Shrinking Muscles (in-season power loss)

When I played football in high school and college I was OBSESSED with getting bigger, stronger and more powerful in the off season.  I loved off season bodybuilding and power lifting so much that I made a career out of training athletes for sports performance!

But, I had a BIG PROBLEM when the season was in full swing.  You see, no matter how much food I ate or how much time I spent in the weight room I always seemed to lose around 10 pounds of muscle and experience a dramatic loss of strength and power.

The real problem was NOT that I was losing size and strength… it was that I was training my muscles and nervous system in the WRONG WAY.

This is what the  in-season weight training / conditioning that my coach had the team perform typically looked like…


Suicide Sprints / Gassers x 5 – 15 sets done daily after practice (except the day before a game)


Power Cleans 3 x 8 – 12

Squats 3 x 10

Bench Press 3 x 10

Chin Ups 3 x 10

Crunches 1 x 100


Push Press 3 x 8 – 12

Front Squats 3 x 10

Incline Bench Press 3 x 10

Seated Rows 3 x 10

Crunches 1 x 100

I’d say that this program is pretty basic, you may see this being done in high school weight rooms all across the nation as we speak!  This program covers all of the most important lifts and is designed well.

The only problem is that it DOES NOT WORK!

First of all there is far too much volume (reps and sets) for an in season training program.  Also, in my opinion there is too much conditioning and the fact is that as a young athlete 200 crunches per week will wreak havoc on your posture and ability to recover from exercise.

I know that there are about 9 other things about this in season training program that can be corrected and made to actually build strength and power for athletes DURRING the in season.  I’ve been using a very effective method for keeping the athletes that train at Strength Camp while in their sports season strong and powerful… in fact, several of our athletes ever get STRONGER and MORE POWERFUL while training for their frequent game days!

We fully intend to see many of our athletes exhibit extraordinary Post Season Power!

Let me help you:

1. In the comments area below post your current in-season training regime.

2. Let me know if it is working for you or your team right now.

3. If you have any ideas about how we may be able to make it better, please let me know.

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Comments (23)

  1. posted by Darren on September 20, 2010

    Elliot, Thanks for sharing.
    Well since I don’t have a place to train my high school football team anymore now that we are in season. I do nothing but body weight training. I usually have them do their normal warmups then I interrupt them and have them do various exercises that I come up with before hand. Stuff like walking lunges on my count, jum squats, pushups, flutter kicks, mountain climbers, burpees, to name a few. I always have them perform these in a circuit fashion. Then after we are done they do 4-40′s, then practice starts. Could this be better? Sure. I learn new techniques everyday. Is this working? For my team I believe it is. We are 6-0 right now. If you have angood ideas to help me out in anyway I would appreciate it.

    Thanks again Elliot.


    • posted by Elliott Hulse on September 21, 2010

      Darren, 6-0 is amazing! Apparently you’re doing something right :)

  2. posted by Nick on September 20, 2010

    I am an MMA fighter:

    Tuesday: Heavy Squats 5×5
    Bench Press 5×5
    Dips 3 x 12

    Tuesday: Light Squats(60%)3×5
    Military Press 5×5
    Deadlift 5×5
    Chins 5 x 8

    All conditioning circutis done during the training sessions. Sprints and HIIT done in your own time twice a week. I had been progressing on this program for about 2 years maintaining bodyweight of 180 pounds and increasing overall strength by 5-10 kg on all lifts every 10-12 weeks.

  3. posted by Nick on September 20, 2010

    Oops, the second workout is done on Thursdays

  4. posted by Brad Leshinske on September 20, 2010

    Great article as always. Great idea most s and c coaches get shy when the in season stuff comes around. This is what we do.
    when we program our in season work for hs guys we divide the team into freshman ( developmental) sophmors and varisty (guys who play more than 30 snaps and those who dont) We then make sure what days they play its either friday or saturday. so we program heavier lifting on monday and a lighter load on wed or thursday. We still maintain their power with hang cleans and snatches ( hangs at 3×5 @ 75-85% and snatches 3c6@ 30-40% of clean max.) The rest we superset hip dom with a posteir chain movement then upper push/upper pull, vertical push/vertica pull all 3×8 the cleans are done on Mondays and snatches on the second day
    With regards to speed we advise the coach to try and hit some speed and conditionig component on sundays with them.

    how we split up the teams and athletes we just change our core lifts and dummy them down for kids in the lower levels and maintain a consistant intensity with our frosh and sophs. We also do this for many of our athletes whether volleyball, basketball and football. We obviously change some of the exercises but we should never forget how much power decreases when we dont use it. We lose 50% if we dont kepp our power output up in 2 months.
    Thousght I would share

    Great article and love the topic hope all is well

    • posted by Elliott Hulse on September 20, 2010

      Brad, You are a true professional man! Thanks for contributing.

      • posted by Brad Leshinske on September 20, 2010

        Thanks always willing to contribute, love your topice you have one hear.

  5. posted by Joe Venezia on September 20, 2010

    Good article….waiting on your thoughts as to what you would do. We have no football team, but I train the varsity soccer and basketball boys. I have them training two days a week, weds and sat. These are days they do not practice the sport or have games. I utilize sandbag carries, medicine ball throws, and bodyweight circuits of various pull ups and pushups. No conditioning or runs. This seems to maintain their strength for the majority of the seasons but ends up waning if we push past regular season play,

    • posted by Elliott Hulse on September 21, 2010

      Thanks Joe… I’ll be doing a post about my thoughts soon.

  6. posted by whitney mccartney on September 20, 2010

    I am in my second year as strength&conditioning/off. coor. at my 4A high school in louisiana. We were strong when we began our 2009 season but did a poor job of maintaining it through the season. This year we have 7th period football P.E. We do All our lifting and conditioning before practice. We lift very light upper body on Sunday 3 lifts per body part @ 2 sets of 10 at 50% or less. Monday is our Leg day in which we do 4 sets increasing wight each set. Squat, Power Clean, Front Squat, Glute Ham Raise, Calves and an ab circuit. We do a hurdle mobility, hip rotation(Adduction,Abduction), Tire Flip, 4-20′s 4-30′s 4-40′s timed. Tuesday We do same sets and %’s for Bench, Incline, Superset Hang Clean w/ Hammer Curl, Close Grip W/Dumbell Rows, Shrugs w/ Alt. Dumbell Bench, Barbell Curls w/ Alt. Military Press. Our conditioning Consists of 1/2 Gassers, med. Ball throws, and cone drills. Wednesday we do power clean, Calves, and abs/lower back(core work) along with hurdle/hip mobility. We do no conditioning on wednesday. Doing this before practice has helped us in 2 major ways. 1) Their bodies are fresh and we are able to get their max effort. Our coach is an old fashioned coach who believed in 40′s after practice. Now the kids don’t have that in the back of their mind before or during practice about the 40′s ( they may be saving that little bit for). 2) I had 12 Varsity players (Starters) bug the shit out of me to let them max out on their bench again or power clean or even squat. So I let them and not one of them has decreased. All of them went up in bench and power clean (9 in squat). We are also 3-0 for the first time in school history, so the kids now see that it works and it is paying off. We started this the week of our scrimmage 6 weeks ago.

    • posted by Elliott Hulse on September 21, 2010

      Thanks Whitney… it’s great to hear that you’re athletes are actually getting stronger!

  7. posted by whitney mccartney on September 20, 2010

    Sorry, Thanks Elliot for your gridiron strongman system. We have used a lot out of it. We aren’t able to do all we would like to with 65 kids at once. but you have definitely opened my eyes about many things. Thanks again elliot for your dedication to the sport.

  8. posted by ken on September 21, 2010

    Good stuff. I have had good results with a very basic push/pull program (squats, push press, dips on push day and power cleans, chins and a row on pull day) and incorporating light day push/pull cardio circuits (tire flips, rope sled pulls, kettlebell swings, tire sledge, a variety of throws etc on pull day and burpees, overhead barbell walk, farmers walk, lateral tire travel push-ups, a variety of puts, sled push, etc on push days) some boys won’t let go of their bench press addiction, so they continue to bench as the primary upper body press and an overhead press secondary. This basic program has been effective with a variety of set/rep schemes.

    • posted by Elliott Hulse on September 21, 2010

      Thanks Ken! Yea, you’re on point… basic is best, especially in-season.

  9. posted by Adam Plagens on September 21, 2010

    We are in our first official year of in season training for football. Similar to Brad, I have the teams separated as fresh, JV, and Varsity. The younger lifters are in oncea week and perform two basic lifts with some accessory work. I worry more about form than weight and wor on rehabbing injuries and stretching the team post game. The JV is a challenge because their schedule conflicts with the teams lifting, and since w dont lift over weekends yet, I dont get to see them but once a month. I have developed a bodyweight and partner assisted workout for them to maintain some levels of strenght, but there is a need here to get them in the room as much as possible.

    varsity lift MON and WED with the heavier day being Monday. Again, we focus on basic lifts: SQ, BP, DL, Box SQ, and Clean or hang clean. All numbers are calculated using their max attempts from the off season and reducing the max weight by 90%. this has prevented training related injuries a lot. Cleans are kept at 40-60%. To keep a focus on explosive force production.
    Core work is maintained, but the volume is dropped to allow for recovery.

    Here’s yesterdays training:
    work sets:
    1+ (max rep attempt)

    1+ (max rep attempt)

    Weighted core circuit
    45# plate
    Pikes X12
    Toe Touch x30
    Russian twist 20/side

    3 Pull ups were done with each set of squats as well.
    Total time of 40 minutes. Oh, this is completed after practice. I’d like to do it before, but that may not happen.

    • posted by Elliott Hulse on September 21, 2010

      Thanks Adam! Way to make due within the constraints that you have.

  10. posted by Elliott Hulse on September 21, 2010

    Thanks Adam! Way to make due within the constraints that you have.

  11. posted by Rob on September 22, 2010

    Dude, Awesome. But tell me something. I just turned 57. I hace a couple physical impairments like a partially torn right rotator and osgod slaughters in the knees. Not making excuses. Not into that. Just describing what I’m working around. I’ve been working out regularly. I eat healthy. And in the past year when I’ve been trying to drob BF without much concern for lbs, I’ve put on 10 lbs and the bf hasn’t changed. and I don’t like that it’s 26%
    Any recomendations? I’m reading all this stuff thats out there and one gang says cardio, cardio, cardio and the other gang says definately no cardio. I usually spend 1-1/2 hours in the gym after work 4 times a week. I push myself to the max. I just don’t know what to do different!

  12. posted by Rob on September 22, 2010

    comment on that to this comment so I get notified by email of your comment. BTW, that question is open to anyone not just Elliot.

  13. posted by Adam Plagens on September 23, 2010


    Without knowing what specifically you are doing, there is a need to increase your intensity in the gym. 90 minute workouts are good for general fitness, but what are you striving for? strength? increasing lean mass? Cardio is necessary, but so is a necessity to determine “how” you are doing cardio/conditioning. Here is an example of what I’ve completed in the past to drop bodyfat and actually improve strength.

    Sled drags
    prowler or plate sprints
    Tire flips
    and then combo efforts of the above.

    Shoot me an email and we can talk more.

  14. posted by Brandon Young on October 22, 2010

    I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate the information you are getting out to us coaches. We bought into your strength program last year and it has been a asset to our training program.
    During the season we have continued to use your sample program of Phase 1 through Phase 4. We are getting monster results on lower body, but still trying to make gains on upper. On the bus ride home last night, coach and I were racking our brains trying to figure out why our gains were’nt what we hoped they would be and I could only come to one conclusion…Nutrition. We have talked to them about proper protein intake, what to eat, how many cals they need to be taking in, but I think it hasn’t taken effect. I said to them this morning, “You can lift like a maniac!, but if you don’t eat properly, your strenghth will be minimal at best.” Sure you’ll see small gains, but not like you should.

    • posted by admin on October 24, 2010

      Brandon, That is great news!!

      Getting kids to eat is tough… mostly the parents have to be involved big time!

      Work on some high rep upper body stuff in the early off season.


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