Off-Season Training Gains
The off-season is the perfect time to build a foundation for improvement. For the dedicated athlete that is always asking “What can I do to get better?” one answer is weight training.
The easiest way to increase an athlete’s strength is by getting them in the gym. Weight training has a number of benefits to serious athletes: it decreases the chance of injury, makes the athlete stronger, and generally makes them faster. As a stronger, faster, and healthier competitor, a person can make the transition from a good athlete, to a great athlete.
CREATING A PROGRAM
The essential question to answer is what the goal of weight training is. This will help to determine the direction of the program .
There are many desirable outcomes from weight training. The most common and sought after are absolute strength (the amount of weight an athlete can lift for one repetition), explosiveness, hypertrophy (increasing muscle size), strength endurance, and stability. From here one can create a program based on the outcome they desire. If the sport at hand is one that rewards strength and shear mass, such as football or hockey, then the goal of weight training may be to build absolute strength while putting on muscle. If the sport at hand is one where the athlete must be able to play for minutes on end and explode to get a loose ball such as soccer or basketball, then the goal of weight training may be to develop explosiveness and strength endurance. Weight training should always be based on the specific goals of the coach or athlete.
Once you have determined the goal you are working towards with weight training, it is time to choose the exercises that will help you achieve that goal. There are many different types of lifts, and each has specific traits that yield various outcomes.
The Olympic lifts, such as the Clean, Jerk, Snatch, and all of their variations, are designed specifically to improve explosiveness in the legs as they require the lifter to move the weight a large distance in a short amount of time. Olympic lifts are essential movements to most programs because they move the body through a large range of motion. This means multiple muscle groups are being worked in a very small amount of time, and muscles must fire faster in order to lift the weight all the way through the range of motion.
The barbell lifts, like the squat, bench, and deadlift, are generally the lifts that develop an athlete’s strength and power. They allow the athlete to use more weight than dumbbell exercises, which will translate into better strength gains.
Dumbbell exercises are very useful in allowing the lifter to observe, and address any asymmetries in strength, particularly in the upper body. Some dumbbell exercises are also effective in strengthening small stabilizing muscles. Lunges in particular are a good dumbbell exercise as they strengthen stabilizing muscles and work muscles that are not usually addressed like the groin. Nearly all barbell lifts can be executed with dumbbells. While some strength gains will be sacrificed, muscular symmetry and stability will likely be developed.
Unless the sport you are weightlifting for uses a selective group of muscles (like high jumping in track and field which is predominantly the legs) a full body workout is the most practical and functional workout design. By targeting each major muscle group: shoulders, chest, back, abs, quads, hamstrings/glutes, and calves with one to three exercises the chance of muscular imbalances will be decreased. Many of the exercises listed above are compound exercises, which mean they work more than one muscle group. For instance the squat works the quads, hamstrings, and glutes; add an exercise like the forward dumbbell lunge which also works the hamstrings, quads, and glutes and most of your lower body workout is finished.
Compound movements are the most efficient way to workout, and they are not simply limited to the legs. Exercises that have been around for ages that only require body weight like pull-ups or chin-ups are able to exercise many muscles at once. Isolating movements, like bicep curls, do not work more than the target muscle which translates into a much longer workout. Compound movements provide your body with a full and complete workout, and while isolated movements have their place, they should not be at the predominant type of lift in an athlete’s weight training program.
NUMBER OF SETS & REPS
In weight training there are a few key terms that make up the language of workouts which will be briefly defined. Rep, short for repetition, is one full movement; a set is the number of movements completed before a rest is taken. The goal of your weight training regimen will also determine the number of repetitions and sets that you perform. The table below shows the expected results for any given number of repetitions and sets that are performed.
Sets, Reps, and Rest [1, 2]
Goal Reps Sets Rest
Strength 1-5 3-4 4-6 min.
Hypertrophy 6-12 4-5 60-90 sec.
Endurance 15+ 2-3 20-30 sec.
Using this chart as a guide, a general idea of how many reps and sets should be completed for each exercise can begin to take shape.
Weight training can be extremely beneficial to an athlete’s fitness. It is important to note that for nearly all athletes, lifting two or three days a week will be appropriate. A fourth day will potentially be detrimental because the body needs adequate recovery time between intense work outs. There are a few key details that must be observed with regards to rest to make sure helpful does not turn to harmful.
Weight training must be done with at least one day of rest between sessions so that the muscles have time to recover . A similar principle applies to the order of exercises the athlete performs; a lift should not target the same muscle that was exercised in the previous movement because the muscle will not have time to restore its energy supplies for the next movement . It is important to implement the correct rest between sets and reps to allow the body to regain the energy it will need to perform the next set or lift. The specific rest periods that should be observed are represented in the table above; these rest periods are based on the desired outcome and what energy systems are required to achieve that outcome . The rest period between lifts is easier to find, as a rule of thumb the rest between exercises should be at least the same as between sets of the previous lift .
PREPARATION & RECOVERY
Like any athletic activity weightlifting requires preparation and recovery in the form of warming up and refueling the body. Before any exercises are performed it is beneficial for the athlete to warm up on either a treadmill or a stationary bike for at least five minutes. This allows for blood to circulate to the muscles more easily and prepare them for the session ahead. When working with sets that contain heavy weights at short repetitions, a warm up set with a lighter weight prepares the body to execute the lift with a larger amount of weight.
Once the workout has concluded it is important for the athlete to stretch out all of the muscle groups that they have worked since they will have spent a whole session contracting, and shortening the muscles. The last and most critical aspect of weight training is refueling the body once it has been broken down through exercise. Protein is an important nutritional part of rebuilding the micro-tears that muscles sustain through lifting .
Weight training is an effective way for an athlete to improve their performance. The key is to do it in a safe manner with lifts that work toward the goal set out at the beginning of the off season.