Champions Are Made In The Off-Season

Off-Season Part I: Rest & Recovery Phase

The weeks between the end of a goal race and training for the next goal race is an athlete’s no-man’s-land. In football, soccer, basketball, golf, and running we call this the off-season. If you’re not a runner, or even an athlete, there are things to learn from an off-season program: baby boomers struggling with balance and strength issues, new moms that carry the baby on the same hip, avid gardeners that bend over pulling weeds for hours…..

While we sometimes need a few days of rest immediately following the race, what we do with the remaining weeks will be evident when training begins again. If you ran a spring marathon, that no-man’s-land is now.

I have written before about periodization training and that you can’t train the same way all the time. The off-season is one of those times that dictates a different type of training. Generally, it is during this periodized phase that includes base building, but it is also a time to identify our issues or imbalances and correct them.

Said differently, at least some portion of the off-season should be devoted to active recovery and regeneration.

By its very nature, sport places unequal loads on different parts of the body. One leg or arm is used more than the other. Maybe the quads are stressed to a greater extent than the hamstrings. And smaller, but very important stabilizing muscles neglected while large muscle groups grow stronger and more powerful.

A good off-season training program will address these imbalances helping to prevent both acute and longer term chronic injuries.

The key then, is to find a balance between recovery and maintenance of fitness. It’s easier to maintain a reduced level of fitness than to start from scratch because of an extended lay-off.

During the Rest & Recovery phase of an off-season program, participate in a different sport – one that focuses the load on a different set of muscles than your competitive sport, but one that has enough aerobic capacity to maintain your cardio level of fitness. For runners, this might be cycling or swimming. Add resistance training to balance muscle tone and offset the imbalances caused by your competitive sport. And, finally, use this time to increase flexibility through stretching and/or yoga. Self-myofascial release using a foam roller is a relatively simple technique that athletes can use to alleviate trigger points. (

How are we to know where the imbalances exist? How can we tell where we are weak or inflexible and more importantly, how can we fix it?

5 Self-Tests Athletes Must Do Before Off-Season Training

Andy Haley, Associate Content Director at STACK Media and certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS).

Andy says, “Sports are tough on the body. And diving right into an off-season training program—or worse, trying to get a baseline of your strength by “maxing out”—can limit your gains and increase your risk of injury.” He suggests using these five tests of your strength and mobility before you begin your off-season training. Even if you’re not a runner, you’ll benefit from these simple tests. To read the entire article by Andy, go to

Core Strength

Test it With: Push-Up Planks. Have a partner place a PVC pipe along the back of your head, shoulders and lower back. Hold for 60 seconds. If any of the three points lose contact, you need to strengthen your core.


Fix it With: Pin Push-Ups. Position a barbell on a squat rack at hip height. Grasp the barbell with a slightly-wider-than-shoulder-width grip and assume an angled push-up position. Perform 3 sets of 10 Push-Ups.


Hip Mobility

Test it With: Prisoner Squats. With your feet shoulder-width apart and your hands clasped behind your head, sit until your thighs reach parallel. If you can’t get that low, your knees collapse inward or your heels lift, that’s an “F.”


Fix it With: Plate Squats. Perform Squats while holding a 10-pound plate with your arms extended in front of your chest. Make sure your thighs reach slightly below parallel. Perform 3 sets of 10 reps.


Hamstring Flexibility

Test it With: Toe Touches. To see if your ‘strings are supple enough for Deadlifts and Olympic lifts, put your feet together, bend over and touch your toes. Can’t reach? Back rounds when you do? Better loosen up.


Fix it With: Leg Lowering Pattern. Lie on your back with both legs in the air. Place a band around one foot, then lower your opposite leg, keeping the leg straight and core tight. Perform 3 sets of 10 reps on each leg.


Ankle Mobility

Test it With: Ankle Dorsiflexion. With your hands on a wall and one foot five inches away from it, kneel on one leg. Try to touch your forward knee to the wall. If your heel lifts off the ground, your ankles are too tight.



Fix it With: Calf and Foot Self-Myofascial Release. Use a foam roller to work tender spots in your calf, Achilles, and connective tissues. Try a tennis ball on your feet and heels. Roll each spot for about 30 seconds.



Back Mobility

Test it With: Standing Shoulder Flexion. With your head, back and heels against a wall and arms straight in front, lift your arms overhead and touch the wall with your thumbs, If your lower back arches, you flunk.


Fix it With: Back-to-Wall Shoulder Flexion. With your arms at your sides, stand six inches from a wall and lean your back against it. Raise your arms above your head. Stop if your back arches. Do 3 sets of 10 reps.




How long you spend in each phase of off-season training depends on the amount of time allotted to your specific off-season, the physical assessment from the self-test above, and how much time is needed to correct any imbalances or recover from nagging injuries.

Next week:

Off-Season Part II: Base Building Phase I

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