Off-season is a window of opportunity to recover, work on weaknesses and make amazing improvements in fitness that just aren’t possible at any other time of the year.
However, planning your own off-season can be tricky because there are so many variables which will affect your performance both short term and more importantly when the season comes around.
We have provided 10 tips that will help you reach a new level of fitness whilst still being fresh and ready to go come pre-season.
ASK how long you have between the last game of the season and first day of pre-season.
The longer you have off the more time you have to make improvements as well as get recovery from the season in.
Example: Many Australian players have 8-16 weeks of off-season. The potential for improvement here is huge even after 2-3 weeks of recovery and regeneration.
The less time you have off the more you have to prioritise recovery and accept improvements are going to be minimal this off-season.
Example: Many European players have off-seasons as short as 2-4 weeks. The potential for improvement here is minimal as time has to be focused on recovery and regeneration.
BREAK your pre-season into phases
Using a time frame of early off-season, general off-season and late off-season will allow you to prioritise one thing at a time.
Early off-season can prioritise recovery and regeneration. (2-4 weeks).
General off-season is about building general fitness and can include some testing to see your weaknesses, allowing you to know where to focus your efforts. This is also where you would begin a training program to improve those weaknesses (2-8 weeks).
Late off-season is your transition between training general fitness and introducing some more football specific fitness again as you approach pre-season which of course becomes highly specific (2-6 Weeks).
If you only have 2-4 weeks, I’d let pre-season take care of the late off-season stuff and try get some recovery and general fitness up.
PRIORITISING your recovery
First and foremost you MUST recover both physically and mentally from in-season.
This is a priority (unless you hardly played, in this case you can probably have a shorter recovery period and enter the general off-season period earlier).
Recovery from the season can still mean exercise. We highly recommend a holiday initially for the mental break but also include longer duration low intensity aerobic activities, mobility and stretching that take the stress of your body but still promote blood flow, recovery and general fitness.
It’s also a good time to see a physio to get any niggling injuries you’ve been playing through sorted.
This period should only last 2-3 weeks, at a stretch 4 weeks but 2-3 weeks is usually enough for players to be feeling good. Without this period you will really be increasing the likelihood of injury, burnout and drops in performance long term.
TEST what you need to work on
If you have a longer off-season you should definitely take the time to see where your strengths and weaknesses lie.
Regardless of where the weaknesses lie, you will have no better time than NOW to improve them. There is no match congestion or hectic training schedule to contest with.
Most players want to get faster or more ‘explosive’.
What’s holding you back?
Are you strong enough to be fast? Is it your power? Your movement efficiency? Body fat levels? Body weight?
You won’t know where to go unless you know where you currently are. Do some testing! (Check out our testing article here for some ideas.)
You will also be far enough from day 1 of season to focus on general fitness qualities which will have a huge impact on your performance once you apply them in pre-season training.
Common mistake is players train in the off-season exactly how they trained in the in-season.
Doing the same movement patterns with exposure to the same thing physically and mentally all year long just isn’t smart physiologically.
Physical qualities that will help you stay injury free, get faster and improve your match performance/availability long term won’t get addressed either.
Know you can’t optimally train strength, speed and power whilst also maximising your match endurance. Which one do you need now whilst the other is kept ticking over?
You want to be ready for the football season, but you don’t need to be ready right now. Being match fit all year round isn’t something you should be trying to attain, and also sort of pointless.
Know that the work you are doing in off-season is laying the foundation to prepare you for pre-season and a lengthy football season.
TECHNICAL work is still essential
We know that in football, skill and game intelligence is king. However, it’s evident physical preparation is probably more than ever a key ingredient to success in the game.
Doing technical work regularly is highly encouraged, however that doesn’t mean you should turn it into a conditioning session.
Again, work on your technical skills, don’t work on the football specific fitness you have been doing for the previous 9-11 months. The time will come for that.
LIMIT High Intensity Sprints with Little Rest
During the off-season we get a lot of players who want to be doing shuttles and high intensity repeat sprints from the get-go. They want it to feel like an old school brutal pre-season session, many players relate to this as a ‘fitness’ session.
These sort of sessions have a time and place but it is usually closer to the end of pre-season and can be often done in a game type scenario.
Because they are very taxing on the body, take a lot of time to recover from AND after just a few sessions you will see big improvements which then plateau quickly.
If you have taken the time to recover and improve your other fitness qualities in off-season then a solid end of pre-season block is all you need to get up to scratch.
Train to get faster and stronger, whilst also improving aerobic fitness – without burning out.
With all your energy going into strength, speed and power you can really make some solid improvements.
A 3 day per week program would prove to have dramatic improvements in how you feel, perform and even look.
In between days simply doing some extensive tempo runs will build up your tolerance to running without taxing the body to prepare you for higher running volumes in pre-season.
FOCUS on Nutrition/Mindset and Sleep
No matter how good your technical skills, physical fitness or training program are you will always be left short-handed by failing to focus on the foundation of athlete performance.
Taking the time to sort this out will see every other aspect of your game improve. It’s almost like free fitness.
There’s a reason professional athletes hire nutritionists, mindset coaches and have sleep professionals working closely with them.
If there is one thing we can guarantee, if this is an area you are lacking in and you think you can defy the odds and skip it then you will never reach the top of your game.
ASK For Help
If you really want to make improvements this off-season but are unsure how to do it then ask a professional for help. There are plenty of people out there who would be willing to plan or take you through a individually tailored off-season program if you are willing to invest some time, effort and money into it.
Remember, professionals spend decades getting experience, learning the science and applying it with hundreds of different players to get success.
If you think you can guess your way through it or copy someone’s Instagram video and expect to fulfil your potential then you are doing yourself an injustice.
Over to You…
The off-season is an essential part of the year regardless of how long it is. What you do with the time you have is what is going to make the difference.
If you want some more tips, free training drills and insight from the pro’s about anything and everything football conditioning then follow us on Instagram and Facebook at kikoff_conditioning.