In-Season vs. Post-Season
The ability to reach one’s full athletic and performance potential is as much an art form as the ability an artist has of looking at a blank piece of paper and envisioning what could become reality with attention and creativity. What a lot of people forget is that performance training (AKA: strength + conditioning, athletic training, etc.) is a balance of science and creativity. Science provides us with the principles that serve as the foundation of what formulates our training and creativity from the hours of coaching athletes, which either proves or disproves what science would lead us to believe to be “right”. It’s important to think about these things so that young athletes know that what they do in the weight room, matters. How we train when we are 10, 11, 12 years old sets the foundation for how our bodies will move when we mature and grow older. More importantly, if we expect ourselves to be continuously evolving by getting faster, stronger and more agile every year, we must understand which season we are in and therefore how our training should evolve throughout your season and year.
I think we can all agree that the physical demands placed on an athlete’s body in-season, relative to after the season (post-season), are very different. In-season, there are far more games, practices, paired along with school requirements and therefore our body is being stimulated with a higher amount of negative stressors relative to postseason. Therefore, as the physical demands on our body change throughout the calendar year, so should our training in respect to negative and positive stressors.
The word stress can mean a lot of different things. Ultimately, everything that we encounter in this world is a stressor; the important part lies in how we internalize the stressors and understand the balance between the two types. For this article’s case, we will not touch upon the cognitive internalization aspect of stressors but will speak to identifying the different types of both negative and positive stressors:
NEGATIVE: Fight with parents, coaches, teammates, and significant other. Injuries, practices, games, eating unhealthy food, not sleeping enough, not eating enough, extended hours of screen time, exercising, etc.
POSITIVE: Sleeping + 8 hours, going to bed at the right time, eating whole natural foods, eating enough food, stretching, breathing + meditation, cold tubs and showers, sauna, foam rolling, yoga, sunshine, leisure walks, etc.
Now you might be thinking, how can all these activities above affect my performances on the court/field? Like we previously mentioned, everything in this world is a stressor, and if you are constantly feeding your body and mind with negative stressors, you are depleting your system of energy and reserves and never allowing your body time to recover and fill back up. If you are able to implement some of these activities above from the “Positive” stressors, then not only are you expelling energy outward but you are allowing your body’s reserves to fill back up and essentially allow for your gas tank to hold more gas. The graph below provides a visual of this concept:
The word “Supercompensation” on this graph refers to providing your body with adequate time to recover and adapt to raise what was considered your baseline level of performance. With the right training efforts and level of intensities, you can ensure that you are not over-training.
As mentioned above, what your physical and mental requirements are during your main competitive season are vastly different to the demands throughout the year. It is safe to say that negative stressors are at an all-time high during this portion of the year, and with this in mind, your ability to include a high number of positive stressors will determine your potential for performance. In-season, the focus should be centered around these three main points:
1) Strength and Conditioning work should not be done with a relatively high intensity of weights or reps. Rather, a thorough in-season training program should be one that focuses upon retaining specific levels of strength and range of motion in injury-prone joints. Each sport and each position has specific movement demands, and therefore you should be able to prescribe mobility techniques that assist in countering harmful actions to your muscles and joints. Foam rolling, cold tub, and sauna exposure can and should be used during recovery days to help your body decrease soreness levels and fill your tank back up with reserves.
2) Sleep is one of the most important factors when it comes to recovery and in-season training. If you expect your mind and body to be ready every single day, with cat-like reflexes, science would say that diminishing your sleep under 8 hours can have an impact on your success. Also, the most optimal portion of sleep is when your body is in “deep sleep” and “REM” sleep, and these two portions of each night’s sleep are easily attainable if you sleep between the hours of 10 pm – 2am; staying up until midnight will rob you of this portion of sleep.
3) Nutrition: What you eat during training season is the second most important aspect to high-level performance (behind sleep). If you are someone who enjoys eating fast foods and processed foods, you are not filling your tank back up with reserves. In fact, when you eat unhealthy, processed foods, you’re making your body work even harder and drain it even more. Food is how muscles and body fuel up to be physically active, so understanding how many calories you should be eating each day, and the breakdown of “macronutrients” (carb, protein, fat) you should be eating each day is crucial. One important aspect to remember is that usually during in-season, it is common to see an athlete’s weight drop because of the amount of physical activities they are doing and for this reason, we should be eating more whole & natural foods during in-season in comparison to other times throughout the year.
The post season serves as an important time of the training year. As you come out of your main competitive season (school or club team), it is important to remember that this 4-6 week period is crucial to your long-term development. It is common to have athletes jump from one competitive season with a school team, right into the next season with their club team. Science tells us that we will not reach our full potential for long-term physical growth if we do not allow our body time to recover and adapt. So one of the main questions to ask is “what is my main priority and what is my goal for sports long term?” During this postseason period, recovery and intentional strength and condition work should be the main priority and in my opinion, a break of 1-4 weeks should be taken from specific daily drills that are consistent during in-season.
- Strength and conditioning work should consist of low amounts of resistance being lifted, and more emphasis upon submaximal loading through a vast range of motions. During this season, your body’s “movement variability” actually decreases which is normal, but in this phase of post-season training, establishing optimal joint ranges of motion and establishing a base of quality movement skills is highly important.
- Recovery modalities like sauna, cold showers, yoga and other different styles of cross-training should be explored during this time. The last thing we want to do is expose your body to the same negative stressors over and over. This is a great time to try a new practice like Pilates or Barre that will challenge your physical body in a different way that will feed into your performances on the court/field.
- What you are eating during this period should really be determined by your goals for next competitive season. Are you trying to gain some weight or lose weight or gain more muscle mass? These are all questions that must be answered first and foremost so that you can base your training and eating efforts around this. It is never a smart time to eat processed and fast foods, but if you needed or wanted to have a cheat meal during a certain time of the year, this would be it.
After the initial 4-6 week period of post-season training has ended, it is important to come back to your goals for your next competitive season. Each player should have an understanding of where they are lacking on the field/court and how strength and conditioning work should compliment these goals. This is where the \ strength and conditioning work and sport specific work inversely complement each other; meaning as one increases, the other is slowly decreased. What you are eating and how much you are sleeping should never be compromised and should be kept consistent all year round.
- Strength and conditioning work should begin with a general strength phase. It should last for at least 6-10 weeks as this period will emphasize more training in the weight room compared to on the field. Field activities at this point should have more general work being prescribed and less technical work. Strength work will consist of full-body patterns and less movement variability with light loads. Following this period, a higher-speed strength phase should be carried out where more sprinting, jumping, and change of direction work should be prescribed. The amount of weight being lifted during this period should not be as high as the previous 6-10 weeks as the speed of each movement now takes priority. At this time, more and more technical situations and reps can be prescribed on the field for your sport. As you get closer to the season, the amount of reps inside the weight room should be slowly decreasing and the amount of reps on the field/court should increase until the start of season.
- Recovery modalities will always play a big role all throughout the year. Things like foam rolling, cold baths, meditation, and stretching really have the ability to continue to fill your tank up with energy. Again, refer back to the “Supercompensation” graph that shows how recovery can allow for a higher level of performance each day.
I wanted to include this table below to show you how exactly a strength and conditioning coach like myself and a sport coach should be viewing a whole year of training. Don’t pay attention to the fact that this is a football specific training program. What I want young athletes to realize is that as your training demands change throughout the season, so should your training and the best coaches will be aware of this fact.
Hopefully, this article can help a young athlete walk away with some specific actions that they can start using and be mindful of everyday. Things like how we eat, when we go to sleep, and the mindset we have on a daily basis are factors that we have direct control over. These are things that can help us to reach our goals or pull us further away from them. You may feel that this article has too much information for you to fully comprehend but to summarize the ideas, simply ask yourself the following two questions: 1.) What is my main goal? 2.) What are the things I can do on a daily basis to help me reach these goals?
If you have any questions on how to create a year long program that takes both sport season and training season into account, please contact us as firstname.lastname@example.org