Look, I’ve been a professional strength and conditioning coach for a decade now, and one of the biggest mistakes I see time and time again is athletes messing up their off-season strength and conditioning. If you’re looking to actually become better at your sport in the long term, then your off-seasons are one of your biggest opportunities to do so. In this article (and attached full length video) we’re gonna be covering:

The Big Off-Season Strength & Conditioning Mistake (Plus WHY it’s a Problem)

Here’s the thing, your off-season S&C training shouldn’t just look like your in-season training. And it definitely shouldn’t just be loads more sport specific training.

I know it seems tempting, and almost logical, to do loads more sport specific training so that you’ll be better at your sport come pre-season and in-season. But there’s a big problem with this…

Specificity comes at the expense of overload and variation – it violates principles of training

Me – 2024 – Writing this

The more specific your training is, the less overload you can apply, and the less variation it involves. Your body will run into what we call adaptive resistance – which means that your body will stop adapting to the same stimulus. Not only is this well-documented in research, (Cunanan et al. 2018) but I’ve found it to be the case in my own training and coaching experience over the last decade.

Plus, think about for a minute, if you’ve already spent 30 weeks of the year doing things like sprints, change of direction drills and a few plyometrics/jumps, what on earth makes you think that MORE of the same is going to suddenly massively improve your performance?

All that ends up happening is you spin your wheels for your entire off-season and make no actual progress to carry into your competitive season. So let’s do things differently.

Full Off-Season S&C Video Guide

The Solution – What Your Off-Season S&C should ACTUALLY look like

Here’s the approach that I take with all my coached athletes. I make their off-season strength and conditioning significantly different, and significantly harder than their in-season and pre-season training.

  • If they spent all in-season running and doing agility work – their off-season might now involve way more strength work
  • If their comp season is all about max effort throws – their off-season might now involve lots of higher rep hypertrophy work to build muscle.

Fundamentally, your goal during off-season strength and conditioning is to target and develop qualities that you cannot adequately develop during your regular sport practice, or during the demands of a regular in-season.

An Example Off-Season S&C Program Before and After I Fixed It

The table below is a real-world example of an off-season S&C programme before and after I fixed it. This is drawn directly from my experience working with a junior tennis talent pathway with players aged 14-18.

Off-season S&C Before & After

In the ‘before’ section, notice how off-season strength and conditioning closely mirrored what the players did on court. Lots of low level plyometric jump drills, side to side agility drills and basic circuit training geared more towards cardiovascular improvements.

But the players were already doing 15+ hours of tennis practice per week, so they were already getting LOADS of practice at those things. it made literally no sense to spend the 1-2 hours of S&C time per week doing more of the same.

Instead, what I did is get the athletes performing loaded strength exercises to target and strengthen the muscles involved in the sport. Stronger quads, hamstrings, calves and adductors, all made strong throughout a full range of motion.

  • Stronger muscles produce more force – which means you accelerate quicker and move faster
  • Stronger muscles are more injury-resistant – which means less time off-court
  • Stronger muscles can absorb force quicker – which means quicker changes of direction and improved agility

And the best part? The average improvement in strength and power for these athletes across the year I spent with them was 500%. Yes, you read that right, 500%. Turns out that if you give hard-working, talented athletes a well thought out S&C programme they make incredible progress.

Let’s look at this another way – what do you think is going to make someone a better athlete?

A) Getting 3 or 4% better at really sport specific drills

B) Getting 500% better at less sport specific drills that have decent carryover

Obviously option B! Even if the carryover is only 1/5th of the overall improvement, that’s still a 100% improvement. And of course, these numbers are mainly for demonstration purposes – it’s hard to quantify exact carryover percentages. But you get the idea right!?

So in short summary – you want you off-season S&C training to be different to your in-season training, which often means training different more general qualities, and training significantly harder than you would in-season.

Next Steps

  1. If you feel like this approach to off-season S&C makes sense and resonates with you, give it a try and see how your performance responds – I’m willing to bet good money that it improves significantly
  2. if you want more guidance, then consider working with me 1:1, I’ll write your custom S&C program, monitor your weekly progress and help you get things like nutrition, recovery and long-term planning dialled in.

‘Til Next Time

Alex

Off-Season Strength and Conditioning Frequently Asked Questions

How often should athletes lift in the off season?

I tend to have my athletes lift anywhere from 2 to 5 times per week during the off-season. These sessions will also be much harder than their in-season sessions.

Should athletes bulk in the offseason?

Bulking, i.e. adding muscle size, can be a good idea during the off-season for sports where size is an advantage, and/or where you’re trying to fill out a specific weight class. Obvious examples are sports such as rugby and american football, where being bigger is a huge advantage for making and defending tackles.

What do professional athletes do during off season?

The best professional athletes use their off-season to develop qualities that they cannot properly develop in-season. This often means spending more time on strength, power or size development.

What is in season vs off season strength training?

In-season strength training is often minimalist in nature, providing just enough stimulus to maintain strength. Off-season strength training on the other hand is more maximalist in nature, meaning that you do lots more work in order to develop greater levels of strength, power and athleticism.

References

Cunanan, Aaron & DeWeese, Brad & Wagle, John & Carroll, Kevin & Sausaman, Robert & Hornsby, Guy & Haff, Guy & Triplett, N. & Pierce, Kyle & Stone, Michael. (2018). The General Adaptation Syndrome: A Foundation for the Concept of Periodization. Sports Medicine. 48. 10.1007/s40279-017-0855-3.