Off Season Training For Sprinters
As with any part of the year, off season training for sprinters or other athletes requires a well thought plan that is designed with a purpose. While non-athletes can go to the gym or track, do whatever they want, and likely see some results in the form of body composition or conditioning changes, performance athletes need to be more careful.
The following article will break down the concepts which go into developing an off season sprint training program, as well as off season training in general.
Off Season Training - What's The Goal?
In my mind the primary goals of off season training for sprinters and other athletes can include the following:
- Take a physical break from repetitive, sport specific movements.
- Improve fundamental qualities of athletic performance.
- Plant seeds for long term performance development.
- Take a psychological break from sport specific training.
Off Season Training - Taking A Physical Break
To improve your skill in any movement, you must certainly do it regularly, repetitively, and at the intensity levels that are appropriate for your sport.
While skill development is arguably the most important aspect of training in sport, overuse of repetitive movement patterns can manifest in physical issues ranging from minor irritation to full blow muscle tears and tendon ruptures. Most commonly, excessive repetition of certain movement patterns will manifest in micro-tears which fail to heal, which ultimately lead to tendinitis, tendinosis, or serious muscle strains.
By taking a break from your most sport specific and most frequently repeated sportive movements, you can help refresh your body physically, heal from chronic overuse related injuries and irritations, and open up some energy for temporarily changing the stimuli of your training program.
Off Season Training - Improving Fundamental Qualities of Performance
Since we cannot include every aspect of performance in our training at all times, there are certain times of the year where some qualities are given focus and others are left out for some period of time.
During the competitive season, training for sprinters is often focused on maximal speed and speed endurance qualities, with less focus being given to maximal strength characteristics. Since strength tends to hang on for a while even when not being trained directly, you can for the most part leave it out of your program without losing enough strength for it to hurt your performance. In fact, reducing the load of strength training close to an important competition can reduce fatigue, allow your body to enter competition in a completely recovered state, and if timed properly allow for a super-compensation effect.
Once the competitive season is over, it is important to re-introduce the training inputs which were taken out. In many cases this will include some of the following:
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Off Season Training - Planting Seeds for Long Term Development
As stated in Bompa's Periodization: Theory and Methodology of Training book as well as in a variety of research articles, phase potentiation is the concept that a given phase of training will potentiate phases which occur later in the athlete's training year or career. Simply put, what you do now can allow for greater adaptive ability later.
Say you perform strength endurance and hypertrophy work for 4 weeks, and then transition into a maximal strength phase for another four weeks. By leading into the maximal strength phase with strength endurance work under your belt, you will be better prepared and more capable of adaptation than if you went from sitting on the couch straight into lifting heavy. Furthermore, this strength work will then potentiate power development phases which are implemented later, as these enhanced force output capabilities can then be morphed into force outputs which are performed at higher velocities.
Phase potentiation can occur throughout a variety of time spans ranging from weeks to months. Considering this, it would be wise to implement work which is limiting your ultimate performance capability so that you can bring these qualities up in the short term, transferring them into enhanced sports performance over the longer term during your pre-season and in-season training periods.
Off Season Training - Taking a Psychological Break
Equally important to your physical recovery is psychological recovery. After spending hours every day going to and from the track, the gym, and competitions, most people need some time to change up their routine and clear their head.
Anyone who has spent time as an athlete knows how important your mindset is when it comes to both training and competing. Mentally weak athletes self-sabotage, performing poorly even when they are physically capable. On the other hand, mentally resilient athletes can show up with a tight hamstring and no sleep and still manage to perform well when the gun goes off.
Regardless of your level of mental competency, everyone can benefit from taking a break from time to time. By changing up your training for some period of time during the off-season, you can stay mentally fresh and end up ready to attack your sport specific training once the time comes to once again get back into it.
Off Season Training For Sprinters - Practical Application
For sprinters, the off-season is a great time to work on strength, strength endurance, anaerobic capacity, and get a solid base of conditioning.
As far as running is concerned, I would perform a workouts such as:
- 6x30m Exer-Genie Sprints
- 5x40m around 90% with walk back rest.
- 2x3x30m with <30s between repetitions, 3-5min between sets.
- 6x150m at 75% with 50-100m walk for rest.
In the gym, I'd likely use some combination of the following exercises:
- Olympic Lifts - 1-3 reps anywhere from 50-100% of max.
- Hang Snatch
- Hang Clean
- Power Snatch
- Power Clean
- Clean Grip High Pulls
- Snatch Grip High Pulls
- Box Squats - 2-5 reps, anywhere from 60-90% of max. Add bands if possible.
- Safety Bar Split Squats - 2-5 reps, anywhere from 60-90% of max. Add bands if possible.
- Conventional Deadlifts - 1-3 reps, anywhere from 60-90% of max.
- Stiff ankle hops.
- Concentric and counter-movement box jumps.
- Hamstring work:
- Single leg barbell RDL
- Barbell RDL
- Prone Hamstring Curl (2 legs up, 1 leg down)
- Supine Hamstring Holds
- Razor Curls
- Glute Ham Raise
- 45* Back Extension
Generally I would aim to hit the gym 3-5 times per week for a few weeks. After a few weeks of strength work, bring in some running work on grass, hills, etc. wearing normal running shoes or flats (no spikes). The goal should not be to blast PR's, but rather to reconnect with the postures and rythms of sprinting without running the risk of blowing out your hamstring or groin.
Younger athletes can get away with more general work in their off-season, such as hypertrophy work, strength endurance work, bodyweight strength training, and tempo runs.
Once you reach a certain level of performance and training status, there should be a shift in what general training means to you. For me, general training would be basic power production work, maximal strength training, and targeted hypertrophy in areas such as the hamstrings.
In my post regarding how strong a sprinter should be, I mentioned certain baseline strength levels which can be used as guidelines for determining whether or not you need to focus heavily on increasing maximal strength or not. Check out that video to see where you stand, using this as one of many factors in deciding what you need to work on in your next off-season.
Off Season Training - Conclusion
Hopefully you now have some basic idea of how you should go about setting up your off season training program. Think about the qualities you let go during your competitive season (hypertrophy, maximal strength, aerobic qualities), and start there. Also consider what qualities could help raise your fundamental levels of capability, such as your maximal strength for a sprinter/jumper or your aerboic base for a 10k runner.
By working on what you've neglected and implementing workloads which can raise your basic level of performance capability, you will plant seeds of growth which can later help you develop further as you reintegrate more sport specific training later in the year.
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