For every sport, race and competition, the season has an ending. However, the span of time outside of competitive play is considered off-season. During the off-season, athletes may be free of games and competitions, but it isn’t all leisure and vacation. They will be involved in off-season training, a critical practice period that can return dividends if done correctly.
Increasing potential performance in the off-season has many benefits, and is the foundation of personal athletic growth. It’s important to maintain athletic prowess, because it’s much easier to stay in shape than get back into shape. It’s also important to find an enjoyable way to train in the off-season so as to avoid becoming burnt-out or injured. All in all, off-season training is important regardless of the sport because it is a time to rest, develop, improve and focus on skills that directly and indirectly affect competitive performance.
Begin with Physical and Mental Rest
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.
“Active rest” is the balance between recovery and maintaining fitness. Active rest can be accomplished through participating in a different, enjoyable activity — something that includes different muscle groups and a fresh way of thinking. For example, if the majority of exercise involves heavy strength and weight training, try cardio-related exercises in the off-season and vice versa. As a tip for finding active rest is to look for exercises that are almost the opposite of the seasonal sport, and keep it lighter than in-season practice.
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.
It is important to note that the development process should not be as extreme or intense as in-season practice. During the off-season, exercise and training should be held at a lower intensity and volume. Slowing down enhances an athlete’s focus on the basics and on specific movements. Athletes who want to stay in shape should decrease frequency and duration of their training, but focus on maintaining intensity. Exercise lacking in intensity will result in a loss of fitness, so the off-season is an important time to shorten duration, but maintain competitive effort.
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 football. Baseball players rely heavily on their throwing arm which means it needs extra care and rest in the off-season. With football, it’s their knees that take the brunt of the damage, off-season efforts need to be focused on resting their knees and strengthening 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.
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.
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IYCA.org, Dos and Don’ts of Off Season Training for Youth Athletes
USMS.org, The Benefits of Off-Season Weight Training
Sport Fitness Advisor, Off Season Training
Idea Fit, The Three Metabolic Energy Systems