Off Season Training

By Jim on Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Off-Season Training

A David Sandler and Taylor Simon (modified for MyKayakCoach)

The off-season is defined as, “a time of year when a particular activity, typically a sport, is not engaged in” However,  this definition is ambiguous when it comes to strength and conditioning.  

The Off-Season: Recovery or Preparation?
For many athletes and coaches, the off-season represents time to repair, regenerate and recuperate from a long season. Decades ago, players used the off-season to engage in other sports than the ones they played and some periodization models even suggested it might be beneficial to become active in dissimilar sport activity.

Some coaches still use this methodology today even though it was shown in the early 1980s that competitive athletes need to continue to train all year round both for better performance and sport longevity.

While the pre-season has traditionally been marked as the time of year to begin building strength and power, more recent practice has indicated that athletes need to get a jump on the competition by using the immediate post-season to recover (if necessary) and take that valuable off-season time to work on new strength, new skills, master technique, and develop a solid base for the upcoming season.

Rather than call this time period the off-season, now it is often referred to as a “Transition Period” where the coach can dictate the length of time spent working on weak areas for each individual athlete.

Since many off-season periods can last several months, simply engaging in general physical ac-tivity or no activity at all, could cause a neurological shift in muscle recruitment patterns as well as both muscle size and strength decrements. Thus, the pre-season period would be used to “recover” all of the lost training time by forcing the body to relearn its specific motor patterns.

On that same note, spending time overworking drills that may improve a weak area, may still not help with the athletes’ overall sport performance and may detract from their actual sport capability. Older training models would suggest that the yo-yo effect is perfectly normal, or caused by training itself, however, more progressive coaches begin the off-season with an aggressive course of training to maximize performance for pre-season training.

Movement Screens and Sport Analysis
There is much information and speculation about athletes’ needs but very few practical applications are evidence- based. Terminology such as sport analysis and movement screens have become commonplace for practitioners, yet many do not understand their true place in identifying athletes’ weaknesses. While this article is not about either, we will mention that while a thorough needs analysis should be considered, it should be considered by the need of the sport and not necessarily by the athletes’ weak- nesses. The off-season, for many athletes, is earmarked by improving on weaknesses seen throughout the sporting season. Years of consistent training and practice, as well as demand by sport specificity, may in fact alter what is considered proper or normal movement patterns. The confusion appears to be in the cause-effect relationship of movement and performance. Is it the sport causing the movement or the athlete failing to move correctly? In other words, the “imperfect” movement patterns may not need to be corrected, as the sport itself dictates usage in many cases. Often coaches analyze weakness and devel- op a course of action to correct, thereby overcorrecting an issue. Although athletes may appear to be better at those specific drills after practicing them to improve weakness, they may have altered the required motor patterns to be
nsca’s performance training journal • • volume 9 issue 2 7Off-Season Training
successful at their sport. This becomes increas- ingly more problematic when static or station- ary drills are substituted for dynamic activity. Thus, as part of your needs analysis, you should consider movement execution, speed, power, and strength demands of the sport. The saying “Paralysis by Analysis” is echoed by the often over-corrective nature of an attempt to uncover weakness. The fact that an athlete may have had trouble getting open, catching a ball, or hitting a ball may be in the performance of those spe- cific skills themselves and require more practice. This is especially true of athletes stepping up to the next level. We suggest a thorough examina- tion of both movement and athlete, but caution hasty decisions in assessing weakness without relating movement to sport. To that end, true strength, power, and speed exercises still prevail as both are well evidenced methods and suc- cessful implemented practices. Without doubt, sport-specific skills such as throwing, kicking, and patterned movement should not be ne- glected, rather, they should be practiced even more. So when building your program, consider recovery for regular sport practice so that move- ment speed and skill are not compromised.
While there are many different schools of thoughts as to what and how to train, a common bond is now apparent: if you are not working, challenging yourself all year long, during every cycle of your periodized model, you will lose valuable training time, and likely be unprepared for your sport. This means that a plan is a neces- sity and although this last statement suggests that taking time off is not beneficial, preplanned rest or reduced activity phases are definitely a must to ensure that overtraining is prevented. For the newer or first-time strength coach, prac- tice makes perfect, and expecting to have your periodized program work perfectly is unrealistic. Seasoned veterans of strength and conditioning will tell you they are still trying to perfect their training models.
The Plan
Before beginning an off-season training pro- gram you need to make sure your athletes have fully recovered from their season. Other then those athletes with specific injuries (such as knee, ankle, or other orthopedic issues), bumps, bruises, and general muscle soreness should subside within 10 – 14 days of rest. A general assessment and medical clearance may be re- quired; otherwise your athlete should begin a general strength training program. Building an off-season strength base will ensure that when power, speed, and conditioning is required, your athletes will be prepared. However, just sticking to pure strength, short-changes the athletes’ skill level, again reducing the effectiveness of your in- season training. It is for that reason, we suggest a program that is strength-heavy in terms of time allocation, but still does work on the other as- pects of sport performance. Rather than use the traditional straight-line method of true concise and separate periods, athletes are finding much success with an approach that works on all com- ponents of sports while having a heavier influ- ence in a particular variable, or area, during each phase of training. As periodization suggests, it is important to make adjustments, preventing pla- teauing and overtraining, and continually pro- gressing the athlete toward their end goal of be- ing prepared for the season. Thus, our 12-week model represents a slice of time that you will need to either increase or decrease depending on the length of your off-season. In our model, the immediate off-season is primarily strength focused for the first six weeks, gradually shift- ing toward power and conditioning as the new season approaches. Many athletes overwork strength, speed, and power training in the off- season foregoing important “reps” at their sport skills themselves. We suggest keeping workouts to three or four per week, and making sure reg- ular skills are practiced on opposite days. Our athletes have seen the best gains using a four to eight-week consistent training period before making major adjustments. This means that you will need to plan accordingly as you stretch or shorten your off-season.
Success or Failure
Implementing a well thought-out plan is more difficult than developing the actual plan it- self. Knowing how your athletes will respond is something we will never truly be able to pre- dict. However, using a sound general program and tweaking it along the way improves your athletes’ likelihood of success. You will get im- mediate feedback as to the effectiveness of your program as your athletes should continue to see improvement in at least one performance aspect, if not all, as regular training progresses. If you are not seeing improvement after a few weeks of training sessions, you should take a deeper look and make sure your athletes are working hard enough, but also that they are re- covering properly. A successful off-season train- ing program will dictate the success of the ath- lete not only as pre-season approaches, but as their careers continue. ?
1. Bompa, T. (1999). Periodization: Training For Sports. Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL
2. Wilmore J. and Costill, D. (1988) 3rd. ed. Training For Sport and Activity. Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL.
3. Fleck S. and Kraemer, B. (1997) 2nd ed. Designing Resistance Training Programs. Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL.
nsca’s performance training journal • • volume 9 issue 2 8
Off-Season Training
Table 1. Off-Season Program
# of Workouts
Set Volume
Microcycle Overview
Weeks 1 – 4
3 x8
Upper Push/Lower/Upper Pull/Lower
Strength 2
Strength 3
Strength 4
Strength/Power 6
Power/Strength 7
Power/Strength 8
Power 10
Power 11
Power 12
Lower Body
Squats Split Squats Lunges Step-ups Deadlifts Leg Curls
Upper Pull
3 x 8
4 x 8
5 x 6-8
5 x6
5 x5
5 x5
5 x5
5 x3
5 x3
Upper Push/Lower/Upper Pull/Lower
Upper Push/Upper Pull/Lower Strength/ Lower Power
Upper Push/Upper Pull/Lower Strength/ Lower Power
Upper Push-Pull Strength/Lower Strength/ Upper Push-Pull power/Lower Power
Upper Push Power/ Lower Power/Upper Pull Power/Lower Strength/Upper Push-Pull Strength
Upper Push Power/ Lower Power/Upper Pull Power/Lower Strength/Upper Push-Pull Strength
Plyometrics/Upper Push-Pull Strength/ Plyometrics/Lower Strength
Plyometrics/Full Body Strength/Plyometrics/ Full Body Strength/Plyometrics
Upper Push-Pull
Pull-ups Wide Grip (or Lat Pull Down) Bench Press Chin-ups Military Press/Push Press
1-Arm DB Rows Pushups
Lower Power
Hang cleans Snatch 1-Arm DB Snatch Squats
Squat Jumps Split Squat Jumps Box Jumps Plyometric Pushups Medicine Ball Throws (2 or 3 variations per workout)
General Core Exercises
Planks (Variations) Hanging or Lying Leg Raises Ab Crunch
Weeks 5 – 8
Strength / Power
4 x6
Upper Push-Pull Strength/Lower Strength/ Upper Push-Pull Power/Lower Power
Weeks 9 – 12
Explosive Power
5 x5
Plyometrics/Upper Push-Pull Strength/ Plyometrics/Lower Strength
Workouts will always start with a Dynamic Warm- Up that includes movement preparation work and basic skills such as form and technique drills for sprinting. Additionally, dynamic stretches will be included as part of the movement preparation. Exercises will progress from slow rhythmic move- ments to ballistic movements as the warm-up progresses. You should spend about 20 minutes on your warm-up. Following the warm-up, you will begin explosive exercises first, followed by strength exercises and finishing with core and cool-down exercises at the end of the workout. On strength days, lift heavy going to momentary muscle failure or just short of that. On power workout days, use the same programs but reduce the weight by 20 – 30% and perform the movements more explosively without going to failure. The workouts above are general samples. You can add or subtract exercises depending on your time allocation per workout.
Pull-ups Wide Grip (or Lat Pull Down) Chin-ups T-bar rows 1-Arm DB Rows
DB pullovers Biceps Curls
Upper Push
1-Arm Incline DB Press Military Press/Push Press 1-Arm Shoulder Press Pushups
Triceps Extension
nsca’s performance training journal • • volume 9 issue 2