For all competitive athletes, whether they participate in a team sport, or whether they are active in an individual sport, the competitive season is composed of a number of distinct but related segments. Persons who enjoy sport on a purely recreational or fitness level may approach their training regimes in the same fashion day to day and week to week; the goal of the recreational athlete is often a mixture of personal enjoyment and general fitness. When the athletic goal is to achieve the highest possible competitive standard, the sport season will be approached from the perspective of maximizing the training benefit of each segment to enhance overall competitive success.
Competitive athletic training is usually divided into training periods, an approach known as the periodization of training. Every sport will have its own distinct approach to how the length of each period is determined; the length and the extent of the competitive season, the fitness level of the athlete, and the personal and team goals are all factors in this determination. As a general rule, an athletic calendar year will be divided into three training periods: the preseason (the preparatory period), the competitive season (with its own sub-periods timed around key competitions), and the off-season (a period of rest, recovery, and rebuilding).
Preseason strength training will have a different purpose than the work carried out in the other two seasons of the athletic year. Depending on the sport, preseason weight training will include aspects of buildup (increasing overall physical strength) and a special emphasis (weight training that is isolated to develop a particular sport-specific maneuver or application).
As with the other elements of athletic training, the preseason is a bridge from the off-season to the competitive season. Prior to the advent of specialized sports science approaches in the 1960s, it was common for athletes to use the preseason period as their primary conditioning period; the off-season was usually a time of complete inactivity on the part of the athlete. Today, periodization means that the off-season is when the athlete will establish a weight training foundation, the preseason will usually be a period of increased intensity, if not weightlifting volume, and the competitive season lifting is designed to maintain, not necessarily build, strength.
The preseason weight training must also be periodized; the coordination of workouts versus rest periods is essential to preseason development. In most cases, the preseason training period is not a time to experiment with different lifting techniques or dietary supplements; those are matters for the off-season, when the athlete is not bound by a particular or finite training schedule.
Preseason is often one where the athlete must take his or her body in a number of different directions. The preseason program of a competitive 200-m and 400-m sprinter is an example. The athlete knows that to achieve success, the technical aspects of this discipline must be executed with the utmost precision, or the hundreds of a second that may determine a race will be lost. In these races, the explosive start, a powerful drive from the blocks, the ability to reach top speed, stride length and form, the approach to each bend or turn, and the finish are all matters that demand intense practice and attention to detail. None of these crucial techniques can be executed to the highest standard unless the athlete is very strong. One of the great challenges of the preseason weight training program is to maintain the same high level of training intensity in the weight room as will be required of the athlete in the track work that is directly related to the actual competition.
The intensity of all aspects of preseason training makes the inclusion of a well-planned and integrated stretching and flexibility program most important. In the preseason training period, it is common for the athlete to be subjected to the stresses of activity in addition to that provided in the weight room. A musculoskeletal system that is flexible and limber will respond more favorably to these diverse physical requirements.
In many sports, the preseason is the time when coaches make decisions about the composition of a particular team for the coming competitive season. The mental pressure that athletes either impose on themselves or absorb from the preseason environment will often compel them to put specific weight training goals ahead of overall body fitness. Athletes who feel compelled to impress a coach with their commitment to weight training could risk injury unless they have laid the appropriate foundation for the preseason in the off-season period.