Hopefully, at this point, we’ve convinced you that strength training for an athlete is important. As a reminder, the long story short is that an athlete that can produce more force (aka is stronger) can jump higher and move faster than an athlete that cannot produce as much force.
But what about strength training during a sport (aka in-season)? There’s no question that when an athlete actively participates in a sport, the sport should take top priority.
There’s a reason why we want athletes to be strong – so they can do their sport and do it well! That said, should an athlete strength train in-season? Is it beneficial, or will it be detrimental to performance?
Because performance in the sport is the ultimate goal, we cannot have strength training compete for center stage. That said, that which you don’t use, you lose. The same holds for strength.
While an athlete may run, jump, cut, and even push/pull/grapple within their sport, they do not have to produce lots of force consistently enough for the body to feel like it needs to hold onto it.
Think of strength as a gas tank. The more strength an athlete has, the bigger the tank. The gas in the tank is all an athlete's athletic movements in their sport (running, jumping, etc.). If the tank is bigger, there’s more room for athletic movements.
But the tank doesn’t get bigger because of the gas – it needs to be specifically worked on. If strength training isn’t specifically worked on, the tank will get smaller, and the athlete’s ability to use that through athletic movements dwindles (less gas due to a smaller tank).
So, it absolutely will benefit an athlete to strength train in-season. That said, we won’t push an athlete nearly as hard as we would if they were not competing in a sport. First, the sport is the priority, so strength training can’t interfere.
With practices and games/matches, time for strength training may be limited much more compared to the off-season. Secondly, we can’t have strength training leaving an athlete drained and sore for days, as that won’t lead to success in their sport.
So, it will certainly be less intense than an off-season strength program, but the goal is at least to maintain strength levels throughout the season. An athlete that can keep strength levels up as the season winds down and playoff time come around are much better off than an athlete that gets weaker by the end.
Coaches talk about athletes “keeping their legs under them” as the season wears on – meaning they don’t break down and lose their explosiveness nor get hampered by little nagging injuries. While there’s no guarantee strength training will magically make everything better, it can certainly help.
Keep the gas tank as big as possible throughout the season, and the athlete can show off all of their potential all season long!