I’ll try not to make this post a dissertation.
Although, managing the in-season youth athlete must be done with great care, so I want to ensure this is detailed and comprehensive.
For the length of my career in performance training and team coaching, I’ve seen a myriad of shenanigans:
1) Team coaches not recognizing the importance of in-season strength training.
2) Parents omitting strength training FIRST from their kids’ busy schedule.
3) Kids suffering through injuries.
4) Me delivering flowers at the hospital.
5) Me saying to everyone, “I told you so.”
Alas, none of this is to say us strength and conditioning coaches are super heroes who will take over the world one day. Rather, we want to help educate coaches, parents, and athletes on the benefits of a continued in-season program in terms of performance enhancement and injury prevention.
So let’s dive right in.
What In-Season Training Is NOT
It makes sense why MORE training in-season may scare off parents and coaches. For one, kids have busy schedules: they’re practicing 2-3x a week, playing games on the weekends, playing other sports, taking piano lessons, studying for tests, and hunting Pokemon.
However, I’d argue that strength training accounts for the least amount of volume, and the least likely thing that is causing muscle soreness. And provided you’re working with a certified strength and conditioning specialist, the program shouldn’t be murdering kids or causing soreness.
To debunk a myth, strength training isn’t always going balls-to-the-wall and lifting heavy weights. It can focus on all things in the maintenance spectrum – mobility, stability, and confidence.
With that said, here are some big NO-NO’s for the in-season athlete:
– Extra conditioning (especially if it is already done at practice and within small-sided games)
– 1RM or 3RM (you can pull serious weight in-season, but 1RM and 3RM is not always necessary)
– High volume plyometrics (60+ ground contacts)
– McDonald’s as the pre-game meal
So What Would A Sample In-Season Program Look Like?
Before I show off my triceps and get to the workout videos, here is a quick sample of what I have our in-season high school soccer girls do at minimum 1-2x a week:
Dynamic Warm Up/Mobility Work – 5 minutes
1A. Goblet Squat – 3 x 6 80-85% 1RM
1B. Pull Up – 3 x 8, 8, 6
2A. Single Leg Deadlift 3 x 5 85% 1RM
2B. Paused Push Ups – 3 x 10
2C. Lunge Matrix – 3 x 5
3A. Cable Face Pulls 2 x 12
3B. Band Pull Aparts 2 x 12
Hip Circuit – 5 minutes
Pretty tame, right? I prefer to have my athletes do total body programs, so that the wear and tear on upper and lower body is kept under control and no one muscle group is overtaxed.
Another thing to note: if you look at the sets and reps, a good sweet spot is 2-3 sets 6-12 reps. For the compound lifts (squats, deadlifts, pull ups, push ups) intensity should be 80-85% 1rM to maintain strength.
Some of our girls are single leg deadlifting at ease with 25-35 pound dumbbells in each hand. This is enough to give them a challenge, while still executing the lift with pristine form and balance.
Rarely do the girls break a sweat during a work out like this, and very rarely do we go over 60 minutes, UNLESS they want to talk about Game of Thrones with me.
Why Is It Critical to Maintain Strength?
Strength coach Mike Robertson, who has trained hundreds of professional soccer players, couldn’t have said it any better:
“Imagine you have a glass, but it has a small hole in the bottom and water is leaking out. This is respective of you losing strength over the course of a competitive season. If you did the right things in the off-season and got stronger, you have a bigger glass. So even if you have a hole and you’re losing some strength, you’ve got a bigger strength reserve that you can lose. And taking that a step further, if you continue strength training in-season, it’s like doing your best to plug the hole in your glass.”
It’s Mike Robertson. Come ON.
Needless to say, if an athlete trains hard in the off-season (Summer and Winter) only to discontinue that in-season, then what was the point of getting strong as hell off-season? It’s back to square one, no doubt.
Moreover, yes, kids are busy, but are they building durable muscles by *just* frolicking around on a field? Are they correcting movement patterns at practice? Are they working on mobility, stability, and body control? Are they improving posture with upper body exercises at practices? Methinks not.
*Here is a great article I wrote on upper body strength for soccer players.
Also, here are some videos of what exercises to do that will keep your athletes healthy:
I like this one because it serves as a stellar warm up that focuses on total body strength, core stability, and parasympathetic nervous system activation, which is needed to manage the stress of the in-season athlete. Another thing to keep in mind: if you can perform this for 10 minutes straight without knees touching the ground, I’d argue you can take over North Korea. ;-0
As far as squat variations are concerned, I prefer goblet and lumberjack squats. With moderate load (80-85% 1RM) and perfect form, they can serve as a great corrective exercise to groove hip mobility. With the front loading, there is extra work placed on the anterior core, without loading the back too much.
We do a lot of lunge variations in-season to improve hip flexibility in various planes of motion, as well as single leg strength. Above is an excellent routine to perform with bodyweight or moderate load (I’m using a 25 pound dumbbell). Again, this won’t be enough to make athletes sore. If it does, they’re soft and need to get stronger. Otherwise, they will embarrass themselves in front of their college strength coaches one day.
Speaking of single leg strength, you can also do something as effective as this:
Not all “strength training” needs to be done in the weight room. There are plenty of single leg variations (dead lifts, squats, lunges) that can be done out on the pitch. Use them. Don’t be an idiot.
Also, I’d argue you can crush the core in-season. I wrote an extensive post on bodyweight core workouts here.
Why do soccer players need a strong core year round? Take a look:
Holding off defenders, no doubt.
Anyway, I hope this helped. If you need any more exercises or in-season tips I’m here to answer your questions.
Here are some excellent in-seaon resources to check out:
Soccer Science – Tony Strudwick
Football Conditioning – Adam Owen, PhD
Periodization Fitness Training – Javier Mallo
Effects of In-Season Strength Maintenance Training Frequency In Professional Soccer Players -Rønnestad, Bent R et. al