In-season training for players who don’t have the luxury of a strength and conditioning coach often looks shambolic.

Yet, it’s completely understandable. It isn’t an easy thing to pull together, particularly with sporadic match schedules.

Getting an appropriate in-season program could be one of the best things you could do this year to maximise your performance and prevent those reoccurring injuries. This article should give you some practical insight into how to do that.

 

Cut the Crap


 

Time and energy is sparse in-season: you can’t afford to waste it. Your training has to be an efficient machine. Eliminate the crap. Prioritise the essentials.

Abide by the 80/20 rule when selecting your sessions; what 20% of your training contributes to 80% of your results?

  • Sprinting
  • Jumps and plyometrics
  • Explosive exercises i.e. Olympic lifts, trap-bar jumps, medicine ball throws
  • Squat variation
  • Deadlift variation
  • Press variation
  • Pull variation
  • Conditioning method i.e. tempos
  • Static stretching

A good in-season S&C program will include the majority of these components. Don’t let Instagram drown you in novel exercises; do the basics, do them well.

 

 

Build your Week around Game Day


 

Game day is king. Repeat that to yourself, it’s often neglected.

Many athletes are so desperate to improve their performance they often overdo the amount of training they do in-season, which has the opposite of the intended effect.

The best way to get good at your sport is to play your sport. Think about what your subjecting your body to: sharp cuts, rapid accelerations, powerful collisions. All stimulus’ to get faster, stronger and fitter.

With that in mind, when planning your training week start at game day and work back. Below is an example weekly turnaround which you can use for the common Tuesday/Thursday training schedule:

 

Game-day: Play

Game-day (+1): Recovery Modalities (foam roll, long-walk, sled drags, bike ride)

Game-day (+2): Sports Training (conditioning top-up if needed) + Lower-body Session

Game-day (+3): Upper-body Session

Game-day (-3): Sports Training (conditioning top-up if needed)

Game-day (-2): Power/Speed Session + optional pump

Game-day (-1): Rest

Game-day: Play

 

With this structure we’re looking to optimise the balance between keeping fresh for match-play and exposing the body to stressors to keep it fit.

For this reason, more fatiguing sessions are placed as early in the week as possible i.e. Game-day (+2) is a physically taxing day including the heavier lower-body work. To reduce the fatigue and feeling of “heavy legs” it’s kept as far away from game day as possible. While the power/speed session on Game-day (-2) gets athletes feeling sharp and primed for the weekend game.

 

Table 1. Example Game-day (-2) speed and power session. Click link for example hypertrophy circuit.

 

 

Be an Adaptable Athlete


 

If you have a shorter turn-around between games you’ve got to prioritise based upon what physical stimulus that you won’t get from a game.

In general we get a high number of accelerations, decelerations and change-of-directions in sports training and games, but rarely open up >20m. Therefore, we need to a hit a few top-end sprints (30m) to maintain our ability to do so and prevent injury. Furthermore, players rarely expose themselves to the magnitude of forces needed to develop maximal strength.

Keeping this in mind, a five day turnaround could look like this:

Game-day: Play

Game-day (+1): Recovery Modalities (foam roll, long-walk, sled drags, bike ride)

Game-day (+2): Sports Training + Lower-body

Game-day (-2): Upper-body

Game-day (-1): Sports Walkthrough + top-end speed top up (1-3 sprints >30m)

Game-day: Play

 

 

Pro Athletes are Consistent


 

I’d highly recommend organising your training plan on a week by week basis. Sport is about consistency. Regularly performing at 90% of your physical best is better than aiming to achieve 110% during the finals, only to sit at a sluggish 70% during the regular season. You wouldn’t make the finals anyway.

Don’t try to create an overcomplicated peaking plan. Instead, look to tick these boxes on a weekly basis:

  • One upper-body and one lower-body session (or two full-body sessions)
  • One or two speed sessions later in the week (this can include sports training)
  • One explosive power session later in the week
  • Daily mobility and prehab
  • Sprinkle in conditioning if needed (1-2 x week) *unlikely to be needed in American Football
  • *Optional “armour building” session towards the end of the week

 

 

Common Questions


 

What Set and Rep Schemes should I use? 

In-season you should look to at least maintain your strength levels. A template I’ve used successfully (a modified version Dan Bakers In-season Cycle):

 

Exercise Wk 1 Wk 2 Wk 3 Wk 4 Wk 5 Wk 6
Upper-body (i.e. Bench) 70% x 8

70% x 8

70% x 8

70% x 8

75% x 6

80% x 5

75% x 6

82% x 5

88% x 3+

70% x 8

75% x 6

80% x 5

77% x 6

85% x 5

90% x 3+

85% x 5

90% x 3

95% x 2+

Lower-body (i.e. Squat)

 

If fatigued, 2 sets only.

60% x 8

60% x 8

65% x 8

60% x 8

70% x 6

75% x 5

70% x 6

78% x 5

82% x 3+

60% x 8

72% x 6

78% x 5

72% x 6

80% x 5

85% x 3

77% x 5

85% x 3

90% x 2+

 

Exercise Wk 1 Wk 2 Wk 3 Wk 4 Wk 5 Wk 6
Explosive Power/Strength (i.e. Oly lift) 65% x 5

65% x 5

65% x 5

70% x 4

70% x 4

70% x 4

75% x 3

75% x 3

75% x 3

65% x 5

65% x 5

65% x 5

70% x 4

70% x 4

70% x 4

75% x 3

75% x 3

75% x 3

Hypertrophy Assistance 2-3 x 15 @ 65-70% 2-3 x 12 @ 65-70% 2-3 x 10 @ 65-70% 2-3 x 8 @ 75-80% 2-3 x 8 @ 75-80% 2-3 x 6 @ 75-80%

 

Nutrition and Bodyweight

Unless you are seriously overweight you should be in a calorie surplus or at least maintenance. Don’t look to drop significant amounts of weight in-season: your performance will suffer and your risk of injury will be through the roof. Physical contact has been shown to significantly increase your weekly calorie requirements.

 

Maintaining/building Muscle Mass In-season

Ensure your hitting strength sessions as stated above, stay in a calorie surplus and add in “pump sessions” when possible. Pump sessions are simply quick sessions (>30min), mostly consisting of isolation exercises for the upper-body that don’t cause a lot of fatigue. Include a high volume of lighter pulling exercises that keep the shoulders healthly i.e. pull-aparts, facepulls, rows, chins etc. You can sprinkle one or two of these into your lighter training weeks.

 

Dealing with Niggles

Keep plan B as close to plan A as possible. Sore shoulder? Floor press instead of bench press. Knees not dealing with running well? Do the exact same conditioning session on a bike. Injuries are a reality of contact sports; make sure you’re an adaptable athlete.

 

Reduce Soreness

If you’re constantly sore – your pre-season wasn’t good enough. You should have a work capacity high enough to deal with the demands of a season. That being said, make sure your getting 8hours sleep per night (have a lie in post-game day because you’ll probably be up until 1am…) and in a calorie surplus.

Recovery methods like foam rolling are just icing on the cake. If you already have the cake made you can use the 100-point recovery system on “recovery-days” to speed up the process; smply accumulate 100 points however you wish.

Managing your in-season training appropriately could be the single best thing you could do for your season.

I hope you can draw some practical takeaways from this article, please leave a like if you did and share it with friends who may find it useful.