Off Season Training

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:

Off season training 1

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:

Off season training 2

In the first example above, off season training would consist of a transition or recovery period andpreparatory 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.

Maintaining 50-60% Fitness Takes Less Effort Than Starting From Scratch!

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?

Cardiovascular Training
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.

Resistance Training
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 exercisescan help to target specific stabilizer muscle groups.

Flexibility Training
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.

Sample Off Season Resistance Training Program

Sets: 2-3
Reps: 12-15
Weight: 50% 1RM

Push Up with Stability Ball and Medicine Ball

  1. Start by placing your hands on a balance board and your feet on top of a stability ball.
  2. Move into a plank position and maintain your balance by extending your arms.
  3. Proceed to bend your elbows while maintaining your balance until your elbows are bent to about 90 degrees.
  4. Extend your elbows until you reach full extension.
  5. Keep your abs drawn in tight to maintain good technique.

Reverse Crunch with Stability Ball

  1. Start position: Lie with back on floor with hips flexed at 90′ and feet in air. Place a ball between your legs and squeeze with your lower legs.
  2. Leading with the heels towards the ceiling, raise glutes (butt) off floor.
  3. Return to start position.
  4. Remember keep legs from swinging to prevent momentum throughout the exercise.

One Leg Squat

  1. Stand with feet hip width apart with knees slightly bent and toes pointing forward holding weight plates.
  2. Start position: Lift one foot off ground and extend leg forward. Extend arms forward at hip level.
  3. Lower body by flexing at the hips and knees. Upper body can flex forward at the hips slightly (~5′) during movement. Be sure to “sit back” so that knees stay over the feet.
  4. Once thigh is slightly above parallel (as shown) return to start position.
  5. Remember to keep head and back straight in a neutral position – hyperextension or flexion may cause injury. Keep weight over the middle of foot and heel, not the toes. Keep abdominals tight throughout exercise by drawing stomach in toward spine.

Trunk Rotations with Toning Bar

  1. Balance yourself using your knees on the ball and the toning bar placed on your shoulders.
  2. Keeping your trunk in an upright posture rotate your shoulders to each side.
  3. Repeat for the prescribed number of repetitions.

Bent Over Row with Stability Ball

  1. Lie face down on a stability ball so that the ball is under your lower abdomen.
  2. Holding two dumbbells row them up towards your shoulders keeping your elbows out wide and back staying flat.
  3. Remember to pinch your shoulder blades together as you row and keep your upper body stable.

Back Extension on Ball

  1. Lie face down on stability ball with knees and feet on floor.
  2. Stability ball placement should be at abdominal to lower chest region.
  3. With hands on chest, raise trunk 4-8 inches.
  4. Lower to start position.
  5. To increase intensity, position ball down towards hips, feet wide with knees off floor. Hands may be placed behind head and overhead to further increase resistance. To increase stability, place feet against wall or stationary object.

Lunge Crossover with Medicine Ball

  1. Stand with feet hip width apart. Take left leg and step back approximately 2 feet standing on the ball of the foot.
  2. Start position: Feet should be positioned at a staggered stance with head and back erect and straight in a neutral position. Hold medicine ball in front of your chest.
  3. Lower body by bending at hip and knee until thigh is parallel to floor. Body should follow a straight line down towards the floor. As you are lunging reach to one side of the leg with the ball.
  4. Return to start position and repeat by reaching to the opposite side with the ball. Alternate or switch to other leg after prescribed reps.

Rear Deltoid Raise on Stability Ball

  1. Begin by stabilizing yourself on top the ball using your lower leg.
  2. Start position: Hold DB in each hand with neutral grip (palms facing each other) and let arms straight down (perpendicular to floor). Lean forward slightly.
  3. With elbows slightly bent and facing the ceiling, raise DB’s to shoulder level in semi-circular motion and squeeze shoulder blades together at top of movement.
  4. Return to start position.
  5. Remember to keep head in a neutral position.

Side Kick with Balance Disc

  1. Lie on side with body aligned and balance disc under waist. Place top hand on hip. Inhale. With bottom leg slightly bent and resting on floor, exhale and extend top leg forward until knee and foot are aligned with hip.
  2. Inhale as you bend top leg, then exhale as you extend it toward ceiling.
  3. Maintain neutral posture as leg moves.
  4. Perform the prescribed repetitions and repeat with the other side.

External Rotation with Toning Bar

  1. Lie on side opposite of working arm.
  2. Start position: Grasp toning bar and flex elbow at 90′ keeping elbow in at side. Forearm should be slightly below parallel to floor.
  3. Rotate arm outward keeping elbow at 90′.4. Return to start position.
  4. Remember to keep elbow firmly secured to side. You may put a rolled towel between the elbow and side to facilitate rotation and secure form.
  5. Repeat with the other side.

Click here for the images of these exercises

Sample Off Season Training Phase

Off Season Training Schedule
MON Functional strength, core training, stability exercises.Swimming 20 mins
TUE Rest
WED Badminton, tennis, squash etc. 30-60 mins
THU Rest
FRI Functional strength, core training, stability exercises. Cross trainer 20 mins
SAT Rest
SUN Rest


1) Garhammer J. Periodization of strength training for athletes. Track Tech. 1979 73:2398-2399

2) Stone MH, O’Bryant HS, Gahammer J, McMillan J, Rozenek R. A theoretical model of strength training. NSCA J. 1982 4(4):36-40

3) Bompa TO, Periodization training for sports. 1999. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics

4) Drinkwater BL, Horvath SM. Detraining effects on young women. Med Sci Sports. 1972 4:91-95

5) Ehsani AA, Hagberg JM, Hickson RC. Rapid changes in left ventricular dimensions and mass in response to physical conditioning and deconditioning. Am J Cardiol. 1978 Jul;42(1):52-6

6) Klausen K, Andersen LB, Pelle I. Adaptive changes in work capacity, skeletal muscle capillarization and enzyme levels during training and detraining. Acta Physiol Scand. 1981 Sep;113(1):9-16