Off-season training is crucial for physical development, fitness, and injury prevention. This valuable time during the off-season should be used to help increase overall muscle flexibility, restore normal joint range of motion, strengthen core stabilizers, rebuild lower body stability, and restore the cardiovascular system.
Your post-season training sessions should be designed in effort to create a solid base to begin your preseason. Selecting an appropriate program for you or your son/daughter should be based on age, fitness level, and sport.
Elite athletes are teaming up with strength coaches, physiotherapists and personal trainers to design individualized programs to help deal with muscle imbalances, as well as build extra strength, agility and stability for the upcoming season.
Adam Douglas, Strength and Conditioning Coordinator with Hockey Canada, National Women’s Team, and the Head Strength Coach at York University says one of the common mistakes that he sees with young athletes is a program that is too complex for them. “Within the hockey world, far too often young athletes find a program that is designed and built for a NHL player and will train off that. They need training that is geared to their level and the coaching of a qualified Strength Coach to help with their development,” says Douglas.
What to look for in an off-season training program
Maximum of 8:1 athlete to trainer ratio
The best strength and conditioning coaches pay close attention to detail in terms of quality, recovery times, and injury risk identification. Each athlete must focus on their own inherent weaknesses and strengths. With more than 8 athletes working out at the same time, it becomes difficult and nearly impossible to cater to each individual’s needs. Poor technique is the number one cause of injury during strength sessions. With this in mind, it is fair to say that small group sessions of 2-3 athletes is most ideal.
Is your trainer or coach knowledgeable in skill development?
Time and time again, young athletes are being forced to jump high hurdles, squat with heavy weights or throw large medicine balls 一 all with poor technique! Strength coaches (with “coaches” being the operative word) have the ability and insight to “teach” new movements and skills in order to progress to more advanced drills and lifts. It is crucial that your athlete is subject to verbal cues from their trainer during each and every strength session. Some athletes require modifications in lift technique, foot placement, and body positioning during certain exercises. With help from a trainer/coach, each athlete should understand their own personal modifications and come out of each session with mental notes to help refine their technique for future lifting.
Strong focus on fundamental movement patterns
There are three fundamental exercises which will help develop stability and mobility in the lower body. These include the squat, the deadlift, and the lunge (or static split squat) 一 which should be a fundamental “block” (group of exercises) inherent in the introductory phase of your programming. Learning the squat or any “athletic position” is key to progressing towards more advanced movements such as jumping, plyometrics, and cutting. “Young, developing athletes have different needs than a professional hockey player,” says Douglas. For growing athletes, emphasis should be placed on these movements in order to help set the foundation for progressive training.
Proper warm-up and cool-down
“Movement preparation” is one of the most important aspects of training, as it helps create new range of motion and “unlocks” restricted joints. With this new range of motion, it is easier to engage more useful and powerful muscles. Foam rollers, massage sticks, or stretch straps can be used useful to increase flexibility and “prep” tissues for heavy work. Simple athletic yoga poses can also be used as a substitute for standard stretches to promote balance and stability.
Understanding of periodization and program planning
Many strength coaches feel the urge to make their athletes collapse in exhaustion or barely be able to lift their arms the next morning. Though this may be the case in advanced workouts, it should rarely be the case during the start of an off-season program. The key to your off-season training plan is to have a plan. Off-season programs should be focused on recovery, restoring muscle flexibility, promoting joint stability and reintroducing baseline strength training (in preparation for pre-season). Pre-season is the time to lift heavier loads, work to fatigue and incorporate many complex exercises. If your athletes are complaining of pain and joint stiffness after their first day of off-season training, then they are in the wrong place. Strong skills in programming, periodization, as well as an effort to consistently stick to a plan are the building blocks for a successful routine.
Keep it fun
Let’s be real – working out hard, is hard work. Why not make it enjoyable? If you expect your athletes to go back to the gym and put in the extra work, day in and day out, it should be fun (or at least interesting). The worst athlete is a demotivated athlete. Whether it’s a new exercise implement, such as a rope or kettlebell, or simply a new agility drill incorporating reaction – your primary objective should be on keeping your athletes thinking and alert. Repetition should be avoided at best, unless you are using repetition to learn a new skill or lift.
Add a sport-specific slant to your off-season program
It is crucial to understand that each sport comes with its own inherent problems. Hockey and soccer players develop tight hips. Figure skaters and dancers work in spinal extension for the majority of the time. Basketball players and sprinters develop tight calf musculature. Off-season training for each athlete should differ depending on their sport and level of activity. At times, movement preparatory planning should emphasize a “reversal” of the ill-effects from the sport in question.
Spend some significant time researching facilities in your area. Speak to the trainers actually involved in the training of your son/daughter. They will be able to communicate their plans and program objectives. Off-season work is NOT the same as pre-season work. If your son or daughter has any injury concerns, consult a medical professional (physician, physiotherapist or sports chiropractor) before joining a program near you.
Train smart. Use professionals.
Author: Carlo Di Nardo, Owner and Physiotherapist at Kick Physiotherapy & Sports Medicine Inc. has worked with numerous pro, amateur and recreational athletes in the field of injury prevention. Carlo is currently the Head Physiotherapist for Canada U20 National Soccer Team and works with various local hockey organizations, including the York Simcoe Express 99 Minor Midget AAA Hockey Club. For more information on some qualified trainers or strength coaches near you, please feel free to email Carlo at firstname.lastname@example.org.