Offseason strength training is your opportunity to address fundamental weaknesses that negatively affect your game. The ability to play the game well comes from the product you decide to put on the field.
Increasing speed, strength, power and endurance can complement your game, but poor planning and program design also can ill-prepare you for its grueling demands. Quality offseason strength programs range from three to six months in length and are comprised of three phases.
Program design should always be customized to each player’s specific weaknesses, but the overall goal ultimately will be the same: to increase speed, power, strength and endurance en route to becoming a more dominant player than the season before.
The first phase of your program is what I like to call “knocking the dust off.” The duration of this phase is about four weeks, but in a tight training window, it can be condensed to 14 days. This is a focus on getting back in the groove of strength training while mobilizing your joints, tissues and movement patterns.
It’s important that you learn proper lifting techniques, desired intensities and set-rep-recovery ratios that will benefit your progress the most. This initial strength training phase will be three days per week in the weight room; an ideal training format could be Monday-Wednesday-Friday with Saturday and Sunday being back-to-back recovery days. Each strength training day will focus on a specific set of muscle fibers and energy systems.
Ideally, day one is your slow-twitch strength fibers. Day two is your fast-twitch power fibers. Day three is your fast-twitch endurance fibers. By targeting all muscle fibers, you essentially are activating your central nervous system, which is the motherboard of your physical operating system.
The second phase of your offseason training is “the grind.” Phase two has greater physical demands as you’ll be increasing to five days of training that will increase strength, anaerobic conditioning, speed and agility. Your training tempo should be high, and your repetitions moderate. By rule of thumb, you shouldn’t be seated or lying down for more than 20 percent of your lifts. You are a field athlete, which means you perform in the upright position with your feet on the ground.
Focus on a program design that replicates that concept. It also is important to maintain intensity. Your goal is to exceed the demands of competition while you train. If your lifting program takes more than 90 minutes, you’re doing something wrong. You’re either lifting too much or lifting too slow.
To most appropriately prepare you for competition, it is ideal that you complement your strength training with sprints, endurance runs and agility work as well. I strongly advise you not to do any running or agility on a muscle building lower body day. It is that day where deceleration, cutting and repetition will be inhibited and thus increase your chances for injury. Throughout your offseason program, sprints should start about 20 yards in length and increase to 300-400 by the end of phase two. Make a point to keep track of your yardage volume and increase in total distance each week.
Lastly, to reap the greatest benefits from a conditioning program, you’ll want to limit your rest. Mainstream thought will be to have a work-to-rest ratio, or 1:3. You, however, should try to train at a 1:2 ratio. For example, one 200-yard sprint that takes 30 seconds will grant you only one minute of rest before you sprint again.
The final phase of any offseason program is your migration to sport programming. This aspect of your training promotes speed repeatability, aerobic endurance, quickness and power. As you near the end of the program, it is imperative to either add assisted overspeed training or decrease the load you’re training with.
Your primary goal is to perform everything powerfully with max effort and controlled speed. Partner-resisted sprints, endurance broad jumps and four-cone agility drills all are ways you can train hard with limited loads. The science behind this phase of the programing is to ensure that you peak as a player at the exact same time you begin your first week of sport.
I look at offseason programing like a hike to the summit of Mount Whitney (15,545 feet) that I once did. Phase one is a tough but kinetically keen walk to base camp. You learn about your equipment, how your body responds to increased demands, and what aspects of this hike you really will need to focus on.
Phase two is your first ascent. You realize quickly that your body has never been in these conditions. There will be others in front of you, and others behind you. Grit your teeth and figure it out. You’re in it to win it, and there’s no turning back. The last phase is the ridgeline — your second ascent. You just took your body places you didn’t know it could go. The thin air will steal the oxygen from your lungs, blood flow from your legs and hope from your hearts.
But that doesn’t matter because the summit is near and you’re about to hit your peak.
Joe Caligiuri (MS, ATC, CSCS) is director of sports performance and medicine at Stadium Performance in Dedham, Mass., and has served as an athletic trainer with the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings, NFL’s New England Patriots and at Boston College. Check out spstrengthcoach.com.