You could argue that off season training is the most important phase of any sport-specific conditioning plan. Not only will it help the athlete to recover physically and psychologically, it can be used to address some of the physical imbalances that are inherent with playing competitive sport.
Before moving on to the components of off season training, it's important to define this phase of the periodized annual training plan. In one model of periodization, the off season is sometimes referred to as the period between the end of the in-season and about 6 weeks prior to the start of the next competitive year. The pre-season is the 6 weeks prior to the new competitive in-season (1,2). A sample annual year may look as follows:
However, another more simplistic model of periodization labels the 4 weeks or so after the in-season as off season training or transition phase and the rest of the time up until the new competitive season as the pre-season (3). A sample annual plan here may look as follows:
In the first example above, off season training would consist of a transition or recovery period and preparatory work. In the second example, the off season training phase is simply the transition phase. In practise, there would be little or no difference in the training plan between these two models it is only the way in which the phases of the season are labelled.
For the remainder of this article and the sample off season program that follows "off season training" refers only to the transition or recovery phase as in the second model of periodization above. In this context off season training is essentially about recovery and regeneration.
When the training stimulus is removed, physiological adaptations begin to reverse back to pre-training levels (4,5,6). This effect is known as detraining. Just as detrimental as doing nothing is avidly maintaining the same level of volume and intensity right throughout the transition phase. This can quickly lead to over-training and mental burnout.
The key then, is to find a balance between recovery and the maintenance of fitness. Other, more general modes of training, known as cross-training can be used to allow active recovery while preserving a base level of fitness. As long as the transition or off season training period is no longer than 4-5 weeks (3), the athlete can be refreshed without losing most or his or her level of conditioning.
Regeneration Following the Competitive Season
By it's very nature, sport places unequal loads on different parts of the body. One leg or arm is used more than the other. Agonists (like the quadriceps) are stressed to a greater extent than antagonists (such as the hamstrings). And smaller, but very important stabilizing muscles are neglected while large muscle groups grow stronger and more powerful.
A good off season training program will address these imbalances helping to prevent both acute and longer term chronic injuries. What aspects of fitness should be incorporated into this transitional phase?
The aim here is maintain aerobic fitness with light, enjoyable cardiovascular workouts. This is an ideal time to try a different type of exercise or sport that you wouldn't usually have the chance to.
Try to avoid the form of exercise you perform competitively in. For example, if you swim competitively try running, playing badminton or cycling outdoors for example. If your sport is football, hockey or soccer, avoid continuous running and opt for cycling, rowing or a game that involves different movement patterns such as tennis.
Aim for 2-3 sessions of 20-40 minutes per week at 60-70% maximum heart rate.
The goal is not to reach a point of significant overload. Rather, on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being very, very light activity, 10 being an all-out exertion) aim for a level 6 or 7.
Some athletes may benefit from a complete break from resistance training often called an unloading week. This is particularly the case for athletes such as rugby and football players who spend a great deal of time lifting heavy weights.
Whether this unloading week is incorporated into the off season traiing period or not, strength training should focus on compensation work involving muscle groups that receive little attention during the preparatory and competitive phases (3).
Resistance sessions during off-season training must also be relatively light intensity - 50% of 1-RM and 2-3 sessions per week is ample. The use of stability ball exercise and resistance band exercises can help to target specific stabilizer muscle groups.
Plenty of stretching can help to alleviate stiffness associated with an intense trainng period. Static stretching exercises should be completed daily if possible. It may also be worth considering incorporating self myofascial release exercises to regenerate muscles and connective tissue if these are not already employed.
Weight: 50% 1RM
Push Up with Stability Ball and Medicine Ball
Reverse Crunch with Stability Ball
One Leg Squat
Trunk Rotations with Toning Bar
Bent Over Row with Stability Ball
Back Extension on Ball
Lunge Crossover with Medicine Ball
Rear Deltoid Raise on Stability Ball
Side Kick with Balance Disc
External Rotation with Toning Bar
|Off Season Training Schedule|
|MON||Functional strength, core training, stability exercises.Swimming 20 mins|
|WED||Badminton, tennis, squash etc. 30-60 mins|
|FRI||Functional strength, core training, stability exercises. Cross trainer 20 mins|