All too often we see athletes train hard in the weight room all off-season and pre-season in effort to get bigger, stronger and faster for the upcoming season. Then, training camp rolls around and the weight room becomes a distant memory. Much of the hard-earned gains made slowly start to dissipate, and as a result, so does performance potential. Maintaining a strength and power training program throughout the season at best, improves performance and reduces injury potential and at worst, maintains strength, power and muscle mass.
Common excuses for not pursuing in-season resistance training are that coaches are concerned that it will cause too much soreness and thus negatively affect on-field performance. Or, that it will cause too much fatigue and take away from field-training. However, effective training in weight room can be accomplished with brief workouts (~20 min) of low volume and high intensity. This stimulus is typically sufficient to maintain and even create improvements in strength and power.
A new study in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance investigated the changes in strength and power performance throughout a competitive season in elite rugby players. Rugby is a collision sport that is very taxing on the body. The researchers tested lower body strength (peak force, force at 50 ms and at 100 ms) and power before and after the pre-season as well mid-way through and after the season. Despite the grueling physical demands of playing rugby almost every day, the results showed that strength and power markers improved steadily until mid-way through the season. Here, force at 50 and 100 ms decreased slightly but peak force and power were maintained. It’s important to note that even though force at 50 and 100 ms decreased, these values were still higher compared to pre-season testing.
This study demonstrates that strength and power parameters can be improved (not just maintained) throughout a competitive season in collision-sport athletes. Further, it appears that the first half of the season (including pre-season) is the time where athletes will respond best to this type of training. As the season trudges on, fatigue accumulates and injuries start interfering with training progress. Given that team-sports like rugby depend on athletes being able to produce force rapidly into the ground to accelerate, change direction, jump and tackle the opposition, including in-season strength and power training can be an effective way to improve performance.
Gannon, EA. et al. (2015) Strength and Power Development in Professional Rugby Union Players Over a Training and Playing Season. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, In press.