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4 Keys to Great Off-Season Workouts

1. Master the Basics…then Master Them Again.

The bedrock of any program is movement. Before you can apply intensity, volume, or anything else, you must master basic movement patterns. Far too often, coaches and athletes get caught up in the flashy things they see on Instagram (thanks, Lebron), or in using the program from a big time college team.

In doing so, we miss the point entirely. You can only dive into advanced training after building a rock-solid foundation of movement, capacity, and self-awareness. You wouldn’t skip Algebra and go straight to teaching Calculus, would you? Training is no different. Just like any subject in high school, there is an educational process involved.

You cannot assume that if something works for elite athletes, it is appropriate for your average high school athlete. All this does is set them up for failure and risk unnecessary injuries from training (1, 2, 3).

Your program should be built for your audience – the developmental athlete (regardless of sport or gender). Build your athletes from the ground up: first developing competency within all of the basic movement patterns, building full-body strength through compound lifts, and then utilizing a holistic range of capacities.

As the former S&C coach for the LA Lakers says, even for advanced athletes this really “isn’t rocket science”.

2. Balance in All Things

Even once we’ve made movement a priority, we must be highly cognizant of what we ask our athletes to do on a regular basis. As with everything else, balance is ever the key. If we push, we must pull, if we squat, we must hinge.

But, why? Well, performing one movement to the exclusion of another results in the over-taxing of one set of muscles and the under-development of another. This is the root cause of most injuries.

For example, let’s take a look at everyone’s favorite – the Squat. While it strengthens nearly every muscle in the core and lower body and correlates with faster sprinting and higher jumping (4), it neglects the hamstrings to a relatively significant degree. Hamstrings are activated 50% less than the quads, even in the back squat (5). Thus, if we want to avoid a strength deficit, which is strongly correlated to ACL tears, poor joint stability, hamstring tears and other injuries (6), we must balance out our movement. If we squat, we must also do targeted posterior chain work.

Don’t fall in love with one movement over all others, they all have a part to play. The best programs do it all, and do it all well.

3. Variety is the Spice of Life

The simple fact is, using just one type of training method over and over will never allow athletes to reach their full athletic potential. The best results in health, fitness, and performance come from programs that cover a wide variety of domains (78, 9). From volume, to intensity, to duration – it should all be planned for, trained, and well-balanced.

Variety, though, does NOT mean randomly selecting movements and workouts day-to-day. It must be a part of your larger PLAN.

We already know that movement choice is a balancing act, but beyond that we must consider the domains within which they are trained. It is CRITICAL to plan variations in volume, intensity, and exercises; as these variations prevent overtraining and maximize results (10, 11). Many of the high school programs we see lack this element. Often, we see coaches sticking with the same thing over and over to simplify planning and execution. Keeping weights, reps, and movements the same for weeks on end ultimately causes a break in progress and barrier to full recovery (12).

This is exactly why, here at PLT4M, we opt to utilize an approach similar to the “Conjugate” method. Essentially, shorter training phases, multiple training goals within each week, frequent movement and emphasis changes, all capitalize on the body’s rapid ability to adapt to external stresses (10, 11). We ensure that the training stimulus does not become habituating in nature, all while allowing for greater recovery within the training week.

Speaking of recovery…

4. All Things in Moderation

The beginning of the off-season is an exciting time for everyone. The slate is clean, the hopes are high, and the energy level matches the ambition. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement.

We get it.

BUT, one of the biggest (and most frequently made) mistakes coaches fall into is asking too much of their athletes. We should always approach the off-season as a time to work smarter, not harder.

We now know we must preach fundamentals before intensity, be balanced in our movement choices to avoid injury, and provide variety to stimulate growth…but we must also practice restraint.

The human body is an incredible machine, and will adapt to training in impressive ways – but everyone has a breaking point. Pushing past the upper limit of volume, or work done, in a given time period is where we begin to see the point of diminishing returns. This is called “Overtraining”.

When discussing overtraining, we have to talk about training volume (total work done) and training intensity (percentage of a 1 RM). These two lifting parameters generally must exist in an inverse relationship. We must realize that more sets and reps doesn’t equate to more results. In fact, volume beyond a certain intensity yields no benefit and may even hold detrimental effects to training (10).

Proper recovery is paramount to long-term health and better results. Each week must be programmed with the balance of volume and intensity in mind. Each phase must consider the emphasis placed on various training domains. Each program must consider when to step back and de-load entirely…etcetera, etcetera.

Conclusion

Want to win the off-season? Don’t be the coach that walks in each day and writes whatever you’re thinking on the whiteboard and say’s “Let’s Go!” You wouldn’t do that at practice, don’t do it in the weight room.

Like in sports, the key is to have a plan, and execute it well.

In the end, the best programs are ones that see the bigger picture. They must take into account the educational development of every athlete, they balance their movement, train all domains, and plan ahead for proper restraint to ensure continued progress.