In-Season Training, Avoiding Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Jun 22, 2022

Everyone has heard the cliché about “ taking two steps forward and one step back”.  However, very few young athletes or, parents of young athletes realize that the big key to success is avoiding exactly that.

A good off-season program is the proverbial two steps forward. Doing nothing in-season is the one step back. In all honesty, it may be one and a half steps back.

I used to half-jokingly tell my athletes that the best way to get stronger is not to get weaker. That statement would usually produce a confused look.

I would then proceed to explain what I meant. An athlete who has done a great job with an off-season program will obviously make strength gains. Lets use chin-ups as an example.

If player A gets to 10 bodyweight chin-ups before the start of the season and, never does another chinup until the season is over he could lose 30-40% of his strength. That means he will hopefully be able to do 6 or 7 chinups at the end of the season.

If player B does a max set of chin-ups every week and is able to maintain 90% of his strength, he will be able to do 9 chinups.

When the off season commences player A has to spend weeks regaining the 30-40% loss while player B only needs to restore the 10% loss.

Player B has a realistic chance to get to 14-15 chinups in the next off-season while player a might only get to twelve. This is the Slight Edge, marginal gains, idea. Over time, much like compound interest, this extra in-season work pays off.


In the book The Slight Edge the author Jeff Olsen outlines the three slight edge principles:


  1. Show Up

  2. Show Up Consistently

  3. Have a great attitude


Not training in-season violates both principle one and principle two.


If you asked me about the three fundamentals of long-term strength development I'd say:


  1. Get strong

  2. Don't lose strength

  3. Continue to get stronger


The player who takes less steps, or no steps back, has a huge advantage, and there's a bonus. Beginners will actually get stronger in-season.

At Boston University our freshman all gained strength during their freshman year. We didn't approach training as maintenance.

My feeling was “maintain what”?  Do I want you to maintain your one chinup or your 135 bench press?

In season training also leads to reduced injury. The number one protection against injury is strength.

During my 10 seasons with the Boston Bruins we went from the most injured team in the NHL my first year to the second lowest my last year. I am 100% convinced that one thing that correlated was an increase in the number of in-season strength workouts we did. In the early years we had very few players who consistently trained in-season. By the last season more than 75% of the players were getting at least two workouts in per week.

Training is like making deposits in the bank. In-season you want to at least put enough in so your balance doesn't get too low.

In- season training is easy to do. You just need to show up and show up consistently. Two 30 minute workouts a week can do it for most athletes.