If you’re a hockey, volleyball, or basketball player, and your season came to an end with a loss, likely you are going to be chomping at the bit to get some redemption for next year. There’s nothing wrong with that. Others may take some time to enjoy their new freedom, or maybe get into another sport or recreational activity. There’s also nothing wrong with that.
However you decide to go about your early off-season, just make sure it fits with your long term plan. You don’t want to be the player who in late July is scrambling to play catch up in regards to preparation. You also don’t want to be the player who is burnt out and injured in August.
Being methodical, and having a well laid out plan can have many benefits. Here is the rationale for why we structure the the early off-season the way we do for our athletes.
PHYSICAL AND MENTAL REST AND RECOVERY
Once the season is over, it’s time for some well-deserved physical and mental rest. One of the most important parts of the off-season is taking time to recover. Without proper rest there can be negative ramifications.
One major consequence is injury. The body needs time to heal and any athlete, high school or professional, who pushed too hard throughout the year will almost assuredly see physical harm. If athletes evade physical injury by some small chance, they still have to deal with the mental stress.
Playing the same sport over a long period of time can lead to a loss of interest. The same routine, practice and workouts can cause athletes to “burn out” on their sport and potentially lose interest in athletics as a whole. That is why it’s important to find balance in the off-season through new or different exercises and activities.
DEVELOP AND GAIN FOCUS
Athletes are constantly developing their skills, and they return back to the basics during the off-season. It’s important to develop better, stronger foundations and systems. For example, the aerobic system supplements energy with oxygen and is responsible for replenishing the anaerobic system, which is energy lacking oxygen.
Developing both aerobic and anaerobic health during the off-season not only promotes recovery, it gives athletes a competitive edge. Near the end of the game, when other teams are tired and spent, those with healthy and developed systems will be able to continue.
IMPROVE IN NEW WAYS
The off-season is when athletes can improve their strength and learn how to correctly access this newfound strength. No matter the sport, athletes place unequal pressures on parts of their body. These imbalances can be dangerous if left unchecked; therefore correcting them can improve an athlete’s health and prevent injury.
This effect is easily visible within sports like baseball and hockey. Baseball players rely heavily on their throwing arm which means it needs extra care and rest in the off-season. With hockey, it’s their hips that take the brunt of the damage, off-season efforts need to be focused on hip health and strengthening and mobilizing the supporting physical attributes.
Improving strength is the foundation of further physical performance and needs to be pursued equally. After addressing muscle imbalances created by their sport, athletes can focus on increasing their strength. As stated previously, finding balance in these exercises is important. Improving specific muscle sets in isolation and with other groups helps athletes achieve their desired results.
Since sports often take place in a linear fashion, or primarily in the sagittal plane, in order to restore balance to an athlete’s movements, we must train in ALL planes of movement, especially in the early stages of restorative exercise.
Near the end of off-season, athletes should begin redirecting their focus back to sport-specific exercises. Keeping intensity the same but duration and amount decreased, athletes should reintroduce their bodies to the ‘old’ exercises and ease their transition back into seasonal form. Once their competitive season commences, they will be warm and ready with newfound abilities and a stronger defense against injury.
Here is a breakdown of how we might program for an athlete in the early stages of the off-season.
BLOCK 1 – Anatomical Adaptation (Weeks 1-6)
Goal– Increase lean body mass, strengthen tendons and ligaments, increase short term work capacity, and develop a neuromuscular foundation.
Within the first block, there are two subphases; General Physical Preparation, and Hypertrophy.
General Prep is circuit based and utilizes low loads (50-60% of 1RM), and short rest periods to maintain an elevated heart rate throughout the circuit. Typically the circuit would be exercises that require some isometrics, or eccentrics, and would be 1-2 sets of 10-12 reps. This phase also includes a form of energy system development, like biking, running, rollerblading, continuously at a low intensity, starting at 20 mins and working up to 40 mins by week 3.
Some strength exercises we have our athletes use, often incorporate eccentric (negative), or isometric (paused) reps. By doing this we can ensure technique, and posture are the main focus, as well as training the athletes neurological function for advanced lifting in the subsequent phases.
The hypertrophy phase is designed to increase lean body mass, and therefore increasing the force generating potential and provide a greater base for strength and power training. The best method to improve hypertrophy is using 3-6 sets of 10-12 reps per set. Splits will usually be performing three or more exercises per muscle group to continually stimulate muscles and recruit more Type II (fast twitch) fibres. Using this set and rep scheme has also been shown to increase growth hormone levels, which may increase protein synthesis and influence muscle strength.
Energy system development in this phase is more geared towards interval training. Studies have shown that “long reps” of intervals of 15mins, with a 5 min rest, repeated 3 times, provide a better transition from aerobic to anaerobic systems. Based on the uptake of oxygen required, and VO2 Max, this energy system training closely represents a hockey game, soccer game, basketball game, and many other interval based sports.
If you are planning on starting your off-season training soon, be sure to have a plan in place. Going through the first phases of your training haphazardly, can have profoundly negative results. Don’t just walk into the weight room and start pushing iron around. Set a procedure and focus on the long term. If you can think of your body like a house, and first build the foundation in order to set the floors and walls on, you will be in much better shape than if you start with the roof.