Seasonal variation in fitness parameters in competitive athletes

Sports Med. 1995 Jun;19(6):373-92. doi: 10.2165/00007256-199519060-00002.


In many sports, training for successful competition has become virtually a year-round endeavour. To assist in better preparation, a competitor's year may be divided into phases such as off-season and in-season, indicating reduced or increased competition commitments, respectively. A number of studies have described the effects of seasons or periods of competition, training, detraining and reduced training on aspects of physical fitness. Depending on performance level, the type of sport and the fitness parameter in question, the swings in fitness variables reported may be as high as 18% from one season to another. In elite competitors, anaerobic parameters, heart frequencies, subcutaneous fat, flexibility and haemoglobin levels remain relatively unchanged throughout the year. Aerobic metabolism and muscular strength may demonstrate noticeable (mostly unfavourable) changes, and plasma hormonal levels normally follow changes in training intensities. Aspects related to long term fatigue and genetics, and to appropriate training are just a few explanations for these observations. It is still not known whether greater fitness gains attainable with longer off-season training programmes can be successfully maintained over the duration of the competition season. However, the consensus would seem to be that specialised training (based on technique and competition tactics only) is inadequate for fitness maintenance and/or improvements. This is perhaps supported by the general trends found in the literature regarding muscular strength: while supervised off-season conditioning programmes may result in significant improvements for both recreational and competitive athletes, no such changes are normally observed after competition seasons. These findings may reflect, amongst other factors, a lack of optimal training intensity to bring about strength increases during in-season periods. In novices and in athletes at low competitive levels, training seasons may lead to considerable functional improvements of the cardiorespiratory system, coupled with occasional increases in muscular strength and decreases in body fat. Relatively low fitness levels at the beginning of training have been put forward as an explanation for these improvements. Seasons of training and competition result in no significant changes in flexibility measurements. Similar changes to those found in novices and in athletes at low competitive levels may also be seen in children and adolescents engaged in sport, although their fitness improvements are consistent with normal patterns of growth and development. No differences have been identified between male and female athletes participating at different competition levels.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anaerobic Threshold
  • Anthropometry
  • Blood Chemical Analysis
  • Child
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Heart Function Tests
  • Hemodynamics
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology
  • Physical Fitness / physiology*
  • Seasons*
  • Sports / physiology*
  • Sports / trends