“The benefits of strength to athletic performance are experienced as long as the neuromuscular system maintains the cellular adaptations induced by training”
There are 3 Phases to an annual cycle for any athlete:
Off season. Pre season. In season.
No matter when the actual season is for the sport, the in season performance is a direct result of preparation during the “off season” and the “pre season”.
Athletes who partake in a well-structured periodized strength program during off season can spend months accruing the required strength and foundation to maximize their performance during the actual season.
However, no matter how long an athlete prepares for the season, research shows that all strength and power gains can start to diminish in a matter of 2 weeks if strength training ceases.
When training stops, the newly developed contractile properties of muscles also start to diminish.
Unfortunately, as the season approaches, there is a significant portion of coaches and parents alike who tend to overlook the importance of strength maintenance mainly because 100% of the focus shifts towards only practice and games.
The bottom line is that a lack of strength training will cause a decrease in performance as the season progresses.
During the early part of the season, while strength training is still in effect, athletes will perform as expected. However a lack thereof of training reduces the muscles ability to powerfully contract, negatively affecting performance as the season progresses.
A Break Down On The Necessity Of Strength
First and foremost, do not confuse “strength” with maxing out everyday in the weight room pushing as much weight as possible.
Muscle has certain contractile properties that can and should be enhanced through proper training methods. Strength is involved in developing these properties and enhancing the nervous system to help fire muscles and improve intramuscular and intermuscular coordination.
In terms of sports where power and or speed, even muscular endurance are involved, strength is the foundation as power is directly proportional to strength. Speed is directly proportional to power. And for sports that involve extended OR intermittent spurts of speed and power, strength is the ultimate determinant.
Increased strength means more applied force, which is a characteristic necessary in the majority of sports.
A solid strength base prepares the body for the demands of the season.
And a season that last for several months, especially on sports where competitions occur multiple times per week, like Lacrosse, in season training is especially important, even if done 1-2 times per week.
In season training is about maintaining the strength, speed, and power attained during the offseason.
Unfortunately, the common perception of training during the season, especially at the high school level, is that it will be too much for the athlete to handle with the demands of the sport.
However the more appropriate concern should be “How can the athlete maintain what they worked so hard to gain, throughout a 3-5 month long season?”
While being concerned with the physiological and psychological loads of a young athlete does have merit, this becomes less worrisome so long as the strength program is well planned and understood. If it is, not only is the athlete not overwhelmed, but he or she is stronger and more powerful throughout the season, helping to have an edge over competition as well as reducing risk of injury*
*there is bigger potential for injury without in season training as a lack of stimulation for muscles can cause them to shut down faster from fatigue which can lead to pulls, strains, even tendons strains or tears
Training Variables to Consider
Obviously, the structure of inseason training varies from preseason and offseason training by a few ways:
3.) Exercise Selection
4.) Session Duration
The intensity, or resistance used during the season to maximize performance during the season can be reduced up to 60 percent or even more depending on sport, the athlete, and the spread of matches.
The volume, or the amount of reps performed should also be reduced in order maintain strength, without fatiguing the athlete.
Intensity and volume can undulate depending on how much time off and feedback from the athlete. For example, a day or two should be taken off after a game, with a moderate intense session happening the furthest from the match, and a lesser intense one days before.
It is also important to uses exercises that train the prime movers of the sport as they are heavily utilized and need to fire accordingly to stay strong throughout the season.
Session length should also be reasonable so as to not tire the athlete and allow enough time for recovery.
“The longer the competitive phase is, the more important it is to maintain power”
As mentioned earlier, power, speed endurance, and agility are all proportional to strength.
Strength gains can be lost in a matter of weeks if not maintained properly or training completely ceases. If strength decreases, then so do the aforementioned qualities of speed and power which are tantamount during the season.
The saying goes that an athlete does not get stronger or faster playing sport, they get stronger and faster preparing for it.
And to go even deeper, those gains are only maintained through continuous, WELL PLANNED training.
If the goal is superior performance, then essentially it is contradictory to completely cease training during the season, and compromise any gains made previous to the season.
Peak performance means using a proper training strategy to bring out the absolute best in the athlete throughout the entire year.