I think it’s time to re-examine the way athletes train.
Athletes train all off-season long in programs designed to get them better: Jumping higher, moving faster, being stronger, but the moment their season rolls around (or pre-season, even), their focus is shifted to winning games, and performing at a higher level than the previous year.
If their off-season program was worth its salt then they no doubt will have no problem performing at a higher level than the previous season early in their season, but what really allows athletes to perform at a higher level than the previous season?
In general terms the following attributes should make an athlete perform at higher levels:
Greater agility: Off- Season Training programs with specific agility training in them should make this a reality
Greater speed: Again an off-season program that works on speed, and explosive strength should accomplish this
Greater strength: Overall strength as well as specific strength will improve performance.
Better conditioning: Off-season activities should also make athletes better conditioned.
Better technical skill: The athletes’ pre-season work, and early season practices will improve skill.
Resistance to injury: This is often the weak link to programs, but improved strength, flexibility and mobility generally handles this.
Athletes, whether they know it or not, are working on all of these aspects for their entire off-season, and this carries over to the early portion of their season. What happens though when an athlete gets in-season? Typically they are required to practice everyday (increasing their workload), and train minimally and usually on some combination of bench press, squats, and possibly a power clean. This combination of lifts might represent the cream of the crop of in-season training, I recently had an athlete tell me that his in-season lifting from his coach was Bench, incline bench, tricep extension, leg press and curls.
So getting back to what makes an athlete’s performance increase, how does this new in-season training program do when it comes to the tasks at hand?
Greater agility: Practice alone does not accomplish this. In fact studies have shown that game type activities hinders agility performance (1). So Agility is going down.
Greater speed: Practice alone does not increase speed (1). Speed is going down.
Better Conditioned: Athletes in-season should remain well conditioned.
Greater strength: Strength in the lifts performed in-season may improve, but not by much
Better technical skill: Practice should handle this.
Resistance to injury: Here is the big issue. Increased workload from daily practice leads to greater numbers of injuries than anything else. The highest frequency of injuries occurs while athletes are practicing, and if an in-season injury prevention/recovery program is not in-place athletes are at a greater risk of injury (2).
All abilities gained in the off-season will decrease as the season progresses if not properly trained in-season.
The proper strength training, along with mobility and tissue quality work will go a long way to maintaining the qualities gained in the off-season.
So what does a proper in-season program look like?
5 Min General Warm-up
15 min of tissue quality: Foam Rolling or other myofascial release to treat dysfunction.
15 min specific mobility work or injury prevention: Hip Mobility, glute activation, ankle mobility, or proprioceptive training.
10 minutes of flexibility training or generalized stretching.
10 min General Warm-up
5 min tissue quality
10 min plyometric or Agility training
10 min speed training
20 min Strength training
10 min Specific Strength training
With a dedicated day to recovery and continually emphasizing abilities gained in off-season training the athlete will remain healthier and will not lose agility, speed and strength throughout the season.
1. Bangsbo J. Fitness Training in Football: A Scientific Approach. Bagsvaerd, Denmark: HO Storm; 1994.