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The in-season athlete: who is the strongest when it means nothing, and who is the weakest when it means everything?

Many in-season athletes find themselves at their weakest strength point when tournament play comes along at the end of the season. So how do we as coaches, work together to prevent this negative transformation?

First, let's look at the common con-cerns and comments expressed to strength coaches by our head coaches and athletes:


Many coaches insist they do not have the time to send their team into the weight room. Yet to their surprise, once a week is all that is needed to maintain strength levels. "Training induced strength gains can be maintained even with a reduction in training frequency from two or three times per week to once a week" (Brechue, Pollock, Starkey, Grave and Welsch, 1996). One! Only one session a week is proven sufficient, provided exercise intensity is maintained.


Many coaches will not notice the drop off until it is too late. Strength performance can be maintained for up to four weeks of inactivity; "following this time period, highly trained athletes will experience a significant decline in eccentric force, sport power, and recently acquired isokinetic strength" (Mujika and Padilla, 2001).

Let's look at a baseball player to clarify. A study titled "The Epidemiology of Collegiate Baseball Injuries" found that "upper extremity injuries accounted for 75% of total time lost" (McFarland and Wasik, 1998). While another study published in The American journal of Sports, attributed the deceleration phase of throwing as, "the point in which the labrum is most vulnerable to injury" (Lintner, Luo, and Yeh, 2005).

Research done in the biomechanics of baseball and softball injuries reaffirmed this point, "it is not the speed of rotation, but rather the rapid acceleration and deceleration of the shoulder and arm" (Nissen, 2008). In the case of the baseball player, Isokinetic strength is in the muscle's contribution in the deceleration of the arm swinging.

Therefore, an athlete's chance for injury may increase within four weeks of cessation of strength training due to decreases in strength and power in the aforementioned areas. It is not always the most talented team that wins at the end of a season, but rather the team with the fewest injuries. The question then becomes, how many injuries can a team afford?


Does your sport make you strong enough? Strength coaches should research common deficiencies within the sport in question to better prepare their programs. In a sport such as gymnastics, where the athlete is demonstrating muscular strength on a daily basis, there is a question as to the need of resistance training in-season. These athletes will not lose strength, but only increase the muscles they use to perform by nature of that specific sport. According to research, "43% of injuries in gymnastics have been attributed to gradual onset or overuse in nature" (Wadley and Albright, 1993).

According to the Houston Texans Strength and Condition Program, the brain "will only recruit as many muscle fibers as are needed to raise the weight." No more, no less. You cannot fool it. Bouncing, jerking, or shifting of the body sends a specific message to the brain: recruit fewer muscle fibers (Riley and Wright). This can reduce strength and create imbalances in critical muscles necessary to prevent injuries.

Here at UNC, we had several athletes with poor scapular stabilizer strength, thus putting them at a higher risk for shoulder injuries. Therefore, one component of our 2007 in-season program consisted of isometric contractions of the upper back musculature performed once a week.


A common concern of coaches and players is that soreness will result from strength training and leave the muscles too sore during competition. Yet studies suggest otherwise, "an adaptation occurs within the muscle not only to become more resistant to damage, but also allow for a faster rate of recovery if damage does occur to the muscle" (Clarkson and Tremblay, 1988). In short, a regular and consistent strength program will result in the reduction of DOMS; along with a quicker repair should DOMS occur to the muscle.

If modalities and exercises are already in place during your in-season training program, do not deviate from them. Such changes will induce a DOMS effect. Whatever your regiment, use it and stick with it.

This is where communication is critical between the strength staff and the coaching staff. If soreness is continuing through the season, there are some factors that could be influencing this response. First, your athlete could be over training as a result of inadequate recovery during the week. Second, they might not be refueling to the demands of their competitive season. If this is the case, refer your athlete to the school's registered nutritionist.


So let's break down the myth of big and bulky. Regardless of the number of sets and repetitions performed, your genetic assets are the most influential factors in adding bulk. What is bulk? "Bulk is either: fat, muscle or bone. You add muscle by lifting, and add fat by eating too much," say Dan Riley and Ray Wright. Many females commonly complain of weight gain almost immediately after they begin a weight training regime. However, there is no association; you simply do not add five to ten pounds of weight--or "muscle mass," in four weeks from lifting.

Physiological changes require anywhere from six to eight weeks of a consistent and progressive weight program. According to the research of Tim Wakeham, assistant strength and conditioning coach at Michigan State University, "studies show that over a nine-week period, most women who engage in resistance training gain little over one pound of lean body mass."

A study comparing both men and women showed, "no muscle hypertrophy occurring in the thigh of either male or female subject as evidenced by non-significant changes in thigh circumference, bone-plus-muscle cross-sectional area, and muscle determined from computed tomography scanning" (Cureton, Collins, Hill, and McElhannon, 1988).

In regards to speed, quite simply, "you cannot develop more speed than your genetic potential will allow" (Riley and Wright). If you weren't born with it, then you don't have it. With that being said, it is possible to exploit the characteristics you do posses. There are a few factors one can control which will enhance your ability to reach your genetic potential.

Strengthening the muscles used to run is one way to maximize individual potential. During a 100 meter sprint, there are two running phases: the initial acceleration phase and the high running velocity phase.

Christopher Delecluse further explains this in an article for Journal of Sports Medicine.

Numerous studies support these findings. A study of elite soccer players in Greece, found a " [distinguishable] difference in strength and speed characteristics, when compared to their sub elite and recreational counterparts." Cronin and Hansen, found "squat and countermovement jump heights" as variables which were significantly greater in the fast players (Cronin and Hansen, 2005).


Despite numerous concerns from athletes and coaches alike, it is more beneficial to the athlete to continue a progressive and consistent weight training program throughout the season. If coaches elect to prioritize a weight lifting routine during the season, research supports the conclusion that large amounts of time are not required to maintain strength. Based on the research, injuries which plague the season and playoffs would be reduced.

Finally, the strength and speed your \ athlete has worked so hard for in the off-season and pre-season will not go to waste, providing intensity levels are maintained. The priority of the weight room can no longer be an off-season topic of discussion. It is imperative that coaches realize the potential for their athletes during the season, not only for the sake of performance but to prevent injury.


* We do not have the time.

* How much strength are we really going to lose.

* Our sport requires strength on its own, and extra work will just add to injuries.

* I will be too score to perform during competition.

* Our sport does not require size, and lifting will make them big, bulky, and slow.


"The initial acceleration phase is indicated by the forward lean of the athlete. Much of the force in the initial acceleration phase comes from muscle contraction rather than elastic response. Together with the muscles, the main accelerators are the gluteus maximus and the knee extensors ... High running velocity is directly related to the velocity of the swing back ofthie legs, due to the upright position of a sprinter. This forward propulsion in full speed sprinting is mainly determined by the action of the hamstrings, the gluteus maximus and the adductor magnus. The hamstrings are even singled out as contributing most to producing the highest levels of speed. In all, to exploit initial acceleration and high running velocity to ones highest genetic potential athletes need to strengthen the gluteus maximus, extensors of the knee, and the hamstrings" (Delecluse, 1997).


Albright, J.P., and G.H. Wadley. "Women's Intercollegiate Gymnastics. Injury Patterns and "Permanent" Medical Disability." The American Journal of Sports Medicine. 21:314-320, 1993.

Cronin, John B., and Keir T. Hansen. "Strength and Power Predictors of Sports Speed." The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 19(2):349-357. May 2005.

Collins, Mitchell A., Kirk J Cureton., David W. Hill, and Fayette M. McElhannon, JR. "Muscle Hypertrophy in Men and Women." Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 20(4):338-344, August 1988.


Delecluse, Chistopher. "Influence of Strength Training on Sprint Running Performance." Journal of Sports Medicine. 24(3):147-156, September 1997.

McFarland, EG,and M. Wasik. "Epidemiology of Collegiate Baseball Injuries." Clin J Sport Med. 8(1):10-13. January 1998.

Gissis, Ioannis, Papadopoulos, Christos, Kalapotharakos,Vasilios I., Sotiropoulos, Aristomenis, Komsis, Georgios and Manolopoulos, Evagelos. "Strength and Speed Characteristics of Elite, Subelite, and Recreational Young Soccer Players." Research in Sports Medicine. 14:3, 205-214. 2006.

Mujika, Inigio, and Sabino Padilla. "Muscular characteristics of detraining in humans." Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 33(8):1297-1303, August 2001.

Nissen, Carl. "Biomechanics: Baseball/Softball Injuries." U. of Conn. Health Center Sports Med.

< January 30, 2008>.

Paddon-Jones, D., and P. J. Abernethy. "Acute Adaptation to Low Volume Eccentric Exercise." Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 33(7):12I3-I2l9, July 2001. P.M. Clarkson, I. Tremblay. "Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage, Repair, and Adaptation in Humans," Journal of Applied Physiology. 65(l):l-6. 1988.

Riley, Dan, and Ray Wright. Texans Strength and Conditioning Program. Houston Texans Strength & Conditioning Program. Houston Texans Manual, 25-27.

Wakeham, T. "Improving Speed, Power, and Explosiveness." Maximize Your Training. Ed. M. Brzycla. Lincolnwood, IL: Masters Press, 1999.

Welsch, M., W. Brechue, J. Graves, M. Pollock, and D. Starkey. "The Effects of Strength Training and Detraining on Children." Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 10(2):109-114, 1996.

Yeh, Lintner, and Luo. "Stress Distribution in the Superior Labrum During Throwing Motion." The American Journal of Sports Medicine. 33:395-401, 2005.

By Melissa Glyptis, Assistant Strength/Conditioning Coach University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC
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Author:Glyptis, Melissa
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2008
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