Summer is right around the corner, so it’s time to get right into your off-season workouts. This is the only time of year when you can fully dedicate yourself to your program. And it’s when you’ll make the biggest strength and size gains to improve as an athlete.
Summer training programs are often pretty intense, and they require a lot of planning up front to get the most out of your time in the weight room. If you jump in unprepared, your workouts might end up being painfully difficult, or you might not get much from your program.
We spoke to five elite strength coaches to get tips and guidelines athletes should follow before starting a summer training program: Brandon McGill, sports performance director at STACK Velocity Sports Performance; Rick Scarpulla, creator of The Ultimate Athlete Training Program and manager of Ultimate Advantage Gym (outside New York City); Ben Boudro, owner and director of strength and conditioning at Xceleration Sports (Auburn Hills, Michigan); Mark Roozen, owner of Coach Rozy, Powered by Avera Sports and a former strength coach for the Cleveland Browns; and Tony Bonvechio, strength coach at Cressey Sports Performance (Hudson, Massachusetts).
Here’s what they said.
Brandon McGill: Set goals for yourself
One of the most important things is to think about your goals. It’s far too common for young athletes to go into summer training and just do stuff with no real objective. Setting goals is the first thing you should do, because it provides the path for everything else you do.
It’s best to set process goals. Shooting for a crazy high bench number or super fast 40 won’t do you much good if you don’t do what’s necessary to get there. Focus on goals like, “Get into the weight room 25 times in the next six weeks.” That’s how progress is made.
Rick Scarpulla: Actually have a program
This is the next thing you need. Without a training program, you’re going into your off-season blind. Haphazard training might yield some results, but nowhere near what you can get from a progressive training program that gradually increases in intensity over the course of the summer. That’s the only way to get stronger and add serious horsepower to your game.
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Ben Boudro: Take a look at yourself as an individual
The best program is one that will work for you. If you run a 4.5-second 40-Yard Dash but can’t make a cut to save your life, focus more on agility than on straight-on running. The same goes for injury. If you are coming off an ankle or knee injury, make sure your program is aimed at rehabbing your injury first.
Brandon McGill: Understand your team’s culture
Some teams train a certain way, whether it’s scientifically right or wrong. Let’s say your football team is big into jogging before the season. That’s not the best way to get in shape for football, but that’s beside the point. You might be doing everything right in your off-season from a strength and conditioning perspective, but if you show up and suck wind during a light jog, you might raise a red flag with your coach. You need to find a balance between the program you’re following and what your team does.
Mark Roozen: Plan for your schedule
Most athletes have busy summer schedules. You might be playing summer ball, or your family might have vacation plans. That’s fine, and you need to do those things. Your summer can’t be just for training. But you can plan ahead so you can still train even though you’re playing games, or schedule a recovery week during a vacation.
Ben Boudro: Know your program front to back
When you know the flow of your program, you know what to expect and how to prepare for it. For example, if you have a recovery or reload week coming up, you’ll know when to push extra hard leading up to it. Also, knowing your workouts helps you adjust better if you happen to miss a day—which is not ideal—or the gym is crowded and can’t you get on a piece of equipment.
Tony Bonvechio: Adjust your training according to your sport
If you’re just coming off your season, you may have a nagging injury or overused muscles. Adjust your program to avoid hitting these areas. For example, baseball players might take it easy on rotational work, and football linemen might take it easy on their wrists and shoulders by avoiding heavy upper-body lifts at the start.
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Ben Boudro: Get a partner to do it with you
Training is much easier when you have another person pushing you. Choose somebody who is faster and stronger than you. In the end, he or she will push you to be better than before. Make it competitive and find something that will drive you internally.
Ben Boudro: Track your progress every day
Track everything you do every day. That includes sets and reps, the amount of weight you use, how an exercise feels and even how long you sleep. But make sure to keep it positive. If you didn’t hit your max on Squats yesterday, forget about it and move on. This is an important part of making progress, because you’ll know when it’s time to push yourself harder.
Brandon McGill: Have a growth mindset
You need to have a growth mindset. When your workouts get intense and you’re grinding every day, you need a solid mindset to power through. A growth mindset will keep you going to the gym when your friends are at the pool hanging out. It might be tough at times, but it will pay off in the end.
Mark Roozen: Prepare your body
If you did no in-season training or missed a few months of training, it might be best to do a few preliminary workouts before you get into your official program. You don’t want to use the first few weeks of your program just to get back to where you were. This is a great time to do some active recovery workouts, stretch and even do some speed work if that’s your focus
Tony Bonvechio: Don’t recover for too long
It’s rarely a bad thing to take a little time off, but it’s always a bad thing to take a lot of time off. Take a couple days or a week after your season to let your body chill out and recuperate. But if that turns into two or three weeks or a month, you’ll be wasting valuable time you could have spent getting better.
Tony Bonvechio: Build your aerobic base
Regardless of the nature of your sport, you need a big aerobic base, and the off-season is the perfect time to do that. Focus on low-intensity conditioning. It’s low-impact, allowing your body to recover before starting your program. You might do Tempo Runs or Airdyne intervals. Check out the video player above for a Tempo Runs workout.
RELATED: Why Better Conditioned Athletes Have Fewer Injuries