4 Keys to Great Off-Season Workouts

1. Master the Basics…then Master Them Again.

The bedrock of any program is movement. Before you can apply intensity, volume, or anything else, you must master basic movement patterns. Far too often, coaches and athletes get caught up in the flashy things they see on Instagram (thanks, Lebron), or in using the program from a big time college team.

In doing so, we miss the point entirely. You can only dive into advanced training after building a rock-solid foundation of movement, capacity, and self-awareness. You wouldn’t skip Algebra and go straight to teaching Calculus, would you? Training is no different. Just like any subject in high school, there is an educational process involved.

You cannot assume that if something works for elite athletes, it is appropriate for your average high school athlete. All this does is set them up for failure and risk unnecessary injuries from training (1, 2, 3).

Your program should be built for your audience – the developmental athlete (regardless of sport or gender). Build your athletes from the ground up: first developing competency within all of the basic movement patterns, building full-body strength through compound lifts, and then utilizing a holistic range of capacities.

As the former S&C coach for the LA Lakers says, even for advanced athletes this really “isn’t rocket science”.

2. Balance in All Things

Even once we’ve made movement a priority, we must be highly cognizant of what we ask our athletes to do on a regular basis. As with everything else, balance is ever the key. If we push, we must pull, if we squat, we must hinge.

But, why? Well, performing one movement to the exclusion of another results in the over-taxing of one set of muscles and the under-development of another. This is the root cause of most injuries.

For example, let’s take a look at everyone’s favorite – the Squat. While it strengthens nearly every muscle in the core and lower body and correlates with faster sprinting and higher jumping (4), it neglects the hamstrings to a relatively significant degree. Hamstrings are activated 50% less than the quads, even in the back squat (5). Thus, if we want to avoid a strength deficit, which is strongly correlated to ACL tears, poor joint stability, hamstring tears and other injuries (6), we must balance out our movement. If we squat, we must also do targeted posterior chain work.

Don’t fall in love with one movement over all others, they all have a part to play. The best programs do it all, and do it all well.

3. Variety is the Spice of Life

The simple fact is, using just one type of training method over and over will never allow athletes to reach their full athletic potential. The best results in health, fitness, and performance come from programs that cover a wide variety of domains (78, 9). From volume, to intensity, to duration – it should all be planned for, trained, and well-balanced.

Variety, though, does NOT mean randomly selecting movements and workouts day-to-day. It must be a part of your larger PLAN.

We already know that movement choice is a balancing act, but beyond that we must consider the domains within which they are trained. It is CRITICAL to plan variations in volume, intensity, and exercises; as these variations prevent overtraining and maximize results (10, 11). Many of the high school programs we see lack this element. Often, we see coaches sticking with the same thing over and over to simplify planning and execution. Keeping weights, reps, and movements the same for weeks on end ultimately causes a break in progress and barrier to full recovery (12).

This is exactly why, here at PLT4M, we opt to utilize an approach similar to the “Conjugate” method. Essentially, shorter training phases, multiple training goals within each week, frequent movement and emphasis changes, all capitalize on the body’s rapid ability to adapt to external stresses (10, 11). We ensure that the training stimulus does not become habituating in nature, all while allowing for greater recovery within the training week.

Speaking of recovery…

4. All Things in Moderation

The beginning of the off-season is an exciting time for everyone. The slate is clean, the hopes are high, and the energy level matches the ambition. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement.

We get it.

BUT, one of the biggest (and most frequently made) mistakes coaches fall into is asking too much of their athletes. We should always approach the off-season as a time to work smarter, not harder.

We now know we must preach fundamentals before intensity, be balanced in our movement choices to avoid injury, and provide variety to stimulate growth…but we must also practice restraint.

The human body is an incredible machine, and will adapt to training in impressive ways – but everyone has a breaking point. Pushing past the upper limit of volume, or work done, in a given time period is where we begin to see the point of diminishing returns. This is called “Overtraining”.

When discussing overtraining, we have to talk about training volume (total work done) and training intensity (percentage of a 1 RM). These two lifting parameters generally must exist in an inverse relationship. We must realize that more sets and reps doesn’t equate to more results. In fact, volume beyond a certain intensity yields no benefit and may even hold detrimental effects to training (10).

Proper recovery is paramount to long-term health and better results. Each week must be programmed with the balance of volume and intensity in mind. Each phase must consider the emphasis placed on various training domains. Each program must consider when to step back and de-load entirely…etcetera, etcetera.

Conclusion

Want to win the off-season? Don’t be the coach that walks in each day and writes whatever you’re thinking on the whiteboard and say’s “Let’s Go!” You wouldn’t do that at practice, don’t do it in the weight room.

Like in sports, the key is to have a plan, and execute it well.

In the end, the best programs are ones that see the bigger picture. They must take into account the educational development of every athlete, they balance their movement, train all domains, and plan ahead for proper restraint to ensure continued progress.

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.