I recently tweeted an “S&C Stuff That Just Makes Sense” post that covered in a brief thread performing *TRUE* maximal strength training within the off-season. For some people this post was confusing. So I thought it would be of interest to create a longer specific post to really provide some additional context to what I was getting at.
🏋️S&C stuff that just makes sense 🧐— Craig Turner (@CTsportsci) April 14, 2022
🗓 OFF-SEASON *TRUE* max strength training.
– Can allow for more recovery within & between sessions.
– Not always worried about sport demands / fatigue from other places
– Opens up higher intensities for “work capacity”
First let’s start by addressing what I mean by *TRUE* Maximal strength training. From a traditional percentage perspective this would be in ranges of 85% and greater. With intensity focussed at / near the athletes current ceiling for a given exercise. Within these ranges we are likely achieving less than 5 reps. Depending on your system of choice and the athletes training age (example: the max number of reps for 85% of 1RM is thought to be in the 3-5 range). In reality though I’m hoping to push this exposure to 90%+ over the course of the training program. Whatever your method the point being here is the intensity is high and in term the repetition volumes will be consequently low. I use the word *TRUE* as some athletes will likely find things heavy (especially if they are not exposed to intensity during the competitive season). As such methods like repetitions in reserve may fall short for athletes who are less accommodated to higher intensity training loads (or lack intent with training).
I think that the offseason offers a great time to explore some maximal strength training concepts for several reasons….
Depending on the sport, the competitive season offers a challenging time for athlete physical development of strength characteristics. Namely due to the potential conflict of maximizing preparedness for competition and minimizing fatigue. As such, tasks like maximal strength training may offer too high a central nervous system demand and therefore create excess fatigue for athletes who are not readily accommodated to the intensities and volumes prescribed. In turn practitioners may be more cautious in their prescription and opt for more power based options or lighter intensity loaded movements in an attempt to minimize the fatiguing effects of the session. As such, when consulting an annual plan, it would seem the best time of the year to begin to prescribe these higher intensities would be the off-season for this reason alone.
Note: Before I move on, this is not a maximal strength = everything post. But from my experience most developmental athletes aren’t harmed by increasing their strength ceiling and oftentimes it can be a struggle to accommodate that in the athletes calendar (e.g. a college athlete competing in the fall and spring). Therefore, this post is aimed at discussing a practical solution for those athletes who could require maximal strength exposure.
SO WHY THE OFF-SEASON?
Within my tweet I mentioned that the offseason represents a unique set of circumstances for the S&C coach in comparison to the pre-season and competitive season. As mentioned earlier during those periods the S&C may be more primarily focussed on preparedness and minimizing fatigue as a result of sport participation being more important than resistance training exposure. The off-season however provides a chance for the athlete to step away from their sport to a certain degree (i.e. no formal competitions typically) and focus on physical development of specific qualities. As a result of this the S&C coach is no longer worried about the effects of fatigue and can program higher intensities with the view that optimal competitive performance isn’t needed in this time.
The other main point to this is that within and between sessions the opportunity for more recovery can be offered. The within session recovery is in reference to rest periods between sets of an exercise. For example if someone was performing 2 reps at 90% 1RM they could likely take 2-3 minutes until their next set to allow for more recovery, which may in turn maximize qualities like rate of force development during the lift. Of course this is at the discretion of the coach, perhaps they may favor other approaches for rest, though it’s hard to sustain things like an on the minute every minute (especially again for the more developmental athlete). In contrast, typically in-season the coach is on a strict time limit, one to which waiting around during sets isn’t an option as numerous movement patterns may need to be targeted in the one session exposure. In the offseason however it is likely the athlete has more time, as a result they don’t need to rush and can actually respect rest periods.
This is an important component in all repetition schemes for me. Sure it’s impressive that someone can EMOM their 90%, but how many sports athletes would be completely wiped after a couple of sets? The intent certainly lowers and so to with it, rate of force development and speed. As such the desired adaptations may or may not be achieved. Therefore the niche thing about off-season training is the athlete has the potential to take more time. Not rush through the workout and have to super set on super set to be done quickly. However, perhaps some work capacity is what they need and EMOM might be an option you choose. Either way the point being if you want to lift heavy and respect the reps you likely have to respect the rest.
The other mention of rest was between sessions. Given that most athletes (such as team sports athletes) are likely less accommodated to maximal strength training sessions, the offseason offers the opportunity to spread these sessions out (e.g. 2-3 days before the next exposure). A commonplace mistake I feel happens is we think more training frequency and exposure has to happen in the offseason due to the lack of exposure to competitive demands of the sport. But done right the athlete should only really need 2x exposures of maximal strength training a week to make progress. Therefore having the luxury to allow full (or at least more) recovery in the offseason between sessions, means we can likely better strategize sessions to target desired training adaptations.
The offseason is also that time of year when we aren’t worried about things like soreness and fatigue (to a certain extent, i.e. we still want to avoid non-functional overreaching). Therefore an athlete is able to perform this type of training in the knowledge they may at first experience more soreness. Though, for the accommodated athlete this shouldn’t be much of a problem.
HOWEVER THE CAVEATS
Despite all the potential upsides to this, there are some factors worth mentioning that are also unique to certain environments that may make this type of training harder to perform.
For example in the professional sport environment athletes may step away from their team’s training facilities and therefore the coach may not have access to them. Consequently meaning that the coach is programming remotely with no eyes on this person. This also offers another set of challenges. Such as equipment availability (the athlete may not have the resources to train with heavy intensities) and the trust that the athlete can execute such training in a safe and effective manner without the need for supervision. Without this oversight it would likely mean these methods are reserved for those with good lifting experience and have demonstrated good exercise technique prior to the offseason in these primary movements.
A conceptual thought to this may be how we view TRUE maximal strength. If we think of this in the form of contraction type. Then maximal voluntary contractions can still be achieved in the form of isometrics (which could require minimal equipment). Therefore with the above caveats, we would likely as coaches be more comfortable with having the type of athletes who are a little less competent performing isometric training sessions in the absence of equipment and technical prowess. This in turn could set up a good foundation for the next training program progression.
SO WHAT THIS MIGHT LOOK LIKE?
This is one of many examples of what we could program for an athlete during the off-season to target maximal strength. Conceptually we can utilize clusters to allow us to accumulate some volume at higher % intensities (in this case 90%). In conjunction we can still program supersets but with contrasted plyometric/explosive activities (given that these may be potentiated by the primary lift and are likely non-fatiguing for the next set). Alternatively we could not utilize the superset method and actually focus primarily on the main lift and use the rest period as complete rest. Lastly in these examples we program some heavy accessory work that compliments differing characteristics that aren’t covered by the primary lifts (in this case plantar flexion strength, anti-lateral flexion and upper body vertical push). This completes the following template for maximal lifting exposure in the off-season:
Using this template we can create a number of different athlete programs that target maximal force production qualities. The exercise selections, methods and modes of getting to those physiological adaptations could be up to you as a coach. But this at least gives a general sense of how to program movements for athletes within the offseason.