Whether you are a professional athlete with a personal trainer or a weekend warrior, you can reap big benefits if you follow a strength training routine during your competition phase.
Believe it or not, I do get legit reader-generated e-mail here at HealthAndFitnessAdvice.com. This week I got a great letter from New Jersey paddleball player Jim C. who wants to know how someone engaged in a competition phase can strength train so as not to lose what they gained during the preparation for their season.
Rather than paraphrase Jim from Jersey here’s what he asked. “How does someone who is actively competing fit workouts into his schedule? If I play paddle 2 to 3 times a week then when I get to the gym I am just doing stretching, yoga and working on the foam roll and my only real workouts are on the court. So by the end of the paddle season I am in worse shape then when I started.”
This is a great question. The short answer is that people involved in competitive sports should – make that must – continue a strength training regimen during the season. There is a vast amount of evidence that shows that people can maintain, and even improve, their strength during the season. And it doesn’t matter if you are a female volleyball player from the University of Nebraska, a male paddleball player from New Jersey or an NFL football player; strength training during the season offers huge benefits.
For those of you who work with a personal trainer, you should make sure that they are aware of this reality and that they design your workouts keeping this in mind. Competitive athletes have a vital need to continue to do strength training during the season, therefore maintaining their strength throughout the season.
Anyone who makes time during their season to get to the gym has to include strength training in their routine, especially if they engaged in strength training during their pre-season training mode. The term “pre-season” doesn’t just pertain to NFL exhibition games; anyone who is involved in a competitive sport has a pre-season, competition or in-season, and post-season phase.
For the sake of our discussion here, I’ll limit my comments to the pre-season and in-season phases of a person’s program. From the standpoint of a yearly plan, the pre-season phase is where people spend most of their time as they prepare for the rigors of competition. A proper pre-season training program should consist of strength training, speed and agility work, and cardiovascular and flexibility training.
With regard to strength training, as you progress through the pre-season you will use a variety of training schemes, from high-repetition/low-weight to low-repetition/high-weight programs. Once you enter the competition phase your training volume needs to decrease. “Decreased volume,” means that you do fewer total sets and repetitions than you did during the pre-season.
However, you still need to keep up your intensity during this phase of your training. Rather than use a whole bunch of fancy book-learnin’ terms, I’ll use a simple example to illustrate this point. If during the pre-season a person performs 4-5 sets of 10 repetitions in the squat using 150-pounds, in-season they should reduce the total amount of sets to 2 sets.
Intensity – the weight and repetitions per set – remains constant, while volume – the total amount of sets and repetitions – decreases. This rough formula can be applied to any aspect of your strength training workout. So from a big-picture standpoint, workouts will contain few reps and sets – which will serve to shorten in-season training sessions – and feature the same amount of weight as pre-season workouts.
The lower volume accounts for the demands that competition places on the body and on its recovery system. A low-volume/high-intensity program will serve as a compliment to you throughout the season, and will not be an added burden for the body to recover from.
There is clear evidence that a properly designed strength training program benefits athletes at all levels of competition, which proves the old adage that if you don’t use it you lose it, even during the season.