What to do in the Off-Season: Guide for Young Athletes
With the summer approaching and the school year coming to a close, it’s the time of year when the gym gets busier with more young, eager athletes ready to dedicate their efforts to get ready for the next school year.
Though the stress of studying might have gone away and the pressure of school athletic competitions decreases during this time; a prudent training protocol is something to consider rather than simply diving right into the pool off the high board.
In this article I will outline some considerations for the student athlete going into their summer and off-season training programs.
First Thing is First: Get Some Rest
What is the average number of hours that a high school student sleeps? Many studies suggest that the typical teenager does not fall asleep readily before 11 p.m. or later; yet many have to get up by 6 a.m. or earlier to get to school for a class that starts at 7:30 or 8 a.m. Another study also shows that more than 90% of teenagers reported sleeping less than nine hours a night, and 10% said they slept less than six hours.
With minimal sleep during the school year combined with other stressors including: homework, exams, sports, relationships and life, the body and mind are constantly stimulated and potentially exhausted.
The end of the school year and the off-season provide an opportunity to catch up on some sleep and mental relaxation. Proper rest not only will relax the mind and restore mental clarity, but also allows the body to heal from the long season. Nagging aches and pains, tight joints and strained muscles can all benefit from some rejuvenating rest and relaxation.
A long sport season can take a toll on the young athlete’s body and many sports replicate movement patterns that may cause imbalances in strength, mobility and flexibility. Getting a proper assessment before the athlete begins their new program will bring these imbalances to light and the trainer can then design a program with the right exercises to correct these imbalances.
Rebalancing the athlete will make them stronger and dealing with these imbalances will help protect them from future injuries due to overuse or weakness from not being used properly.
Start off Simple
When you first head back into the weight room to prepare for the upcoming season the athlete should push the anxiety aside to want to head right back into to the power movements like Olympic lifts, plyometrics and even heavy squats, deadlifts and bench press. Instead, the first few weeks should be dedicated to the corrective and basic strength exercises.
The emphasis should not focus on the amount of weight moved but the movements themselves. Build a foundation through technique and mobility and then during the second phase of training the focus can shift to adding heavier weight.
In the beginning stage of training it may also be beneficial to cut back on the conditioning as well. Conditioning adds to more stress on the body and also requires more recovery which is what we are trying to avoid. Track or field sprints, heavy runs with the sled and prowler add training stress and can prolong recovery. With the initial training goal of restoration from the season, working out the imbalances and gradually prepping the body for the next season’s heavy conditioning can take a back seat for a few weeks.
If some conditioning is a must, light jump rope work or even jogging can be done until the trainer decides to ramp up the appropriate conditioning for the athlete.
Make Sure You Focus on Unilateral Work
After the assessment and determining the strength, mobility and flexibility differences between sides of the body, the trainer should design a program to correct these imbalances. Like I stated earlier in the article, heavy squats, deadlifts and bench press should be put to the side for a few weeks of training to focus on single sided movements like: step ups, lunges, dumbbell rows and dumbbell chest presses.
When performing these movements after a hiatus, the strength imbalances are realized immediately and in just a few weeks of training they can be resolved. Many athletes use one side of the body more than another which reinforces improper movement patterns causing severe imbalances. Unilateral work decreases the athlete’s risk of potential injuries by equally strengthening both sides of the body and enhancing proper movement patterns. By balancing out both sides as closely as possible and then going back to the big lifts, the athlete’s body will be much stronger and stable.
Do Your Prehab and Rehab
With all of the practices, games, homework and other activities during the school year, many athletes tend to neglect their stretching and mobility work. Off-season training is great time to reintroduce foam rolling, mobility work and stretching into their daily training routines.
It’s no secret that these modalities aid in recovery between sessions, help the athlete regain lost flexibility and can also help balance out the imbalances between the sides of the body.
There you have it; Five ideas for athletes who are preparing to train in the off-season. Utilizing these ideas can help them recover and come back even stronger for the next season.