At some point in your athletic journey, I’m sure you've thought: I need to get ready for the season. “Ready” may mean something completely different depending on the level of sport you play – it might mean getting out to a field and practicing shots on goal in the weeks leading up to your first recreational game or might leave you with a matter of weeks to recover and sharpen skills for competitive team tryouts. Either way, preparing to perform on the field, court, ice, or mat CAN and SHOULD include training to complement your wellness and performance during your sport season.
Most competitive sport seasons are typically filled with practices, games, tournaments, and meetings and often demands more time as the level of competition increases. Lack of time – on top of balancing other commitments such as school, family and friends, and work – can be one of the barriers to athletes continuing strength training during the competitive season. This article will highlight evidence to support in-season training to stay sharp for competition.
How can strength training help me during the competitive season?
Strength training is associated with reduced risk of both acute and chronic sports injury, especially compared to other injury prevention methods such as stretching (Lauersen et al., 2014).
Anywhere from 2-4 sessions per week may be required to maintain or increase strength, power, and muscle mass during a competitive season (Cross et al., 2019).
It’s important to recognize that training in the weight room should support and expose you to similar demands to what you will experience in sport. A study examining the effect of a lower body strength and power training program on vertical jump, throwing speed, swimming sprint speed and back squat in elite female water polo players found significant increases in these sport-specific performance variables compared to a control group who only completed in-water training (Veliz et al., 2015). This work highlighted the importance of training in-season as this group of female athletes not only improved their performance in key aspects required for them to compete in their sport but did so without interfering with water or land-based performance metrics (Veliz et al., 2015).
Coaches can also incorporate exercises aimed at reducing the risk of common sport injuries during in-season training time (Rössler et al., 2015). These exercises can be included in an on-field warm-up or practice session as well as in the weight room. Given that injury is a possible outcome when participating in sport, programs that aim to reduce this risk are important resources for athletes and coaches (Rössler et al., 2015). When conducting a systematic review of pre and in-season injury prevention programs in youth and adolescent athletes, injury risk was reduced by 46% (Rössler et al., 2015).
Use it or lose it: Detraining
You may have noticed that after kicking around a soccer ball or throwing a baseball after a competitive season, it might take some time for you to hit your targets and co-ordinate the movement smoothly. Or, if you start running after some time off, the same distance that used to be your normal running route might feel a bit more difficult. If we train throughout the off-season and pre-season and increase performance outcomes like strength, hypertrophy, and power but stop training once the season starts, there is a high likelihood that we will lose some of those gains made in training. Detraining is a concept where without the proper training stimulus, adaptations or gains from training are lost (Mujika & Padilla, 2000). How much of those gains are lost depend on a variety of factors, including age, training history, and current training program (Mujika & Padilla, 2000). Reduced muscular strength and performance, muscle electrical activity and reduced muscle cross-sectional area are just a few of the outcomes observed when strength training is stopped in as little as four weeks (Mujika & Padilla, 2000). In order to put yourself in the best possible position to perform throughout your season, consider the inclusion of strength training to maintain important muscle qualities.
A Note for Youth Athletes
As youth athletes grow and develop across the lifespan, physical training can play an important role in improving muscle mass and the ability to withstand high forces exerted during training as well as improving co-ordination (Zouita et al., 2016). When exposed to a 12-week strength training program at the start of the competitive season, elite soccer players aged 13-15 improved in sprinting (10m) and jumping assessments compared to those who did not receive plyometric and resistance training in addition to soccer training (Zouita et al., 2016).
The same study also tracked injuries throughout the season and found a significantly higher injury rate per 1000 hours of training exposure in the control group who did not participate in strength training, once again proving the importance of muscular strength in injury prevention (Zouita et al., 2016).
With a well-designed, individualized program prepared by a knowledgeable and experienced coach, there is a potential to maintain or increase strength, maximize performance, and reduce injury risk during your competitive sport season.
Article written by Sonia Cazzola, MSc., CSCS
Cross R, Siegler J, Marshall P, Lovell R. Scheduling of training and recovery during the in-season weekly micro-cycle: Insights from team sport practitioners. Eur J Sport Sci, 2019;19(10): 1287-1296. doi:10.1080/17461391.2019.1595740
Lauersen JB, Bertelsen DM, Andersen LB. The effectiveness of exercise interventions to prevent sports injuries: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Br J Sports Med 2014;48:871–877. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2013-092538
Mujika I, Padilla S. Detraining: Loss of training-induced physiological and performance adaptations. Part 1. Sports Med 2000;30(2): 79-87.
Rössler R, Donath L, Verhagen E, Junge A, Schweizer, T Faude O. Exercise-based injury prevention in child and adolescent sport: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sport Med 2015;44:1733-1748. doi: 10.1007/s40279-014-0234-2
Veliz RR, Suarez-Arrones L, Requena B, Haff GG, Feito J, de Villarreal ES. Effects of in-competitive season power-oriented and heavy resistance lower-body training on performance of elite female water polo players. J Strength Cond Res 2015; 29(2):458-465.
Zouita S, Zouita ABM, Kebsi W, Dupont G, Ben Abderrahman AB, Ben Salah FZ, Zouhal H. Strength training reduces injury rate in elite young soccer players during one season. J Strength Cond Res 2016; 30(5):1295-1307.