“Multi-Sport Big 6” – How to program for your in-season athletes

Winter sports are starting to wrap up and a large majority of your student athletes are ramping up to begin their spring sport seasons.

Between track and field, lacrosse, and baseball a hefty percentage of your football team will be largely unavailable for the next three months.  This increase in the volume of your athletes that are participating in spring sports makes it a tricky time to program their strength training.  That said, it is vital for you to ensure that they continue to build their absolute strength and explosive power.  Failure to do so will make any work you did over the winter useless and a blatant waste of time. 

Knowing that without any maintenance work, strength levels begin to decrease after two weeks. You will have to program a very specific approach if you want to ensure that your athletes continue to see progress with their strength and power development.

Of course, you will have scheduling issues and will have to be very careful to not program too aggressively which would cause an excessive level of fatigue.  Remember, when your athletes are in another sport the worst thing you can do is beat them down to the point where their performance is hindered.

If you provide them with a structurally sound program their performance will not be impacted and you will be able to maintain support from the spring sport coaches.

So, how do you approach programming for your multi-sport athletes?

Here are my ‘Multi-Sport Big 6’ strategies you will want to include in your programming to ensure that your athletes continue to build strength while performing at a high level in their spring sport.

  1. Use Cluster Sets
  • Cluster sets are a series of low rep sets (1-3 reps) performed for 6-10 sets. The key is to do a set every 45-60 seconds and be above 80% of the athletes 1 rep max.  This allows you to do a high volume of strength/power work while limiting the fatigue on the body.
  • Your sets would look about like this…
    • 10X2 @ 90% with a set starting every 60 seconds.
    • 6X3 @ 85% with a set starting every 45 seconds.
  • This allows you to do two things
    • It allows you to get 18-30 reps in at 80% or above which builds power
    • Since the per set rep range is low it will limit fatigue when compared to a rep scheme of 4X6 or 5X5.  You’ll get the same total reps in just in a way that limits fatigue and builds power.

2. Limit Eccentric Movements

  • The great majority of muscle fatigue and soreness comes from the eccentric (lengthening) phase of a movement. By limiting or removing the eccentric phase you will allow your multi-sport athletes to be able to train heavy without having a high level of soreness the following days.
  • Some great ways to limit or remove the eccentric phase of big lifts are…
    • Deadlifts w/ a drop at the top (removes the lowering phase)
    • Bench Press using a 3 Board
    • Perform Sled Marches, Sled Drags, and Tire Flips

3. Be Strategic with Your Heavy Squat Days

  • If you know your athletes in-season competition schedule you can be strategic with what day’s you program your heavy squat work.
  • If your athlete has a 5-7 day break between games or matches use that gap to program a heavy squat day directly following their previous competition.
    • For example, if they had a game on a Friday and don’t play again until Wednesday then use Saturday to squat heavy. This gives them three days to recover before their next game or match.
      • Note: Don’t be a dick with your heavy squat programming. Push them but don’t do something stupid like 10X10.

4. Program Throws, Jumps, and Bounds

  • Throws, jumps, and bounds are one of the best ways to build explosive power. In addition, they put a very low level of fatigue on the athletes.  All three of these should be a year-round staple of your program, however, when an athlete is in-season the volume of jumps, throws, and bounds should increase.
  • Throws, jumps, and bounds are a great substitute for Olympic lifting as they teach the triple extension and they allow the athlete how to generate power very rapidly.

5. Limit Volume on Accessory Work

  • With in-season athletes the amount of time they have to train is very short. Your goal should be to get the big lifts in and then get them out of the weight-room.  During this time an athlete does not need to spend 15 minutes doing arms and shoulders.
  • Often times high volume accessory work is a major cause of fatigue and should be avoided during an in-season phase.
  • Rather than doing a massive amount of accessory work program a low volume of accessory work that is targeted towards injury prevention.
    • For example, give your baseball players shoulder stability work and your lacrosse athletes stability drills for their ankle/knee/hip complex.

6. Include a Nervous System Reset After Each Training Session

  • This is a big one. When you combine practices, games, and strength training sessions many athletes can have up to 10 ‘training’ sessions in a week.  This takes a massive toll on the nervous system and can lead to overtraining.
  • After every strength training session take 5 minutes and reset your athlete’s nervous system with a wall stretch variation that includes diaphragmatic breathing.
    • I like to have the athletes lay down on their backs with their feet up on the wall at a 45-degree angle. Have them close their eyes and take a few minutes to do some slow breathing drill’s.
      • Start with a 4-4-4 breathing cycle that has a deep inhale for four seconds followed by four seconds of retention and four seconds of a forceful exhale.

Now, with all that information the question arises of how many training sessions should be done during the week.  Typically, I recommend starting with three days per week during the pre-season and non-conference play then cut it down to two days per week once the season ramps up into more important competition.  The training sessions should be limited to 45 minutes and scheduled at convenient time for both the athletes and the in-season coach.

Remember, the most important thing is that you provide your athletes with a program that allows them to build strength and power while allowing them to play at a high level with their in-season team.  If you follow this and are smart about your programming, you will have an athlete that hits the ground running in your summer training program.

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