Welcome to the off-season! Pat yourself on the back for another solid year and go into the next season with a real plan—but don’t fall victim to the same traps that most athletes do every year.
Most professional athletes have the advantage of getting professional trainers to plan their off-season. Mostly everyone else doesn’t have that luxury.
Professional trainers come at a price, which most of them deserve, because they’re constantly staying up to date with the latest research to make sure they provide the best training experience possible for their clients.
But what if you don’t have access to one of those trainers? How can the average person take their fitness to the next level during the off-season?
Secret #1 - Get Your Mind Right
In order to prepare for the future, you must first start by looking into the past.
Determining your strengths and weaknesses from the recently completed season will guide you in laying out a plan for the upcoming season. Everyone is training for different reasons and everyone aspires to differing levels of success.
But no matter what your level, the off-season is the time to determine where you want to be when it's time to line up for another season.
The key to a successful off-season is finding the perfect balance between an overly ambitious training plan and, well...getting really lazy. Therefore, before aimlessly diving into random off-season workouts, spend a day or two, get your mind right and decide what your workout plan will look like.
Secret #2 - Don’t Try To Be “Sport Specific” In The Weight Room
This is a term that floats around the fitness industry all too commonly and it actually often leads to a lot of very band strength programming.
First of all it’s critical to understand that strength is not specific. Strength is a general adaptation that can be applied to any specific activity. There is not a football strength, or a baseball strength, or a basketball strength. There is just strength.
And if you are strong, you can do a number of things better than if you are weak. Stronger athletes run faster, jump higher, throw farther, and change direction easier than do weaker athletes. And that is true across all sports.
So your goal in the weight room should be to become as strong as possible in a very general sense. Here the exercises we know lead to the greatest general strength adaptation.
Need to sprint faster? – Squat.
Need to jump higher? – Squat.
Need to explode out of a 3-point stance? – Squat.
Need to push off the mound harder? – Squat.
Yet you see again and again coaches talk about a need for “sport specific strength.” Do you honestly think that a one-legged split squat on a Bosu ball is going to lead to more force production capacity than building up your back squat to 405 lbs for 5 reps?
If you want to be stronger, bigger, more powerful in any sport, you’d be better build up your capacity in the basic exercises – Squats, Presses, Deadlifts and Cleans. Then, start practicing and play your sport. It’s as simple as that. Trying to replicate very specific movement patterns in the gym is almost always a waste of your time.
Secret #3 – Adjust Your Cardio & Conditioning
The off-season is a fine time to make adjustments to your cardio program. If you typically take each training session to the limit with high intensity training, now is the time to rethink that strategy.
For most sports, it’s generally a mistake to try to remain in peak conditioning all year round. It’s not that peak conditioning is inherently bad – it’s that in order to maintain a peak physical condition all year long you’d have to compromise on the development of strength and mass.
The off-season is the time for building a base of cardio and work on your aerobic energy system with longer, less intense cardio workouts. Think of this type of training as the foundation to a pyramid. The broader the base of the pyramid, the taller the pyramid can be built, which is equivalent to how long and hard you can go.
The further you are from your competitive season, the more emphasis you should place on the weight room and less on your cardio. Conditioning can be more than adequately maintained by training it just 1 or 2 times per week. Any more than that, you are eating into your ability to perform and recover from hard and heavy weight training sessions.
Secret #4 – Rehab, Prehab & Prepare Your Body
For any team sport, the off-season is a fantastic opportunity for athletes to rest and recuperate from the physical and emotional demands of a tough competitive season. It is a chance for players to get away from the environment that has become their second home for much of the year. It is also the time to actively manage any injuries sustained, and to work on maintaining the physical capacities developed during the season.
The key to a successful and productive off-season is knowing what to prioritize, how much to do and when to rest.
There are 4 essential components to off-season rehab:
- Screening – Evaluate your body and identify new and pre-existing injuries.
- Core Stability & Flexibility – Take time to work on static and dynamic stretches and strengthen your entire core.
- Strength & Conditioning – Try to utilize a healthy mixture of both.
- Rest – Take some time off, away from your sport. A few rests days will do more good than harm.
"There are certain types of rest days. Normal rest days when you are training hard are important for your body to recover. Get the right foods and supplements in your body that day. I don't prefer to just sit on the couch though. I feel my body stiffens up way too much. Get up and get your blood flowing so your body can get the nutrients it needs throughout your body.
The other type of rest days are when you get a little time off where you can let go a little and not focus on training. Everybody needs these rest days as training is long and tough on the body and mind. Get out and go have a little fun. Just make sure the next day you are doing the right things to get your body back to where it needs to be." – Dan Gronkowski
Remember the off-season is not the time for skill work. It’s the time for building your overall base, your cookie jar, so that you can fill up your jar with all your sport-specific qualities during the season.
If you're an athlete, and a competitive one at that, you're always going to want to raise the bar. You're always going to want to be better than last time, or last season. The off-season is the perfect time for you to focus on just that. Don't take the off-season lightly, because you have the chance to come back stronger, faster, more explosive and better than you have ever been and to become an overall better version of yourself.