After a long season of training and competition, many sprinters find themselves wondering what they should do once the season has come to a close. Some continue to train hard, while others take a month or more of complete rest before returning to training
In this article, we will go over some things to consider with regard to your off season, what you might want to do, and how you can progress back toward full-time training as time goes on.
First, Take Time Off
Training and competing in Track & Field, or any sport for that matter, take a significant toll on the body. Chronic and acute injuries may flare up, joints or tissues may hurt, and you might find yourself beginning to feel sluggish or demotivated by the end of the training year.
Because of this, it is important that you give both your body and your mind a break from training, so that your body can heal, your system can become resensitized to training stimuli, and for your motivation to become recharged.
Last year I did not take a significant break from training after the outdoor season ended, and this eventually led to an injury during the indoor season which kept me out of the 2023 outdoor season completely. Because I was impateient and neglected much-needed rest, I paid for it by being unable to compete at all during the outdoor season.
A better approach would be to first, take some time off. 3-6 weeks is likely optimal, but some may rest more or less than this. During the initial training break, I would do nothing other than some light activity that is non-specific to sprinting, such as biking, playing beach volleyball, joining a softball league, doing bodybuilding workouts, or simply being a couch potato who goes on the occasional walk.
After a couple or few weeks of very low levels of activity, you can consider starting to reintroduce training, albeit at a much lower level of volume and intensity than you finished with during the season.
- Give Your Body & Mind A Break
- Focus On Letting Your Body Recover
- Stay Active With Fun, Non-Specific Activities
Work On Non-Specific Qualities
During the season, we tend to spend a fair bit of time training relatively more specific qualities. While this may be good for getting you ready to perform, spending too much time away from general physical abilities can lead to wear and tear, nagging pains, or a drop-off in certain abilities such as general strength or mobility.
During the off-season it is wise to perform general strength training. For this, think about doing larger range of motion exercises, using a wide variety of movements, and training at a somewhat lower intensity than you do closer to the competitive season. For example, instead of doing low box step ups and quarter box squats, you can do high box step ups and box squats to parallel or below.
Additionally, I would suggest incorporating lateral, rotational, and bodybuilding oriented movements into your strength training. Sprinters must be able to rotate through the spine and hips as they sprint, and they also must resist lateral forces during ground contact. Use the off season as a time where you can train these different movements and directions of movement so that you can be the most holistically built by the time you begin to intensity your training.
Lastly, consider adding some amount of aerobic training into your program. This can come from tempo runs, pool training, bicycling, or playing a recreational sport which requires significant amounts of low to moderate intensity continuous movement.
- Perform general strength training through large ranges of motion with high amounts of variation in your exercise selection.
- Utilize lateral and rotational movements to be built holsitically, not just for saggital plane movement.
- Incorporate some aerobic training for general health and to improve your ability to recover from training.
Focus On Tissue Development
During the season, much of our efforts are directed at enhancing neuromuscular qualities such as rate of force development, technique and skill development, or raw speed and acceleration.
Since we will dedicate much of our time to the wiring and software of the body during the season and pre-season, I believe that time should be spent in the off season emphasizing development of the hardware, such as muscle, tendon, and bone density.
For muscular development, you can use hypertrophy work on areas such as the glutes, hamstrings, shoulders, core, and upper back. Hypertrophy helps build a foundation of tissue which will then make strength training more effective, while also being an enjoyable way to train and improve your body composition.
For tendon health, you can utilize isometrics at the ankle, knee, and hip joint. Initially, long duration isometrics (~30 seconds) can be used to heal any damaged tissue that may remain in the tendon from the beating taken during the season. Once full tendon health has been restored and no pain is present, you can move to higher intensity pushing or holding isometrics performed over shorter durations when it comes time to focus more on improving performance.
Make sure to use the off season as a time to heal and rebuild any areas of your body which have given you trouble in previous season of competition. Spending time early in the year on rebuilding your body will lead to better outcomes when you shift your focus more toward pure performance.
- Utilize hypertrophy work to build a base of muscularity, to improve capillarization of muscle, and to improve strength endurance.
- Emphasize tendon health with slower movements, long-duration isometrics, and the ingestion of collagen from meat or supplements.
- Work on mobility in the hips and spine to ensure you can move through proper ranges of motion without inhibition.
- Pay extra attention to any areas that bothered you during the season with injury rehab and prehab work.
Reintroduce Explosive Training
After you have spent some time reintroducing work in the form of lower intensity training with the goal of rebuilding your body and developing a strong foundation, the time will come where training needs to intensify and become more specific.
Sprint training can be reintroduced initially with short accelerations and heavy resisted sprints. Short accelerations are best to start with as they keep the overall velocities lower, making the movement safer for athletes who have not been sprinting. Sprints can be progressed to incorporate short speed work as well, later moving toward longer distance sprint sessions as the training year progresses.
Heavy sled pulls and moderately heavy strength training fits well within this period of training, as the demands of acceleration are more related to lower velocity strength work than true speed or speed endurance work.
Basic plyometrics, such as pogo hops, alternate leg bounds, straight leg bounds, and single leg bounds can be introduced early in the training year when sprint volumes and distances are low. Exercises such as bounds will require the athlete to produce large forces, exhibit good muscular stiffness while in contact with the ground, develop elasticity, and improve coordination, while exhibiting slower limb velocities than sprinting. Bounding variations will help build the body up to handle more intense sprint training, and they can be progressed over time toward longer reps, faster reps.
Last, strength training can begin to progress toward maximum strength development and rate of force development as athletes get toward the end of the off-season. Focus on big exercises like squats, power cleans, deadlifts, rows, presses, and core work. Accessory movements can be used to target the calves & feet, hip flexors, hamstrings, and shoulders.
- Reintroduce sprinting with accelerations performed over short distances.
- Use heavy resisted sled pulls or pushes to develop the muscles needed for acceleration.
- Basic plyometrics can be used initially over short distances, progressing over time.
- Strength training should shift over time from an emphasis on general, full range of motion lifting toward slightly smaller ranges of motion that exhibit higher rates of force development.
If you want to have the best chances of success during the season, you need to make sure you progress properly throught the off-season. Start with time off and some general activities, getting back into sprinting and strength training after giving your body a rest.
When sprinting and strength training is reintroduced, make sure that the progression is gradual so you can avoid injury and leave room to continuously progress throughout the pre-season phases of training.
If you use the off-season to recover and rebuild your body without going overboard on the intensity of volume of training, you’ll be set up well to have a great season of competition.