Many athletes go throughout their career with a variety of training protocols. This is both good and bad as there are many philosophies as to proper conditioning. There are two types of training in-season and off-season. They should be different in how they approach developing the athlete through both phases of the season. I have been in the fitness industry for 24 years and have worked with young athletes all the way through professional athletes. I am going to share my thoughts on the best strategies I have seen in my career.
On-season training protocol involves the athlete being in the midst of their normal sport season. This means that they typically have practice Monday through Friday with games sprinkled in throughout the week and weekends. This does not leave a ton of time for the strength training side of the training protocol. Athletes can benefit from light strength training with high volume reps approximately two times per week depending on the intensity of the schedule that week. This means that they should focus on total body conditioning while focusing on some areas of neglect or that are injury prone. An athlete in a unilateral sport should focus on more unilateral movements involving dumbbells, core, medicine balls, and body weight.
Athletes can incorporate compound movements but that should not be their sole focus when participating in a unilateral sport. An athlete’s strength program should focus on areas of neglect and weakness to combat any imbalances that may occur from their normal sport. On-season training should also highly focus on recovery, foam rolling, deep tissue massage, and stretching. This is how you keep your athletes healthy throughout the season. As far as the conditioning side goes an athlete should focus on the plays and skills needed to play the sport. This does not mean incorporating high intensity running or long distance running while in season. An athlete should use the off-season to get in shape and once the season begins knowing the plays and skills are far more valuable.
Off-season training protocol is meant to work on areas of weakness and condition to be ready for the upcoming season. Most strength and conditioning coaches prefer to work on PR’s and low volume heavy workloads to develop power and strength. I tend to disagree with this philosophy because although strength and power are important, so are flexibility, mobility, and endurance. I prefer that an athlete can compete at the same intensity in the first quarter as the fourth quarter with little or no drop off in performance.
One of my biggest pet peeves is when a coach makes athletes run long distance. If an athlete plays football, soccer, basketball, baseball, field hockey, lacrosse, or tennis, they do not need to run long distance mileage. Running more than a mile is pointless in a balllistic sport such as the ones listed above. A slow steady run SLOWS down an athlete’s sprint speed. If you make an athlete run two miles than do so in a interval run. This means they run for whatever distance say 50 yards at a sprint and then they jog 25 yards. They can repeat this process for a two mile run which will help build endurance. This is a much better protocol and benefits the athlete greatly. There is no reason to run 7 miles if you are a soccer goalie. PLEASE STOP with this insanity.
Off-season strength training should be relevant to the sport the athlete is participating in. This means you could perform some high-volume training instead of the low volume heavy weight protocol. Each one should be incorporated to what that particular athlete may need. There are many different approaches to getting an athlete to the next level. I prefer safer exercises that provide a low-risk when it comes to injuring the athlete. More attention should be focused on form and technique rather than workload. Most coaches want the same thing, bigger, faster, and stronger. The problem is one of the easiest ways to attain that goal is foam rolling, stretching, and mobility. Many coaches don’t do those things or use them as the first thing to get cut from practice if they are running short on time.
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