Why You Should Still Train Heavy During Your Season

Post attributed to Nate Souza, MS, CSCS, SSN, and Facility Manager of North Central Phoenix location

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Nate Souza, facility manager of our North Central Phoenix location, is a former collegiate strength coach. In his experience as a strength and conditioning specialist, he has learned the importance of continuing to train while in season.

All athletes need to be training during their competitive season. At FAST, we see a spike in the number of athletes training over the summer. While they all make great improvements on their power and strength outputs during this time, most of them will begin a fall sport after summer is over. Their schedules become packed with school and practices, leaving little time to train. All of the gains made over summer will be put to use in the first week or so of the fall season, but without continual training the athlete’s body will begin to break down. They will be less powerful and become slower. This affects not only their athletic abilities, but it also dramatically increases their risk of injury. The NCAA reports that there are 7.5 injuries per every 1000 athlete exposure (meaning a practice, game or otherwise). This is why all athletes need a well-designed in-season strength and conditioning program to keep them in the game.

In my previous experience coaching at the collegiate level, all of our teams would train at least twice a week during their season. Some might not be surprised to learn that we trained in season, but most would probably be surprised that we still trained heavy in season. A quality in-season program is a balancing act; it has athletes still moving heavy weights, but it avoids accumulating fatigue. During the season, athletes will be competing in practice for three or four hours per day. They do not need to be depleted of energy in the weight room, but they do need to keep their strength levels up to allow them to produce and counteract high levels of force in a game. They will have many aches and pains from practices and games, so a coach’s in-season goal is to keep athletes competing at the highest level— without beating them down.

The way a quality strength coach will achieve this goal is by understanding a concept known as accumulation of fatigue. Workouts can be beneficial without taking everything out of the athlete. All strength coaches use the idea of percentages of maximum lifts to help design programs. This means if the maximum weight an athlete can squat for one rep is 400 pounds, a 75 percent squat would be 300 pounds. To design a program using this concept, I’d recommend examining a very useful article written by Hristo Hristov. He references Prilepin’s Table, which is a chart developed by a Soviet Sports Scientist that helps coaches decide what an optimal percentage is given how many reps the athlete is doing. Prilepin’s Table, however, does not account for accumulation of fatigue, which Hristov points out. Hristov therefore proposed an equation to calculate accumulation of fatigue.

Hristov’s formula relates the intensity of a lift (considered the percentage of the maximum) to the number of lifts (sets and reps). It takes the number of lifts, and divides by 100 minus the intensity level. So, if you are doing 2 sets of 5 reps (10 total lifts) at 80 percent intensity, the formula would look like this:

On the other hand, if you did 5 sets of 2 reps (still 10 total lifts) at 80 percent intensity, the equation would be the same and your fatigue level would still be 0.5. So you would be getting the same amount of work done, but you would be able to rest more due to the higher number of sets. The second option is less strenuous, but it still gets the athlete to lift those heavy weights.

With this in mind, a strength coach should be able to see that they can still get work in during the season without completely wearing out the athletes. Our workouts shorten during the season, but the percentages of the athlete’s one-rep max stays high. This keeps athletes performing at their highest level and reduces their risk of injury throughout the season.

Train Heavy! Train Smart!


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