GameDay Lifts

GameDay Lifts

One of the hottest recent topics in the world of High School Strength and Conditioning, it has exploded in popularity amongst the rank and file coaching world.

To be clear, we are not talking about the efficacy of In-Season training and the consistency of strength training through a competitive schedule. Rather, we are referencing the quickly growing trend of high school coaches who seek to use a targeted weight training session as a direct and immediate precursor to improved athletic performance on the field of competition.

In a relatively short amount of time, the common convention has shifted from one extreme to another: 

“Lifts should occur as far before competition as possible” → “We lift on Game day to give our team an advantage”

With such a drastic swing in popular opinion over such a short time, we thought it’s worth a deep dive into ALL the facts surrounding “GameDay Lifts” and their possible use and benefit. (If you haven’t already, check out our podcast on the GameDay Lifts.)

“GameDay Lifts” vs. Lifting on Game Day

Before we do anything else, let’s first clarify the VERY important distinction between lifting for a perceived benefit during a following competition, and performing a standard developmental lift on the same day you play a game.

The “GameDay Lift” is meant to incite better performance in the moment, the science of which we will dive into in a moment.

However, sometimes, game day performance isn’t the actual priority. 

Sometimes, there are circumstances at the High School level, and even the elite level, that warrants a lift performed on the day of a game.

For example, a Freshman soccer player engaged in his or her first bout of consistent strength training may benefit far more from additional days of training and less of a focus on competitive results. It would be hard for any multi-sport athlete to develop over their initial months and years of training if they were perpetually considered “in-season”.

Maybe, younger athletes are less “in-season” than they are in the developmental process – with their sport seasons taking a back seat. Getting 3 days of training in a week may trump any competition schedule or desire for performance on the field in the moment.

Additionally, some sports are less taxing. Your JV baseball team may not exert themselves as much during a competition due to the nature of the game and/or the number of athletes and substitutes. These athletes may achieve more benefits from spending more time in the weight room, adding in lifting sessions rather than removing them.

In each scenario, a coach is placing greater emphasis on strength & athletic development than performance during competition.

We are actually great proponents of providing more training for athletes who don’t play much, or play at a lower level, as they are still in a developmental stage and the extra training won’t take away from the game since they don’t participate much.

However, when it comes to the rising concept of “GameDay lifts”, it is very much a different scenario. Instead, coaches are having athletes lift prior to games for a perceived ergogenic aid. 

We’re talking in-the-moment performance, not development.

The Rise of GameDay Lifts

For decades, In-Season strength training has been a consistent staple of great programs. This training included carefully selected strength exercises to preserve a resiliency to injury and maintain maximal strength & power output during competition.

In fact, this approach to training has been widely regarded as an essential component in all athletic seasons. 

In-Season Strength Training: Maintaining strength levels during a competitive season in order to reduce susceptibility to injury. 

Over the past year or two, however, a new facet of In-Season training has risen…

TheGameDay Lift.

A “GameDay Lift” is a specifically programmed weight workout, performed in a specific window of time prior to competition, intended to elicit a biological response that results in improved performance on the field.

Most simply, Coaches across the country are using maximal intensity movement at low volume as a stimulus to “wake the team up” before a competition.

Proponents of this new training protocol are pioneering an attempt to harness the power of “PAP”, or “Post-Activation Potentiation”, and the biological response found in humans after physical activity.

Here, at the concept of PAP, though, is where the murkiness begins.

Specific exercises DO, in fact, cause excitement of the body and mind. BUT, the research and reality of its application are far more complicated than a simple yes or no use case.

All Hail Post-Activation Potentiation

So, what the heck is PAP, really?

Officially, PAP is the documented excitation of the central nervous system producing an increase in contractile function, following a heavy load lifting stimulus (3). It is a phenomenon by which the potential force exerted by a muscle is increased in subsequent attempts due to previous contraction (1). 

So, even more basically…lift something heavy, and your muscles and nervous system will be better primed to do so again afterwards.

Not to get too science-y here, but PAP is believed to be the sum of 3 specific biological reactions: 

  1. An increase in Phosphorylation of the regulatory light chains — which means an increase in the cross-bridge cycling rate or how quickly you can produce force (4,5)
  2. An increase in potentiated H-reflex excitability — which in turn means increased recruitment of high-order motor neurons, leading to faster and more forceful muscle contractions (4,5,9)
  3. A decrease in the pennation angle of the muscle fibers — which is an advantage as more force can be transferred through the tendon and eventually to the bone (3,4,5)

To cause such a reaction, athletes must perform compound strength or power movements (the back squat or power clean, for example), using loads of 80% or greater, relative to their 1 Rep Max, for just 1 to 2 reps and sets (1-5). 

This resulting excitation or “alertness” is temporary, but can cause significant improvements in explosive movement (particularly countermovement jumps), sprint speed, and throwing ability (1-9). 

Sounds Great! Though, I feel like there is a “but” coming…

Considerations for PAP Application in Athletics

While the results of PAP excitation seem to be nothing but beneficial to athletics and performance, there are a number of additional considerations that must be made when attempting to utilize it in a team setting, especially with high schoolers.

Small Window of Opportunity – Timing & Duration

Perhaps the most notable conclusion in the research that is worth your consideration is the timing and duration of the desired effect.

In fact, the window for potentiation (excitement) peaks at about 6 minutes post-lift, and has completely dissipated by the 14-minute mark (4,9). It has been suggested that such timing of peak potentiation is because it is the period in which light-chain myosin remains phosphorylated, creating a contraction “memory” and fatigue has subsided (7). 

This window of opportunity has been coined: the ‘‘fitness-fatigue model’ (4,5). To further complicate things, this window is also HIGHLY dependent upon the exercise (different exercises cause different fatigue rates) and training status of the athlete (e.g. trained or untrained), all of which call for different protocols to see an effect (4-8).

Because of this ‘window’, it is worth mentioning that in all of the research, PAP has only shown positive results in single event tests (all-out sprint, maximum jump or throw), not repeated events (1-4,7,9). 

So, when thinking about team sports, competing in games spanning multiple hours, with on-field warm-up periods beforehand, utilizing PAP through weight training becomes tricky.

Training Status & Amateur Athletes

Furthermore, High School coaches should take into consideration who they are training.

Almost without exception, high school athletes are amateurs – with relatively limited experience in the weight room. 

PAP is proven to be less effective, or not effective at all, in amateur athletes; regardless of the type of training method performed (4,7,9). 

In fact, PAP effect from lifting protocols may not be effective until the lifter has become elite (10+ years of training experience) and any form of lifting could cause immediate detriment in subsequent performance tests for less trained individuals (8). 

Fatigue

Putting aside the effect of nervous system excitation, we must look at the other subsequent effects of training. 

We must remember, any form of lifting causes muscle damage, an increase in cortisol, and a decrease in testosterone, no matter the amount thereof or intention of training (4,8,12).

From the research, we know that during any lifting session of maximal muscle contraction, there are a number of other, potentially detrimental, physiological reactions:

  • a rapid depletion of creatine
  • an accumulation of extracellular potassium
  • an increase in intramuscular calcium and hydrogen

All three contribute to a subsequent decrease in force production and strength (8). This problem is greatly intensified with less trained individuals, and the effect can last from several days to even weeks, post lift (7-11,13).

Additionally, beginner lifters will suffer from metabolic fatigue due to decreased storage and availability of energy substrates, and a brief decrease in performance from circulating hormones (8). 

Younger populations (22 and younger) generally do recover faster from muscle damage, however, this is often overstated. 

Once muscle damage has occurred, regardless of age or amount, there has to be a recovery process in order to repair the damage. It’s during this time, that peak power output, average power output, and maximal strength are compromised, combined with elevated soreness, fatigue and inflammatory markers (14). 

To complicate matters further, we also know that on game-days, cortisol levels are already significantly elevated (8,12). 

Any additional exhaustion, no matter how small, will be chiefly evident towards the end of the game (e.g. 4th quarter), when fatigue is the single largest factor in determining team success; particularly at the High School level with small teams and limited subs (12).

Long story short, athletes can only excite the CNS enough times before the system becomes exhausted, overloaded, and fatigued – often times resulting in injury or illness in the athlete (13).  

If sporting events are 2 hours long or more, and volume on the field is high, a coach must consider whether CNS activation is of benefit relative to any pre-fatigue to muscles, hormones, or energy substrates prior to the start of a game. 

Our Approach for High School Athletes

It is of our own personal opinion, here at PLT4M, that the “GameDay lift” may not be the most advantageous approach to maximizing on-field performance.

So what would we do?

DAY OF: Reducing Stressors

Candidly, if we had a team hours before the game, we would try to reduce unnecessary stressors, rather than adding them, such as having them wake up early or changing daily routine to get in a lift. 

Instead, we may opt to bring the team into a dark, quiet room, and have them lower their heart rates with breathing techniques to activate their parasympathetic (calming) nervous system, all while having them visualize their jobs on the field or court (footwork, plays, or winning).

Why? 

This will drop stress-hormone levels and improve their ability to control their emotions (13). Moreover, visualization training and anticipating success has been strongly correlated to success on the field (15). Lastly, enhanced breathing warmup techniques can improve performance on the field by up to 15% (16).

Additionally, self-myofascial release performed on game day could be an advantageous use of time, as this has been demonstrated to significantly improve performance markers. 

With foam rolling, heart rate does not rise above the top end of resting – an example of effective exercise that DOES NOT increase fatigue, yet improves performance, and gives the athletes a sense of “feeling good” before a game (17).

Most significantly, there is no damage done to muscles that are about to be taxed.

PRE GAME: PAP in the Warm-Up

This does NOT mean that the concept of PAP is completely moot in our minds.

There are techniques to using the post-activation potentiation response to your advantage that does not impact fatigue on athletes; namely using CNS stimuli during the official pre-game warm-up.

A proper warm-up targets a few necessary conditions, increasing the following: 

  • heart rate
  • body temperature
  • respiration rate
  • blood flow
  • joint viscosity

All of which, in turn, means faster muscle contractions and relaxations, improvements in the rate of force development and reaction time, improvements in muscle strength and power, improvements in oxygen delivery, and enhancements in metabolic reactions to name a few (17,18,19).

Moreover, a systematic warmup will progress from general movements (raising overall heart rate, respiratory rate), to specific exercises the sport or athlete will face. 

During the specific phase, joint range of motion and similar isolating mimicking exercises are used to prime the body, muscles and tendons (18,19). (Examples could be A-Skips, glute bridges, hip or hamstring activation exercises, rotator ROM movements).

During the final phase, short sprints, explosive plyometrics, agility training, and change of direction drills are used to elicit PAP.

In fact, using elements of plyometrics (both bilateral and unilateral) have been found to improve subsequent sprint and vertical results, suggesting that by simply adding in forms of jumping or bounding into the final stage of a warm-up, coaches could theoretically take advantage of this phenomenon (19-22). 

That being said, while research has demonstrated significant improvements using this technique in warming up, how this will affect the course of a match lasting several hours has yet to be determined.

But what about the professional athlete I saw on Social Media, lifting on the day of a game?

Inevitably, this discussion always leads to a response about Michael Jordan’s game day training, or professional MLB athletes lifting on game day, and how this must be proof as to the power of “Gameday Lifts” for performance enhancement. 

In reality, the strength coach is simply navigating a 160-game schedule, complete with travel days and other professional obligations. Sometimes, maintaining consistent strength training to prevent injury may trump game schedules and individual performance in a given day. 

Just like with developmental athletes at the High School level, sometimes, the priority is NOT maximal performance in the moment. 

Outside of clinical research, rehabilitation scenarios, or during contrast training, there are little to no concrete examples of elite athletes using a PAP to gain a competitive advantage in competition or training.

Why?

Even for elite athletes, many unique factors come into play and designing a program to maximize the PAP effect. It is this individualized dose-response that is difficult to control for, to say the least. 

Somewhat similar training has been used by elite track and field coaches and athletes who follow a periodized tapering program and perform a maximal intensity lift on the same day or just prior to their track and field event. 

PAP has also been documented to improve single event swim sprints, and bat swings in baseball, but implementation during a sporting competition is far and few between (10, 11).

Most often, the cost-benefit ratio of lifting weights just prior to a game outweigh any temporary benefit. The added stress, the logistics, the temporariness of PAP, and the difference in results per athlete – it all means the concept is best left in controlled, clinical environments.

This is the conclusion that S&C coaches and exercise scientists agree on: PAP is powerful, but implementing a protocol outside of training, for use around competition, is practically impossible and potentially detrimental. 

Wrapping it All Up

We know we threw a lot at you, here, but we really wanted to do the topic justice. “GameDay Lifts” are a complicated, multi-faceted concept that deserve a truly deep dive.

In our humble opinion, what this whole discussion boils down to, is simply a complete consideration of ALL the circumstances at play in any situation.

  • Who is the athlete in question? 
  • Is development a priority, or performance in a given event?
  • What are the timing, duration, and logistics involved in the competition day?

There is no one answer for all.

As a football coach, for example… 

Perhaps, during school on Fridays in the fall, you are training your underclassmen as “developmental athletes” with full lifts, and your Varsity Athletes/Starters as “competitive athletes” with lower-key stress-reduction. 

Then, during the on-field pre-game, you utilize such a warm up as described above, designed to induce PAP responses and “light up” the entire team for competition.

Or, let’s say your a PE teacher who meets with athletes every day of the week…

First, you separate out your developmental athletes from experienced athletes. The former get consistent weight training education regardless of sport schedule. The latter get true “In-Season” lifts on days when competition does not take place.

For the experienced athletes truly focused on the day’s competition, you can regiment a formal game day protocol that relieves stress and prevents undue fatigue: 

    • 5 minute easy steady state cardio
    • 15 minute total body dynamic warmup progression
    • 15 minute foam roll
    • 5-10 minutes of static stretching

Each section should be explicitly planned and prescribed, down to each movement and its duration. This should take at least 45 minutes but can be stretched as long as needed, as it shouldn’t be rushed in the first place.

In the end, personalization, with consideration for all the factors involved, is the key.

Inevitably, everyone will have their own take and opinion based on the research at hand. BUT, as with anything in terms of training, the key is to simply use your discretion. 

Do you have arguments/questions/comments to add to the discussion? We would love to hear them!


References:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3164001/ (1)

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21229259/ (2)

https://journals.lww.com/nsca-scj/fulltext/2009/06000/The_Application_of_Postactivation_Potentiation_to.3.aspx (3)

https://www.scienceforsport.com/post-activation-potentiation/#toggle-id-1 (4)

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19203135 (5)

https://medium.com/@SandCResearch/what-is-the-fitness-fatigue-model-6a6ca3274aab (6).

http://www.scielo.br/pdf/rbcdh/v19n1/1415-8426-rbcdh-19-1-0128.pdf (7)

https://journals.lww.com/nsca-scj/Citation/2003/12000/The_Fitness_Fatigue_Model_Revisited__Implications.7.aspx (8)

http://article.sapub.org/10.5923.j.sports.20170704.03.html (9)

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25426510 (10)

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=postactivation+potentiation+bat+swing (11)

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40750-015-0028-2 (12)

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5394138/ (13)

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5932411/ (14)

https://athleticinsight.com/Vol6Iss1/SkillsPDF.pdf (15)

https://medicalxpress.com/news/2011-04-secret-weapon-sports.html (16)

https://www.scienceforsport.com/foam-rolling/ (17)

https://www.scienceforsport.com/warm-ups/ (18)

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/280945961_Jeffreys_I_2007_Warm-up_revisited_The_ramp_method_of_optimizing_warm-ups_Professional_Strength_and_Conditioning_6_12-18 (19)

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/23951100_The_Application_of_Postactivation_Potentiation_to_Elite_Sport (20)

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25187244 (21)

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5820625/ (22)

benchtest

10 Commandments for Great Weight Room Culture

The weight room is only as good as the consistent effort and attitude of those who sweat within its confines on a daily basis. The best equipment, the most advanced programs, and all of the flash in the world means nothing if you don’t have commitment from the athletes training.

Such dedication, or “Buy-In”, is the elusive holy grail that coaches are all chasing.

Commitment is a product of “Culture”. Culture is a culmination of inherent expectations and leadership that drives the daily behavior of your students and athletes.

It is our job as the #1 leader of our group, to set a culture that breeds hard work, accountability, and success. We want to inspire a feeling of personal investment in each one of our athletes. Doing so, though, is much easier said than done.

So, what steps can you take to cultivate this type of culture within the weight room, year over year?

1. Set the Tone

Great culture starts with YOU. It will be your passion, your attitude, and your convictions that will ultimately shape the culture in your weight room. More important than WHAT you say, is HOW you say it. Everything you express through body language, attitude, and tone, matters. Students are always watching.

2. Lead by Example

See point 1. You must define your message and practice what you preach! If you don’t exemplify model behavior, why would your athletes be inspired to do so themselves? Therefore, if you’re late and your rule is a 10 burpee penalty when tardy, then drop and hit your burpees. Students may giggle, but they will respect you even more.

3. Put the Athletes First

Successful weight rooms do not emphasize reps, sets, weights, workouts, or equipment. Rather, they emphasize the athletes who are giving their all. Our priority is the students themselves and an environment of collective effort, camaraderie, and competition.

4. Celebrate Winning

Encourage students by matching and challenging their current ability, not overreaching and tossing students into advanced programs too soon. Every student, regardless of ability, will be successful at something, make sure you provide that something. If a student hits a training mark, celebrate it! Create goals, poundage clubs, leaderboards, and inject competition within workouts, weeks, and seasons to drive effort and engagement.

5. Plan, Plan, Plan Ahead

Nothing derails a weight room like inefficiency. A great coach knows there is no place for poor planning or a lack of preparation. You must be ready, at any given moment, to work with any athlete that walks through your doors. Create your entire progression of programs ahead of time – something for every level of experience and schedule. Proper education, progression, and scheduling ahead of time will ensure students are being set up for success.

6. Explain Your “Whys”

Don’t just work your athletes, teach them. Believe it or not, kids really do want to know “why”. Empower students with an education so that they believe in what you are asking of them.

7. Invest in Your Home

Your room is a physical reflection of yourself and your culture. With some sweat and a few dollars you create a better environment. Small changes to the atmosphere can have a huge impact, providing the catalyst for big change in culture. Clean the room, rearrange the equipment in a more orderly fashion, buy cheap new basics like PVC’s/medballs/bars/clips/chalk/etc, or spend a weekend repainting the walls or replacing the flooring yourself.

8. Respect Your Home

No matter the situation you’re in, you can create an atmosphere you’re proud of. Care for your equipment, place a priority on order and accountability in the room. Even if it’s not much, be grateful for the equipment you do have, take pride in it and take care of it to keep it in tip-top shape. If you show that you care, the students will follow suit.

9. Make it Last

Want to make a lasting mark at your school? You must be willing to be a vocal and proactive advocate for your own efforts and that of your students. Every student should have the right to a complete physical education. They deserve a place to better themselves, physically and mentally, under the tutelage of a knowledgeable and passionate coach. Campaign for yourself and your program – convince your PE/Athletics department to invest in the betterment of it’s students.

10. Have Fun!

Energy and enthusiasm is infectious. So, if you’re having a bad day – if you’re tired, you’re unhappy with colleagues, you’re personal life is bumpy … you must rise above it. Put it all aside when it comes time to work with your athletes. For you, and your athletes, the Weight Room should be a place where nothing else matters.

You owe it to them to give it your best each day, because you’re expecting their best each day in return. We’re investing in our student’s physical development and well-being, there can be no more important mission that that.

Culture_cropped

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.

Front Rack

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.