“In-season training is not necessary,” one youth soccer coach once uttered to me.
“My kid is too busy to make time for in-season strength training,” one parent has told me, while another added, “With school and all of these activities, it is hard to get in a workout.”
These comments are frustrating to say the least.
Before I reply to them drawing on proven exercise science, 100 different research studies on the benefits of year-round resistance training, and countless practical examples from years of coaching, I start with a relatable analogy.
“Would your child stop brushing their teeth when they get busy with school and life?”
Cue crickets chirping.
In-season strength training is common sense in my world. As a strength and conditioning coach to hundreds of soccer athletes, I have seen the immense benefits of a year-round, periodized program. Players not only stay healthier during the rigorous schedule of games, but they also continue to get better, faster and stronger as the season goes on.
On the flip side, I have seen the gut-wrenching consequences that can be attributed at least in part to an athlete discontinuing strength training during the season. From tweaked groins to strained hamstrings to ACL blowouts, I’ve witnessed it all. In fact, even just a two-week break from strength training can cause players to lose some of what they worked so hard all offseason to build.
Alas, excuses like “I am too busy” or “weights will make me sore” are common, and that mindset holds people back from in-season strength work. These excuses are ultimately pretty weak. There are ways to continue strength training in-season which are both time-effective and won’t make players sore.
As long as you work with a professional who is meticulous in their approach, periodizes around games and practices, monitors load weekly and provides optimal recovery workouts for both the muscular and nervous system, in-season workouts will enhance—not hamper—performance.
But even for those who do train in-season, they often fall into the idea of “maintenance” rather than active improvement.
In-season “maintenance” is a vague term that has a connotation of light load movements no greater than 20 or 30 pounds, or gasp, utilize only light resistance bands.
With that said, do not work to “maintain.” Work to get better. This means performing lower rep ranges (1-5 reps) at a higher load (80-90%1RM or 8-9/10 on RPE scale).
Muscle soreness occurs not with heavier weight, but in higher set and rep ranges (3-5 sets, 8-15 reps) performed nearly until failure. This type of training should not be a big part of your in-season program!
Here are some other things to keep in mind when executing an in-season strength plan:
- Keep maximal speed work in your plan. Small-sided games in practices do not allow players to sprint far enough to reach max speed. If max speed is not directly trained consistently, it will very likely decline.
- Hammer the upper body with Pull-Ups, Push-Ups, Rows and Loaded Carries.
- Sprinkle in plenty of mobility work pre-practice.
- Recover hard with foam rolling, static stretching and belly breathing. The nervous system is just as important, so chill out and breathe.
Pay attention to how many minutes your players are playing. If there are several kids who are not playing as much, up the ante on their workouts so they do not get out of shape.
Reinforce healthy movement patterns daily. This could be before practice, in your warm-up or as game activation the day before, but be sure to reinforce coordinated movement, core stability and balance. This move is just one example of an exercise that reinforces healthy movement patterns:
Keep fun games that have nothing to do with soccer in your bag of tricks. These will expose players to movements that develop overall athleticism, and that evade overuse injuries. Also, there is something magical about fun games in terms of recovery. Laughter is always the best stress reliever.
Time is no excuse!
If players say they do not have time to train in-season, you need to help them realize how important it is and how much they can get done in a short period of time. Even in 20-30 minutes, you can do a highly effective in-season strength session. A quick session might look something like this:
- Single-Leg Deadlifts 3×4-5 reps
- Pull-Ups 4-5×5 reps
- Neutral Grip Dumbbell Bench Press 3×5 reps
- Pallof Press 2×10 reps
- Band Dead Bug 2×30 seconds
- Clamshells 2×10-12
- Weighted Hip Bridge 3×5 reps
- TRX Rows 3×8-10 reps
Even cutting that session in half is far more beneficial than doing nothing!
I hope this helps coaches, parents and players see in-season strength training in a more positive light. Not only that, they are inspired by how easy it is to make the time, and to get better amidst a jam-packed game and practice schedule. If players want to have a healthy and empowering career that lasts for the long-term, they better prioritize a year-round strength plan.
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