The Overlooked In-Season Training Strategy for Big Gains

Your progress will take a bigger hit by taking arbitrary days off than it does from back-to-back days of lifting

Many athletes shy away from heavy weight room work during the competitive season because they fear it will leave them sore or under-recovered for games.

"Not enough time" is also a common excuse for not training during your season.

A programming workaround to bypass all these issues is to lift on two consecutive days early in the week (such as Monday-Tuesday, assuming games take place during Friday and Saturday).

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Many athletes shy away from heavy weight room work during the competitive season because they fear it will leave them sore or under-recovered for games.

"Not enough time" is also a common excuse for not training during your season.

A programming workaround to bypass all these issues is to lift on two consecutive days early in the week (such as Monday-Tuesday, assuming games take place during Friday and Saturday).

Very few athletes and coaches think to implement this strategy because they believe at least 48 hours should pass between lifting sessions for the same muscle group or exercise.

As I explained in a previous article, training on consecutive days leads to similar improvements in strength and muscle growth as lifting on non-consecutive days, at least in the short term. Simply put, your progress will take a bigger hit by taking arbitrary days off than it does from back-to-back days of lifting.

With that in mind, let's discuss how field sport athletes should apply these findings for maximal benefits during the competitive season.

Scheduling In-Season Strength Sessions

Many athletes and coaches prefer at least two lighter days between a strength workout and the day of a game. There's reason to believe this time-honored "rule" is somewhat misguided, but it is what it is. Even under these circumstances, you can still find ways to strength train during your season.

With these parameters set, let's run through three common scheduling scenarios athletes will face during the season and how to make the best out of them.

Scenario 1: 2 Weekend Games

A typical scenario in youth, junior or even beer leagues involves two games played over the weekend. Often, the games take place either Friday-Saturday or Saturday-Sunday. Here's what a sample week could look like with the latter option:

  • Monday: Off
  • Tuesday: Strength 1 + Practice
  • Wednesday: Strength 2 + Practice
  • Thursday: Practice
  • Friday: Practice
  • Saturday: Game 1
  • Sunday: Game 2

This is all very straightforward. You lift two days in a row earlier in the week then lighten the workload by staying away from the weight room in preparation for the weekend games.

Scenario 2: 1 Mid-Week and 1 Weekend Game

A more common situation in college and professional sports—sometimes also seen at the junior level—involves one mid-week game (Wednesday/Thursday) and another during the weekend (Friday/Saturday/Sunday). It's great because players get at least one day off between games to recharge the batteries, which usually means more gas in the tank for the second event.

Here's how the strength workouts could be scheduled for a scenario with Thursday/Saturday games:

  • Monday: Strength 1 + Practice
  • Tuesday: Strength 2 + Practice
  • Wednesday: Practice
  • Thursday: Game 1
  • Friday: Practice
  • Saturday: Game 2
  • Sunday: Off

From a training standpoint, not much changes here compared to the first scenario. Strength workouts are still done back-to-back to kick off the week while the day before competition (Wednesday) is devoted to match prep on the field.

Scenario 3 : 1 Mid-Week and 2 Weekend Games

This one is the trickiest scenario to implement. With three games in four days, it's a fine line walking between high performance and sufficient recovery.

Completing two all-out lifting sessions at the start of the week and going into games with "heavy legs" will probably be more harmful than helpful for the players' psyche and physical performance.

Does that mean you should just let gym work fall by the wayside when facing a packed schedule?

No. Skipping workouts fosters a culture where hard work and long-term player development take a backseat to winning today. The latter is obviously the sole goal in professional sports or during a late season rally when playoff spots and championships are on the line. Racking up a big W or two against your main rivals could determine the outcome of the entire competitive season, so eschewing strength and conditioning activities in favor of securing crucial victories right here and now makes sense.

But just because a U16 team is facing a particularly crammed stretch of games in November should not be an excuse to justify avoiding weight room work altogether.

That said, how can you arrange your gym workouts in this scenario?

One effective way to do so is to replace the second strength session of the week with a low-volume power session, as seen here:

  • Monday: Strength 1 + Practice
  • Tuesday: Power Session + Practice
  • Wednesday: Game 1
  • Thursday: Practice
  • Friday: Game 2
  • Saturday: Game 3
  • Sunday: Off

Low-volume power training improves explosive performance within 48 hours after a workout, with the largest increases taking place 24 hours after the activity. This is one of those cases where light, high-velocity activity actually beats doing nothing.

By completing a few sets of jumps, sprints, power cleans or similar explosive movements the day prior to competition, we can "mini-peak" athletes for maximal performance on the field or pitch.

Something like three sets of doubles on the power clean followed by three sets of three to five hurdle jumps should do the trick. This is enough to cause an acute training effect without tiring players out!

Photo Credit: Dmitry_Tsvetkov/iStock

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Topics: WEIGHTLIFTING | MUSCLE RECOVERY