If You Don't Use It, You Lose It: The Importance of In-Season Training

I firmly believe that the day a child is involved in an organized sport, he/she should also be involved in a strength and conditioning program and continue that program the ENTIRE TIME he/she is playing sports. Yes, that could mean decades with no interruption. Of course that program will change drastically throughout the years; “strength training” will take on a completely different meaning during the course of the athlete’s maturation and development, volume, and intensities will vary at certain times based on activity level, injuries, health etc. The desired training effect or goal could change based on the athlete’s needs at that time. But at no point should there be zero plans for continued development and/or injury prevention.

The most common time for this training blunder to take place is the transition from off-season to in-season. Athletes will spend the entire off-season training hard, building strength, speed, power, and size only to completely abandon their training regimen that has improved the attributes that are going to make them successful and at less risk for injury. That is like building a successful business and then one day just up and walking away from it and expecting it to run like usual, function properly, provide the same quality of service to your customers, and collect the same paycheck. Not going to happen! That business would need constant maintenance/attention, and you would need to continue to implement and refine the processes that made it successful. Your body is no different.

De-training is a serious matter and should be treated as such. It is basically the reversal of a training effect as a result of not providing the stimulus that created it. An example of this would be to stop lifting, and as a result, get weaker. Simple. When you discard your strength program at the beginning of the season, you will continue to get weaker, less explosive, slower, and smaller. By the time the championship game rolls around and it matters the most, you are physically at your worst you have been all season. The opposite should take place.

There are a lot of studies that analyze the effects of de-training on performance and the body and all seem to have slightly different variables. But the one thing that is conclusive in all of them is if you abruptly stop providing the stimulus, the result that said stimulus was providing will decrease, and decrease quickly. In a study by Hakkinen and Komi at the National Center for Biotechnology Information, they tested elite weightlifters by eliminating heavy squatting in their program. Not surprisingly they lost a significant amount of strength. 20% over four weeks! I’ll let you do the math on your own squat max to see where you would be in four weeks. Now ask yourself this. Do you think you would be as fast, explosive, or powerful if you lost 20% of your strength? Do you think you would have a harder time decelerating and absorbing forces? Be at a greater risk of knee injuries? You see my point.

If you haven’t noticed yet I have avoided using a word that is most commonly associated with in-season training, “maintenance”. This word is not in our vocabulary at Pulse. There is no such thing. You are either getting stronger or weaker. Period. How do you design a program to just maintain strength? In all the books on training I’ve read I’ve never see strength maintenance section. Exercises are prescribed to produce a gain of some sort, an improvement, not to stay put with your current level. Our goal is always bigger, faster, and stronger. What changes in-season is the focus from continued development of strength, size, and speed to peak performance on game day. With that, the same training philosophies are implemented but intensities, volume, exercise prescription, phases of loading and training frequency are adjusted. You are either moving forward or you are moving backwards - don’t you forget it.

Whether you play basketball, football, hockey, baseball, lacrosse or any other sport with a significant length of season, being able to provide the same characteristics physically throughout the season should be priority number one. The sports specific tasks should take care of themselves in-season. If you are an offensive lineman and you are practicing those skills for 3 - 4 hours a day at practice for months on end and you aren’t improving, then I’m sorry, but your coach needs to find a new gig. Just make sure you are doing your part and providing him the same athlete with the same abilities every day.

Edwin KnoblockComment