It’s a common cue you might hear from a coach. “Load to explode!”
That’s because it is fundamental to many sports movements and involves two of the six types of athletic strength.
LOADING YOUR MUSCLES
Loading is what you see athletes doing in a countermovement or wind-up. It’s that pre-stretch in many movements that increases their power. It measures how quickly you are able to build up force doing in that counter-movement.
Scientifically we describe this as the rate of force development. It tells us how quickly you can turn on your muscles and build up force. In the STRENGTH SIGNATURE, we describe this type of strength as LOAD.
When people are talking about strength, they often mean an athletes ability to apply maximal forces. They are talking about max strength.
But to generate maximum strength, peak forces could take over a second to build up. In rate of force development, we are looking at time frames of as little as 50-200 milliseconds.
As an example, picture a player about to jump. They first bend their knees and hips and dip down in what’s called a countermovement.
That counter movement helps build up force levels in the muscles and store some elastic energy to use while they jump up.
LOAD is the strength ability to have a high rate of force development during that counter-movement.
Another example would be an athlete “winding up” to throw a ball or a punch. Or maybe a hockey player winding up for more power in their slapshot or a tennis player preparing for a big swing.
Coaches and athletes often talk about explosiveness and power since these are qualities that athletes want. Jumping, sprinting, hitting, throwing, and changes of direction can be described in these terms.
But it isn’t always clear exactly how they are looking at it.
In physics terms power is how much work can be done in a period of time.
However, if we rearrange the formula for power, we end up with a formula that says Power = force * velocity. Basically that means power is strength multiplied by speed.
POWER = STRENGTH X SPEED
Power is a determining factor in athletic movements such as jumping and sprinting where time to perform is limited. It is often framed relative to bodyweight because that matters when an athlete in running and jumping.
The more power they can develop per pound of bodyweight, the more it will project their body forward.
Think of it as an engine and it’s power output. A big engine with lots of power might not move a large truck that fast, but put it into a smaller, lighter car and it flies. More power per pound.
In our STRENGTH SIGNATURE, EXPLODE is the average power an athlete can produce relative to their bodyweight.
Load To Explode
As mentioned earlier, that loading action, makes the following explosive movement more powerful. That’s why it’s so important in sports and we see it so much.
This combination of two types of strength in a coordinated athletic movement is a key part of performance training. We want faster loading, and more explosive power.
Loading is trained when we put an emphasis on how quickly muscles fire, not just how hard. Two of the ways we commonly do this are through starting explosive exercises from a pause, and by overloading counter-movements.
Sometimes the way to force an athlete to work on a specific strength quality is to put them at a disadvantage. This means they will have to overemphasize it, thus stimulating improvement.
In Load, we are talking about the ability to turn on muscles quickly.
So we take away momentum and counter-movements. Doing explosive exercises like jumps or Olympic lifts from a static start can be a big help here.
To improve the Rate of Force Development (LOAD) during a counter-movement, you can overload the counter-movement with added weight or movement speed.
For instance, in some plyometric or agility drills we have athletes use medicine balls, weight vests, or bungee cords to overload the “loading” portion before they explode.
This is a really effective way to not just build general Load ability but to work on the motor control for applying it to a specific movement.
In addition to training Speed and Agility, we also develop an athlete’s power capability through weight training and plyometrics.
Jumping exercises can teach athletes how to apply their strength quickly or can be used to overload it.
Through different types of plyometrics, we can train specific movement patterns that athletes need so that their EXPLODE qualities translate to improvements in their sport.
One of the most effective ways to improve EXPLODE is with Olympic lifts. By their nature, these movements combine strength and speed.
Athletes don’t need to always do the full competitive versions of the lifts or be as technically perfect as an Olympic caliber lifter. Basic technique and variations of the lifts are useful tools for all athletes seeking increased power capabilities.
Train Your Ability To Load and Explode
It’s a key part of sport most athletes should be training. By training these two strength types you can increase the speed and power of many key athletic movements. When it comes to strength training for athletes, it’s not only about how heavy a barbell you can lift.
The strength hockey players need to succeed is not always obvious to the casual observer. While lifting big weights like a heavy squat or bench press is impressive, strength is a lot more than just the matter on a barbell for athletes.
Here’s what you have to understand, those heavy lifting exercises are just one type of strength. It’s high force, but relatively slow (at least when compared to most sports movements).
In Velocity’s strength taxonomy, that’s what we’d call Max Strength or simply FORCE in the Strength Signature.
There are 6 types of strength we refer to for athletes. The development of all of them is crucial in building a better hockey athlete over the long term.
However, as a hockey player progresses, they will eventually focus on developing specific ones to higher levels and in the planes of motion that dominate the sport.
A player will need to increase their FORCE or maximum strength for quite a few years into their career. Young players in the NHL are often still building this as you won’t hit your higher-level until mid-twenties.
This serves as a base for many of the other qualities we are going to talk about. It also provides a degree of protection by increasing the load tolerance of the athlete’s soft tissues.
To go beyond that general strength, we perform a Strength Diagnosis through testing athletes and identify their unique Strength Signature—a profile of all 6 types of athletic power.
Even without that type of individual analysis, here are the 3 types of strength we’d like to see in a hockey player.
This strength quality is all about being able to absorb and control high levels of eccentric force. Eccentric muscle actions are where the muscle is applying force, but still stretching longer. It’s a critical and unique type of strength that is often neglected in many hockey players.
Every time a hockey player goes into a high-speed turn, they rely on eccentric strength to control those g-forces of the curve. If they want to go faster, they need more eccentric strength. When they take the impact of another player, they need this strength quality as well.
Training to improve this eccentric quality is done through a specific focus on absorbing and controlling forces. We use various overloaded plyometrics where the emphasis is on the quality and loads during landing or stopping.
It can also be achieved in traditional strength exercises when we focus on using extra slow tempos to lower the weight. Think of going downward in a squat and taking 6 seconds to do it.
Finally, we can really improve it by using special machines. We can overload the eccentric actions in diagonal and rotation patterns we see in hockey skating and shooting with flywheel inertia.
This is a power quality, meaning the player can apply big forces in a short time. We measure it relative to bodyweight because it directly correlates with a hockey player’s ability to propel themselves on the ice. High power output is needed for high skating speeds. It also contributes to things like shot power and making contact with another player.
Power is increased by first increasing strength to adequate levels and then focusing on speed of resisted movement. How much strength is enough? You have to test to figure that out.
To increase power, the variations of explosive Olympic lifts are a cornerstone. They are one of the most effective and efficient ways to increase whole-body power output.
Plyometrics and medicine ball throws are additional tools that can improve a hockey player’s capabilities. Performing these in lateral and rotational movements patterns helps transfer the explosive improvements from the weight room to the ice.
Another really effective method is to couple strength and power exercises together one after the other. Techniques such as complex and French contrast training rely on the increased nervous system activation of strength lifts. A heavy strength movement is followed by an explosive activity that takes advantage of this increased neurological state.
This type of strength is all about how quickly you can turn on your muscle units and produce force. It’s their rate of force development.
Maximum strength is traditionally about peak force generation, but that could easily take well over a second to build up.
In hockey, things move much quicker. Even long contact times with the ice are only in the 300-500 msec range. Like in many sports, in hockey, it’s not always about how much force you can produce, but instead how quickly you can create it. We want our hockey players to be able to “load” their muscles rapidly so they can explode into the next action.
Using exercises that put athletes at a disadvantage by taking away momentum and counter-movements forces them to work on their force development rate. This is often done with lighter loads that let the athlete focus on moving quickly, instead of just grinding against weight. Giving athletes feedback through velocity tracking technology in the weight room helps drive the right adaptations.
Measure to Manage
Instead of using generic programs, we tailor strength training to players after building a base of strength. This is done by actually measuring the 6 strength qualities to develop their Strength Signature.
The Strength Signature is a profile based on over 20 years of data from elite athletes around the globe. We can identify where a player’s relative strengths and weaknesses are so that an individual program can be created for optimal results.
Another reason we use Strength Diagnosis for hockey players is to identify strength imbalances that could put them at higher risk of injury. Whether they’ve been healthy until now or already had injuries, our Strength Diagnosis is an advanced step in keeping them on the ice and healthy.
For instance, a player with high EXPLODE and FORCE, but a low ABSORB score is at higher risk. It’s like a car with a really powerful engine and lots of speed, but bad brakes. That’s the formula for a crash.
Athletic Strength for Hockey
Once you understand that there are different types of strength, you can start to identify the types of strength hockey players need.
While a base of general strength is useful for a developing hockey player, understand that athletic strength has many qualities. To optimize performance and reduce the risk of injury, make sure you train the right type of strength.
On top of their basic force production capabilities, hockey players need specific types of strength. Absorb, Explode, and Load are the strength types hockey players need to thrive on the ice. Neglecting these essential qualities can leave holes in their game or put them at a higher risk of injury.
There are seven strength training movement patterns all athletes need to master. To understand why you have to understand why athletes strength train in the first place.
When it comes to strength training for sports (other than weightlifting and powerlifting), the goal isn’t just to get strong. The goal is to improve their performance come game time and to reduce their risks of injury.
Building a base of general strength is useful for almost every athlete. It’s even more helpful if all 7 of the fundamental movement patterns are being strengthened. These movement patterns reflect the big categories of athletic movement.
Movements Over Muscles
Strengthening movement patterns means you are not only hitting the right muscles but working on the correct movements. After all, that’s how the brain works; in movements, not muscles. You are training the right patterns for range of motion and the supporting tissues, including bones, muscles, and connective tissues.
This wasn’t always the case in strength training. For many years (and still today), bodybuilding influenced athletic strength training. One of its basic approaches is a focus on isolating individual muscles to add maximum stress and growth. That’s great if we are only trying to build muscle. But if we want to improve movement, we need to train the muscles and the brain.
It’s easy to forget, but strength training is just movement training with added resistance. We need to strengthen movement patterns in all three planes of motion to build a complete athlete. Working on these seven strength training movement patterns in the weight room is a good start.
Or the similar action of the lower body in a volleyball player going up for a block. How about the extension of the lower body and trunk on a football tackle.
The basis of most sporting movements is the coordinated extension of multiple joints and muscles of the lower body. Just picture a sprinter simultaneously extending their hip, knee, and ankle joints as they propel their body forward out of the starting blocks.
Coordinated extension can be seen all over in sports and in the weight room. Squats, deadlifts, jumps, and Olympic lifts all fall into this category.
Another fundamental human movement pattern is single-leg stance. Because human gait involves single-leg support variations, we find this everywhere in sports where athletes are moving over the ground.
A vital element of this pattern is that the left and right sides of the lower body have different things happening between them. This unilateral focus changes both the application of force and the requirements for added stabilization in the core, pelvis, and leg.
In the weight room, we have true single-leg stances or split stances that create unequal loads between two legs. While doing a step-up or a lunge, we have moments of single-leg stance. IN split squats, lateral squats, and Bulgarian split squats, we might have both feet in contact, but the emphasis of force is on one more than the other.
Another lower body action we see is hinging at the hip. This might also combine with some extension at the torso. These types of movements are coordination of force and stability through the posterior chain muscles.
In sports, we might see examples in a wrestler bridging, trying to get their shoulders off the mat, or while standing and trying to throw an opponent backward. Or if we observe a track athlete sprinting at full speed and focus on how their leg moves backward to hit the track by extending at the hip.
In strength training for sports exercises like the Romanian Deadlift, Kettlebell Swing, and Hip Bridges are all used for this movement pattern.
Upper Body Push
When we have a coordinated extension of joints in the shoulder, arm, and wrist, we consider this a push. We can classify these as vertical or horizontal push motions based on the plane of movement.
In many sports, we have motion where an athlete is pushing against an object or another player. You can picture the football lineman pushing an opponent.
It’s also a component in many throwing and swinging motions. During the second half of these and the follow-through, there is a multi-joint pushing motion.
The bench press is probably the most common Upper Body Push exercise known. Because of the plane of motion, we’d consider this a horizontal push. An overhead press, on the other hand, would be a vertical push.
Upper Body Pull
This is the inverse of the push and is the coordination of flexion in those upper body joints. While it’s slightly less common than pushing, it’s critical in many sports. The “pull” in swimming strokes is what we would consider a vertical pull. It could also be a rock climber or gymnastic pulling their body upward.
Horizontal pulling occurs in wrestling and grappling sports as opponents battle for position. The same can be true of a defensive lineman trying to get past a blocker. Another common horizontal pull would occur in rowing, kayaking, or canoe.
Chin-ups and pull-ups are the quintessential vertical pulls. However, pulldowns and other cable exercises can fit here. For horizontal pulling, we have lots of rows with dumbbells, barbells, and cables.
This isn’t a movement pattern at all. In fact, bracing is actually an anti-movement pattern. In their core, athletes need to control and transfer force from the upper to lower body.
The efficient transfer of force often means limiting motion so that force isn’t lost. Resisting flexion, extension, and rotation in the pelvis and the spine is critical for efficient and explosive movement.
For instance, let’s consider a wide receiver sprinting at full speed down the field. As their foot strikes the ground, they want to transfer force into the turf to propel them forward. If their pelvis drops and their core collapsed when they hit the ground, they would lose some of that force. Instead, they want their core to be solid as a pillar and transfer all that force into the ground.
We strengthen this pattern through exercises such as planks and stability chops or lifts with cables. Any exercise that focuses on the stability of the core while under load helps with bracing.
Finally, we have the coordinated rotational action that builds up from the lower body, through a stable core and transfer into the upper body. It is easy to picture this in sports from a batter swinging to a quarterback throwing. Sports such as golf, tennis, and hockey all involve rotation to swing an implement.
There are elements of other patterns here; multi-segment extension, bracing and upper body pull/push. The reason this is a fundamental pattern in itself is the coordination of the these in the transverse plane of motion.
In the weight room, we may use various cable exercises or medicine balls to strengthen rotation. We can also use barbell landmine or other kettlebell exercises with rotational patterns to achieve this goal.
Train Movement Patterns Not Muscle Groups
Movement patterns, not muscles, is how the human brain controls movement. Motor control is organized in coordinated patterns, not individual muscles. The seven fundamental strength training movement patterns are;
By building our training approach from these seven strength movement patterns, we serve athletes better. Better transfer from the weight room to sports. Building movement proficiency in the weight room in all seven movement patterns is a building block for every athlete.
Sports are returning after COVID-19 shutdowns, and athletes need to be preparing now, so they can get back and play at their best.
While at home or waiting for sports return, you can improve some basics that can help prevent injury and give you a foundation for improved performance.
With little to no equipment, you can work on your functional strength and stability to improve performance and reduce compensations.
When deciding what you need to be doing, you should target areas you’ve had trouble with or are more critical for your sport.
Maybe there is a part of your body where you have regularly had aches and pains? If so, you may have already been told by a professional what you should be working on. If not, get connected to a coach who will do a virtual or in-person assessment and give you a program.
3 Ways You Can Prepare For The Return of Sports
There are simple things you can do to improve your functional mobility and stability. These are important parts of the FOUNDATION phase when preparing for the return of sports to normal.
Below are three things we commonly assign to athletes when they are working on step 3. One of the great things is that these can all be done at home.
If you’ve already been coached on strength training, stretching and mobility, it will be easy to add these in. If you need help, get a coach either in person or remotely to help.
While exercises that use two limbs at once (bilateral) are great for building strength and learning technique, they aren’t always the most sport-specific.
During most sports movements, you are moving off one leg, or the two legs are doing different things. Just think about cutting, throwing, crossing over, and all the other things you do. Same with the upper limbs.
The bottom line, a lot of sports movement is on one leg or one arm.
So, that means that doing some exercise with only one limb (uni-lateral) can be a great addition to your training. Some of the guidelines to start;
Do the same exercises you already know, just with a single limb.
You can use dumbbells, kettlebells, backpacks, or other items as your weight.
Start slow and focus on smooth, controlled movements.
As you have proper technique, go ahead and add weight. You can actually do a lot in these exercises when you’re ready.
Using dumbbells or kettlebells are great opportunities to work with just a single arm or single leg. Athletes will have to work more to stabilize joints when working unilaterally. Use movements that are slower at first and build reasonable control before adding weight or speed.
Working on the range of motion in your soft tissue structures can help eliminate restrictions that may be leading to movement compensations. It’s something you can clearly do at home without equipment and prepare for sports returning.
We are talking about the range of motion you can achieve that’s limited by your muscles, fascia, and connective tissue. This is what most people are thinking about when they imagine stretching.
They think about these structures kind of like a rubber band and make them more elastic. This isn’t the only piece for athletes (see mobility next), but it’s still essential.
To work on your tissue flexibility, you can combine self-myofascial release techniques with longer duration stretches and breathing. A standard sequence coaches prescribe for athletes would include;
Relax: use deep, diaphragmatic breathing to relax for 1-3 minutes before starting. Continue this breathing through the rest of the session.
Release: use a foam roller or lacrosse ball to find trigger points in muscles. Stay on over-active spots for 1-3 minutes while continuing relaxation breathing.
Stretch: Use long duration or band-assisted/active stretches to target specific muscle groups.
A lot of athletes know that stretching could benefit them. However, flexibility is only the range of motion of tissues and joints. Your mobility is your body’s ability to control the range of motion and get into positions. That’s really important for athletes.
Mobility requires flexibility, along with the strength and stability to protect your joints.
We have athletes use exercises that work through active ranges of motion, such as Animal Flow, yoga, and Functional Range Conditioning. Coaches can help you select what’s right for you with some assessments, but here are some common tips to get the most benefit;
Breathe well during the movements and positions. Holding your breathe is cheating.
Move slow and smooth to start.
Get the movement right. in many of these movements you can look like you’re doing them, but if you’re not focused on the right muscles or patterns, you are losing benefits.
Pay attention. Just moving misses a lot of the benefit. Notice how your body is moving and how it’s connected to the ground.
While COVID19 itself hasn’t shown any direct effects, the pandemic and our social distancing response probably will impact tendon injury risk for athletes. You need to understand what is happening with your tendons while you are away from sport and what they will endure when sports return.
As athletes return to sports practice and competition after lockdown, they will be susceptible to tendon injury as they undergo spikes in their training load. These acute increases in the volume of throwing, sprinting, jumping, and swinging can be a risk factor for tendon injury.
TENDONS NEED LOAD
Too much load and you get an injury, but too little and you get structural change. After just 2-4 weeks of unloading the tissues of tendons begin to lose their structure and ability to withstand big loads. That means athletes wont to be the same when sports return.
SHOCKS AND SPRINGS
Tendons improve athletic movement skills by transmitting muscle forces and by acting as springs. This means they need to be able to provide both elasticity and stiffness. To do this they need to be exposed to the right types of stimulus in training.
TOO MUCH, TOO FAST
Repetitive stress that overloads the tendon can create micro-injuries in the tissue that add up. These become overuse injuries. Runners and jumpers often experience this when they increase their volume too quickly. Throwers and volleyball players often experience this in the shoulder or elbows as well.
TENDONS ARE COMMON SPORTS INJURIES
Tendon injuries are common in sports. Tendon injuries you may have heard of include;
Achilles Tendon – Ankle
Patellar Tendon – Knee
Elbow Tendons – Tennis & Golfer’s elbow
These injuries can occur with either acute tears or chronic overuse. Tendon injury risk for athletes will be heightened as they haven’t been conditioned by normal sports practice.
PREPARING FOR THE RETURN TO SPORT AS WE REOPEN
Loading tendons enough to stimulate the structure and function is the key to being ready when sports return. At home, and before teams resume, proactive athletes can use isometrics, eccentrics and reactive plyometrics to train. These types of exercises are key ingredients to build resiliency and capacity in the tissue.
GRADUAL RETURN TO SPORTS
One of the biggest risk factors for tendons is how rapidly the volume of work increases. Muscles adapt faster than tendons and can overwhelm them. When an athlete has been doing very little and then starts full practice, the risk of injury to tendons is exponentially increased.
“Kids, in other words, many of us believe, won’t get stronger by lifting weights and will probably hurt themselves. But a major new review just published in Pediatrics, together with a growing body of other scientific reports, suggest that, in fact, weight training can be not only safe for young people, it can also be beneficial, even essential.”
What is “strength training”?
This is one of the key questions we need to understand. Lot’s of confusion starts with the concepts of strength training versus weight training.
When people say strength training, they often imagine someone in a squat rack lifting barbells.
Or maybe that weightlifter at the Olympics performing at the edge of human capacity.
Yes. Those can be strength training, but there’s a whole lot
Strength training is basically any exercise that relies on
some form of resistance to stimulate your body to get stronger.
Why so many different things? For one, to do it properly we need a range of
We need things that are light so we can learn to do it
properly and start at the right level.
We need things that are heavy so we can progress and
stimulate the body to adapt.
Are bodyweight exercises safer?
So, when they are wondering if weight training is good for kids, many people look at bodyweight exercises as inherently safer. After all, you don’t have that extra weight to lift.
Except they forgot about the bodyweight. A coach using proper exercise selection and regressions can actually allow an athlete to lift less than bodyweight.
Have you ever watched young athletes struggle to do a push-up well? Their bodyweight is just too much for their strength level. It’s no different than lifting a barbell that’s too heavy.
When doing a push-up, an athlete is actually lifting about 64% of their body weight. For a 120 lb. young female, that would mean they are lifting 77 lbs.
Imagine if the athlete was laying on a bench press, struggling with 77 lbs. Its the same with a push-up. In this case, if the coach gave the athlete two twenty pound dumbbells or an empty bar, the weight would be significantly less.
Who knew? bench pressing weights is a regression. Push-ups are actually more advanced and heavier!
Don’t even get started on pull-ups.
Is weight training necessary?
This question doesn’t come up often, but it’s in the back of a lot of people’s minds. The reality is that the data, the medical experts and decades of experience tell us it’s safe.
However, to be honest, we often follow our preconceived ideas.
If you’ve believed strength training with weights is
dangerous for decades, it’s hard to instantly change that. And that’s fair.
So then the question is; can you get better without lifting weights?
Yes, you can.
However, you can’t stimulate the body to adapt as efficiently or as much.
You don’t stimulate the neuromuscular system to recruit muscle and protect the joints and ligaments as well.
Athletes won’t improve the tendon tissue as well to reduce the risk of tendonitis and overuse injuries.
They won’t stimulate bone density during this crucial youth growth period and have the same life long positive effects.
You won’t build the same level of explosive strength
Young athletes won’t learn how to do the movements and be prepared if you start training with your team
You will miss out on the proven reduction in overall injury risk for athletes
How cankids train the right way?
Here’s the key to safely strength training for young
athletes; Do It Right.
That means learning the movement patterns and habits that
lead to safe weight training. Have a
qualified coach teaching it.
That’s not necessarily a bunch of kids in the garage with
the weight bench trying to max out. It’s
not joining an adult class with a weekend certified coach who is cheering them
on to do more.
It’s also not about moving “perfect”. Young athletes need to learn proper movement patterns. However, trying to enforce a robotic standard of “perfect” actually takes away from the learning.
This is where professional coaches standout. They know how to put the athlete into positions
where they are safe to learn how to move.
Coaches use regressions of exercises to teach. These are simpler movement patterns that reinforce the right movement safely. They lead to a progression in movement patterns or weight lifted.
Is Weight Training Good for Kids; YES
Strength training for youth is endorsed by all major medic and professional organizations. While the old myths of it stunting growth or being dangerous slowly die, it is understandable that some people are hesitant.
The benefits are large and necessary to prevent injury in athletes. Weight training is an efficient and effective method for athletes. Do it right and reap the benefits.
training is a constant topic of discussion among athletes, parents, and
coaches. For our team at Velocity, it comes up
daily in settings from local performance centers to our coaches at Olympic
While some performance coaches scoff at the idea of
sport-specific training, we think it’s a great thing to discuss.
It just seems like commonsense after all.
It’s based on you competing in a sport.
You want to improve performance in that sport.
You have decided to spend time and energy on training other than sport/skills practice.
Therefore, it’s perfectly logical that it should be specific.
In this article, we are going to cover the essential things you need to understand about sport-specific training. This includes:
Why you want sport-specific training
What sport-specific training is
Transfer of training
How sport-specificity affects Long term Athletic Development
How do you figure out what’s specific for your sport
Sport-specific speed, strength, stamina, and mobility
Why Do You Want Sport-Specific Training?
an athlete wants a training program, one of our key questions is: Why Do You
at the foundation of how Velocity approaches athletes. We need to understand an
athlete’s WHY? Their deeper motivation.
does this have anything to do with a specific training program?
Context and coaching
as coaches, our responsibility is to help guide you to the right solutions. If we don’t have any context to your question about
sport-specific training, we are making assumptions.
assumptions could be wrong.
you want sport-specific training because you have potential in the sport and
want to play at a high level? Some athletes are just
trying to make their team or get playing time.
you want to train specifically so that
you can reduce your risk of injury. Or perhaps
you’ve had an injury and are trying to get back to your performance level
Perhaps you’ve tried some training that wasn’t
“sport-specific” and you didn’t see results, or worse it had a
negative effect on your game.
All of those goals may, in fact, require
some type of sport-specific training. However,
they are also different.
coach needs to understand this. After all,
when we look deeper, sport-specific training is really; your goal specific
athletes seek sport-specific training to meet their sport-specific goals. If
your coach doesn’t try to understand you and your goals, then they might be
missing the mark.
That’s bad coaching.
let’s start by redefining the underlying motivation for sport-specific
You want results in your sport.
You don’t want to waste time and effort on training that doesn’t contribute to those results.
The purpose of sport-specific training is to use training to effectively and efficiently reach your goals in the sport.
What Is Sport-Specific Training?
we know what the purpose of sport-specific training is; what is it?
we discuss “sport-specific” we hear a lot of different concepts.
Often it’s based on doing things that look like the sport. Drills that use the
sports equipment; balls, bats, gloves, sticks, etc…
Other times it’s practicing sports skills with rubber bands
on, wearing weight vests, or hooked up to bungee cords and devices.
At the elite level those ideas occasionally come up,
but the discussion tends to get more straight to the point. Our Olympic teams and pro
athletes want results.In their sport.Period.
athletes face heavy physical and mental demands. The margin for error can be incredibly small. In some of our Olympic sports hundredths of a second are the
difference between a Gold medal and not being on the podium at all.
athlete facing that can’t waste time or energy. They can’t add wear and tear to
their body if it doesn’t give them better results in return. Their coaches care
about the same thing.
Sports specific training transfers to better performance, lower injury risk and increased competitive longevity.
brings us to the concept of “transfer of training” in sports. Is the training
you are doing transferring to improved performance in your sport? Is it
transferring to lower injury risks so you can be in the game competing? Is it
helping to extend your career for more years?
are the questions that we ask of every component of training at the elite
level. As an athlete has more years of training, this becomes harder and harder
to achieve. This is related to their
“window of opportunity” for different qualities.
athlete’s opportunity to improve a skill or ability is not infinite. A human
will never run 100mph or vertical jump 20 feet. There are limits to human
performance. So let’s apply this concept to a physical ability. Sprinting.
To make our point let’s get a little extreme. A 3 year knows how to run. They won’t be that fast compared to an Olympic sprinter.
If we consider the Olympic sprinter near the top of human potential, then the 3 year has a huge window of opportunity to improve. The Olympian is nearing human limits, so their window of opportunity is very small.
This concept has a profound effect on the transfer of training. At early levels, doing general things will bring big dividends. A soccer team of 8-year olds will improve their soccer skills just by becoming more coordinated. Doing things like skipping, jumping hoping and running will increase their basic athleticism.
They get a lot of “transfer” (improvement in their sport)
from that unspecific and relatively less intense training.
General Athleticism Helps Young Athletes
general athletic training also doesn’t overstress the body. It doesn’t limit
the skill set being developed later. Maybe at 8, they are playing soccer, but by
10 they decide they like volleyball. That library of basic athletic movement
skills can be drawn on for most sports.
However, that high-level athlete is entirely
different. Just doing general skipping,
jumping and hopping won’t improve their performance. Our Olympic athletes
generally have a decade or more of training. Their window of opportunity to
improve is much smaller than that 8-year old.
Whereas a little training effort may have lead to 75%
sports improvement for the 8-year-old, the elite athlete has to put in a lot of
work to even improve 1%.
They have to put in more effort, endure more wear and tear
on their body and manage large emotional and mental stresses. There is no room for waste,
so training becomes more and more specific. Sport-specific training is
essential for efficiency and effectiveness at the elite level.
Long Term Athlete Development
Velocity employs a long term athletic development model
that helps address the need for specificity. It builds specificity from the ground up
through a foundation of athleticism. At the
early stages, this provides the transfer of training without the repetitive
stress and strain of high specificity.
As an athlete progresses, they continue to benefit from the transfer of training. They accomplish this by focusing on using different types of strength and building athletic movement skills. This gives them a larger library of skills to take to sports practice and put into their technical skills.
As they gain some additional training experience, they can start to become more specific to their sport, their position, and their individual needs.
So, start at the start. To use an analogy, we don’t start future professional drivers in Formula 1 cars at age 8. It’s specific, just not effective. You start them on a far more basic type of car and track. Any young athlete training outside of their sports practice should employ an LTAD model of sport-specific training.
Athletes should progress from general to specific based on the years of training experience of the athlete.
an athlete, you don’t have to be a sport scientist. Still, you should be
learning about your sport as you train. Hopefully,
you are getting that in part from your coaches. That means both your sport and
To determine what IS specific to a sport we strive to understand sports. The Velocity High-Performance Team utilizes experts in performance, sports medicine, biomechanics, sports science, and more to determine this along with the sports coaches.
While there can be thousands of components to elite
performance, they can be grouped into some big buckets to understand.
When it comes to the actual competition, it’s the athlete’s technical and tactical skills that clearly rule the day.
Technical skills are what we typically think of as their sport skills. Dribbling a ball, executing a gymnastics routine or hitting the ball. These skills are developed through thousands of hours of deliberate practice.
skills are the athlete’s abilities to judge and analyze elements of the game.
It’s also their decision making in those moments.
Can the linebacker read the lineup of the opposition and
the strategic situation to diagnose what play is most likely?
Can the rower recognize the other boat picking up the pace
and consider the distance left and their own energy reserves?
Awareness of what’s happening, analyzing it, and making a
strategic decision is an often under-appreciated skill in sports. However,
it can make the difference between being a Hall of Famer and not even having a
the sports skills are equal or close it may be physical skills that separate
athletes. In fact, at some point, their
ability to develop technical skills can be
affected by their physical abilities.
For instance, consider a quarterback or pitcher trying to
perfect their throwing technique for more velocity. As
they work with sports coaches they may be trying to move through new ranges of
motion for better movement efficiency. However, if their underlying mobility isn’t adequate, they
won’t be able to execute that technical model.
same could be true for strength or movement skills. Athletes need a foundation
of physical abilities to build on. This is what we often refer to as
third component of sports competition is the athlete’s mindset. We use this
term to encompass their cognitive processes and brain’s physiological
processing. When we ask world-class athletes
and coaches how much of the game is mental, they typically respond anywhere
from 50% – 99%.
course, you can’t win mentally if you don’t have sports skills or physical
ability. What this tells us is that those things will lose importance if your
mindset isn’t right.
this model of performance, you can begin understanding what is needed in your sport.
You can begin looking at what you need as an individual to succeed. If sport-specific training is about achieving results in the sport, then you need to know what leads to success in the sport.
the end, the thing that tends to increase your sports skills the most is
playing and training your sport.
a lot of performance coaches hate to hear this, but it’s true. Playing your sport and training your technical and
tactical sports skills is as specific as it gets.
However, there are often limits on this. Physically
from energy systems and repetitive motion. Access to coaching time or
field/court space. Weather. Ability to use deep focus on the same skills.
are all things that can limit the ability of the athlete to just practice more for continued gain. When
you cant do the sport more it makes sense that other training could help you
To Sport, Position or You?
So if we are talking about sport-specific training that is
not just practicing the sport itself more
the goal of improving performance, you need to start considering how specific
to get. Is sport-specific training really
instance, a lineman and defensive back in football are both in the same sport.
Do they have the same specific demands?
an extreme example but it carries over into a lot of sports. Different
positions may have some unique specific requirements.
we can take this further to be more specific. If we look at different players
in the same position, they may have different styles. Let’s say the soccer forward who is all finesse and amazing moves
versus the power player who relies on speed and jumping higher to win in the
air. Same sport, same position, different styles.
a step further and we can start to look at your individual genetics and
predisposition. What about your unique history of injuries and physical
qualities. When that window of opportunity gets smaller, these things come into
the end, the level of specificity in training is inverse to the level and
training age of the athlete. The younger and more developmental the athletes,
the more benefit from general training.
The more elite the athlete with years of training, the more specific training need to be.
We have already acknowledged that skills and tactics are
best improved in sports practice. However, we are
focused on determining what type of
physical training will be the most specific for your sport.
that leads to better performance. Less injury. Longer careers.
So. what physical qualities are specific to any sport? Let’s start by defining some broad categories; speed, strength, stamina, mobility, and resiliency.
What Is Sport-Specific Speed?
and agility are valued in almost every
sport. To et specific, you can start understanding different aspects to speed
As you try to understand what makes speed specific to your
sport you can start by thinking about how much of the movement is straight
ahead versus laterally and diagonally?
an important factor. Is there a lot of straight-ahead sprinting like a wide
receiver in football or a soccer forward? Or is it more sideways or mixed
movements? The type you see in sports like basketball and tennis as examples?
is a lot of crossover in training these. It’s
especially true at earlier stages of sports development, but as you go up in
level the difference is greater and training techniques more specific.
How often do you change directions in your sport? That’s another way to determine your sport-specific training needs. A player reacting to opponents or trying to lose them may make a lot of change of direction movements.
What Is Sport-Specific Strength?
often athletes think that strength is how much weight you can lift on a
barbell. For an athlete, strength is so much more than that.
big lift barbell strength is often useful and represents one type of strength.
You need to understand that there are different types of strength and which you
need in your sport.
Strength is simply the act of applying force. Applying force to the ground, ice or water. Force applied to your bike, bat, racquet or a ball. Applied force to move your bones and joints into different positions.
Strength not only moves you, but it also holds you together. Your muscles, fascia, and connective tissue use contraction to make you function. Strength protects you when you absorb impact. Impacts from striking the ground when running. Internal stress from decelerating your arm after throwing or swinging the stick. Impact from opponents or landing on the ground.
Every Athlete Needs Strength
EVERY athlete needs strength. The devil is in the details.
details are about how fast it’s applied. The direction and motion. The muscle
groups. And it’s the transition from one strength type to another. This is what
defines strength for an athlete.
help illustrate this, let’s consider the strength needed by an NFL lineman and
a tennis player. Do both need to be strong?
people may jump to the conclusion that a lineman needs strength and a tennis
player doesn’t. After all the lineman is pushing around another 300lb human who
is really strong. The tennis player is
only moving their body and swinging a little racquet.
we are thinking in terms of something
like a 400lb back squat this might be relatively
accurate. That is what we would call Maximum
Strength. The ability to contract slowly (compared
to many sports movements) and at very high force levels.
The tennis player does need some of this strength type, but they also need to cover the court really quickly. The tennis player is lighter and goes side to side changing directions. Those changes are going to require more eccentric strength. The ability to absorb their momentum going one way, stop and go back the other.
This is also strength, but a different type. Sports generally requires multiple types of strength, with some more important than others. Strength training starts to become specific when you train for specific types of strength.
many people, this may be one of the most obvious. A marathon runner needs
different stamina than a 100m sprinter. The Olympic weightlifter has different
energy needs than the 1500m freestyle swimmer.
does get harder as we move to team sports and activities that are not
steady-state or really short. The body essentially has 3 main energy pathways and it
uses them in different ways for the sport.
To condition for this type of sport, we can train multiple energy systems together so it mimics the sport. At other times we focus on building up one more than others.
It’s not only sport-specific but position, style of play and individual specific. Even in a sport like basketball, two teams may need very different conditioning based on their style. A high pressure or fast-break style will require different conditioning than a slower tempo, ball control focused team.
What Is Sport-Specific Mobility?
To produce your sports technical skills, your body needs to
achieve certain body positions. You need to move your joints
and muscles efficiently through specific ranges of motion.
If you are limited by the flexibility, stability
or mobility of your body, you might not be able to effectively develop
that sport skill.
Most people can understand the difference needed in
mobility between an elite gymnast (huge mobility demands) compared to a cyclist
(only a few specific areas need mobility).
During training, sport-specific mobility comes from more than only stretching certain areas. Even effective dynamic warm-ups and full range of motion strength training help.
First of all, understand you are right to want sport-specific training. Which means reaching your goals and improving performance in a sport.
wouldn’t you want that?
Sports specific training transfers to better performance,
lower injury risk and increased competitive longevity.
Therefore, you need to find training that will get results and not waste your time and energy.
1.Your Athletic Development
That means to first consider your level. A young athlete will get an effective transfer from developing all-around athleticism. Start at the start if you haven’t been training for years.
2.Your Sport Demands – Speed,
Next, you need to understand what your sport demands. A good coach and performance system should actually help teach you this and guide you to a better understanding of your sport.
If you are training right, you’re going to see a lot of benefits for a long time. Moreover, this requires the right;
3.Your Individual Needs
Finally, if you want to see benefits, your training needs to address your specific needs. If you’re slow, get faster. If you get injuries often, become more resilient physically.
is particularly true when it comes to sport-specific strength training.
Everyone can get stronger, but are you building the right type of strength? Do
you know your own genetic disposition and what type of strength will help you
on the field?
Sport-specific training is needed. Just make sure you know what that means and when. Ask questions to make sure your coaches do as well.
In-season practices are often far less physically demanding than off-season practices, which leads to drastic de-conditioning
For athletes who did not maintain adequate strength training in-season for as little as one to two days per week, most strength gains made in the off-season will decrease massively!
Research has shown that at the professional level in-season training reduces injury risk significantly, enhances individual playing time within squads and actually leads to in-season performance gains as opposed to pure maintenance.
Off-season and In-season training are akin to opening an ‘athletic bank account.’ The off-season is where athletes make the most ‘deposits’ in the form of strength training, conditioning, and physical preparation work. Competition is where athletes make the most ‘withdrawals.’ In-season training allows athletes to keep their bank accounts top-upped so that they don’t ‘run out of money’. When they become overdrawn it results in fatigue and potential injury.
Even though this post is not about scare tactics per se, examining point four further, is important. Athletes and parents alike need to understand what actually happens to their body when they stop training in-season.
Just Like Post Number One, If You Don’t Use it, You Do Lose It
In sport science, the technical term for loss of strength, power, speed, and conditioning is known as involution. In other words, when resistance and speed training stop, the body will, revert to its former self.
To illustrate, let’s consider where a young athlete’s performance gains derive from. Structured strength and conditioning training generates a host of physiological changes their body undergoes as a function of the training process. These include (but are not limited to):
Increased neural connections: Strength training is ‘brain training.’ By learning how to lift weights safely, an athlete can make better neural connections within the motor cortex of the brain. This creates better synapses as well, which leads to enhanced focus, and mental clarity. This is why so many studies have actually linked strength training to better grades and performance in the classroom as well!
Increased neuromuscular coordination: Like the brain, resistance training allows athletes to create new neural connections, which means more muscle is activated in the body to cut, jump, sprint, block, tackle, etc. as well as this muscle being activated in a more coordinated fashion. Strength training makes young athletes move better and with much higher degrees of muscular coordination.
Increased oxygen delivery to muscle tissue: Through conditioning and strength training, athletes are better able to uptake and use oxygen in the body, which fuels muscle contractile activity. In other words, they can run and compete at higher speeds without succumbing to fatigue!
Improved body composition: Weight training and conditioning leads to reductions in body-fat, which means athletes can move and compete more effectively and efficiently. Reductions in body-fat are linked with better health markers and declines in disease risk all-together.
Given the multitude of positive performance benefits, the problem with stopping training during the in-season is that all these incredible adaptations can become reversed! Yes, all those neural connections that the athlete made as a function of resistance training can become undone with time.
Hence involution can be seen as the technical term describing the physical processes outlined in part 2 of this installment, which is effectively what happens when an athlete begins to ‘spend money from their bank account’ without ‘depositing’ any more through in-season training.
The good news, however, even in as little as one session per week an athlete can maintain all the positive performance gains listed above!
Hence in-season training takes on an even higher degree of significance as it allows athletes and parents to ‘safe-guard’ all the hard work that went into a successful off-season program.
As a result of in-season training, it is now appropriate that the four essential ‘rules’ of in-season training are identified.
Train heavy but at a reduced volume: Many athletes and even coaches mistakenly believe that athletes have no business lifting heavier weights in-season. Unfortunately, this attitude leads lots of athletes to sub-optimize their in-season program by lifting weights that aren’t heavy enough to make them better or even maintain the progress they’ve made up to this point in time in the season. Hence, involution can also happen if an athlete is lifting or training hard enough to stress their bodies! However, by doing fewer sets or even taking a little bit of weight off (i.e., not exceeding 85-90% of max-effort for a majority of a program) athletes are able to train hard, but not encounter the fatigue and soreness that will detract from the competition. Hence, training hard and smart through reduced volume represents a winning strategy!
Focus on Recovery: As stated in a previous installment, the game can take a lot out of a young athlete’s body. Microtrauma, soreness, and dehydration can lead to significant performance decrements. Hence, focusing even more on sleep, nutrition, and hydration will go a long way toward recovering from the stresses of in-season training, competition, and practice.
Address aches and pains before they become full-out injuries: The saying ‘no pain, no gain’ is as old-fashioned as the knee-high socks, and leather football helmets are worn by athletes when the saying first took hold. Truthfully, pain is the body’s way of telling you that something is wrong and needs to be fixed. If an athlete feels significant pain in the weight room or at practice, I tell them to seek out a qualified athletic training or sports medicine professional. Furthermore, a qualified coach will ensure athletes use exercises that minimize stress and strain on the joints during the in-season period, as ligaments and tendons take even longer to recover then muscles.
Don’t Be Reluctant to ‘Live to Fight Another Day’: A standing rule I have for my athletes is that if they can’t go harder, pack it in. In other words, even with reduced training volumes, focused recovery efforts and exercise selections that minimize stress and strain on the joints, if they can’t put in 100% effort in the weight room then that is their body telling them they need to rest, so instead they should go home, recover, and try things again the next day. The most successful athletes are the ones who listen to their bodies and train hard and smart!
In closing, in-season training is one of the single most crucial time, and energy investments an athlete can make in ensuring continued success. Numerous research studies have demonstrated the superiority of in-season training to non-training, with research likewise showing that a lack of training leads to significant reductions in performance, as well as a simultaneous increase in injury risk. As a result, a robust in-season training program is one that allows athletes to continuously ‘top-up’ their ‘athletic bank account’ by utilizing a systematic approach that strikes the right balance between hard-work, intensity, and recovery.
If a young athlete is truly serious about gaining a performance edge that in-season training is simply non-negotiable.
In part one of this installment, I set the landscape as to why in-season training was so necessary for youth athletes. In a nutshell, the answer boils down to two main points:
One, in-season practices are often far less physically demanding than off-season practices, which leads to drastic de-conditioning
for athletes who did not maintain adequate strength training in-season for as little as one to two days per week, most strength gains made in the off-season will decrease massively!
Nevertheless, in looking at the other effects of in-season
training, or more specifically, a lack thereof, it is essential to note that
lack of physical preparation during in-season periods often results in
significant increases in injury rates.
For example, in a study published in the British Journal of Sports
Medicine, a group of British researchers noted that when looking at in-season
resistance training on youth professional soccer players, English Premier teams
that employed in-season strength and conditioning programs with their athletes
spent nearly $494,000 less on sports medicine costs than programs that did not
use in-season strength training!
Furthermore, in using one of the teams from the research design as
a case-study, the Premiership team in question rose their player availability
to 95% (compared to other teams) meaning the coaches could basically pick from
their best players throughout the season!
Finally, in adding even more metrics back to the original points
listed in installment one of this article, performance metrics increased by as
much as 5% when athletes trained as little as 1x per week, compared to nearly
doubling (11.6%) when athletes trained 2x per week.
Call to Action:
As a result, the above findings highlight the fact that in-season
training reduces the risk of injury drastically, while also providing coaches
with the chance to field their best team at all times. Furthermore, athletes
who participate in in-season strength training can actually improve their
performances throughout the season anywhere between 5 and 12%!
Therefore, for athletes and coaches that are serious about taking
team and individual performances to the next level, there is no substitution
for in-season training.
Up to this point, in-season training for youth athletes has proved
crucial for a multitude of reasons:
practices are often far less physically demanding than off-season practices,
which leads to drastic de-conditioning
athletes who did not maintain adequate strength training in-season for as
little as one to two days per week, most strength gains made in the off-season
will decrease massively!
has shown that at the professional level, in-season training reduces injury
risk significantly, enhances individual playing time within squads and actually
leads to in-season performance gains as opposed to pure maintenance.
However, in spite of all these positive in-season gains, much
confusion still exists with in-season training compared to off-season training!
For instance, a question I get asked by parents often is “what is the
Understanding Your Bank Account
In providing an easy-to-understand analogy, I like to explain to parents that off-season training is very much like opening an ‘athletic savings account.’
With every resistance training, speed, agility, and conditioning
session an athlete participates in during the off-season, the athlete is
effectively depositing into their personal ‘athletic bank account,’ growing
their own personal ‘spending’ power on the field, court or ice in the process.
In other words, off-season training is all about maximizing
physical preparation. Given that here at Velocity we train our athletes for
speed using our ‘Big Force, Short Time’ formula, using the off-season to build
strength and power through resistance training and Olympic lifting allows our
young athletes to change their bodies by improving coordination and re-training
their nervous systems so that their muscles can produce more force in less
time, resulting in quicker reaction times and more explosive skill execution.
As a consequence, the more training an athlete has in the
off-season, the more physical ‘currency’ they can draw upon during the
competitive season to maximize performance!
Hence, a robust off-season program is characterized by the
Strength and Power Training using full-body, free-weight movements
Speed & Agility Training o improve first-step quickness and
top speed mechanics, to enhance coordination, multi-direction reaction times
and straight-line speeds.
Conditioning Training to fuel performance and reduce recovery
times so that athletes can go harder for longer.
Finally, because athletes performing off-season programs do not
usually play as many competitive games means more significant time, attention,
and detail can go into the off-season program.
How to Withdraw from an Athletic Bank Account But Not Go Broke In
Given that in-season training is all about putting as much
physical preparation currency into an athlete’s ‘bank account,’ competition is
where an athlete makes their withdrawals.
For example, every time an athlete goes hard in competition, their
muscles and body break down a little bit due to a host of physical processes
and microtraumas. Muscle soreness, for example, is often attributed to small
microscopic tears in muscle cells that take time, hydration, and proper
nutrition to heal.
When an athlete performs in-season training, they continue to
‘top-up’ their athletic bank account, meaning they can continue to go harder,
for longer in the season. Athletes that fail to perform in-season training; on
the other hand, effectively ‘run out of money,’ they don’t recover as well and
instead become more susceptible to injury.
However, because in-season training needs to be balanced with
competition means it is characterized by the following:
Less training volume: In other words, instead of doing 5 exercises,
athletes might instead do 3 to preserve more energy.
Less focus on conditioning: Even though practices aren’t
necessarily as intense, competitions still are so athletes in-season will
condition but not to the same extent as in the off-season.
Less focus on speed and agility: Like conditioning, athletes can
get plenty of agility and speed work during games and practices. However,
certain times they won’t so supplementary speed and agility training will
feature, albeit in a reduced format.
In closing, the main difference between off-season and in-season
training primarily comes down to emphasis and volume. Like a savings account,
off-season training allows athletes to open their own ‘athletic bank account’
of physical skill and preparation that they can withdrawal from all season
Failure to perform off-season training (opening the account) and maintain it with fresh deposits (in-season training) leads to significant reductions in sports ability. As a result, it is imperative that athletes train during the off-season and in-season to maximize performance, as well as make continued gains every year.
By: Tim Hanaway – Sports Performance Director – Velocity Norwood
Strength, in my opinion, is the single most important physical attribute that an athlete can possess as strength is literally the precursor to all forms of athleticism. Want to get instantly faster, more agile, quicker, more explosive, and maintain more endurance? Strength training will significantly enhance all of them. Adopting a ground-based, functional strength-training program that utilizes upper and lower-body, compound movements is genuinely the key to athletic success and longevity in my humble opinion.
The biggest challenge with strength and power training is that all the amazing benefits we associate with it from a scientific standpoint (i.e. increases in force production, speed of muscle contractions, inter-muscular coordination, enhanced ground-reaction time, etc.) are in fact reversible. Yes, you read that, right! All the hard work and performance gains an athlete makes during the off-season, or pre-season can, in fact, go away when this type of training is not maintained for prolonged periods.
The realities of In-season:
The above fact is one that I find often takes young parents and athletes by surprise. “How could this be?” A father might ask, as they then explain that their son or daughter plays for 2 travel teams, a rec team and their school team. “Surely, all that practice and hard-work would go a long way towards enhancing fitness?”
The truth is that more often than not, practices are simply not focused or intense enough in-season to stress a young athlete’s body to develop or maintain strength or fitness levels.
To illustrate this point, let me give you some perspective: A head coach is more often than not focused on their own “one thing” during the season, which is winning. Simply put, priorities change once the season starts! Head coaches are instead more focused on tactics, plays and improving all the areas of need highlighted in the previous week’s game, compared to fitness and strength gains.
In using basketball as an example, if the team didn’t get enough rebounds during the last game, you better believe the coach is going to have the athletes perform lots of ‘box out’ drills in order to re-enforce technique and try to remedy the situation. Likewise, if the team’s offense wasn’t functioning properly, chances are that same coach is going to spend a significant amount of time in practice that week walking through/going over all the plays at a moderate pace/intensity in order to “iron out the kinks” and fix any confusion.
So what does this mean from an observational/practical standpoint? Well, it most likely means that the 5 starters on the team will go through the plays at a moderate intensity (at best), with the remaining 10 players standing around and watching from the sideline for prolonged periods of time. Yes, the truth is, go to any team practice in-season and chances are that you are going to witness a significant amount of standing around, talking, and direction from the coach, with much less time dedicated to all-out scrimmages or drills attempting to simulate game-day conditions, compared to pre-season activity. This same trend is far from uncommon and readily identified within a scientific study conducted by Wellman and colleagues (2007) that looked to compare the differences between pre-season and in-season practices and game-times among NCAA Division I football players.
The fact is, whether discussing the height of collegiate sport or your average middle-school or high school team, studies like this one show that athletes simply do not experience the same kind of workloads during the in-season period compared to pre-season, as much more time is instead dedicated to tactics. So, what is the outcome of this rather apparent paradox if an athlete is no longer strength and power training, while simultaneously experiencing even less fitness training within a typical in-season practice?
In a study performed on elite male rugby and football players, McMaster and colleagues (2013) found that strength levels have a tendency to decrease after a three-week period when no form of strength activity is maintained. In addition, according to Meylan and colleagues (2013), the decay rates of strength parameters for youth athletes can show an even more marked difference, especially for those athletes who have not yet hit their growth spurt. According to the researchers, these athletes lost more strength and forgot it even quicker compared to their peers who have had already hit their growth spurt!
The Good News:
As dismaying as this information may be, the good news is that there are some very practical solutions that athletes can undertake in order to mitigate the negative effects of the paradoxical in-season strength and fitness loss. For example, If the mantra ‘use it or lose it’ is clearly relevant in this case, the simple solution, of course, is to ‘use it’ by strength training in-season! However, in speaking with the same parent from the above example that is already questioning how they could possibly train 4x per week in-season when they are already juggling so much between the numerous teams and practices their son/daughter is already participating in, the good news is that you do not need to train nearly as long or as frequently in-season in order to maintain all the performance gains made in the off or pre-season!
To illustrate, in a study conducted on male handball players (Hermassi et al. 2017), researchers found that in as little as two sessions per week athletes were able to maintain their performance gains, while another study found that so long as intensity was kept high, athletes (in this case rowers) were able to maintain their performance gains in as little as one session per week (Bell et al. 1993).
Call to Action:
So now that the negative effects of training cessation have been presented, and the fact that as little as one session per week can effectively maintain strength and fitness gains throughout the course of a season, the question beckons, what can you do to safeguard and maximize your son or daughter’s performance gains?
The answer is
Maintain an in-season strength and conditioning routine that can be executed in a little as one hour per week.
Our experience – and the experience of the athletes who train with us – confirms that this is all it takes to make sure they finish the season just as strong as they were at the start. In addition to meaning these athletes perform well during the season it also means that their strength improvements do not have to be regained at the end of each season, effectively accelerating their performance at a rate greater than their peers.
Bell, G. J., Syrotuik, D. G., Attwood, K., & Quinney, H. A. (1993). Maintenance of Strength Gains While Performing Endurance Training in Oarswomen. Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology,18(1), 104-115. doi:10.1139/h93-010