The Athlete

In-Season Strength Training, Mental Training and Cardio Training


The competitive season presents a quandary to the athlete because regular competitions and intensive skills training tend to reduce the athletes ability to recover from strength training sessions. At this time it is important to moderate the volume and load of strength training to enable the best possible efforts to be made on the competitive field, instead of in the weights room or at practice. Far too many athletes struggle through the latter part of the competitive season as insidious fatigue builds up thorough improper training practices. It is common to see performance levels peak early to mid-season and then drop off, or for niggling injuries to develop, as the season goes on. In order to avoid this occurrence in-season training must be geared up towards maintaining reasonably high levels of strength fitness, without overtaxing the recovery abilities of your body also not forgetting mental preperations.

Mind of an Athlete

An athlete’s mind is just as important as their body. Mental toughness and sharp decision making skills are what sets a good athlete apart from the legends. Those that can use their mind to harness their physical talents will come out ahead in the long run. The top athletes in the world recognize the importance of using their mind to its optimum potential. This realization has birthed an increasing interest in the world of sports psychology. As a result, many top athletes are turning to these sports psychologists in an attempt to learn more about how to sharpen their focus during competition and deal with the pressures of certain situations.

In the Moment

There are many concepts in the world of sports psychology and varying styles of thinking. However, the one underlying theme that seems to be preached by almost all top sports psychologists is that athletes will improve their performance if they simply “stay in the moment.” This means that athletes should not think about the past nor contemplate the future while they are in competition. Staying in the moment allows them to put their full mental abilities to the task at hand. Rather than dwelling on a past mistake or thinking about the consequences of a future mistake, athletes should try their best at that particular point in time.

Positive Self Concept

The athletes that perform best in their sport almost always have a positive self concept of themselves. They believe that they are the very best and have confidence in their abilities to perform under pressure. Although all athletes feel pressure at some point, practice and preparation is what top athletes rely on in order to visualize themselves performing in spectacular fashion. By encouraging themselves through positive self talk and blocking out any negative thoughts of failure, athletes can increase their chances of achieving success.


Many athletes believe that they will choke under the pressure of a rapidly beating heart and shaking hands simply because they think that their bodies are physically less capable of performing at a high level during this state of nervousness. However, this assumption is incorrect due to the fact that increased blood flow during these moments of nervousness causes senses, such as sight and touch to be enhanced. Thus, an athlete who is experiencing the physical effects of nervousness is actually ready to perform at their peak.

In addition to a reduction in strength training volume other factors play a vital role in "surviving" a competitive season such as:

State of preparedness in the offseason.

Competition schedule / Choice of competitions.

Travel schedule / Time zone changes.

Maintenance of an adequate diet.

Use of restorative means such as contrast bathing, salt baths, massage etc.

Mental state, which can be affected by both your actions and those of your competitors, coaches, friends etc.

All of these factors should be taken into consideration by an athlete when planning the competitive season. This all-encompassing approach to planning is the basis of the "integrated approach" to strength training. Acknowledgment of the wide range of factors that can influence performance is the first step in maximising your efforts. To approach athletic performance with just two variables (training and nutrition) is over simplistic and inadequate, but obviously these two factors will have a massive influence on your season and they are where the focus of this article lies.

With regard to training I have already mentioned the possible use of reduced training volume during the competitive season. This approach assumes your sport requires weekly competitions, sports with less frequent competitions will allow for more progress to be made through the season through the use of stress microcycles and de-loading phases or tapering prior to important competitions. For those sports with weekly competitions / games such as rugby, hockey, soccer etc a low volume schedule that will enable the maintenance of strength gains can be extremely abbreviated in nature.

A single set with 90% or more of a 1 rep maximum performed once a week is sufficient to maintain Fmax (maximal force), and one can assume that power output could be maintained by a similarly low volume of work with around 50% of a 1 rep maximum for around 50% of the usual volume of 8 - 12 sets. In addition to this direct work there will of course be the usual skill work and team practices. For most athletes extensive inclusion of the repeated efforts to failure method geared to towards hypertrophy will be totally inappropriate during the season as this work is typically fatiguing and requires long (around 72 hour) rest intervals for recovery to take place. Instead, concentrate on skills and the maintenance of appropriate levels of strength through the maximal effort method and then if you do require extra muscle mass, put it on in the off season when skill work is a lesser priority.

In this low volume training regimen you should utilise movements that work the major structures of your body by using multi-joint exercises that include a horizontal push and pull, an vertical push and pull, and a hip hinge movement or two. Training will be split in to 2 sessions per week, one focusing on Fmax and one focusing on power output with lighter loads. An example is shown below:


Squat 90% 1 RM for 2 singles.

Bench Press 90% 1 RM for 2 singles.

Row 80% for 1 set max reps.

Overhead Press 90% 1 RM for 2 singles.

Chin / Pulldown 80% for 1 set max reps.

Clean / Powerclean / Snatch 90% 1RM for 2 singles.


Clean / Powerclean / Snatch 55% 1RM for 5 sets of 3.

Bench or Overhead Press 55% 1RM for 5 sets of 3.

Sunday - Game day.

Remember that throughout the season your best performances should come on game day. There is no point in exhausting yourself in training to the point that your game performance suffers so save your best efforts for the game and if you feel fatigued prior to training, just don't train! Recover instead.

Cardiovascular Training

Athletes that want to be at the top of their games must not only be muscularly strong but must be able to endure physical activity over prolonged periods of time. This is where cardiovascular training proves most beneficial. Athletes planning to use cardiovascular training should see a physician before deciding upon a routine in order to gain an idea of their current physical condition and to ensure that the program that they develop does not over-exert their body to the extreme.


Anything that gets the heart beating faster and pumping more blood can be considered a good cardiovascular exercise. Some of the more common cardiovascular exercises include running, dancing, and swimming. There are countless workout videos by various health professionals that allow an athlete to exercise to music while watching others perform the same exercises on screen. Videos such as these provide inspiration as well as allow individuals to see the proper exercise technique and follow along themselves.

Warm Up and Cool Down

Every good cardiovascular workout routine should include both a warm up and a cool down period. During the warm up period, athletes should stretch and perform slower paced versions of the exercise in which they plan to engage. A warm up allows for muscles to receive increased blood flow prior to heavy activity. This will both improve performance and decrease the threat of injury. The same is true of the cool down period as athletes are again encouraged to stretch and gradually reduce their heart rate rather than abruptly stop physical activity.

A Safe Cardio Routine

Most cardiovascular routines should last approximately 25 minutes and should increase an athlete’s heart rate to 85 percent of the maximum heart rate that is determined to be safe for a particular individual. The maximum safe level of heart rate varies from person to person. Thus, a visit to a doctor will help in determining a safe level of heart rate elevation. By increasing the heart rate through cardiovascular exercise, athletes enjoy improved performance during competition and increase their overall general health as a good cardiovascular system leads to fewer medical problems such as high blood pressure or heart disease.

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