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Why In-Season Training is the Key to a Winning Season

As coaches, we all want to win.

We implore our athletes to spend the off-season training to become bigger, faster, stronger. But, the moment practice begins, our focus shifts and training becomes an afterthought.

This is dangerous.

While in-season, your athletes will adapt to the rigors of practices and games, often reaching peak physical conditioning for that sport. At the same time, the absence of resistance training will always equal substantial losses of strength and power. Beyond affecting their ability to compete, this loss significantly increases their risk of injury on the field (1).

We get it, time with your athletes is precious. But, the desire to spend all your time at practice or film, at the expense of a short lift, could prove costly. The ability of your athletes to consistently perform at a high level throughout a long season will ultimately dictate your team’s success.

The point of in-season training is not to improve performance per say, rather its goal is to maintain the strength gains built during the off-season, and reduce the likelihood of injury.

A healthy team, performing at its peak all season long, is a winning team.

Let’s take a quick look at exactly why consistent strength training during the season puts your team in the best position to win.

1. “If you don’t use it, you lose it.”

Steve Carrell’s worries were actually well-founded.

When it comes to performance training, it’s all about consistency. The strength and power output adaptations gained in the off season through months of hard work will begin to drop off the day your athletes stop lifting. This is especially true for power (or the amount of work your athletes can produce in a given amount of time — think Olympic lifts and “explosiveness”). Following the SAID Principle, the human body will adapt to the stresses being placed on it or lack thereof, meaning if the squat or hang clean are no longer being utilized, the body will then adapt to the absence of specific stress, always choosing the path of least resistance.

2. Staying out of the depth chart.

In high school athletics, or any level for that matter, maintaining a stable roster is KEY. Injuries resulting in missed games and seasons change the landscape completely.

Strength deficiencies and overcompensation are often the beginning of the injury process. The human body will compensate whenever there’s an imbalance and the weakest link in the chain will break first. For example, there exists significant correlations between weak, tight muscles of the hamstring and increased ACL tears and strains and overall anterior knee pain (2, 3). Tight and weak hamstrings lead to an increase in the compressive forces impacting the patellofemoral joint and tight/weak quad muscles create a dangerous imbalance that can change the patella’s ability to track effectively (2). Even weakness/tightness within the hip stabilizers can negatively affect patellofemoral joint stability (4).

Keeping your stars on the field by avoiding injury is your best chance for competitive success.

3. More quality practice time.

It’s not only catastrophic injury that can derail a team. Every minute spent with the trainer or limited in practice due to strains, pulls, and soreness, is time wasted.

A common cause of overuse injury in athletics is a process called muscle dysfunction. Essentially, this refers to poor coordination within a series of muscle contractions once a movement is initiated. This is an issue regarding the relationship between the agonist muscle group (those that start the movement) and antagonist muscle groups (those that control the movement). If one muscle group is overused, the result can be inflammation of the muscle/tendon nearest the joint in motion. This is accompanied with pain and decreased range of motion.

Strength training, particularly compound barbell exercises, is one of the best ways to reduce overuse injuries. We strengthen the major muscles surrounding a joint while improving joint flexibility and muscle coordination. Contrary to the belief that lifting weights makes muscles tighter, using full range of motion under load is a great way to improve flexibility, even when compared to traditional static stretching (5).

Conclusion

Bottom line, if you want to win, in-season strength training is an absolute must.

If you need more proof, a well regarded study of youth athletics found that athletes were 3x MORE LIKELY to be injured during the course of a season if a weight training program was not utilized as part of the typical in-season routine (6). Another study found that use of balance training, strength training, and a proper warm up saw a decrease in injury rate by over 50% (1).  Over and over, in-season training has been proven to effectively decrease the risk of injury (1) (6) (7) (8) (9) (10) (11).

Teams that stay healthy, and are able to perform at optimal level all season long, are ultimately the teams that have the greatest chance for enduring success.


References:

  1. Olsen, Odd-Egil, et al. “Exercises to Prevent Lower Limb Injuries in Youth Sports: Cluster Randomised Controlled Trial.” The Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, 24 Feb. 2005, http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download;jsessionid=F6BFCEB06C48B2C1E12479FCE9B9D53B?doi=10.1.1.493.4246&rep=rep1&type=pdf. 
  2. “Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome – OrthoInfo – AAOS.” Frozen Shoulder – Adhesive Capsulitis – OrthoInfo – AAOS, orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/patellofemoral-pain-syndrome/.
  3. Leetun, Darin T, et al. “Core Stability Measures as Risk Factors for Lower Extremity Injury in Athletes.” Clara Barton: Angel of the Battlefield, June 2004, insights.ovid.com/pubmed?pmid=15179160.
  4. Donatelli, Robert. “Muscle Imbalance and Common Overuse Injuries.” Sports Injuries, Treatment and Performance Information, 2 Dec. 2017, www.sportsmd.com/performance/muscle-imbalance-common-overuse-injuries/.
  5. Morton, Sam K, et al. “Resistance Training vs. Static Stretching: Effects on… : The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research.” LWW, journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Fulltext/2011/12000/Resistance_Training_vs__Static_Stretching__Effects.22.aspx.
  6. William, Hejna, et al. “The Prevention of Sports Injuries in High School Students… : Strength & Conditioning Journal.” LWW, journals.lww.com/nsca-scj/Abstract/1982/02000/The_Prevention_of_Sports_Injuries_in_High_School.6.aspx.
  7. “Avoidance of Soccer Injuries with Preseason Conditioning.” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/03635465000280050601?url_ver=Z39.88-2003&rfr_id=ori%3Arid%3Acrossref.org&rfr_dat=cr_pub%3Dpubmed&.
  8. Olsen, Odd-Egil, et al. “Injury pattern in youth team handball: a comparison of two prospective registration methods.” The BMJ, British Medical Journal Publishing Group, 19 May. 2005, www.bmj.com/content/330/7489/449.
  9. Paterno, Mark V., et al. “Prevention of Overuse Sports Injuries in the Young Athlete.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Oct. 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3796354/.
  10. Wingfield, K. “Neuromuscular Training to Prevent Knee Injuries in Adolescent Female Soccer Players.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Sept. 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23989384.
  11. Faigenbaum, A D, and G D Myer. “Resistance Training Amount Young Athletes: Safety, Efficacy and Injury Prevention Effects .” Resistance Training Amount Young Athletes: Safety, Efficacy and Injury Prevention Effects , 20 Jan. 2010, thetitusreport.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Faigenbaum_and_Myer_2010BJSM_resistance_training_youth.pdf.