Whether you’re a youth, recreational, or elite athlete, significant pressure is placed on competition preparation. With many athletes competing in multiple sports and for multiple teams, often, the value of a “training” off-season is lost in the performance objective. Notice the adjective used before off-season in the previous sentence, “training”. Off-season doesn’t mean sitting around doing nothing. Yes, rest is an important part of the off-season, but the focus should be preparation for the next competition season.
The main objective of the off-season is to develop physical qualities (strength, power, endurance, speed, mobility, stability, and flexibility) to enhance the next competition season. This is achieved through progressive resistance and conditioning training. Strength training is beneficial only as long as it forces the body to adapt to the stress of physical effort (1). If the stress isn’t sufficient to overload the body, then no adaptation can occur (1). During competition season, the goal of physical training is to maintain strength and power while not applying too much stress. Therefore, little to no adaptation in physical qualities occurs. During the off-season, more training stress can be applied without risking a poor competition performance.
As stated previously, in order to observe improvement in physical qualities there must be overload. This means that in order for muscle to increase in size and strength it must be forced to contract at tensions near maximal (1). This also means that as muscle responds and adapts to a particular stimulus, the stimulus must be increased (i.e. increase resistance or number of repetitions). So what happens as a result of strength training (overload) to improve physical qualities? To name a few: 1) Increased muscle mass leading to increased muscle strength. 2) Increased cross sectional area of the muscle leading to increased contractile capacity of the muscle (increased power). 3) Increased capacity to use fat as fuel. 4) Increased capacity for maximal muscle contraction (increased speed and power). 5) Increased androgen receptor sites, increasing the effectiveness of androgens in promoting muscle growth. As you can see, a quality off-season program can increase strength, power, speed, and help with body composition. To see the best benefit, the off-season program should last at least 10-12 weeks.
So instead of joining another team, playing an additional sport, or adding another race to your schedule, you may see the greatest performance benefit from off-season training. A time to focus on improving your physical qualities and overloading your muscle in ways the competition season will not allow.
By: Lauren Higgins, M.S., CSCS, FMS
SPARC Sports Performance Coordinator
Brooks, G.A., Fahey, T.D., Baldwin, K.M. (2005). Exercise physiology: Human bioenergetics and its applications. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.