The Importance of Proper In-Season Training for Athletes


The Importance of Proper In-Season Training for Athletes

It’s well-established the benefits of proper strength training on the development, injury prevention and further advancement of performance in athletes. While most focus on off-season or pre-season training, one over-looked and often improperly programmed is that of in-season training.


In-season training is crucial to the yearly training plan in my opinion and may be even more important than the off-season.

Your goals should be to:

  • Maintain strength/flexibility
  • Maintain mobility/stability in the proper joints
  • Address bioenergetics of the sport where appropriate
  • When necessary, facilitate circulation for recovery
  • Manage stress

If it’s not trained, it’s not maintained!

              Training is a long-term process and I am a firm believer that for optimal levels of performance it should be completed year-round. The graph below shows the different bio-motor abilities, their residual effects and how quickly you can “lose” them by detraining.

training residual effects

“The overall rule of thumb is that coaches should remember the necessity of transition from simultaneous to successive/consecutive development of the training program allowing the enhancement of the residual effect of exercise and prevent detraining. By doing so, the principle of variability of training programs can be implemented and aimed at achieving injury-free peak performance at proper time with no indication of over-training.” [1]

Not all Training is Created Equal

It’s important to recognize that not all training is created equal. While there are ways to effectively train athletes in season, there is a delicate balance you must walk as well. The athletes overall volume of work is usually high, so you have to find a way to maintain their level of fitness without adding unnecessary stress to the athlete.

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Let’s use soccer for an example. I pick on soccer because the majority of the athletes I train for this sport play year-round with no true off-season. This certainly has its limitations. Research clearly demonstrates that early sport specialization tends to account for more overuse injuries and a higher rate of burn-out [2][3]. This article is not about early specialization but it’s important to recognize that playing other sports allows the athlete time away from the repetitive action of their sport and to develop other bio-motor abilities that will enhance their overall athletic development.

Getting back on track, most soccer players are on 1-3 teams at a time and it’s not uncommon to practice 6 days a week AND have multiple games. Though it’s not easy to find time to train, I can’t stress the importance of getting at least 1-2 sessions per week. Most coaches would agree that soccer is one of the sports where strength and conditioning is underutilized and it certainly shows in the athletes themselves. These athletes are often weak, out of shape (surprisingly) and present with issues of the hip/ankle/knee.

During the season players for most sports have to deal with:

  • High volume of overall work (games, practices, team conditioning)
  • Poor warm-up and cool downs if any at all
  • High levels of physical stress
  • Low-loads (usually only overcoming their own bodyweight)
  • Repetitive action of their sporting requirement

To make matters more difficult, all athletes respond to stress in their own way. As Buddy Morris always says, “there are eight different systems that have to adapt to the stressors that pull on an athlete – cardiac, cardiopulmonary, detoxification, hormonal, metabolic, the muscular system, immune system and the central nervous system.” These systems do not adapt at the same time and the rate at which that happens is specific to the individual.


Charlie Francis often stated that you need 48 hours to recover between high CNS efforts. The muscular system adapts and recovers faster than the nervous system. So you may “feel” fine but still not be fully recovered. CNS fatigue will eventually catch up to you and not only hinder performance but alter movement patterns and leave one more susceptible to injury.

High/Low Model

Being a student of Buddy Morris and relying on much of the content from Charlie Francis and James Smith, I recognize the importance of keeping the CNS (central nervous system) fresh. Their high/low method is in my opinion the most effective AND most well-thought out system to enhance performance while limiting the potential for injury. Always look at the cost: benefit ratio of the exercises or program that you are employing. This is one reason we don’t use Olympic Lifting (Are the Olympic Lifts As Good As PF Flyers?).

Unfortunately, the United States is known for our obsession with volume. We mistakenly think that killing ourselves in the gym, puking and being run into the ground is how you get better.  This could not be further from the truth. You get better by being able to positively adapt to your training AND by staying on the field/court.

For example, there are quite a few performance centers that are heavily influenced by Westside Barbell and are therefore very power-lifting based. This is not a knock on Westside as I believe it’s arguably the best method for…POWER-LIFTERS. That doesn’t mean you can’t learn anything from what they do because you can. But at the end of the day you have to remember that strength is only one factor of being an athlete, there are plenty of other bio-motor abilities that need to be addressed and maintained.

These centers place a large emphasis on maximal strength and their programs often features a ton of volume and intensity, both in season and out. This is one reason why there are a lot of soft-tissue injuries in their athletes. Can some survive it? Of course. But everyone’s tolerance is different.

Getting hurt is part of being an athlete, we can’t perfectly predict nor prevent it. If someone is promising that they are lying. BUT we can certainly pay close attention to the movement of our athletes and use what we believe are the best means to protect them. If you are constantly having soft-tissue injuries it may behoove you to take a closer look at your programming. Are you adding to their issues or trying to balance them out?

Youth athletes can actually withstand a lot of stress because they are so young. At the same time, most injuries from sports are a result of over-use, are they not?

  • 50% of tennis players will experience shoulder pain (the service motion) [5]
  • Gymnasts will experience 2.5-3.3 injuries per 1000 hours of their sport [5]
  • Soccer players experience 4-7.6 injuries per 1000 player-hours with the majority being knees for girls and ankles for boys [6]
  • Volleyball and basketball players are at increased risk for knee issues from repetitive jumping/landing [7]

What to Do


tempo work

Train as much as necessary in order for improvement, which is the intent in the first place. You never see an injury from undertraining but you see careers shortened from over-training.  You can solve under-training and NO not by necessarily increasing training. That’s everyone’s first go to,”they gotta train more and harder”…Over time it’s the volume of work that gets you.”  – Buddy Morris

In season:

  • Keep volume low (limit # of exercises, intensity AND number of reps)
  • Quality > Quantity
  • Build in recovery/restoration
  • Continue to enhance joint mobility
  • Workouts should make the athlete feel better, not worse
  • Limit DOMS or delayed-onset muscle soreness
  • Shorter workouts
  • Increased prehab work

– I do not let overhead athletes perform overhead work in the gym as they are already getting a ton of exposure to this in their sport. Why add to it? Instead, I focus on thoracic mobility and choosing more “friendly” exercises on the shoulder joint.

– Have basketball players and volleyball players in season? Limit their jumping as they are getting enough of this in the competitive season. I personally also limit the use of exercises that load through the knee during this time as well.

– Working with soccer players? They are running and sprinting often and their volume is very high therefore you must be careful how you load their legs. Nothing recruits the hamstrings like sprinting at 95% maximal intensity so managing hamstrings becomes important.

Though practice and games can make finding time for training tough, it’s a worthwhile endeavor for serious athletes. Remember, training can be used to facilitate more than just increases in strength, it can be a powerful tool for promoting blood flow and overall recovery/restoration.



[1] Slobounov, Semyon. Injuries in Athletics: Causes and Consequences. New York: Springer, 2008. Print.

[2] Hall R, Barber Foss K, Hewett T, Myer G. Sports Specialization is Associated with An Increased Risk of Developing Anterior Knee Pain in Adolescent Female Athletes. PubMed Central. 2014 March 12.

[3] Neeru J, Pinkham C, Dugas L, Patrick B, LaBella C. Sports Specialization in Young Athletes: Evidence-Based Recommendations. Sports Health. 5 May 2013.

[4] Madden, Christopher C., and Frank H. Netter. Netter’s Sports Medicine. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders/Elsevier, 2010. Print.

[5] Koutures, Chris. “Injuries In Youth Soccer.”  American Academy of Pediatrics, n.d. Web.

[6] Reeser, J. C., E. Verhagen, W. W. Briner, T. I. Askeland, and R. Bahr. “Strategies for the Prevention of Volleyball Related Injuries.” British Journal of Sports Medicine. BMJ Group, n.d. Web. 21 Sept. 2015.

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