I am far from being a gym monkey but, like most players, I do have periods during the season where I experience a spurt of motivation and find myself going to the gym most days. However, there is always the danger of getting carried away, doing too much and adversely affecting your performance at the weekend.
I’m sure you've all had the experience of reaching Saturday feeling drained after having done too much in the week, or indeed for a number of weeks, leading up to the game.
With this in mind, I thought it would be useful to look at some simple pointers to avoid becoming jaded or burnt out during the season.
Too many amateur players try to sustain a regime that would be draining in the off-season, let alone during it.
So, here are a few tips for anyone looking to develop their strength and power during the season and how to avoid making some of the most common mistakes.
Do less to get more
It is unrealistic to expect to be able to sustain a high-volume programme during the competitive season.
Game and practice time will make recovery from long, high volume training sessions near on impossible for all but the most hormonally blessed players. The actual amount of work needed to develop strength and power is lower than many think, but the intensity is key.
Put your effort where it brings the best returns
To develop or maintain strength concentrate on the intensity of your lifts.
The bulk of your time should be spent on movements that target the high-threshold motor units (key for strength and speed) and recruit the most muscle.
To do this, incorporate a mixture of plyometric movements (jumps, bounds etc), olympic style movements (clean pulls, Snatch pulls etc) with high-intensity loads in the big lifts (below 6 reps per set) as the mainstay of your training.
Game and training time should maintain your pre-season fitness, but if not, keep CV work low in volume and energy system specific.
Let your recovery dictate your training:
If you had a hard game, took a lot of hits and played a full 80 minutes then you may need a longer recovery before hitting the weights.
Conversely, if you only had a run out for the last 15 minutes then you will probably be able to hit the gym on Monday morning feeling fresh.
Be flexible in your week to week planning and adjust what you do to match your level of fatigue or soreness.
If you feel tired and beat up, take a sauna and then stretch: you’ll feel the benefit and come back fitter and stronger.
Too many guys are emotionally attached to their training and determined to keep lifting like a full-time bodybuilder through the competitive season.
Listen to your body and watch for signs of overtraining
Too much work with inadequate recovery will eventually lead to overtraining, which can take a long time to fully recover from.
If you start to see weights going down from week to week, every weight (even the empty bar) is starting to feel heavy, if sleep is poor and you wake up feeling heavy and tired after a full 8 hours, and you feel performance during games suffering then you need to check that your training isn’t contributing to this.
Don’t be afraid to build recovery weeks into your training. Very few people actually do this for fear of suddenly getting weaker or smaller, whereas the opposite actually applies as the body is given time to rest and adapt.
Keep things simple
The aim of your gym session is not to try to spend a load of time and effort on pointless ‘sport-specific’ exercises that are currently popular in the fitness media.
Wobbling about on Bosu balls or doing the latest ‘functional’ craze is merely a waste of time that could be spent actually getting stronger or stretching and recovering from the weekend’s game.
Stick to the fundamental movements of deadlifting, squats, presses, pulls, and rows and you won’t go far wrong.
Put recovery methods into your training
Stretching is practically impossible to do too much of, but it is the most neglected aspect of most people’s training.
A lack of adequate flexibility will lead to increased risk of injury, muscle imbalances, and a lack of any real progress in training.
Being big and strong is pointless if your hips are so tight that your speed is impacted negatively and your lower back exposed to increased injury risk.
The current trend is to only stretch after having done the rest of your training, but this means that stretching is generally done poorly, with minimal focus and therefore negligible results.
Ideally dedicate separate time to stretching work as it can be done anywhere, but if time is an issue (which for most people it is) try to make it the first thing you do in the session.
Remember, life isn’t a straight line and neither is training.
Too many factors can conspire to mean that it doesn’t work out the way the magazines, articles, and textbooks say it will.
Many factors can impact on finding the right routine that works best for you. These include: age, nutrition, sleep, stress, work, relationships, hormonal status, training age, playing position, level of competition, etc.
All of these factors can all have an influence and should be considered when designing a training programme and adapting it as the season goes on.