The Big Lie About In-Season "Maintenance."

The "In-Season Maintenance" Weight Training Lie
Phil Hueston, NASM-PES, IYCA-YFS, IYCA-YSAS

Coaches who want to make me crazy have a simple way to do it.

They need only tell me that their players don't need our kind of progressive strength and conditioning programs during the season. They only need a "maintenance phase" training program.

Every time I hear it my brain boils and I feel like my head will explode. They claim that all they need to do is "maintain" muscular strength throughout the athletic sports season.

If they only realized how dangerous and damaging that lie is for their players!

Wouldn't it make more sense to continue to develop strength and power during the sports season, as well as before/after?

Does anyone really think an athlete can maintain an even level of strength and power throughout a 4, 5 or 6 month season?

Let's expose this lie a piece at a time.

First, how do living things work? We know that all things in nature exist in one of only 2 states: hypertrophy (the state of growing or adding mass) or atrophy (the state of shrinking or losing mass.) For purposes of understanding the concept, you're either growing or dying. Period.

There is no such thing as stasis, or the state of remaining exactly the same, in nature. Growing or dying...that's it.

Second, how does muscle develop and exist? We know that muscle grows in response to proper stimulus. Fail to apply enough stimulus, and the muscle will atrophy in spite of the training regimen applied. Of course, too much stimulus can damage muscle as well. Apply the appropriate stimulus and muscle will remain in a hypertrophic state, growing healthily.

Third, how does muscle respond to extended periods of athletic activity, such as sports play? Think of playing a sport like an endurance event: repetitive activities at low intensity (load rate) levels over long periods of time, with minimal recovery times.  Muscles are being forced into a atrophic state via the activities of sport. A "maintenance training program" will rarely provide the right stimulus to allow muscles to grow at a rate faster than that of the muscle stripping caused by the sports activities.

Last, what's the risk of ignoring these realities? Injury, plain and simple. The same coaches who love to tell me all about their "maintenance" programs are the same guys with the astronomical injury rates. Funny, they're also the ones who tell me all about how they've "always done it that way," how "injuries are part of the game" and how they don't have time for a real strength program in-season! Shocking, isn't it?

Let's see; muscle responds to appropriate stimulus by growing. Strength, power and speed are developed this way (along with good coaching and training.) Seeking "maintenance" leads to atrophy of muscles and muscle systems.

Creating and implementing in-season strength and power development programs helps eliminate injuries.

Still want your athletes to try and "maintain" their muscle, strength and power through a 3 to 6 month season?

Doesn't it make more sense to continue to develop the athletic skill set throughout the season? Even IF a maintenance program worked, why would anyone use it? Athletes who continue to train for strength and power gains will continue to improve throughout the season.

The athletes and teams that continue to improve these aspects will continue to get better throughout the season. What do you think will happen when they meet the teams on "maintenance programs?"

Simply put, in-season or out, the focus should ALWAYS be on improving performance, whether in practice or training.

If you are not getting stronger, you are getting weaker. Think that way when planning in-season training.

Colleges and professional teams all include in-season training as a fact of life for their athletes. High school coaches may think that gives them a pass, since it's "only" high school.

Here's a few things to remember about the high school athlete. First, the season is usually shorter than in college or pro's. There's really no excuse for not continuing to develop strength, speed and power through the season. Second, many of these athletes are 3 sport athletes. Let's suppose the baseball player has just come off a season of basketball where his coach used a "maintenance" program. He's operating on minimal strength and power levels. Then the coach throws him into another "maintenance" program for baseball.

You see, this athlete has little time to ever develop more speed, strength and power. If he's a 3 sport athlete (let's say soccer in the fall), he's never going to get any stronger or more powerful.

During the 9 to 10 months that the 3 sport athlete is competing, when is he actually getting any stronger or more powerful?

It doesn't make a difference what level at which the athlete participates, failing to structure his/her strength and conditioning program to create positive gains in strength, speed, power, endurance and agility will lead to weaker, more injury prone athletes in every season!

This is especially critical for the younger athlete who is just developing the good (or bad) habits he/she will carry through the college level sports programs, and even into "regular" life.

If you're a coach currently using in-season "maintenance" programs, and you think I'm wrong, here's my challenge to you: test your athletes! Test them at the start of the season in the big three lifts (bench, squat and deadlift) and in the 40 yard dash and pro shuttle.

Then, use your silly in-season "maintenance" program. Then, test them again at the end of the season.

Has their performance output improved or degraded? I bet I know what the truth will be! So do you, coach, if you're honest about it.

More important is the reality that your athletes are probably fading toward the end of the season, and maybe even suffering more injuries as the season wears on.

As the coach of any sport, your goal is to prepare your kids to win, then help them execute on the plan. You want the biggest challenge of the season to be the playoffs and championship, not trying to beat fatigue and stay healthy. A properly designed in-season development program will help you get there.

Contact us here and we'll answer any and all questions you might have about how to get the most "bang for your buck" from a youth sports fitness program, whether in-season, off-season or pre-season. (And, yes, there is a difference!)