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Factors of in-season strength training:

This weeks blog is written by Lew Coldham, Academy Strength & Conditioning coach at West Ham. Lew has written about 4 factors to consider when planning strength training in-season.

 

Here I present four factors which I believe are key to the successful planning and delivery of in-season strength training for youth players to maximise physical performance within the football environment.

 

1. Understand the environment

The first factor to consider is that we must fully understand and even embrace the environment that we work in as practitioners. The football environment is one of constant fluctuations in training and match load, heavily influenced by decision-making processes such as players playing up and down age groups, tournament match play opportunities, as well as alterations in match and training schedules.

The strength programme must be adjustable in accordance with the varied wellbeing of the players, as well as the evolving schedule, in order to bring about physical improvement while allowing players to focus on their primary sporting practice. Embracing the uncertainty of the environment that we work in allows us to develop highly adaptive skill sets, methods of management and development, as well as finding ways to enhance the players potential for success.

 

2. Minimal Effective Dose

Whether we admit it or not, the common protocols and typical weekly templates we use are traditionally adopted from strength-training-determined sports such as weightlifting, powerlifting and bodybuilding. These common prescriptions have not changed much since the creation of such protocols and is dictated by the fact that the gym IS their sport.

If we think about the football environment, the focus is on the performance of football training (in its various forms) and match play. The footballer has many other competing demands and performs multiple hours of physical training, on and off the pitch, to prepare them for the vast array of skills and qualities required. The overall volume of work as well the general guidelines regarding intensity, volume etc. need to be adapted based on their sporting requirements and individual needs.

From my experience, young players who are new to strength training can still enhance physical output through strength training in as little as one 30-minute session per week. This is largely due to the adaptability of their bodies, as well as how potent the new stimulus is as a stressor. Why use 5 sets of 5 when 2-3 sets will still produce improvements in near untrained individuals due to the relative potency of the new stimulus; once these low volumes of work cease to produce improvements then more may be required.

 

3. Embrace submaximal Loading

All notable resources regarding the pursuit of maximal strength and its many benefits advise that the best parameters of maximal strength include loading of 8o-85% of 1RM and above . While this is true, these recommendations are in their origin taken from strength-determined sports and usually for well-trained populations.

I would advise that when working with youth players that the use of submaximal lifting strategies e.g. 50-80% of 1RM are the mainstay of the program as they can elicit improvements in strength qualities, but also can be managed more easily within an in-season plan. For the young player these intensities can be reduced even further depending on their age, maturation and training level as well as allow a diverse range of movements to be trained.

Overall the primary objective of strength training methods is to develop strength qualities in the players without impeding too greatly on the performance of their specific sports training. Significant improvements from submaximal methods can be achieved before more maximal forms of lifting are even required. The mainstays of my programs are sub-maximal loads performed with explosive concentric phases and through compensatory acceleration training (CAT) to produce high outputs with relatively low loads (40-80%). This has repeatedly produced increases in strength with players without the need to load the body greater than 80% of 1RM.

 

4. Movement Variability

One of the primary goals of developing physical ability and robustness of players should be on creating a diverse range of movement experiences and competencies that they can tolerate and perform successfully. Simply getting players to lift resistance implements in a select few movements may be a short-sighted view of movement preparation and by allowing a more diverse and varied program, especially for young players, we may be able to create a more physically robust athlete for the field of play.

By looking at the number of types of training stimulus and number of movement tasks on your players’ plans, you should be able to see the diversity within your own framework. For example, if one player between the ages of 12-18 has experienced 40 different exercises within their strength program, and another has experienced 80 different exercises within this same time frame, the second player may have had greater opportunity to develop the necessary physical abilities for a wider range of skills and proficiencies.

 

Closing Thoughts

These four factors I believe are crucial in managing the strength programme for youth footballers to successfully develop athleticism, while accounting for the diverse needs of players in a constantly fluctuating environment.

 

 

Lew Coldham is an accredited strength & conditioning coach who graduated from UCLAN university currently working as academy strength & conditioning coach with West Ham United FC. His main area of expertise are on the topic of movement and strength development for youth athletes.

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