To define the off-season, to me, we’re talking about very little to no sport-specific training. No competitions, no games, no sport-specific training sessions. You might be playing, a different sport that is casual and social, just to keep the legs ticking over, but ideally we’ve got nothing formal in a sports specific sense. What this means is that we can actually go pretty hard in the gym now. It’s a great time to load up on strength exercises, because it doesn’t matter so much if we’re pulling up a little bit sore, we’re getting some DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) from our gym training, because there’s no competition to prepare for in the immediate future. This is a great time to start to work on your maximal strength qualities and your conditioning.
Off-season conditioning should be more about just improving your capacity. Lower intensity, but higher volumes. Realistically, all we’re trying to do is just prepare for pre-season, therefore, pre-season really should be the time where you start to improve your specific fitness. I’m not entirely convinced that we should be getting fit for pre-season. It’s just fit enough, so that when we go into pre-season, we can tolerate the training loads of the sport, and tolerate the extra conditioning that the coach might have for you during those training sessions. Conditioning isn’t as big of a focus, but it is still important part of the plan.
The off-season is a great time to load up on strength work. You can be in the gym working on the big lifts. You should be trying to improve maximal strength, especially in the big movements, like the squat (front squats), the hinge (deadlifts), pushing (bench press), and pulling (chin up). We can even think about some hypertrophy training (gaining muscle mass). The important thing here though, is to not get confused with body building, where the goal is just to get as big as possible with as much muscle, not necessarily with the strength, but just as big as possible. Ideally we’re trying to increase muscle in the specific areas that are gonna help us in the future with our running, jumping, sprinting and throwing. It’s important to train those specific muscles and just don’t get as big as possible, but really only put strength and muscle on the areas of the body such as, the upper back, lower back, glutes, hamstrings, calves and quads. These are the muscles your going to use during your sport.
In regards to how often we should train, three to four times a week is more than enough. Five if you’ve got the right kind of schedule, where you could do three strength and two conditioning, but ideally, three to four really will hit the sweet spot. As long as you can still recover from your training sessions. You need to make sure that when you set your goals, that you keep how much training you can actually tolerate in mind, so if you can’t do four days a week because it’s too much from a work schedule, then try and not shoot for four days, and just shoot for three. You can still get plenty of good training in during that time.