Pros have them. In fact, it’s big business, especially if you’re in Florida over the winter. College athletes do them. It’s one of the reasons so few college athletes are multi-sport players. They’re off-season workouts. Should you be doing them, too? Where, how and why?
Athletes, trainers and coaches are quick to point out that a great deal of off-season training occurs, particularly with gyms and trainers offering their venues and services so students can stay in shape and maintain or increase skills, agility, strength, endurance and flexibility.
Off-season workouts and training don’t have to be sport-centered; however, the concept seems to add to the concept of being a one-sport athlete and, in fact, it can be the most important phase of any sport-specific conditioning plan. Not only will it help you recover physically and psychologically, it can be used to address some of the physical imbalances that are inherent with playing competitive sport.
So if you are interested in one or two specific sports and wish to increase your skills and playing time in them, the off-season can be a great time to help you do just that. For instance, if you’re a baseball player, use the off-season to focus on hitting, throwing and catching skills. Practice your lead-off stance and sprint and slide technique. If you’re a pitcher, practice your throwing form; if your job is behind the plate, take 100 pitches a day without your mitt to work on dropping and blocking. Take the time between seasons to watch a lot of ball games on the sports networks, too; listen to the strategies that are discussed, and implement them into your workout. (Yes, your off-season workout can include a mental workout as well!)
An off-season workout will also help you ‘play through the fourth quarter’ when the competitive season begins. As a high school coach, our son uses that term, which means he wants his team to outlast every opponent. If you can keep playing hard when your opponent is losing steam, you will come out with the W more times than not.
Many experts will tell you that an off-season workout can also make you more competitive for whatever position you seek. Let me use an extreme example here. Let’s say you are a 6’6” tight end weighing in at 250 pounds and sporting a 4.5-second 40-meter time and you decide to lounge around for two months between seasons. On the first day of team practice, you find yourself side-by-side with the other tight end vying for the starting position. He is also 6’6” and weighs 250 pounds … but he’s been working on his speed for those two months you relaxed. Suddenly you find him running the 4.5-second time and yours has dropped to 4.8. That doesn’t sound like a big loss until you realize it equates to you being the back-up and him being the starter.
Off-season workouts are not really designed for you to maintain the level of ability you had during the season. When done properly, they will enable you to be better when the next season begins. Normally, athletes reach their peak performance toward the end of the competitive season. Working out after that will enable you to start the next season at a higher level of fitness and skill. At some training facilities, you’ll have access to equipment and experts who will help you focus not only on improving your flexibility, endurance and skills, but they will also help you strengthen muscles in key areas – shoulders, legs, back – that help prevent injury.
Some trainers work with athletes as young as seven years old to help improve their individual play on the field. With so many young athletes playing more than just one sport, it is often hard to define a true off-season for these young athletes. With that knowledge, trainers sometimes use the summer months that generally do not have any sports in season to conduct a true off-season training program.
With off-season training, athletes can focus on all of the main fitness keys to promote their ability on the field: muscular endurance, muscular strength, cardiovascular endurance, flexibility, speed, agility and core-to-extremity type movements. All of these components are necessary to train as each individual athlete will use all of the components in unison to be successful while playing whatever their sport of choice is.
So what are some off-season workouts you might want to investigate? That may depend on your fitness level, your access to certain equipment and venues and, most important, your interest level. Here are some ideas:
- CrossFit – learn more at crossfit.com
- 5K, 10K and more endurance running – runningintheusa.com is a great resource for area running events and tips
- Obstacle courses (professionally designed or ‘homemade’)
Some trainers and facilities focus on fitness and nutrition for the entire family, and they may have sport-specific programs as well that help athletes work with a professional to minimize injury risk and maximize workout effectiveness. Families and individuals should be sure they are completely comfortable with the program and the people administering them to be sure they are working within the guidelines of the parents, coaches and other leadership.
Whatever sport(s) you play, your off-season training can make a difference in how and how much you play the next time you don a jersey for yourself or your team. Set your goals and starting moving toward reaching them.
Prior to committing a child into an off-season training program, parents might ask Are the people that are going to be running my child’s training program professionals? It is essential that when an athlete starts an off-season program, the trainers who design the programs know how and when to shift the focus to the next phase of training. For example, when training a football player in his off-season program, the trainer should know when to start tapering off on the workouts, thereby lowering the fatigue level from resistance training to as low a value as possible, while optimizing game-readiness. It is important that the athlete be in prime physical condition for in-season competition.
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