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Just as a coach analyzes his or her team's needs during the off-season, athletes should focus on improving their strengths and curing their weaknesses. Conditioning deficiencies may have hurt your performance last season. Before heading to the weight room, catalog the things that held you back and write a specific goal-oriented "game plan." Soon you'll be in top shape for opening day next season. (See 4 Ways to Turn a Weakness Into a Strength.)
Use these guidelines when developing an off-season conditioning program to meet your individual goals:
Adding Muscle (Hypertrophy) Through Weight Training and Nutrition
Do primarily multi-joint, full-body weight training exercises on non-consecutive days with adequate recovery. Aim for three sets of 10 reps at 80% RM per exercise, resting for 30 to 60 seconds between sets.
Another option is to perform supersets, in which you do two exercises for opposing muscle groups without resting between them. These intensify workouts and spur muscle growth.
Remember, you cannot effectively build muscle without proper nutrition. Increase calories with frequent small, nutrient-dense meals—every two or three hours—comprising protein, carbohydrates and muscle-building beverages such as milk, chocolate milk and water to get those nutrients into the muscles.
Building muscle and gaining strength are beneficial in most team sports and in individual sports such as gymnastics and swimming. Choose multi-joint exercises, but aim for three sets of five reps at 90% RM and rest 60 to 90 seconds between sets.
Perform multi-joint exercises with shorter rest periods (15 to 30 seconds) between sets. Do three sets of 15 reps at 60-70% RM.
Improving Overall Endurance (Aerobic Capacity)
To promote endurance through your off-season conditioning, incorporate rowing, cycling, and running non-stop for longer durations, and take shorter rest periods between weight-training sets. This is an important component during overtime games, enhancing your ability to run up and down the field or court, or skate on longer shifts, without getting fatigued. (See Balance Your Workouts to Avoid Overtraining.)
Do cool-down upper- and lower-body static stretches immediately after weight training to promote greater range of motion and better flexibility. Stretch daily but only when your muscles are warmed up (to reduce risk of injury). Flexibility is a must in sports—whether you're bending down or reaching across or overhead to catch a baseball, football, basketball or soccer ball or serving a powerful ace in tennis.
Arrange some cones, hurdles, or ladders in different positions and perform a variety of multi-directional speed and agility drills. For example, do a 10-yard forward sprint to cone A, followed by a 10-yard diagonal sprint to cone B, followed by cariocas to cone C, and end by backpedaling to cone A—and repeat for three sets. (Check out Take This Speed Ladder Workout Anywhere.)
Perform forward and lateral box jumps at different heights to improve your lower-body power. Jumping ability is necessary in several sports: football, soccer, basketball, baseball, softball and volleyball.
To optimize your balance, perform Single-Leg Squats, Single-Leg Hops, Single-Leg Dumbbell Cross Rows and Split Squats (one foot on a bench and the other foot on the floor with leg in a deep lunge position). Balance is essential in hockey, wrestling, gymnastics, football and basketball. (Read Perfect for Any Sport: Leg-Balancing Exercises.)