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Why Athletes Should Train in the Off-Season: Part 4 - Can't I Just Lift WIth the Team During the Season?

Can’t I Just Lift With the Team During the Season?

Well, you totally could. And if your team has a mandatory team lift during the season, that’s great! According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), strength training can be implemented year-round, but during the competitive season, the focus is on maintenance.

Think of your sport year like building a house. If the competitive season is the maintenance phase, that means you are regularly cleaning the house, fixing leaky faucets, adding a fresh coat of paint, etc. Your goal is to maintain what has already been established. To keep up what is already there. When was the last time you learned a new skill during the season that was applied in the same season? Probably never. And that is because the competitive season is a time for refining current skills, perfecting things you are good at so you and your team can be the best. When you try to make gains during the competitive season, you get sloppy.

The NSCA teaches all of its potential personal trainers and strength and conditioning specialists that the competitive season should include moderate to high intensity training paired with low to moderate volume. What does that mean? During a maintenance training session, athletes should lift weight that is 85-93% of their 1-Rep-Max and perform between 2-5 sets of 3-6 repetitions. The recommended number of sets does not include any warm up sets that occur.

You may be thinking that these recommendations look similar to a traditional weight lifting session. Maybe. Or maybe you are lifting incorrectly? So if the maintenance phase looks like that and is designed to maintain earlier gains, when is the best time to start lifting in your sport’s season? The answer: as early as possible. The off-season.

From this point on, the off-season should be known as the Preparatory Period. It is the foundation of a solid season. The foundation of the house. Without it, that house is going to sink and collapse. You need a firm foundation. This period will typically last from the end of the postseason to the beginning of the pre-season. Over this period (that varies by sport), there are two points of focus: hypertrophy/strength endurance and basic strength. These focuses shift back and forth depending on the sport and position of the players involved, but every off-season should include these two areas. They are foundational.

The hypertrophy phase is used to increase muscle/lean body mass, develop an endurance base, or do both. Everything built in this phase will prepare you for higher intensity training in later areas. Like I said before, this is the foundation of the house that the house itself will rely on when completed. The hypertrophy phase utilizes low to moderate intensity with high volumes. Translation: 50-75% of your 1-Rep-Max with 3-6 sets of 8-20 repetitions. Recommended sets do not include warm up sets.

The basic strength phase is used for just that, basic strength. The goal here is to strengthen the muscle itself, not increase the size. I like to think of this phase as the walls of the house. Just like building a house, you can’t put up walls without the foundation. NSCA recommends athletes lift weight at high intensity with moderate to high volume. That is, 80-95% of your 1-Rep-Max with 2-6 sets of 2-6 repetitions. Recommended sets do not include warm up sets.

You may remember our blog post titled “Should I Stretch Or Foam Roll”; in part 1, we explain that there are two ways a muscle rebuilds itself: stacked or in line. During the hypertrophy phase, the muscles rebuild themselves in stacks. They make the muscle look thicker. In the basic strength phase, the aim is to rebuild the muscles in line, making them longer. Both increase strength because there is more to the muscles, but it is easier to build something that lasts when there is a wide base to start. Hypertrophy creates more tracks that can be extended in the basic strength phase so that strength can increase without so much bulk.

Once the foundation and walls have been established, the specifics need to be applied; the plumbing, electrical, etc. Power and strength run the pre-season. Lifts that mimic sport specific movements but that also make those movements stronger are desired. When performing power focused lifts, the recommendations are to lift 30-80% of your 1-Rep-Max with 2-5 sets of 2-5 repetitions. When strength is the goal, lift 87-95% of your 1-Rep-Max with 2-5 sets of 2-5 repetitions. Notice the difference? Strength training can be fatiguing, but training power should never fatigue.

That brings us back to the competitive season. As you can see, there is so much that goes into a single year of your sport that happens outside of your actual sport. And it all ties into your sport specific movements. Starting in the off-season is far more effective than just waiting until the pre-season begins. You will actually be ahead of your teammates, you will already be comfortable with the lifts required, you will already know your 1-Rep-Max and therefore will not have to guess what weight works best for you. It just makes sense. Don’t wait, start early.

I know all of these percentages, sets, and repetitions are confusing. That’s why we want to do the work for you. At Return To Play Elite, we offer summer session off season training programs to kids and teenagers. Our programs are designed to promote active recovery for building healthy muscles and tendons. We also incorporate targeted workouts to improve mechanics and strengthen partner muscle groups to reduce risk of injury in the next season. Each session is tailored to meet the needs of each athlete in the group to make sure foundational skills are achieved before building to harder skills.

When you sign your athlete up, we will ask you questions to determine what background your child has in strength and agility training. We will then place them into skill groups based on experience. Once they are observed, participating in the skills, we may have them come to an earlier or later session to make sure they achieve the necessary skill in the foundational movements before progressing to more difficult skills. In doing this, we can tailor the plan to the needs of each individual athlete to make sure they get the most out of their off season training.

To sign up you can click here or go to