Balancing Strength Training and Cardiovascular Sessions In-Season

As a seasoned AFL strength & conditioning coach at the Melbourne Football Club and a holder of a Master’s degree in Applied Sport Science, I, Jack McLean, have dedicated my career to optimizing athletic performance. One of the most critical aspects of maintaining peak performance in-season is effectively balancing strength training with cardiovascular sessions. This blog post will delve into the intricacies of this balance, drawing on the latest scientific research to provide actionable insights for AFL players, coaches, and parents of young footballers.

Understanding the Importance of Balance

Strength training and cardiovascular training serve distinct yet complementary roles in an athlete’s regimen. Strength training builds muscle mass and enhances power, crucial for explosive movements and overall resilience on the field. Cardiovascular training, on the other hand, improves endurance, heart health, and recovery. Striking the right balance between these two training modalities can significantly enhance an athlete’s performance and reduce the risk of injuries.

Benefits of Combined Training

Combining strength and cardiovascular training has been shown to yield superior results compared to focusing on either modality alone. A study published in PLoS ONE compared the effects of aerobic training, resistance training, and combined training on cardiovascular disease risk factors. The study found that combined training led to greater improvements in blood pressure and cardiovascular health compared to either training alone (Sillanpää et al., 2014). This underscores the potential benefits of integrating both training types into an athlete’s regimen.

Implementing Periodization

Periodization is a key strategy in balancing strength and cardiovascular training. This approach involves cycling through different phases of training intensity and volume to manage fatigue and ensure athletes remain fresh for competitions. For instance, during the competitive season, the focus might shift towards maintaining strength gains and enhancing endurance without overloading the athletes.

Prioritizing Recovery

Recovery is a crucial component of any training program, especially during the in-season period. Techniques such as foam rolling, massage, and adequate sleep are essential to ensure the body recovers properly from both strength and cardio sessions. Integrating active recovery sessions, such as light jogging or swimming, can also aid in recovery while keeping the athletes active.

Integrating Training Sessions

One effective strategy is to integrate strength and cardio within a single training session. High-intensity functional training (HIFT) is a versatile approach that combines short, high-intensity intervals with functional movements. A systematic review and meta-analysis highlighted that HIFT can improve both strength and cardiovascular endurance, making it a valuable training method for athletes (Wilke & Mohr, 2023).

Monitoring Training Load

Monitoring the training load is essential to prevent overtraining and injuries. Tools such as GPS devices and heart rate monitors can provide valuable data on training intensity and volume. This information allows coaches to adjust training sessions to ensure athletes are not overburdened and are recovering adequately.

Tailoring Programs to Individual Needs

Each athlete has unique strengths, weaknesses, and positional demands. Therefore, it’s crucial to customize training programs to meet individual needs. For example, a midfielder might require more endurance training compared to a forward who needs explosive strength. Personalized training plans can help address these specific requirements and enhance overall performance.

Flexibility in Scheduling

Training schedules should be flexible to accommodate the varying needs of athletes. If a player feels overly fatigued, it may be beneficial to adjust the session to a lower intensity or switch to a recovery-focused workout. This flexibility helps in managing the overall training load and ensuring athletes remain in peak condition.

Nutritional Support

Proper nutrition plays a vital role in supporting an athlete’s training regimen. A balanced diet rich in proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, along with adequate hydration, is essential for optimal performance and recovery. Nutritional strategies should be tailored to individual needs, considering factors such as training intensity, body composition goals, and recovery requirements.

Data-Driven Exercise Prescription

Precision exercise prescription, based on data-driven strategies, is becoming increasingly important in optimizing training outcomes. Research in Frontiers in Physiology emphasizes the role of data in tailoring exercise regimens for neuromuscular and cardiovascular training (Frontiers Research Topic, 2024). Using wearable technologies and real-time data acquisition can enhance our understanding of acute responses and guide adaptive interventions tailored to individual needs.

Practical Tips for Balancing Training

  1. Integrate Strength and Cardio: Incorporate high-intensity intervals at the end of strength sessions to maximize both aspects.
  2. Monitor Load: Use GPS and heart rate monitors to track training intensity and volume.
  3. Customize Programs: Tailor training plans based on individual strengths, weaknesses, and positional demands.
  4. Prioritize Recovery: Ensure adequate recovery through techniques such as foam rolling, massage, and sleep.
  5. Flexible Scheduling: Adjust training intensity and focus based on the athlete’s fatigue levels and performance needs.
  6. Nutritional Support: Provide a balanced diet rich in essential nutrients to support training and recovery.


Balancing strength training and cardiovascular sessions during the in-season is essential for maintaining high performance in AFL. By integrating scientific research and personalized training strategies, athletes can optimize their performance, enhance endurance, and reduce the risk of injuries. The insights provided in this blog post, backed by robust scientific evidence, aim to help athletes, coaches, and parents navigate the complexities of in-season training and achieve peak performance on the field.

For more insights and personalized training plans, feel free to reach out. Let’s keep pushing the boundaries of performance in AFL together!

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  • Sillanpää, E., Laaksonen, D. E., Hakkinen, A., Karavirta, L., Jensen, B., Kraemer, W. J., … & Häkkinen, K. (2014). Comparative effectiveness of aerobic, resistance, and combined training on cardiovascular disease risk factors: A randomized controlled trial. PLoS ONE, 9(1), e0190549. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0190549.
  • Wilke, J., & Mohr, L. (2023). Effects of high-intensity functional training on physical fitness and sport-specific performance among athletes: A systematic review with meta-analysis. PLoS ONE, 18(7), e0289723. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0289723.
  • Frontiers Research Topic. (2024). Precision exercise prescription: Data-driven strategies for neuromuscular and cardiovascular training across athletes, healthy individuals, and chronic disease populations. Frontiers in Physiology. Retrieved from Frontiers.
  • Prieto-González, P., & Sedlacek, J. (2022). Effects of running-specific strength training, endurance training, and concurrent training on recreational endurance athletes’ performance and selected anthropometric parameters. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(17), 10773. doi:10.3390/ijerph191710773.



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