Let’s level set for a second, everyone should carve out a time of the year that they consider to be their “Off-Season” period. Look, even the pros take time off (as evidenced by Walter Payton below), so stop acting like you are super human and take advantage of these opportunities to recover. For me, I’ve deemed the winter months of late November through late February as my off season. This designated break period will differ from person to person but there are three key things that define what this period should look like.
- Competition Free
- Rehab Everything
- Cross Train
Firstly, if you are going define an offseason, make sure it is a stretch of time that you don’t have any competitive events on your calendar. There are some sports and activities, depending on where you live, where there may be an event, game or race almost all year round; but generally, there is a two to three month period that you can do without participating in that local 5K/10K, winter soccer league or similar competition. Protecting this period for yourself is critical in realizing your year to year success as an athlete.
If you’ve been giving 110% efforts every week for most of the year, then the off season is the time of year that your mind and body can recover fully from that grinding schedule. Taking time away from your sport, catching up on your social life and relaxing your diet rules a little are all good for you during this time. You’ve also had tunnel vision most of the year with a focus on your performance. Now is a time when you can analyze all your numbers, stats and results and begin to identify what worked, didn’t and be proud of what you accomplished in general. Planning is integral to success, so also use this time to plan your competition/participation schedule for the next year.
While resting is nice, you should not become 100% sedentary. A moderate amount of activity is great but emphasize rehabbing any nagging injuries and strength training. If you messed up a knee, work on stretches, isolated movements and flexibility in it for three months. You can also use this period to experiment with different nutrition products; something you wold normally avoid during the competition cycle. Your muscles will be tight from the heavy use during the year, you should also practice mobility and flexibility exercises that can bring some agility back.
Lastly, cross training should be a focus here. I am always expounding on the benefits of being a multi-sports athlete but I also recognize that schedules for some athletes don’t allow for more than one sport during the year. If you use your break wisely, however, you can work on developing new skills, agility, balance and strength, simply by trying a new activity. Vince Wilfork, the 325 pound All Pro Defensive Lineman for the New England Patriots, uses swimming in the off season to stay in game shape and recoup from the grind of an NFL season (check him out in the image below). Trying different sports can work muscle groups that you might not normally engage. Rock climbing, racquetball, basketball, snowboarding, and skiing are all great and fun activities that can help keep you in game shape and learn new skills.