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Master the elements that make a rewarding in-season program

This is an excerpt from Bigger Faster Stronger, Second Edition by Greg Shepard

In-Season Program

If a team is used to training in the off-season and doesn’t train during the in-season, the players will be mentally down at play-off time because of a perceived weakness. Conversely, if a team trains during the in-season, it will be confident for the play-offs and will be physically stronger than many teams who were stronger at the start of the season. What’s better: being stronger at the beginning of the season or during the play-offs? Athletes simply must take the time to weight train. Here are the components of a successful in-season program.

  • Train twice per week. During the sport season, one training session a week is not enough volume to make progress, and three training sessions are too draining. With the carefully selected exercises in the BFS program, you can even work out the day before the game without adversely affecting performance.
  • Train in the morning. If possible, train before school or during a weight training class before lunch. There are many disadvantages to weight training just before or after practice. You’ll get better results by getting up a half hour earlier to lift (a workout many coaches like to call brawn at dawn) than by trying to lift before or after practice.
  • Keep it to 30 minutes. Keep in-season weight training workouts to 30 minutes or less. Remember, the objective of training is to win in your sport. You must focus a lot of time and energy on your sport during the season, and you simply cannot afford to spend many hours in the weight room. Two 30-minute sessions for a total of 1 hour during the week is sufficient, and it’s amazing how much progress you can make in that time.
  • Emphasize the basic BFS core lifts. You want to progress in the parallel squat, bench press, and clean throughout the season—you just can’t let those go. However, you can skip many auxiliary exercises.

The beauty of performing the box squat during the in-season is that recovery occurs almost immediately. Research has shown that the lowering (i.e., eccentric) part of an exercise produces the most muscle damage, and the greater the range of motion, the more muscle mass is involved in the lift. The box squat focuses on the lifting (i.e., concentric) part of the exercise through a shorter range of motion so that athletes retain their strength without overtaxing their ability to recover. You can box squat heavy on Thursday and still play hard on Friday. To avoid overtraining, male athletes should generally keep the weight on the box squat within about 100 pounds (45 kilograms) of the parallel squat. Female athletes should stay within about 75 pounds (34 kilograms). Using heavier weights puts excessive compressive forces on the spine, making it difficult to perform the lift safely.

Likewise, the towel bench press is an effective in-season exercise because it keeps the stress level down while allowing some progress on the bench. The towel bench press puts much less stress on the shoulder joint than the regular bench press does, an important consideration in contact sports that punish the shoulders. You would do this lift on Wednesday or Thursday before the game.

You should perform the straight-leg deadlift with light weights during the season, no more than 30 percent of the parallel squat max. The straight-leg deadlift is primarily a stretching exercise to increase range of motion, so heavy weights are never used. Most high school athletes will therefore lift between 55 and 135 pounds (25 and 61 kilograms) for two sets of 10 reps. The primary objective of the straight-leg deadlift is to get a good hamstring and glute stretch while building strength in that area. Remember, this exercise is crucial to improving speed. You would not plug this exercise into the normal BFS set–rep routine because it is not considered a strength training exercise and thus it follows a different set–rep protocol.

  • Do only three big sets. Just follow the BFS set–rep system during the season, as follows:
  • Week 1: 3 3 3
  • Week 2: 3 3 5
  • Week 3: 5-3-1 (a set of 5 reps, a set of 3 reps, and a set of 1 rep)
  • Week 4: 10-8-6 (and 4-2-2 for the clean and the hex-bar deadlift)

On week 5, repeat the week 1 workout, but challenge yourself to do more. Next, repeat the week 2 workout the same way, and so on. You will likely be able to get in three full cycles during a season.


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