Weight Training- Early Off-Season Development

Next up in the series of strength and conditioning articles on proper yearly phases is the EARLY OFF-SEASON phase.  Coming off of a FOUNDATIONAL phase (discussed here), which should ideally fall the furthest away from the season, the athletes are now ready to start increasing the load and volume of their movements in the next phase.

Remember, the athletes are still very far away from the season, so it’s important not to get ahead of ourselves.  Continue grooving movement patterns and blend the exercises into a natural progression from the previous phase.  If the FOUNDATIONAL phase lasted 6 weeks and fell into the first available training time following the season, we’re still looking at another 16 weeks at the very minimum before the season gets rolling.

As a quick side note, the easiest way to calculate the length of time spent during each phase is to work backward from the start of the season.  Coming into the first game, the athletes should be at their strongest and most powerful with a relatively low amount of volume (the PEAK phase, which will be discussed in a later post).  4-6 weeks is a good length for the PEAK phase, so working backward, set your LATE, then EARLY OFF-SEASON phases, then your FOUNDATIONAL phase.  While 4-6 weeks is a good starting point for the length of a phase, factors need to be considered such as finals weeks, semester breaks, etc.  The last thing you want is to introduce new exercises or drastically change things in the middle of a break where the athletes aren’t on campus, and you’re unable to explain important cues and points.  There is also no rule saying you have to have 4 or 5 phases, it is all about doing what you think is best.  In fact, immediately after the long winter break, we transition into a quick 2-week LATE LATE OFF-SEASON phase (I won’t include in this series of posts), which essentially just quickly re-solidifies what the athletes have been doing over break.  I feel this is important before moving into the PEAK phase, which is arguably the most important (assuming the previous phases have gone well and according to plan, so that the athletes are surely ready to go).  In my mind, it’s worth taking a simple 2 weeks to make sure the athletes are doing things correctly after they’ve been gone from school for so long.

Before jumping into the details, remember the point of having phases: to lower risk of injury and develop a faster learning curve through exercise progressions, volume/intensity progressions, and intertwining it all into a solid plan leading up to the first game (the IN-SEASON phase will be an eventual post as well).

In case you missed it from the previous FOUNDATIONAL phase post, here is a quick run down of definitions.

ME = Max Effort– Compound, big lifts that require practically the entire body, even if using primarily upper or lower (deadlifts, bench, squats, etc.)

DE = Dynamic Effort– In other words, speed effort (which implies light weight).  Can be used through either body weight or lightly loaded plyometrics (e.g. med ball throws), but also can be used with a particular lifting movement pattern (bench, deadlift, etc.).  To keep speed, stick to 40-80% of Total Intensity, and inversely use 1-5 reps (so 40% for 5, 50% for 4…up to 80% for 1).  Bands can be used for DE either to help accelerate the pattern (e.g. speed band rows on the eccentric component) or resist part of it (meaning toward the end of the motion it will be tougher, but the beginning is light/more of a dynamic effort where momentum can be attained).

SE = Submaximal Effort– Compound lifts, but not possible to achieve the maximum effort exerted in ME.  E.g. Chest Supported Rows, Standing Military Press, Walking Lunges, etc..  Remember that exercises are not exclusive to a particular group.  You can have ME exercises that also act as SE depending on the load or reps.

RE = Repetition Effort– An effort where fatigue is not necessarily the goal, or if it is, many repetitions are needed.  Usually accessory/postural/injury prevention exercises (e.g. face pulls, side-lying shoulder external rotations for the rotator cuff, etc.)

Now that the definitions are out of the way, here’s the What, When and Why of an EARLY OFF-SEASON phase.

What: This phase is devoted to setting up the athlete for the next phase, which will be focused much more on heavy lifting (imperative for strength gains and decreased risk of injury).  It is the “bridge” between body weight/movement exercises and heavy compound exercises.  Volume is kept high (as it should have been increasing throughout your FOUNDATIONAL phase, because remember, you can’t progress with much weight/resistance in the FOUNDATIONAL phase), and toward the end of this phase, the athletes should be ready (or even starting) to lift heavy.

-The exercise selection should contain mostly SE, can progress to some ME, and you can start to introduce DE exercises as well (*note: all phases should contain some type of RE).  This phase is a great time to add eccentrics or isometrics, which have been shown to really increase strength, and can be extremely tough.

-If there is a phase that will cause soreness and lots of fatigue, this is it.  Don’t be overzealous by over training anyone (more on that below), but overreaching becomes necessary.

-Obviously continue progressing off of previous exercises and keep balance…upper body pushes, lower body pushes, upper body pulls, and lower body pulls.  Or, more specifically, a push-up pattern, hip hinge pattern, squat/lunge pattern, and scapular retraction pattern (which are most upper body pulls).  Make the functional core work more difficult (e.g. progress from simple planks to planks with feet elevated, weight on back, limbs moving, or even more advanced core work toward the end such as rollout variations).

When: This phase is still far away from the season, the furthest away besides the previous FOUNDATIONAL.  It is becoming a tad more “sport specific,” but that is still not the goal of this phase.  The athletes get enough specificity from practice at this point, and the main goal is to have them ready to lift heavy weight (the next 2-3 phases) and keep their work capacity from dropping much, if at all.

Why: Since the season is still very far away, you have some leeway to be aggressive in programming.  The high volume and eventual high intensity combination toward the end of this phase shouldn’t be continued for too long because of possible overtraining, but planned overreaches are a big part of what can make this phase a success.

Additionally, and probably the most important point, the athletes will be done with fall ball at this time of year and will be spending less time hitting/throwing/running.  This makes for the perfect opportunity to keep volume high, continue to increase it, and bring up the intensity toward the end of the phase.  At the end of this phase, the athletes should have great work capacity because of the volume, should be starting to lift heavy, and their bodies should be adapting to the soreness that accompanies high volume training, eccentrics, or whatever else is added into this phase (again, this is the time to do it).

That wraps up the EARLY OFF-SEASON phase.  In the next post, we will cover the final developmental phase before moving onto the best of them all, the PEAK phase!