The end of the school year marks the start of a short but important 12-week training period for young athletes. During this training block, you can either gain or lose ground on your competition.
Here are three tips to help you get started on a successful off-season training program.
1. Start With a Goal
Before beginning any training, you must first have a clear plan of attack that gives you the best opportunity for success. Many variables come into play, all of which influence the what, when and how of your off-season program.
Below are a few variables you must consider before designing any training program:
Each sport has its own unique demands for strength, speed and endurance. Training should often mirror the condition you will experience during competition. For example, off-season training for a cross-country athlete will be much different from that of a shot putter. And different positions within each sport have their own unique responsibilities that must be considered when training.
Performance training has a strict hierarchy you must follow to prevent injury and optimize long-term development. Just as infants must crawl before they can walk, athletes must master the basics before they can move on to more advanced techniques.
Often overlooked in off-season training, the No. 1 goal of any training program should be to keep you on the field as much as possible. You're no use to your team if you're injured, regardless of how fast or strong you may be. First, consider your own injury history from past seasons. This will give you a good indication of the injuries you are most likely to experience in the following year. Second, look at common injuries in your sport as a whole. Using all of this information, you can work on reducing the likelihood of injury next season.
2. Don't Ignore Nutrition
Hands down, the most important aspect of any training program is nutrition. The greatest training program means nothing without the necessary energy to complete it.
With so much conflicting information out there, it can be hard to know what to eat—an organic, non-processed, no-GMO, lactose/gluten-free diet? There's nothing necessarily wrong with that, but you should first make sure you are getting adequate calories.
To estimate your caloric needs, enter your information here: Caloric Expenditure Calculator
Next are macronutrients (fats, carbohydrates, proteins) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals). The ideal ratio of these depends heavily on the individual athlete and sport, but a good rule of thumb is to ingest protein at every meal and get 2-3 cups of fruits and vegetables each day. With these requirements met, you are unlikely to need additional supplementation (although depending on the time of year, Vitamin D supplementation may be appropriate).
Last, but definitely not least, is proper hydration. Water is the most vital nutrient. Even the smallest amount of dehydration can have a large impact on performance. To avoid a drop in performance, you should be constantly rehydrating throughout the day.
The easiest way to judge hydration is by urine color: Urine Color Chart. When your urine shows that you're dehydrated, you must make it a priority to rehydrate with water until your urine returns to an acceptable color.
3. Keep Training Consistent
The latest exercise fad is doing random movements, with random sets, for a random number of reps in hopes of "keeping the body guessing." This can be a great way for adults to add variety into their workout routine, but it is less than ideal for athletes.
There are two reasons why consistency is very important for athletes.
- By continually programming the same movements into a workout, you learn to master the movement patterns. Often called muscle memory, this improved proficiency in movement patterns allows you to more easily transfer the skills learned from training onto the field.
- The second important reason for consistency is to track progress. If you do 3 sets of 10 reps the first week, 5 sets of 5 reps the second week, and 3 sets of 3 reps the final week, how do you know if you are improving? By staying consistent with exercises, sets and reps for 2-6 weeks at a time, you'll find it much easier to see whether you are making progress.
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