A Pragmatic Approach to a Long Off-SeasonSep 07, 2023
The term “Off-Season” is essentially the period of time between competitions. The off-season is also a period where life takes precedence over lifting. There is more freedom and flexibility. Now, this doesn’t mean that you are not training, or not training hard, it just means that you are not singularly focused on a contest to peak for. This is very liberating, but can also be an awkward period if you do not have a plan. Sometimes the off-season can be short or long, but it is important to make sure that you aren’t jumping from meet prep to meet prep. The off-season is when we have the opportunity to make the largest impact on our strength and build up our weak points. But, what happens when we are not able to compete very lengthy periods of time? Perhaps an entire year? How do you plan for such a long timeframe?
The simplest way to approach a long off-season is to build weak points over a lengthy period, testing yourself in your indicator lifts along the way, assess where you’re at and get into a meet prep refreshed, healthy and more robust as a lifter or even begin a new off-season block with your new information. For most, this would be the ideal scenario. When you have a clear picture of what your weak points are, it becomes more objective to build them and test them over a long period. However, simply repeating long off-season blocks can be a bit monotonous. To avoid that monotony, I propose a more pragmatic approach to the off-season.
Have goals in mind for each training period on each lift, then pick movements that you believe will target the weak areas. Build your “indicator” lifts meticulously. As these weak point lifts progress and your strength in them goes up, there should be carryover to the competition lift. Choosing movements is very important and takes a keen eye. Having the objective eye of a coach to guide the movement choice is the best-case scenario.
Goals can also be transferable across all lifts. Increasing work capacity, correcting some structural imbalances, improving body composition, hypertrophy etc. will influence the entire training period. These will guide the movement selection, rest periods, metabolic work and corrective work you choose to do. Be specific in your goals and stay true to them when laying out the plan if you want to be as productive as possible.
When you train in a specific manner, meaning pushing the competition lifts, all year round there are some drawbacks. As a beginner lifter, this may work for you because the improvements in strength will come from technical improvements and neurological efficiency rather than true gains in muscular strength. Once a lifter becomes technically proficient and neurologically efficient, gains in strength come down to building muscle and addressing weak areas. Without variation in training, the physique will become quite imbalanced and you’ll be at risk for a variety of overuse injuries. This will lead you towards the glass ceiling of progress.
Breaking the off-season into 10-12 week periods can solve the issue of staleness AND it can serve to provide more direction. You DO NOT need to be pushing the competition lift at all times to get stronger, as mentioned above. Using the indicator lifts as your main movement and then refining competition lift technique on deload weeks will keep everything fresh and snappy. Using this approach will also show you how the indicator lifts are carrying over. Every 10 weeks, reassess the level of carryover, if you’re happy with it, or if it needs to be changed, or if new weak points have surfaced. Adjust the goals and the plan and keep rolling.
Life happens, we all know it. There will be times when stress is high outside the gym and it affects your performance. This is something that shouldn’t happen in a meet prep, but in the off-season, we need to be flexible. If you need an extra rest day, take it. Need to adjust the load to make sure to avoid technique breakdown, do it. More importantly, if the movements you’ve chosen, or the plan you’ve put together isn’t yielding proper carryover, have the flexibility to change and don’t be so stubborn to just grind out something that doesn’t work. The 10-12 week periods are a perfect time frame to determine if you’re on the right path, or if things need to change.
Track Your Progress
Keep a detailed account of your training, your loads, your progress, EVERYTHING pertinent to your training. You don’t know where you should go if you don’t know where you are, or where you’ve been. Off-season tracking is extremely important. This serves to guide training in the immediate future, but perhaps more importantly the results yielded from your current training will provide information on what to months, or years in the future. What movements, schemes, plans, approaches worked and what didn’t. What stresses effected training and what didn’t. Measurement is control. Whatever you track, you can control. The more you can control, the more productive your training can be. We all want that, don’t we?!
When you are chasing goals and when the numbers get scary, lifting isn’t always fun. Meet prep becomes a period of time where you are singularly focused on your total and the training is a job. In the off-season, you have the freedom to choose movements that challenge you in new ways and that force you to use lower absolute loads. Now, if you didn’t like lifting heavy, at least sometimes, you wouldn't be powerlifting, but you cannot push heavy loads 365 days a year. Challenging yourself with different movements and using lighter loads gives your body and mind a break while simultaneous assisting your quest to lift the heaviest weights you can down the line.
“Discipline equals freedom.” – Jocko Willink
Paul Oneid MS MS CSCS
Lead Educator, Coaches Corner University
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