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The off-season is a perfect time for your body to recover from the wear and tear of a long season and for you to focus on areas of your game that may have been lacking. To get the most out of your off-season, attack it with a plan that splits it into three periods: cross training, strength/endurance and power. This periodization (achieving planned goals over a specific time period) will not only help you recover, it'll have your performance peaking at just the right time.
Period 1: Light Cross Training (3-4 Weeks)
Stress fractures occur in way too many athletes—usually because they play their sport all year long instead of cross training. By taking time during the off-season to work muscles you don't normally use, you'll dramatically lower your risk of overuse injuries and give your strongest muscles time to recover while you build new ones.
Do you run cross country? Get off your feet and take a spinning class. Are you a swimmer? Play soccer or train for a 10K. Whatever your sport, it's important to pick a workout that you enjoy without overloading the same muscles you use during the season. Use these weeks to let your body heal while still maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle. (Get more ideas for cross training.)
Period 2: Strength/Endurance (4-8 Weeks)
During this phase, you can go back to training directly for your sport. However, you should keep your reps high, focusing on muscular endurance instead of power. For your main exercise, lift around 65 percent of your max for 12 to 15 reps. Main exercises are the ones that emphasize large muscle groups with multi-joint movements like:
Period 3: Power (Preseason)
When the off-season is over and the preseason begins, transition into power workouts that emphasize strength and speed. Here, you'll concentrate on low reps at 85 percent or more of your one-rep max. The power phase builds on the strength and endurance you developed in the off-season so you can hit your peak physically by the time your new season starts.
Many athletes are so competitive that after a tough season, all they want to do is hit the weight room to get better for next year. This year, try periodizing your off-season to avoid burnout and injury. Adapt this plan for your sport, and you'll be at 100 percent when it counts the most.
Joe Lopez, CSCS, works with many different athletes at Pope John XXIII Regional High School in Sparta, N.J. His expertise is in track and field, baseball and golf. He has worked as a personal trainer for more than seven years. Follow him online at jerseystrong.wordpress.com or on Twitter.