In-season training is one of the most misunderstood aspects of athlete development. Usually there are two sides of the coin when it comes to the mishandling of how to go about continuing progress during the season. The first group of athletes and coaches simply stop training all together or are afraid to continue any type of intense training. The other group of athletes and coaches never take their foot off the gas and end up wearing themselves down, which ultimately can stunt development and progress, hurt in-game performance or even lead to injury. Proper in-season training can go a long way in furthering development that was achieved during the off-season and preserving gains made over the course of the prior six months of training. It can also help prevent injuries and improve on-field performance! When it comes to in-season training you can vastly improve the effectiveness of your programming by understanding submaximal maintenance training and flexibility with your programming, the use of concentric only exercises and using high repetitions to promote much needed recovery!
Submaximal Training and Programming Flexibility
Before you begin to understand submaximal training you must first grasp the basic fundamentals of programming flexibility. Essentially, you need to have a good feel for your body and be mindful of your in-season schedule in order to adapt your program to fit your needs. For example, you may find that weather may change your game schedule during a baseball season. You must have options of varying intensities in your programming so that you can properly adjust. If you are feeling good and have an easier week of games (for any reason), you can increase the intensity of your training so that you can still make some gains and further your development. Remember, just because you are in-season does not mean you cannot further improve on attributes you gained in the off-season.
With that being said, here is a quick breakdown of a method you can use to approach your loads and intensities while you are aiming to maintain, and then how you can have some flexibility in light of opportunities to up the intensity to off-season levels. I normally keep my athletes in the 70-90/95% range of their one rep max (1RM), while they are in-season. Essentially, the only time they will work towards 90/95% of their off-season 1RM is if they are only performing one-repetition sets. I feel that the 70-85% range coupled with anywhere from 2-5 repetitions is a perfect place to maintain (and even gain) strength.
Once you have this is mind it is easy to see how you can be flexible in adjusting your volume and load percentages. For example, let’s take a high school baseball player who is performing two “in-season,” training day’s per-week. This athlete’s primary lower body movement is the squat, and he maxed out at 265 pounds at the end of the off-season. Let’s create a sample situation where the general program called for three repetition sets of 80% of his 1RM, but he had an easy week due to miscellaneous cancellations and scheduling complications. An adjustment to that set program would look as follows:
You can see how easy it is to adjust your intensity to take advantage of lighter weeks you may get throughout the season! Take advantage of these opportunities and adjust!
Making The Most of a Prowler Sled (Concentric only exercises)
I will keep this short and sweet (I promise I will try). Muscle fibers predominantly tear during eccentric portions of a range of motion. That is, the lowering of the weight where you are controlling a load or resistance is what promotes muscle fiber tears and hypertrophy. With that in mind, concentric (part of the range of motion where you are moving into extension like the pressing in a bench press or upward movement in a squat) only movements are a great way to preserve strength, but limit eccentric stresses that can cause soreness. This is key when we are in the thick of a season and we do not want to place extra stresses on our muscles. In addition, concentric only movements help us maintain much of the strength we built in the off-season.
In light of this, the prowler sled is your best friend. Almost all activities done with a sled do not incorporate an eccentric load on the body. Sled pushes work your legs, but only through extension, sled rows do the same and just about any other variation can be thought of in order to preserve strength and limit muscular soreness.
Using High Repetitions to Promote Recovery
Lastly, I will generally make one of my suggested two-day in-season training days repetition based. Higher repetition sets at lower intensities (think of a 15 rep set with a weight you could do for 30 reps) are great to promote blood flow and recovery for an in-season athlete who may very well need this. A great way to treat recovery based repetition lifts is to perform them in a 65-75% intensity (window for aerobic recovery). In addition you can also treat the higher repetition based lifts with the same mentality as your heavier day. IT IS OK to push it just a bit if you are feeling great and have a lighter schedule that week.
Go ahead and use these tools to ensure that your in-season training is effective and even result yielding as tool to send you into the next off-season with a head start on your competition!
Over the past couple of months I have made great use of yielding isometrics in my programming for my athletes. In doing so, I have developed some great strategies (in my opinion) on how to utilize these particular movements as accessories in your programming that can help pack on some much desired muscle (along with some strength)! Here is a quick and easy to understand breakdown of yielding isometrics along with some practical ways to implement them in your programming.
What are Yielding Isometrics?
So already in this article I have mentioned that yielding isometrics are a great tool to use to build muscle mass. With that being said, this gives us a great clue as to what is occurring during yielding isometrics that helps build muscle mass. As many of us know, a major component involved in the creation of muscle mass is the tearing of muscle fibers (myofibril hypertrophy). During myofibril hypertrophy contractile proteins also increase so you will also see some strength gains as well! This differs from sarcoplasmic hypertrophy (the result of high repetition bodybuilding style sets) in which non-contractile fluid, sarcoplasm, increases in volume. This is the “pump,” effect many bodybuilders refer to and is also the reason you can be massive and not have strength relative to your size!
Now, what sounds more appealing to an athlete? Functional muscle mass that correlates to strength gains or “show,” muscle that does not actually provide much of a performance benefit? Assuming that you want functional muscle mass, Yielding Isometrics are for you. Essentially, yielding isometrics involve resisting forces that are trying to pull you back through the range of motion you are performing. For example, the banded terminal knee extension exercise being performed here. The athlete moves through the full range of motion and then attempts to hold that position as the band is trying to pull him back through. Basically, you are resisting eccentric forces (remember that eccentrics cause muscle fiber tearing), and thus working myofibril hypertrophy.
How to Implement Yielding Isometrics
Before I delve into specifics on how you can pair these with certain exercises in your programming, here is one basic principal I like to use with yielding isometrics. I stick to general principles of hypertrophy and aim to keep time under tension (total amount of time a muscle is contracted during a set) to 30-50 seconds. You can begin with 30 seconds and gradually work your way up to 50 as you progress through your program.
My two favorite ways to implement Yielding isometrics in my programming thus far are as a second exercise in a superset that targets the same muscle groups as the first exercise or as the second exercise in a superset to accompany a concentric only movement.
Now that you understand yielding isometrics you can utilize them and maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of your programming!
Give them a try and notice immediate gains in muscle mass as well as strength!
Gerry DeFilippo: ISSA CPT- CPPS, AAPS. Founder/Owner: Challenger Strength.