Properly Programming and Scheduling In-Season Weight Training

Posted by Matt Ellis

For the most part, certain sports have it easy when it comes to in-season weight training. Football has games on Friday nights so weight training on Mondays and Wednesdays makes perfect sense. For many other sports like track and field, competitions can fall anywhere during the week and on some Saturdays. Sometimes you have two or more meets per week. How are you supposed to keep a good in-season weight training schedule and make sure you are doing enough weight training when competition days change each week?

This is a question that paralyzes a lot of track coaches during the season. Many times I will speak to a coach and they have no real plan of attack when it comes to in-season weight training. Many times the answer is simply “We lift when we have time.” This article will show you that with a little planning and the right training techniques, you can map out your weight training sessions for the entire season in just a few hours. First step, you need to organize the days your team will lift.

Map It Out: The first thing you should do is go to your local office supply store and buy a big desk calendar. Don’t be cheap and get a tiny one on sale. Don’t even think about using the calendar in your cell phone either! Get a big calendar with a lot of space to write. On the day you receive your meet schedule for the season, take a red pen and write down on the calendar every meet you will attend. Even if it is a big championship meet that only part of your team will attend, write it down. It is important to be thorough so just go in order day by day and write down the information on the calendar.

Starting with the last meet of the season, count back two days before that meet and in a black pen write “Weight Room” in big letters. Work your way backwards from the last meet of the season all the way to the first meet of the season. There should be one weight training session per week. You may find that as you get closer to the smaller meets at the beginning of the season your weight training day falls on the same day as another meet. If this happens, simply count back one more day and write “Weight Room” in that square.

More advice on How to Train Around Dual Meets (video)

Now comes the tough part. Finding one day per week to train in the weight room is easy. Finding a second day per week might be a little tricky, but it is certainly doable. Starting again at the end of the season, find the last “Weight Room” session of the year and count back another 2 days. Write “Weight Room” again in that square. As an example, the Rhode Island State Championship track meet was on a Saturday last June. I counted back two days to that Thursday and wrote “Weight Room” in big black letters. I counted back another two days to that Tuesday and wrote “Weight Room” one more time. So the last week leading up to the State Meet my throwers were in the weight room on Tuesday and Thursday.

At the end of the season, this is easy. For the most part all of the bigger invitationals and championship meets are on the weekends. Scheduling in-season weight training should be very easy. Every Tuesday and Thursday leading up to those meets you will be in the weight room. Not too difficult.

Where it can get tricky is in the beginning of the season where you are attending a lot of little meets and smaller relays. You may have these during the week after school and many times you will have 2 per week. As a coach, you need to realize that these meets are fun and a great way to “tune up” your athletes, but they really don’t count for anything. You may have to *GASP* be in the weight room the day before a track meet!

If this happens, don’t worry. Your goal as a coach should be to get your athletes to peak for the big meets at the end of the season. Throwing a PR during a tiny dual meet is great but wouldn’t you rather see that PR happen at the championship meet at the end of the season? You need to look at the big picture. Lifting the day before a meet sounds scary but it will keep your athletes on schedule to peak at the end of the season.

Step away from the calendar and take a look. At this point you should notice a few things. You should have two scheduled days each week where your athletes will be in the weight room. You should also notice that this leaves a lot of time for your athletes to get outside and actually practice their events. Now that you have your training days scheduled you need to figure out what you will be doing in the weight room those two days every week. Please continue reading to learn more.

Optimal Weight Training: Here is where some confusion starts to happen with a lot of coaches. Many coaches think that in order to successfully build strength during track season that the athletes need to be in the weight room more than twice per week and the training sessions should last for more than one hour. This is simply not true. If planned out correctly your athletes will be able to gain strength during track season lifting only two days per week. The training sessions should only take 45 minutes at maximum. This leaves time on the days you are in the weight room to still practice the events outside. This also leaves you the luxury to split your team into 2 groups and send one group to the weight room at the beginning of practice and one group to the weight room at the end of practice. Here is how you do it.

You must stick to the basic compound movements. Every day you are in the weight room your athletes should have one basic compound movement to execute. The first day in the weight room (the day of the week furthest away from the track meet) this movement should be a squat. The second day should be a bench press (flat or incline).

The second movement of the day should be an explosive dumbbell exercise. My two favorites are the one-arm dumbbell clean and press and the one arm dumbbell snatch. Keep the weight as heavy as you can while performing the prescribed amount of reps with great technique.

The rest of the day in the weight room should focus on three movements: An opposite movement, an accessory movement, and a movement to correct weakness. The opposite movement will be the opposite “direction” of the main strength movement. For example, if the bench press was the main strength movement, the opposite movement would be a row or pull up. Bench press is a push and rowing is a pull (the opposite of pushing). The accessory movement would be something to help the main strength movement. If the bench press was the main strength movement you would add another pushing movement like a close grip push up, weighted triceps extension, or explosive push up.

The movement to correct weakness depends on the athlete. If your athlete has very weak or inflexible legs, you should do a lunge or squatting movement. Weak lower backs should do a back extension, reverse hyperextension, or good morning type movement. Weak shoulders should do an overhead press movement.

That’s it. Five exercises per day in the weight room. A main strength movement, an explosive dumbbell movement, an opposite movement, an accessory movement, and a movement to correct weakness. As long as you plan out the movements ahead of time and keep an eye on your athletes, everything should work out well. I have listed below an example of an in-season training week. Please understand this is just an example. The exercises will differ for you depending on the equipment you have available in your weight room and the weakness of each athlete.

Day 1:

Main Strength Movement: Barbell Squat

Explosive Dumbbell Movement: One Arm Dumbbell Clean and Press

Opposite Movement: Stiff Leg Dead Lift

Accessory Movement: Bodyweight Walking Lunge

Movement to Correct Weakness: Spread Eagle Sit Up

Day 2:

Main Strength Movement: Flat Bench Press

Explosive Dumbbell Movement: One Arm Dumbbell Snatch

Opposite Movement: Pull Up

Accessory Movement: Close Grip Push Up

Movement to Correct Weakness: Seated Good Morning

Set and Rep Schemes: Now that you have an idea of what days to train in the weight room and what type of exercises you should program into the training, you need to set up in the amount of sets and reps for your main strength movement and your explosive dumbbell movement.

Here is the most basic way to do it. You have two options when setting up a set and rep scheme, manipulate the number of sets or the number of reps. Manipulating the reps while keeping the amount of sets standard is the easiest way to stay organized throughout the season. Here is how you do it.

Starting with the last week of the season, you will set up a 4 week cycle. The week of your last meet of the season will be a deload week. Count backwards from there. The week before that is week 3. The week before that is week 2. The week before that is week 1. Continue counting back like this until the first week of the season. Deload, 3, 2, 1, deload, 3, 2, 1, deload, 3, 2, 1, etc.

Week 1 you will do 5 sets of 6 reps. Week 2 you will do 5 sets of 5 reps, increasing the weight. Week 3 you will do 5 sets of 4 reps, increasing the weight once more. Week 4 is a deload. Deload weeks are where you will make the weight very light and move the weight as quickly as possible. Deload weeks ensure you are giving your body time to rest and recover so you never plateau. Week 4 deload you will do 5 sets of 6 reps using very light weight.

The opposite movement, accessory movement, and movement to correct weakness should all stay at a standard 4 sets of 10 reps. Increase the weight as needed as the athlete gets stronger.

Continue this process throughout the entire season. There are, of course, come caveats when implementing a program like this. First, the athletes need to be serious about this program and trust that it will work. If you have athletes in the weight room taking it easy or going way too heavy or too light, this plan will not work. Also, the athletes need to keep track of what weight they are using each week. This way they know what weight to choose as the weeks progress. Nothing is worse than when an athlete uses the same weight week after week because he isn’t sure what he used the week before. As long as there is some organization in your weight room and you take the time to write out a program following these steps, your athletes will continue to gain strength during the season and will be at their peak strength and explosiveness for the championship meets at the end of the season.

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Matt Ellis is a strength coach and shot put/discus specialist. He owns and operates Primal Athlete Training Center in Cranston, RI.

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