Getting bigger and stronger is a priority for many athletes over the summer. Putting on size is a major concern for many football, hockey, and basketball players wanting to improve their game. I cant tell you how often I hear guys saying that they need to put on size. By the end of the summer, most athletes are at their biggest and strongest, and it seems like the time and effort has paid off. I watch this cycle play out over and over every year. It’s great to watch guys pack on size by doing simple things. Unfortunately, it always seems to end the same way – by the end of the season, much of that size and strength has evaporated and the advantage that was gained through training is gone.
If you’ve been trying to put on size and weight, I hope you’re at your biggest right now. If you’ve been watching your weight increase steadily during the off-season, you’re at risk for losing it once the season begins. Most high school football players begin to lose size and strength during two-a-days because you aren’t lifting weights (at least not as hard as you were over the summer) and, more importantly, you probably aren’t eating as much as you need. It’s the same for every other sport, too. Hockey and basketball players start burning calories like crazy during the first few weeks of intense practice, and your weight starts to drop.
Let me assure you that this does not necessarily need to happen. It’s not that difficult to maintain your size and strength throughout the season, and it’s even possible to make gains if you’re serious about gaining weight. Just think about how great it would feel to be at your biggest and strongest at the end of the season when it counts the most. Instead, most athletes look in the mirror late in the season and can’t believe what has happened. It’s really not uncommon to drop 15 pounds over the course of a season, which would definitely make you look and feel different – not what you want if it’s important for you to gain weight.
Lifting During the Season
The first thing you should do to maintain your weight is continue to lift weights twice a week during the season. Your lifts don’t have to be long, but you need to get it done. I recommend lifting on Monday & Wednesday or Sunday & Tuesday if most of your games are on Fridays and Saturdays. A Thursday game may change your plans slightly, but that shouldn’t be very difficult to work around. Just change that week’s schedule so you’re not lifting the day before a game.
If you play a sport that has multiple competitions each week, just try not to do your hardest lifting the day before a game. It’s completely fine to lift the day before a game, but you’ll be able to work harder if you have a day to recover before competition. Keep in mind that you’re trying to make progress, so you’ll need to train through some competitions, especially early in the season.
Most people are concerned about being really sore or tired from lifting, and they don’t want it to affect their game performance. As long as you continue lifting consistently, this will not be an issue. Consistency is the key to this process.
The problems occur when you take 3-4 weeks off, then hit the weights hard the day before a game. You’ll definitely be sore because your body isn’t used to it anymore. Any new stress will cause this kind of response, but lifting consistently will help you avoid this problem.
I recommend doing a relatively heavy training session with low reps one day a week, preferably not the day before a game, and a lighter session with higher reps on days closer to a competition. Both days will be total-body lifts that last 30-40 minutes, so you don’t need a ton of time. On the heavy day, you’ll be doing 2-4 sets of 3-6 reps per exercise, using 80-85% of your 1RM weight on multi-joint exercises like bench press, squats, trap bar squats and rows. You’ll need to establish your 1RM early in the season so you know your capabilities. Don’t take these sets to failure and take plenty of rest between sets so you never feel completely fatigued. A gradual increase in the number of reps or the weight is also recommended.
For example, your first two weeks should include sets of 3-4 reps with approximately 80% of your 1RM. Weeks 3-4 should be 4-6 reps with 80%. After week 5, move up to 85% and go back down to 3-4 reps for a couple of weeks. By week 8, you should be doing 2-3 sets of 4-6 reps with 85% of your summer max weight. That should be difficult, but still very doable. You won’t get sore or overly fatigued from this because you’ll be lifting consistently, gradually building up to this point. If you’re able to do 4-6 reps with 85% of your max 8-10 weeks into your season, you’ve done an excellent job of maintaining your strength. There’s a good chance you’ve even gotten stronger if you’ve pushed yourself. If you’re season is longer than 2-3 months, just complete each cycle for 3-4 weeks instead of two weeks as listed above. Also be sure to hit your lower body hard on these “heavy” days because the second day will focus on the upper body.
On the second day of each week (closer to competition), include a single-leg strength exercise like single-leg squats or single-leg leg press and a hamstring exercise like a glute/ham raise, RDL, ball leg curl or Nordic Hamstrings. Do 2 sets of 8-12 reps and that’s it for lower body. Focus the rest of this session on upper body strength training, using rep ranges of 6-12 and doing 1-3 sets per body part. Take each set to near failure, but keep the volume low. Feel free to include extra arm work on Wednesdays to keep your guns blown up.
Eating for Size
Because you utilize so much energy practicing every day, it’s even more important to increase your food intake during the season if you’re trying to gain weight. Three simple in-season eating tips are:
- Start the day right with a quality breakfast. I often hear people tell me they’re not hungry in the morning, so they don’t each much for breakfast. This is an excuse. You’re not hungry because you’re not used to eating in the morning. You might have to force yourself to eat more in the morning for a while, but you’ll start getting used to it. Eventually, you’ll wake up hungry and it will be much easier to put on weight. Most guys get up late and eat something very small for breakfast if they eat anything at all. Why not wake up 15 minutes earlier so you can take full advantage of breakfast? It just makes sense to get a jump on your goal every morning. Try these ideas: Scramble 3-4 eggs with cheese and some cut up veggies and throw it on a bagel with an extra slice of your favorite cheese. Pour a large bowl of cereal and have a piece of toast with peanut butter and a glass of juice. Try a big bowl of oatmeal with walnuts, fresh fruit and a big glass of milk. Blend up a shake with protein powder, frozen fruit, milk or yogurt and grab a bagel to go. All of these breakfasts will start the day off in a way that will help maintain your weight and give you energy for your sport.
- Snack before practice. The time between lunch and dinner is often a problem if you’re trying to gain weight, especially if you have sport practice right after school. After school is an excellent time to eat a quick snack. Throw a meal replacement bar or PBJ in your backpack so you it’s ready right after school. You could also try a bagel, a meal replacement shake or a piece of fresh fruit. If you have a refrigerator available at school, or time to go home, the possibilities are obviously unlimited.
- Have a bedtime snack. One of the easiest ways to help put on weight in-season is to throw down a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a cold glass of milk. You might want to try substituting the jelly with a sliced up banana or some honey. If you’re not into PBJ, you could have a piece of pizza, a bowl of cereal or a fruit smoothie with some protein powder. The point here is to eat something that has a good combination of protein, carbohydrates and fats.
Of course, you still have to eat a quality (and large) lunch and dinner and drink plenty of fluids, but taking advantage of the tips above will make it a lot easier to maintain, or even put on weight during the season.
Learn more about how to gain weight