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By Bob Alejo with Andy Fry and David Szymanski
Game-day lifting had enough buzz around it that I felt it necessary to write an article on the topic. Knowing what I know, my thoughts couldn’t be punctuated unless I could get some science behind it… or, at least, scientists. And there aren’t many better than Andy Fry, PhD, and David Szymanski, PhD. These two have been around and performed a ton of research on the effects of resistance training, and are able to confidently comment on this topic.
In terms of game-day lifting, we primarily look at the issue in the context of a pre-game lift at some point prior to competition, but our inquiry does not exclude post-game training. It’s certainly something to consider, and I’m sure all of us also know that it could backfire if done incorrectly. Undoubtedly, the group and level of chronological training age must be considered, the same as when we program regular training. With the increase in practice sessions, factoring in the toll on the body from games and then adding one more training session, the results could be disastrous with younger, less-resilient athletes.
And what would be the key markers to look for that would inform the coach that too much has been done? Or that perhaps just the right programming is in place? Or the unlikely, but possible, chance that there isn’t enough being done to elicit a response? I truly feel it’s not as easy as just seeing if lifting fits into the schedule.
These two members of Power Lift’s Sport Science Educational Board will shed some light on the issue and their thoughts could influence your decision on programming exercise the day of a competition.
Q: Where can you see game-day lifting as a benefit to high school athletes? College athletes? Professional athletes?
A.C Fry: When you consider that a high school baseball season can be two to three months in duration, a college season three or more months long, and a professional season three to seven months long, the competition season lasts a long time… too long to ignore strength training during this time. An athlete runs the risk of losing strength, power, and/or muscle mass over that period. Since it has been shown that strength and size can be beneficial to several important aspects of baseball performance, it becomes critical that the athlete at least maintains strength, power, and size during the season. So, the question is, how does a coach incorporate in-season training for the sport of baseball?
Additionally, you must consider the competition schedule. For example, high school teams may compete one to three days each week, with some games being double headers. Youth club teams often do not play during the week, but may play many games over a two- to three-day weekend tournament. Colleges often play three to five days per week, and summer collegiate teams typically play five to six days per week. At the professional level, there are few days across the entire season where a game is not played.
If a coach tries to schedule weight room training on non-game days, it is easier to do at the high school or youth club levels, but becomes increasingly difficult (or impossible) at higher levels of competition. Therefore, to maintain strength, power, and size across a competition season, weight training sessions must sometimes (or often) occur on game days.Lifting must sometimes occur on game days to retain athlete strength, power & size across a season. Click To Tweet
Performing resistance training during the in-season is important to maintain strength and power for anaerobic, power athletes. As someone who has trained baseball players for more than 25 years, it has been a goal of mine to learn as much as I can about every aspect of training, coaching, and motivating players. I have tried to accomplish this by conducting research, reading research and coaching articles, using practical experiences, and learning from others in the field.
David Szymanski: From a personal perspective, I have rarely needed to train baseball players on a game day because, in my career, I have trained high school and college athletes that did not play games every day during the in-season, and game-day training was not necessary because lifting occurred on non-game days. However, the only high school or college players that I would have lift on game days would be non-starting position players or red-shirts who are on a scheduled, periodized program that I did not want them to miss because it could interrupt their training schedule.
On the other hand, I have friends that are strength and conditioning coaches in professional baseball and it is necessary to train on game days because there are 162 games played in 185 days. The benefit of training professional baseball players on game days is to maintain strength and power as much as possible, because the professional baseball player’s schedule is physically and mentally demanding, and a player could easily become weaker and deconditioned if they did not train over the lengthy season. Some professional baseball players train on game days in the mornings before games or after games before they leave the stadium.
A.C Fry: So how is this best done? One consideration is to keep the weight training session away from the actual game. To do this, the lifting must be performed early enough in the day to permit recovery from the training. An alternative is to perform the lifting after the game, which is occasionally done at the professional level, although this may not be possible in most situations. This type of training early in the day may help some athletes deal with pre-game anxiety, as has been observed for other sports1.Lifting early enough in the day allows for recovery and may help athletes with pre-game anxiety. Click To Tweet
There is also evidence that immediately following (i.e., 5-15 minutes) a heavy load training session, there are enhanced strength, power, and speed performances. This phenomenon is called post-activation potentiation (PAP), where muscular performance is actually briefly improved2. However, I believe it is unlikely that this enhancement in performance would last across an entire day and result in improved game performance.
It should be noted, however, that some individuals feel that the PAP effect is long-lasting and could affect game performances later in the day. Sport scientists have studied how the fatigue of two high power training sessions in a day can alter muscular performances3. In many cases, the fatigue is minimal or non-existent by the second training session, and different individuals respond differently.
For baseball, this suggests that an early weight training session is not necessarily detrimental to game performance. What the exact training session looks like, of course, is critical. It has been shown that speed squat sessions employing 5 x 10 at 30% 1RM or 5 x 5 at 70% 1RM sessions do not produce decreases in squat power or barbell velocity across the five sets.4The takeaway here is that effective training sessions do not have to be fatiguing. However, the importance of muscular strength and power in baseball has been well documented,5,6thus supporting the need for maintaining muscular performance across the entire season.
David Szymanski: To further answer this question, research needs to be reviewed. At this time, there is not much data on game-day training; however, of the few articles that are published, one by Woolstenhulme, et al. indicated that game-day resistance training for female college basketball players was not detrimental to performance as long as the resistance training session was of moderate intensity and occurred six hours before performance testing7.
It is important to know that the players in this study lifted weights for five months prior to the study; moreover, the women trained for six weeks during the study and were tested in the last two weeks of the program. Therefore, they were already trained and well-conditioned. The strength training sessions consisted of a full-body workout of seven exercises with three to six sets of 5-12 reps at 60-70% of their 1RM. The variables tested were the vertical jump, anaerobic capacity, and shooting accuracy. The authors suggested that experienced and trained basketball players could resistance-train on the morning of games or important practices without it negatively affecting their performance.
A.C Fry: Here are several important suggestions for incorporating strength training during a baseball season:
- Be sure to coordinate weight room activities with on-the-field activities. When the baseball schedule dictates many games in a short time period—double-headers, long road trips, stressful overnight stays, or extra-inning games, for example—the weight room training should be modified.
- Remember, too, to take into account the chronic fatigue that develops across a long season. Weight training sessions late in the season can be modified to still allow full recovery late in the season. One strategy sometimes used as post-season play approaches is to eliminate weight room sessions at the very end to permit a type of training taper. Be cautioned, however, that some athletes will resist stopping all training, so simply decreasing weight training volume and intensity may work best in these cases.
- Different positions may dictate different strategies. For example, catchers need to be very strong and powerful, but often require recovery phases or games. This must also be realized in the weight room. Pitchers usually compete less often, but need to be fully recovered when their spot in the rotation comes up. However, many players are everyday players, and need to simply maintain near-peak form, and be fit enough to minimize injury risk.
- All game-day weight training should include short duration sessions, and should avoid lifting until fully fatigued. The athlete should be able to leave the training hall refreshed and invigorated, rather than feeling beat up and totally spent. Sessions of 20-30 minutes may work fine if well-designed.
- Game-day weight training should include large muscle mass, multi-joint exercises. These types of exercises are very time efficient and can easily be performed using high power. Please note that some of your athletes might not be experienced with high power lifts. It is generally recommended to teach and incorporate these lifts during the off-season so that game-day lifting doesn’t need to become an instructional event.
Q: Certainly, implemented incorrectly, game-day lifting could cause a decrease in performance, or worse, increase the risk of injury. What are two things you would be concerned about from a physiological standpoint?
David Szymanski: From a physiological standpoint, I would have two concerns about resistance training prior to playing on game day. One would be acute neuromuscular fatigue, which can be defined as the reduction in the force-producing capacity of the muscle (peripheral fatigue) and a decrease in the neural activity of the muscle (central fatigue). The other concern would be appropriate fuel recovery. If the resistance training session was too intense (> 85% 1RM) and/or had too much volume (sets and reps), athletes could experience acute neuromuscular fatigue, which could negatively affect performance and, potentially, the outcome of the game.Acute neuromuscular fatigue & suitable fuel recovery are physiological concerns of game-day lifting. Click To Tweet
Additionally, if the resistance training session was performed too close to game time (<6 hrs) without enough recovery time, and appropriate post-training nutrition was not optimal, performance could also be negatively affected. In an article by Beelen, et al., research indicated that optimal nutritional recovery for greater rate of muscle glycogen and protein re-synthesis should include appropriate carbohydrates (0.8-1.5 g/kg/hr) and proteins (0.2-0.5 g/kg/hr) within 30 minutes after training and every two hours for up to six hours post-training8. For optimal recovery, a 200lb (90.9kg) player, for example, would need to consume 72-136g carbohydrate (CHO) and 18-45g protein, which is a 3-4:1 ratio of CHO to protein. If this type of fuel recovery was not utilized with appropriate rest, then performance could be negatively affected.
A.C Fry: Some things I would be concerned about are the following:
- Forgetting what the athlete is training for. It is too easy to simply prescribe a bodybuilding or competitive lifting program for your baseball player. These types of programs, while perhaps excellent for competitive lifters, do not take into account the needs and demands of a baseball season or the sport itself. Too often, these programs are popular but cut into the recovery of the baseball player, and may not address the immediate needs of the athlete who will be playing later the same day. Related to this is the concern that the athlete is too fatigued when they leave the training hall, and is not able to adequately recover by game time.
- Although not necessarily directly related to the physiology of training, the baseball athlete may often have to train while on the road. In these cases, the training facilities may be quite different, or non-existent. When this occurs, the athlete must adapt with alternative training sessions. Numerous activities that may be beneficial can be performed without barbells and dumbbells.
- Remember though, just because no weights are available, do not be tempted to perform large numbers of repetitions to try to make up for the lack of load. This strategy can result in excessive, and unfamiliar, levels of fatigue. Instead, moderate volumes of training modalities such as partner lifts, bands, plyometrics, medicine balls, and other related callisthenic activities can suffice in these situations. In general, the athlete and coach sometimes need to be creative.
In summary, do not be afraid of game-day lifting. It can become part of the athlete’s regular routine, and it can help preserve game-specific fitness across a challenging season.
- Fry, A. C., Stone, M. H., Thrush, J. T. & Fleck, S. J. “Precompetition training sessions enhance competitive performances of high anxiety junior weight-lifters.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 1995;9(1):37-42.
- Smith, J. C. & Fry, A. C. “Effects of a ten-second maximum voluntary contraction on regulatory myosin light chain phosphorylation and dynamic performance measures.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2007;21(1):73-76.
- Chiu, L.Z.F., Fry, A. C., Schilling, B. K., Johnson, E. J. & Weiss, L. W. “Neuromuscular fatigue and potentiation following two successive high intensity resistance exercise.” European Journal of Applied Physiology, 2004;92:385-392.
- Kudrna, R. & Fry, A. C. (2009). Average power changes across five sets for three different lifting protocols. Abstract at NSCA Conference, Las Vegas, NV.
- Fry, A. C., Honnold, D., Hudy, A., Roberts, C., Gallagher, P., Vardiman, J. P. & Dellasega, C. (2010). Relationships between muscular strength and batting performances in collegiate baseball athletes. Abstract at National Strength and Conditioning Association National Conference, Orlando, FL.
- Forsythe, C. M., Fry, A. C., Haggerty, M. C. & Andre, M. J. (2011). Relationship of ground reaction forces and other performance measures with batted-ball velocity in collegiate baseball players. Abstract at National Strength and Conditioning Association National Conference, Las Vegas, NV.
- Woolstenhulme, MT, Bailey, BK & Allsen, PE. “Vertical jump, anaerobic power, and shooting accuracy are not altered 6 hours after strength training in collegiate women basketball players.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2004;18(3):422-425.
- Beelen, M, Burke, LM, Gibala, MJ & van Loon, LJC. “Nutritional strategies to promote postexercise recovery.” International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 2010;20:515-532.