Finding time for strength training in-season can be difficult, particularly with extensive travel and competition schedules. Moreover, it’s important to allow for sufficient recovery time between practices, games and lifting sessions. Elimination of strength training in-season happens all too often for the aforementioned reasons. Strength levels can be retained in male field-sport athletes for about three weeks after training cessation. However, McMaster et al. (2013) suggest that strength levels tend to decay after the three week point in elite male rugby and football players. The authors also suggest that strength can be built or maintained in as few as two workouts per week. The decay rates of strength parameters may differ for youth athletes as Meylan et al. (2013) showed that athletes who have not hit their growth spurt lost more strength and lost it quicker compared to youth athletes who have hit their growth spurt. Therefore, maintenance efforts are suggested to avoid strength decrements.
A recent study from the Journal of Sports Sciences (2013) investigated the recovery rate of football skill performance following a strength training session in elite male soccer players. The players performed a high intensity workout (4 sets of 4-6 repetitions with 85-90%) and a low intensity workout (4 sets of 8-10 repetitions with 65-70%) in a counterbalanced manner. With each condition, the researchers assessed soccer skill performance through the Loughborough Soccer Passing Test, long passing, dribbling, shooting and heading at pre, post and 24, 48 and 72 hours following the workout. Additionally, blood samples were collected for markers of muscle damage and inflammation (creating kinase, C-reactive protein and leukocyte count). As expected, soccer skill performance markers decreased immediately following the strength training session. But by 24 hours post-workout, skill markers returned to baseline and only a mild muscle damage and inflammatory response was observed.
Though not particularly ideal, this study suggests that strength training sessions can occur as close to 24 hours before a competition or practice while having little impact on sport specific skill performance. This can be important for sports that have demanding competition schedules that involve considerable travel. Sports like hockey and baseball can have particularly busy schedules. Given the benefits that strength has on various markers of performance as well as the protection it offers against injury, maintaining an in-season strength program should be a priority for the coaching staff. To maintain strength throughout the season, as few as two strength workouts per week can sufficiently attenuate strength loss that can occur due to training cessation.
Draganidis, D., Chatzinikolaou, A., Jamurtas, A. Z., Carlos Barbero, J., Tsoukas, D., Theodorou, A. S., … & Fatouros, I. (2013). The time-frame of acute resistance exercise effects on football skill performance: The impact of exercise intensity. Journal of Sports Sciences, 31(7), 714-722.
McMaster, D. T., Gill, N., Cronin, J., & McGuigan, M. (2013). The Development, Retention and Decay Rates of Strength and Power in Elite Rugby Union, Rugby League and American Football. Sports Medicine, 1-18.
Meylan, C. M. P., Cronin, J. B., Oliver, J. L., Hopkins, W. G., & Contreras, B. (2013). The effect of maturation on adaptations to strength training and detraining in 11–15‐year‐olds. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. DOI: 10.1111/sms.12128