Most athletes will work diligently to improve their strength during the off-season, only to lose all their hard-earned gains when they need them most: during the season! Think about what I’m saying here. What good is it for a football player to be as strong as hell in April, yet weak as a schoolgirl in November?
I believe most athletes lose their off-season gains during the season because they’ve not been properly educated on the correct way to perform their in-season training. Many athletes try to perform their off-season workouts during the season. Those who do this quickly realize that their off-season program is too demanding to maintain. As a result, they eventually become frustrated and stop training altogether! This, obviously, is the worst thing an athlete can possibly do!
Athletes need to understand that they can maintain their strength during the season on very little volume - IF they’re doing the right exercises at the proper intensity. Speaking of proper intensity, it’s important to get a true max on your “indicator” lifts before the season starts. This will enable you to make proper weight selections for your main lifts during the season. For example, two weeks before all of our high school football players started training camp, we tested their box squat and bench press. Our training weights and percentages for our in-season programs are based on those max lifts.
Another point I need to make about in-season training is that it’s extremely unpredictable! Athletes constantly contact me in search of the magic in-season program and, as usual, such a program simply doesn’t exist. There’s no way to predict how an athlete will make it through an entire season. There are just too many variables involved – injuries, school schedule, practice time, easy games, hard games, etc…
The key is to listen to your body! If you’ve just had an easy game – a blowout, let’s say - in which you were taken out at halftime, you can hit the weights a little harder during the week. If you’re coming off a tough game in which you suffered an injury and you have another tough game the following week, your best bet is to go easy in the weight room that week and just perform some restoration exercises. Taking all this into account, I’ll now give you some guidance by providing you with one (of many) sample in-season programs that I’ve used with my football clients.
*This workout was performed on Monday. (Their game was on Saturday.)
A. Max-Effort Upper Body lift – work up to 5RM week 1 & work up to 3RM week 2. *Be somewhat conservative with your weight selections. I don’t advocate forced reps during the season. The goal is to work up to a heavy weight, but you want to get all reps on your own.
*I also like performing 2-week mini-cycles during the season in which you alternate between full-range max-effort lifts and partial range lifts for the upper body. For example: Weeks 1&2 = bench press; Weeks 3&4 = 3-board press; Weeks 5&6 = incline bench press; Weeks 7&8 = floor press; Weeks 9&10 = close grip bench press; Weeks 11&12 = 4-board press
“Blackburns” – Perform 2 sets of the 4 exercises that are shown in the video link. Hold each position for 10-20 seconds. Rest 1 minute between sets.
Unilateral lower body movement – perform 3 sets of 8 reps
D1. Rowing variation – 3 sets of 10-12 reps
D2. DB Shrugs – 3 sets of 10-12 reps
High rep abdominal circuit – perform 3-4 exercises and go through circuit 2X
*This workout was performed on Wednesday, but it can also be performed on Thursday.
Box Jumps – perform 3 sets of 3
Box squats – perform 3-week mini-cycles with the following percentages: Week 1 = 60% of 1RM for 6 sets of 2 w/ 1 minute rest between sets; Week 2 = 70% of 1RM for 5 sets of 2 w/ 1 minute rest between sets; Week 3 = work up to 3 singles w/ 80-85% of your 1RM. Rest 2-3 minutes between sets. After 3 weeks, start the cycle over. You may increase or decrease the percentages depending on how you feel. Alternate between a regular barbell & safety squat bar every 3 weeks if you can.
C1. DB bench variation – perform 3 sets of 8-12reps
C2. Rear Delt/Upper Back exercise – choose one of the following exercises & perform 3 sets of 8-12 reps
Rear delt flyes
Seated DB “power cleans”
DB or cable lateral raises – perform 2-3 sets of 12-15 reps
Abs/Low back superset – perform 2-3 supersets of your favorite ab exercise with either 45-degree back raises or reverse hyperextensions. Perform 10-20 reps of each exercise.
Although I’ve now officially published a sample in-season template, I know I’m bound to receive a thousand emails asking me, “What should I do if I can only train once a week during the in-season?”
I’m well aware that sports such as basketball, baseball and soccer – among others - have multiple games per week. This certainly makes in-season training a little more complicated. One way to combat this is to simply alternate between the two in-season templates provided above. For example, perform Workout #1 on one of your off days during the first week of your season. During an off day on week 2, perform Workout #2. Go back to Workout #1 again during week 3, and so on. If a light week comes up in which you only have one or two games, you can perform both workouts that week. As I’ve stated before, you must use your best judgment.
*If you know in advance that you’re definitely not going to be able to train more than once a week during the season, I suggest designing one full-body workout that incorporates a squat variation, bench press variation and a row variation. This workout should also cover any weak points that you need to address during the season.