Can you really get stronger during season?
Damn right you can, but it's not as straight forward as just continuing to go to the gym and banging out mindless reps. There are a few ground rules to follow when training for strength during season that you will need to follow to be successful.
Now first, let's be clear, the game on the weekend is your main session for the week, where you give 100% effort and leave nothing in the tank. All your other training in the week needs to complement your game, not take away from it. So if you are completely flogging yourself during the week, that shit needs to stop now. I have been preaching this for years. You don't want to be sore and tired for your game; it's pretty simple.
But what about making progress? Can you actually improve in the weight room during the rugby league in-season without being sore and tired?
Many coaches will tell you that making strength gains is only for the off-season, and in-season is all about maintenance. I say bullshit to that. My Rugby League athletes are always stronger by the end of the season than at the start of the season.
Below, I will share a set of habits and principles to train by in-season. If you adopt these habits and principles, I guarantee you will keep progressing throughout the year and ensure you are 100% ready to bang come game day.
Stick to your biggest bang exercises.
There are way too many trainers out there posting pissy little powerband and jumping activities on Instagram. There is a time and a place for these but listen to me when I tell you, nothing will ever impact your life or your game more than getting jacked and strong.
Stick to your big movements that hit as many muscle groups as possible in the one exercise.
- Barbell squats will always be a better choice than leg extensions.
- The bench press will always be a better choice than cable cross overs.
- The overhead press will always crush dumbbell flys.
- Deadlifting will always beat hamstring curls and banded glute exercises.
I'm not saying you can't or shouldn't do some isolation work in-season. Just make sure it's not done instead of those main lifts mentioned above. Also, make sure your isolation work doesn't interfere with the performance of those main lifts. By that, I mean don't hit 5 sets of 20 leg extensions, then go hit some barbell squats and expect to give it your full attention.
Use percentages of your one-rep max.
Ok, here is your gold nugget as far as getting strong goes.
If you don't know your one-rep max and getting stronger is your intention, it's time to drop the shit and find out what it is. Your one-rep max is what you can actually lift for one rep. There are a few ways to find out what it is. I advise you to simply find a weight you can lift for 3 to 5 reps and then calculate the weight and reps using one of the many one-rep max calculators you can download onto your phone.
For those of you who have done one rep max testing in the past. Please don't use the same one rep max from a year ago. Make sure it's a current rep max. It doesn't have to be perfect; you just need a ballpark figure to work with.
Do this for your barbell bench, barbell squat, barbell deadlift and barbell overhead press. You could do this for any of your assistance exercises as well, but this will do for now.
I work with 70-90% of a one-rep max to maintain and advance strength gains. Two to three sets at 80% for two to three reps will not only keep your strength throughout the year, but it will also slowly increase it, particularly when working around the 90% mark.
Slowly raising the loading percentage over the weeks and months will feel effortless and easy as hell, and that is precisely what we want in-season. So you can quit with the ballbusting 5 x 5's now.
Here is a brief example of what I'm talking about:
Week 1: 3 sets @ 75% for 2-3 reps
Week 2: 3 sets @ 78% for 2-3 reps
Week 3: 2 sets @ 80% for 2-3 reps
Week 4: 2 sets @ 82% for 2-3 reps
Don't push your reps to failure.
You don't need to push every set until your eyeballs eject out of your head. Keep some reps in the tank; as soon as you start exhausting your sets to failure, you begin chipping away at your central nervous system. Draining your C.N.S will directly affect your overall energy levels for the week. You can still get strong without pounding yourself into the dirt.
If you start to include all three of these training principles into your training, I guarantee you will not only continue to develop but you will also feel great in the process.