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Breaking Myths: Unveiling the Truth about Strength Training In-Season

Should you strength train in-season?

This is a common question for athletes and parents alike. 

Let me be the first to say, I get it. I remember what it was like - you put in months of work in preparation for the High School season. It feels like a bigger deal than any tournament ever has, and you want to be feeling your best to play your best. You don't want to be sore for the game. Plus, after the long game or in-season practice, you're tired and want to rest. Sound about right?


Now I am going to hit you with a wake-up call - deep breath. Not everyone can be great. Not everyone can be a varsity starter, or a collegiate athlete, or a professional athlete, let alone a big leaguer. And what separates the good from great is often a vision - or better yet, an obsession. The vision entails playing at the highest level and having tremendous success. The obsession presents itself as countless hours of work when your competition, or even your own teammates want to rest. The greats do not obsess over feeling perfect for tomorrow's game. They obsess over ways they can get better. 


Ken Ravizza, Mental Skills Coach for numerous MLB and NCAA baseball teams

Let's examine the idea that you want to feel perfect for tomorrow's game for a moment. If you feel a little sore, or feel a little tired, are you going to have a bad game? My mental skills coach at UCLA, the late Ken Ravizza, used to say "Are you that sh*tty that you need to feel good to play good?" It made me laugh. Then he'd reference Michael Jordan's famous Flu-Game. "I gotcha Ken," I would say. "Just compete with what I've got. I'm good enough to beat these guys even if I’m missing an organ or two."


This is a critical shift. The shift away from anxiety that I NEED to perform and I NEED to feel good to perform. Instead, I am GOING to COMPETE with what I've got today. That's it. Any collegiate or professional athlete will tell you that playing sore, or playing beat up, or playing sick is part of the game - plain and simple. So instead, focus on just two things:

1. The process of getting better. 2. When it is game time - compete.

I trust you know how to compete, so what does the process of getting better look like? You train. You train year round, but you do it intelligently. 


So with that mental shift in mind, let's take a good look at the actual facts of strength training in high school.

 

Myths:

1. Soreness. Soreness comes from a combination of training volume (how many total reps) and training intensity (how much weight), and how novel the stimulus is. Have you ever thought you were in shape and then you went on a hike or bike ride and got sore? Exactly. A new stimulus that your body is not adapted to, you can get sore.

So, with an intelligent training design in which the combination of volume and intensity is not overboard (specifically high intensity and low volume), and consistently training so that strength training is NOT a shock to your body, you can train and NOT be sore. Myth busted.

2. I want to be fresh. The reality of the situation is that weight training done correctly can be a bit counter intuitive. Training actually GIVES you energy. A fit and strong body that repeatedly gets boosts of natural testosterone from training has far more energy than the couch potato, resting NARP (Non-Athletic Regular Person). So part of being fresh is training. Again, myth busted.

3. I don't have time! We really already drove this point home above (not everyone can be great). You have time, what you do not have is clear priorities. Is playing at the next level a priority. Is being great a priority? Then pay attention in class so you can get your school work done faster, increase the efficiency of meals with meal preps, say no to friends when it's time to train (if they don't understand, they might not be the friends that you need to get to where you want to get to), and for the love of god, put the damn phone down and eliminate scrolling (you're poisoning yourself - be better). So you have time. And if you want to be great, you make it a priority, and after a few weeks it becomes routine.


 

Now onto the benefits of strength training in season:

1. Immediate boost in testosterone (for athletes, you want all of the natural testosterone you can get): Strength training is known to increase testosterone levels immediately (PMID: 32297287).

2. Maintain strength: Strength adaptations diminish if you do not train. Training will prevent you from being a weaker player at the end of the season than at the beginning. “It ain't about how you start, it's about how you finish.” Don’t be weak at the end of the season. 

3. Injury Prevention: “Strong things don’t break.” An intelligent strength training program has numerous exercises targeting muscles that need extra strengthening to prevent injury. Some examples include hamstrings, hip flexors, obliques, adductors, and the infamous rotator cuff. (See our new Arm Care program!)

4. Develop for the long haul ("Don't let your dreams be dreams"): 

The body is an incredible adapting machine. The bummer is the body will also adapt to doing less. As in, after just 1 month, you will begin to lose the strength gains that you spent all summer, fall and winter creating. I created a rough model to show the effects of this over the 4 years of high school. With the assumptions that 1. athletes increase their strength by 2% every month they strength train (an underestimate for high school athletes), and they lose just 2% of their strength every month they do NOT strength train (again, an underestimate). The results may shock you (unless you are familiar with the magic of compounding).

After 4 years, the athletes that strength trained year round increased their strength by 150%. The athletes who took 4 months off every year for high school season improved by just 40% after 4 years. (Now think about which path most high school athletes end up taking, and why they fall short of their goals…) This simple math means that if you came into your freshman year back squatting 165 lbs, and you trained year around for 4 years, you would back squat over 400 lbs. But if you took your spring season off each year, you would back squat just 225 lbs! Yeah, that’s a 235lb+ gain for one guy, and a 60lb gain for the other… 

For the athletes that take strength training off during high school season their strength gets CUT IN HALF despite the same effort for most (⅔) of the year. 

Why? THEY LACK CONSISTENCY. When it comes to building your body to be the physical specimen you need to be at the next level, the key is consistency.

So if your goal is to be a collegiate or professional baseball player, you need to start acting in accordance with that goal. Put the excuses aside, and do the hard things that the average (and quite frankly lazy) “athletes” will not do... it might just be the difference in how this season, and your career plays out. 


PS - Don't wait to make the change - everyone wishes they started earlier. All you can do is start today.




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