Off Season Strength Training: An Overview
By Mark Keil, CSCS
September 14, 2022
The Off Season is what most strength coaches look forward to. It’s the season of intense training when training volume (load x sets x reps) is at its peak and training frequency (# of sessions per week) is at its highest (hello Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)). But honestly, now’s the time to train hard. The athlete isn’t competing and this is the one time they have to develop muscle they will build from in the months to come.
Strength Training varies depending on where the athlete is in relation to their Sport Season, and the Off Season is the time to train hard.
Information below is applicable to athletes ages 14 and older and may vary between athletes.
How is Strength Training segmented based on Sport Season?
Strength Training is often broken down into 4 Seasons:
Why does the athlete have to move through different Training Phases?
For several reasons. First, this keeps the athlete from hitting a plateau. While athletes who are new to strength training may be able to continue in the same Training Phase for several months and not plateau, a well-trained athlete will plateau. By moving the athlete to a new Training Phase, their body will realize it needs to adapt, thus developing the athlete.
Secondly, the Training Phase will effect the outcome. Here are the typical goals associated with each of the four Seasons:
- Pre Season: Goal – Increase Maximal Power
- In Season: Goal – Maintain Strength & Power; Stay Healthy for Competition
- Post Season: Goal – Active Recovery
- Off Season: Goal – Develop Muscular Size and Strength
Lastly, not all Training Phases are appropriate for each Season. For example, you do not want your athlete performing an Off-Season Hypertrophy (muscle-building phase) In Season. Why? Because the goal of this phase is to break down the muscle to trigger growth. And if they’ve fatigued the muscle, then they will likely be sore and unable to produce maximal power which will hinder their performance.
So how does Strength Training look in the Off Season?
Strength Training sessions are longer than in the previous Seasons (45-75 minutes). This will really depend on the Training Phase, which will dictate the number of exercises and the length of the rest periods.
The Off Season can consist of several different Training Phases. At SportStrength, we use 2:
- Hypertrophy Phase
- Strength Phase
Each of these Phases will last 3-4 weeks. At SportStrength, we program the Hypertrophy Phase on a 4-Day Training Schedule. It’s broken down into what’s called a Lower-Upper Split (the athlete performs Lower-Body movements Day 1 & Day 3 and Upper-Body movements Day 2 & Day 4 with a rest day between Day 2 & Day 3). Training in this way allows the athlete to have 2-3 days of recovery between each high volume training session.
For the Strength Phase, we program either the Lower-Upper Split or a 3-Day Total Body Lift. At SportStrength, this will vary depending on the sport and what we’ve determined the athletes – within that sport – would benefit from most.
If you’re interested in learning more on these Training Phases, then you can find more information below.
The sets, reps, and rest periods associated with each phase typically just apply to the Core Exercises (multi-joint exercises, such as the Deadlift, Squat, Clean Pull, etc.). Accessory lifts (e.g., Biceps Curl) can fall outside of these parameters (within reason).
*Note: The following are the sets, reps, and rest periods we use at SportStrength and may differ slightly depending on the source.
- Sets: 2-4
- Reps: 6-12
- Rest Period: :30 – :120 seconds
Note: Depending on what source you’re reading, you may find a Hypertrophy Phase will allow the athlete a max of :90seconds rest between sets, even for Complex Exercises (Squat, Deadlift, etc.). This can be a good approach, but the athlete really needs a Strength Coach dictating the amount of weight they’re lifting. Why? There are too many things that can go wrong with complex lifts, and short rest periods only magnify underlying issues. That said, at SportStrength, we spend a lot of time thinking through an appropriate rest period to pair with the rep scheme and sometimes decide the best approach is to lengthen the rest period to 2 minutes to allow additional recovery time between sets.
- Sets: 3-4
- Reps: 5-10
- Rest Period: 2-3 minutes
Note: The Strength Phase we use in the Off Season is different than the Strength Phase in the Pre-Season. In the Off Season, we still focus on developing the athlete’s strength, but we don’t reduce the reps too low just yet. At SportStrength, the Off Season Strength Phase is more of a blended Hypertrophy and Strength Phase than an actual ‘Strength Phase’, which you will find in Pre Season Training.
Your athlete’s Strength Training will vary dependent upon where they are in their Sport Season. It’s important that your athlete move through the different Training Phases so they may develop physically and correctly prepare for sport.