Every athlete has an in-season and an off-season. For those athletes who play multiple sports or play on travel, club, or AAU teams there will be multiple “seasons” each year. Continuing to strength train DURING those seasons is crucial to maintain strength, but in-season strength training must be programmed properly in order to avoid some common pitfalls: overtraining, loss of strength, incomplete recovery, accumulated fatigue, unwanted weight loss, and diminshed performance.

For an in-season athlete, the #1 priority is simple: maximize performance in the game. Not increasing strength, perfecting new skills, of increasing physical preparation (conditioning). Sure those things can improve slightly over the course of the season, but the time to improve those traits is the off-season.

With that in mind, all training (strength, skill, conditioning, etc) must be lower in volume to accommodate the increased demands of the actual games and necessary team practices. The type of training as well as the intensity should remain constant. What got you strong, quick, prepared, etc will keep you strong. In other words, don’t stop lifting heavy. Don’t make the classic mistake of dropping to lower weights for higher reps. Why not? Well think about it this way: You spent the whole off-season (if you even had one) training your body to get stronger and more explosive. But then you increase recovery demands by adding 3-4 practices along with 1-2 games per week along with 1-3 strength training sessions. Let’s say you switch to higher reps and lower your weights. Your body may like the change in the beginning, but you’re no longer giving you body a stimulus or reason to stay strong. You’re telling your body you no longer care about being explosive, moving heavy loads, and being a dominate athlete. Your body will adapt to these new SPECIFIC demands. It doesn’t know you want it to stay strong unless you tell it to do so. The only way to do that…keep doing what got you strong in first place!

Here is a sample of how an athlete could transition from off-season to in-season lifting.

Off-Season Plan:

  • Monday= (Lower) Deadlift Day
  • Tuesday = (Upper) Overhead Press Day
  • Wednesday = OFF
  • Thursday = (Lower) Squat Day
  • Friday = OFF
  • Saturday = (Upper) Bench Press Day
  • Sunday = OFF

Each day’s training during the off-season includes a MAIN lift (as shown) that is trained for strength, followed by accessory moves that build strength and size in the muscles involved in that movement pattern. There may be 2-4 assistance exercises per sessions and the sets/reps volume will usually fall in the range 25-50 reps per movement (3 x 8 = 24, 4 x 12 = 48, etc).

In-Season Changes:

  • Fewer training days
  • Fewer sets and reps, even cutting some assistance exercises.
Main lifts are still trained, and strength is still pushed, but YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO MISS A LIFT during in-season training. Keep the loads moving as fast as possible and choose weights that are heavy (90-95%) but not maximal (100+%). This is not the time to set a new PR.
Asisstance moves will be greatly reduced. Drop the volume to 2-3 set at most and limit yourself to 10-15 minutes total for anything not considered a MAIN MOVE (deadlift, squat, bench, or overhead press variations). This will force you to choose your assistance work wisely and learn the meaning of the words exercise efficiency. For example, dropping DB chest work, shoulder work, and tricep work in favor of dips is a great way keep training the those pressing assistance muscles while keeping exercises and total volume lower.
In-Season Option
  • Monday = Total Body (Squat & Overhead Press)
  • Tuesday = OFF
  • Wednesday = OFF
  • Thursday = Total Body (Deadlift & Bench Press)
  • Friday = OFF
  • Saturday = OFF
  • Sunday = OFF
Obviously you would plan the llifting days in a way that did not negatively impact your games. That means you do not have to lift on Monday and Thursday, just be sure to keep 2-3 days between each lifting session.
Ideally the lifts would occur as far before the next game as possible to allow for the fullest recovery. As such, many athletes will lift the day of, but AFTER a game. This is not possible for many athletes, so the best option in that case is to lift the day after a game. So for the schedule above to work, games would be played on Sundays and Wednesdays.
For in-season training, remember these key points:
  • Goal is to maximize performance IN GAME!
  • Stay Strong. What got you strong, will keep you strong.
  • Fewer lifting sessions and lower total volume.
  • Emphasize recovery.