How to Weight Train if You’re a Multi-Sport Athlete

Multi-sport athletes have a lot on their plate. They have to go to practice and compete for 9-months straight in the fall, winter, and spring seasons, in addition to having to succeed in academics to stay eligible. We’re all starting to learn that weight training is great for athletes to keep them healthy and enhance performance, but how do you weight train when you have to compete almost all year round? These were the questions I was asking myself when I worked at Cotter Highschool in Winona as it was a small school and a large majority of the kids were multi-sport athletes. Through my 2 years there, I was able to establish some guidelines on how to get athletes in the weight room year-round, while keeping them from being sore so they could compete at a high level.

Establish your sport schedule for the season and find the gaps:

The starting point is to know exactly when competitions are being held so you can game plan when to get in the weight room without affecting competition performance. Here is a screenshot of a schedule I used to help me find the gaps.

If you look at the key you can see I labeled home games, away games, late-night games, weight room days, and holidays. This really helped me establish the best times to get athletes in the weight room and what time they should come in. If they had a late-night game, I would tell them to come in the afternoon, instead of the morning, so they can get enough sleep. If they had 3 competitions in one week, I would have only one weight room session that week as I knew fatigue would be high and more weight training would only hinder them. If they had 1 or fewer competitions that week, that’s when I knew I could push them a bit harder.

Guidelines on In-season training:

Knowing when to weight train is one thing, but what to actually do in the weight room is another. Here are some guidelines of what your weight training sessions should consist of and what to avoid.  

  • Keep the volume low

The biggest factor that will affect soreness is how many sets and reps you are performing in any exercise. Any exercise can make you tired and sore if done for enough total reps. Keep training volume low with total volume less than 25 total reps for each exercise. Set and rep scheme examples can be 3-5 sets of 1-8 reps. Weeks with 1 or fewer competitions are when my athletes training sessions volume would be the highest (20-25 total reps per exercise) as I knew they had more days to recover before their next competition. On the other hand, if they had 3 or more games, the volume on those training days would be the lowest (5-10 total reps per exercise) to avoid fatigue as much as possible. Regular weeks with 2 games per week would be moderate volume training sessions (10-15 total reps per exercise). I’ve also used Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 program as it worked great for in-season training, because the volume was low but still kept the training at a good intensity to get something out of it.

  • You can still train heavy

People mistake thinking training heavy will make you sore. As long as you keep the volume low you can still train in the 80-90% ranges because this mostly affects the nervous system more than the muscles. The nervous system will recover in about 24hrs compared to sore muscles that can take up to 48hrs. I’m not saying train heavy all the time, but throughout the season you have to train for strength at certain points in order to keep their strength levels high throughout the season, so they don’t get hurt and stay healthy.

  • Nothing is set in stone, be adaptable

In-season training is the hardest because practice schedules and competitions change all the time for various reasons. There may be a week I’m expecting a moderate training week because they have 2 competitions, but a bad snowstorm came in the week before, which leads to that game having to be rescheduled for the following week. So now they have 3 games that week instead of 2, which completely changes my training session plans to have only 1 weight room session instead of my planned 2 sessions. It’s important that your training is adaptable to be fixed on the fly as it’s a given that practices or games will change for various reasons beyond your control. No need to panic, adjust your volume accordingly. There may be times when you come back from a double overtime game the night before and are pretty beat up. Throw away your workout sheets and work on mobility and recovery exercises instead so you can focus on getting ready for the next game.

  • Keep leg training days as far away from competition as possible

Squat days or leg days are the hardest on athletes, try to have your leg days at least 2 days before competition to avoid fatigue and soreness. For example, if athletes have games on Wed/Fri that week, I will have my lower body day on Monday to give as much buffer as I can to not affect their performance on that Wednesday. Alternatively, if they have games on Tues/Thurs, you can have your squat/leg day on Friday since they would have the weekend to recover. Upper body days aren’t as fatiguing so you only need 24hrs if you use the appropriate volume.

  • Use exercises that fill the gaps of what you are not getting from practice and competition.

Exercise selection is definitely important. There’s no need to do sprints, agility work, or conditioning in the weight room if you are already doing those things in practice and competition. Focus on what you’re not getting from them like strength and power. Focus on explosive and strength exercises like hang cleans, hang snatches, jerks, hex bar jumps, dumbbell squat jumps etc. along with squats, hex bar deadlifts, presses, pull-ups/chin-ups, rows, and hinge movements like RDL’s.  Establish what components you’re getting from competition and practices and fill the rest in the weight room.

  • Get your 7-8hrs of sleep and eat!

When you are training and competing 9 months out of the year, recovery is extremely important to stay at a high level all school year long. Get to sleep and eat healthy nutritious meals consistently to keep your body going.

This was an effective system that allowed me to train these athletes all season long and all year long. After the season is over, my athletes would have about 2-4 weeks before the next sport season started up. I recommend you take at least 1 full week off of any training before the next sport season starts up to recharge mentally and physically. Use whatever weeks you have left to hit the weight room hard to prepare for the next sport season and repeat the process of setting the schedule and using the guidelines I’ve laid out for you. Good luck and GET AFTER IT!

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