season is dedication to building physical qualities and work capacity, the in-season is all about doing the minimum required to maintain physical abilities and work capacity. The in-season is truly focused on training economy, or getting the greatest training effect from the least amount of work. The off-season and in-season have much different goals and require different approaches.
Often, this means restructuring the focus on strength-power qualities as well as speed and conditioning. You must understand the unique demands of the athlete’s sport from a biomechanical and bioenergetic standpoint and keep those in mind during in-season training. Often, the athlete's state of readiness to train will dictate what will be done during a given in-season training session. In-season training should address qualities that do not receive much attention during practice and competition, but done in way that leaves the athlete feeling refreshed, energized, and healthier.
Properly structured and monitored in-season strength programs can be of tremendous benefit to athletes wanting to avoid a decline in performance over the course of their season as well as minimize the occurrence of injuries. For instance, one study looked at the effects of in-season strength training frequency on professional soccer players and found that strength training as little as once per week during the in-season may be sufficient to maintain gains made in strength and sprint performance during the preceding preparatory (off-season) period. Studies have also demonstrated that up to 85% of non-contact ACL injuries occur mid-late season. A possible explanation for the rise in injury rates as the season progresses is the lack of dedicated time to maintaining adequate strength and body awareness/control that is more characteristic of the off-season. In-season training that utilizes exercises to help off-set the repetitive nature of sport can be the difference between a mid-season slump and a break-out year.
To sum up the experience of the athletes that have participated in GP’s in-season programming, here are some words from a former GP rugby athlete:
"The programming in season was designed to stay close to the gains I had made and still have energy to train for rugby, while utilizing different rep schemes and lifts to avoid undue muscle soreness. I was provided with a lot of information on nutrition, sleep, and mobility. Along with regular adjustments and soft-tissue treatment, I had a great season and felt better than I did while playing football in college." -Carl N.
Effects of in-season strength maintenance training frequency in professional soccer players.Lillehammer University College, Lillehammer, Norway. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Aug 2011; 25(10):2653-60.
More related reading:https://gallagherperformance.com/4-things-you-need-to-know-about-sports-performance/