When their season ends and they have either several months or minimal time to prepare for opening day next year, athletes may find themselves in a quandary. Should they spend more time in the weight room or more time practicing speed drills? What if there's less offseason time for multi-sport athletes? When should offseason workouts start? Should they focus mainly on perfecting a sports skill or develop more skills? Or should they concentrate on improving certain sports conditioning components—e.g., speed, flexibility, balance, endurance, power, core strength, or upper- and lower-body size?
This article answers such questions for ensuring a productive offseason sports performance and conditioning program, and being less prone to injury when tryouts or practices begin. Other scenarios include addressing athletes with restricted or zero offseason time.
- Give Yourself Recovery Time. A long sports season is physically and mentally taxing. Generally, the body needs adequate time to recover—at least a week or sometimes additional time (depending on the individual)—rather than immediately heading to the gym after the final game and launching high-intensity workouts.
- Delay or Ease Gradually into Offseason Workouts After Finishing Multiple Sports Seasons. Transitioning straight from basketball season to baseball season, for instance? Once that season ends, even more extensive recovery time may be most favorable (e.g., three to four weeks) for muscle and joint healing before commencing intense offseason workouts, throwing or passing motions, or running, jumping, or sprinting drills, for example. In the interim, substitute performing low-intensity and low-impact activities (active recovery) such as brisk walking, light jogging, swimming or bike riding—before beginning the more strenuous offseason work ahead.
- Write Offseason Goals and Priorities After Assessing Strengths and Weaknesses. After reviewing your performance from the past season, write down what you must accomplish in the coming months to be a better and healthier athlete next year. List the No. 1 priority, then second and third goals, and proceed with your offseason plan.
- The Year-Round Single-Sport Athlete with No Offseason. For one-sport athletes going from fall high school or college games to participating on winter, spring or summer clubs, there is no real "offseason." Perhaps there are a few weeks scattered during the year without competition—otherwise conditioning time is limited. Staying healthy is essential when playing a sport year-round. Consuming sufficient nutrient-dense calories is required to maintain weight and support muscle. Regularly getting at least 8-9 hours of sleep to aid recovery and sustain mental and physical energy; fitting in one or two short but intense full-body strength training sessions on non-consecutive days each week to remain strong; and allowing ample rest time to promote healing of muscle or joint soreness.
- Avoid Two Negatives: Overtraining and Undertraining. Overtraining certain muscle groups while undertraining others not only creates muscle imbalances and chronic joint soreness (e.g., performing excessive pushing movements and insufficient pulling exercises) but makes one vulnerable to injury when sports practices start. Other forms of overtraining include doing too many running, sprinting or jumping drills in the offseason—placing greater demands on the knees, hips, ankles and feet; or overdoing sports drills (e.g., throwing too many pitches each week and inflaming elbow and shoulder joints). Undertraining certain muscle groups (e.g., core muscles) or not doing enough balance exercises or endurance drills also negatively affects sports performance.
Covering All Bases: A Sample 12-Week Off-Season Program
For athletes with ample offseason time, here's a sample 12-week (three-month) program:
A. For the first two weeks, do three full-body strength workouts on non-consecutive days and do stretching, running and core-strengthening movements (Prone, Side, Supine Planks, and Seated Med Ball Twists) on non-weight training days.
B. For the next two weeks, do two full-body strength workouts, including more balance-boosting movements (Single-Leg Squats, Single-Leg Cross Rows, and Single-Leg Hops) on non-consecutive days and practice sports skills on non-workout days.
C. During the following two weeks, do one full-body strength workout; a power workout comprising Squat Thrusts (or Burpees), Jump Squats, and multidirectional interval Sprints; and an endurance workout (biking, rowing, or uphill running).
Repeat A, B, and C for the next six weeks.
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