off-season training

Off-season training: Three off-season programmes to set you up for what lies ahead

As a follow-up to a previous piece by John Shepherd (PP206, December 2004) on the importance of ‘training to train’, this article demonstrates some specific exercise routines that can be incorporated into your off-season training, before pre-season starts, to help ensure your readiness for the season itself.

‘Prehabilitation’ is the new buzz word describing the use of exercises that work on the major muscles used during your sport, as well as preconditioning the prime mover (agonist) muscles in a sport specific fashion.

Does it work? Recent research has demonstrated the importance of the concentric action of the hip extensors and eccentric action of the knee flexors when running(1). Running economy was linked to the level of local muscular endurance in these muscles, and the authors recommended specific training actions to help increase this endurance.

Other research has shown that high school baseball pitchers tend to have an imbalance between internal and external shoulder rotators and should, as Shepherd suggested in his previous article, work on their external shoulder rotation to prevent injury(2). The ideal time to do this work is during the off-season, before preseason workouts start.

Training must have a purpose though. In a recent study, no link was found between strength training and either injury prevention or level of performance in elite rodeo competitors (3). The authors of the study surmised that the rodeo riders did not train specifically for their sport – they just trained. So it is important to have a plan, and to link it to the requirements of your sport.

Conversely, a study on the effectiveness of a 20-minute programme of exercises designed to enhance dynamic stability around the knee, carried out twice a week for nine weeks, found it was successful in reducing impact forces associated with ACL injuries) in female athletes(4).

This type of programme can easily be accommodated into most people’s training, with little detriment to other aspects of training.

Three off-season training programmes are described in detail in this article: one for throwing/ striking/swinging sports and actions; the second for strengthening the knee and the third to enhance local muscular endurance for running activities.

Before starting these off-season training programmes it is best to have a musculoskeletal examination carried out by a chartered physiotherapist to rule out any current injuries. If any are found, you should get treatment before embarking on any of these programmes.

Programme 1 – shoulder prehab

This programme, set out in table 1, below, is useful for sports using throwing, striking or swinging actions, including golf, softball and karate.

Table 1: shoulder prehab programme
Exercise Sets Reps Load
Internal rotation 2 10 60% 1RM*
External rotation 2 10 60% 1RM
Vertical rotation – forwards 2 10 60% 1RM
Vertical rotation – backwards 2 10 60% 1RM
Internal rotation (ball) 2 10 Tennis to cricket to medicine ball
External rotation (ball) 2 10 Tennis to cricket to medicine ball
Vertical rotation – forwards (ball) 2 10 Tennis to cricket to medicine ball
Vertical rotation – backwards (ball) 2 10 Tennis to cricket to medicine ball
Press-up hold 2 10 Hold for 20 secs  
Impact press-up 2 10 Wall to kneeling to standing
* 1RM stands for One Repetition Maximum – the maximum load that can be lifted in one attempt, using correct technique

For all the shoulder rotation exercises you will need a bench and a dumbbell. Ideally you should have access to a cable column in a gym, in which case the exercises can be performed standing up. All descriptions are for the right arm; just switch sides for left arm exercises, and alternate between left and right arms as you do the programme.

Perform these exercises as a complete session 2-3 times a week in the off-season, progressing the load at about 5% per week and ensuring that all reps are performed in a controlled manner.

Internal rotation. Lie on your right side on the edge of the bench with your right elbow at your right hip, your arm bent outwards at an angle of 90°, palm facing upwards. Keeping the elbow at the hip and the arm bent, curl the weight upwards and towards your stomach, then lower under control.

External rotation. Lie on your left side on the edge of the bench with your right elbow at your right hip, your arm bent at 90°, palm facing down. Keeping the elbow at the hip and the arm bent, curl the weight upwards from the left hip and towards the ceiling as far as it can go, then lower under control.

Vertical rotation – forwards. Lie on your back, with right elbow by your right side, and right hand holding the weight by your right shoulder, palm facing up. Keeping your elbow by your side, bring the weight up towards the ceiling, and then lower under control.

Vertical rotation – backwards. Lie on your front, with right elbow by your side, and arm hanging down to the floor, palm facing backwards. Keep your elbow by your side and curl the weight until it is level with your shoulder, then lower under control.

Internal rotation (ball). Standing up, hold your right elbow by your right hip, arm bent outwards at 90°, right hand holding the ball out at your right side. Then bring your hand back across your body, keeping the elbow at your hip, and release the ball to your left.

External rotation (ball). Standing up, with the ball in your right hand, right elbow by your right hip, bend the arm at an angle of 90° across your body to hold the ball at your left side. Then bring your hand back across your body to the right, keeping the elbow at your hip, and release the ball to your right in a backhand motion.

Vertical rotation – forwards (ball). Standing up, with the ball in your right hand, hold your arm out front at shoulder level, then bend your forearm up at 90°, holding the ball up and slightly backwards as if waving. Then bring your hand forward, keeping the elbow still and release the ball to your front, finishing with your forearm parallel to the floor.

Vertical rotation – backwards (ball). Standing up, with the ball in your right hand, hold your arm out to the side at shoulder level, then bend the arm forward at a 90° angle, keeping the forearm parallel to the floor. Then bring your hand backwards quickly, keeping the elbow still, and release the ball behind you, finishing with your hand facing backwards. This is an awkward movement to perform, but try to rotate around the fixed elbow position to isolate the shoulder joint.

Press-up hold. Get into a normal press-up position, with elbows fully extended, then push shoulders slightly further to the ceiling, so your back is arched like a stretching cat. Hold this position for 20 seconds, progressing up to a minute.

Impact press-up. Stand about one metre away from a wall, with arms extended in front of you. Fall to the wall, absorbing the impact by bending your elbows, and finish with your nose nearly touching the wall. When this has become easy, progress to doing the same exercise from a kneeling position, and falling to the floor from there. Gradually progress first to a crouched then to a standing position. This latter movement has a high impact, so make sure you have no wrist, shoulder or elbow injuries before starting this exercise.

Programme 2 – knee prehab

The graduated exercises set out in the table below are useful for athletes involved in intermittent field sports that involve running and changing direction, including hockey, football and basketball. They should be performed twice a week on non-consecutive days.

Table 2: knee prehab programme
Exercise Sets Reps
Weeks 1-2
Reach jumps 3 10
Tuck jumps 3 10
Standing broad jump 1 10
Bound in place 2 20
Weeks 3-4
Reach jumps 3 10
Tuck jumps 3 10
180° turns 2 5 (each way)
Double-leg hops x 2 2 5
Weeks 5-6
Tuck jumps 3 10
Single-leg lateral hop 3 5 (each leg)
Single-leg forward hop 2 5 (each leg)
Double-leg hops x 3 with vertical jump 2 5
180° turns 3 5 (each way)
Single-leg 45° lateral hops 2 10 (each leg)
Weeks 7-8
Reach jumps 3 10
Single-leg forward hop 3 3 (each leg)
Double-leg hops x 3 with vertical jump 2 5
180° turns 4 5 (each way)
Standing broad jump 2 10
Single-leg 45° lateral hops 2 10 (each leg)

Warm up for approximately five minutes before performing these exercises and allow for 30-60 seconds’ rest between each set. Work on a surface with some ‘give’, such as grass, a studio floor or thick mats, rather that on concrete, which generates considerable impact on landing.

  • Reach jumps. Bounce up and down on your toes with both arms overhead, reaching for the sky.
  • Tuck jumps. Jump into the air, bringing your knees to your chest at the same time.
  • Standing broad jump. Jump forwards as far as you can, landing with soft knees, maintaining balance.
  • Bound in place. Stand on one leg, jump into the air and land on the opposite leg. Use the unsupporting leg and your arms to generate as much drive as possible.
  • 180° turns. Jump into the air, turning 180° to face the opposite direction, and land with soft knees. Then return the same way – ie if you turned to the right the first time, turn to the left on your return.
  • Double-leg hops x 2. Perform consecutive standing broad jumps (described above) with minimal ground contact time between jumps.
  • Single-leg lateral hop. Stand on one leg and hop to the side.
  • Single-leg forward hop. Stand on one leg and hop forwards.
  • Double-leg hops x 3 with vertical jump. Perform three consecutive broad jumps with minimal contact time between jumps. Immediately on final landing, jump vertically as high as you can.
  • Single-leg 45° lateral hops. Hop on one leg to a point 45° to the side – ie diagonally.

Programme 3 – lower body muscular endurance

The programme set out in table 3, below, is useful for all running activities and requires the use of a Swiss ball. In weeks 1-4, start with five reps or 15 seconds of each exercise, then add three reps or five seconds to each set every week, so that on week four you are doing 14 reps or 30 seconds. In weeks 5-8 perform the new exercises at the lower end of the scale and then progress at the same pace as for weeks 1-4. Perform one set of each exercise continuously in a circuit, then rest for two minutes before doing the second set.

Table 3: lower body muscular endurance programme

Weeks 1-4

Exercise

Sets

Reps\duration

Bridge

3

15-30 secs

Leg curl

3

5-14

Hip bridge

3

15-30 secs

Bicycle swing

3

5-14

Hamstring drops

3

5-14 to bench

Weeks 5-8

Single-leg Bridge

3

15-30 secs

Single-leg Curl

3

5-14

Single-leg Hip bridge

3

15-30 secs

Bicycle swing weighted

3

5-14

Hamstring drops

3

5-14 to floor

  • Bridge. Lie on your back on the floor, with both ankles resting on the Swiss ball. Raise your buttocks off the floor so that only your shoulders and head are in contact with the floor, keeping legs straight. To start, you can keep your arms outstretched for balance; but as you progress, start folding your arms across your chest. Singleleg bridge is the same, with only one foot on the ball at a time.
  • Leg curl. From the bridge position, bend your knees, using your ankles to curl the ball towards your buttocks. Then straighten your legs as you push the ball back to the start position. The single-leg version is the same, but with just one foot on the ball; perform with one leg and then the other without pause as one set.
  • Hip bridge. Similar to the bridge position, but this time put your feet flat on the ball, and raise your hips up, with your knees bent at 90°. Singleleg is the same, but just have one foot on the ball at a time.
  • Bicycle swing. Standing upright, with your left arm resting on a wall or chair for balance, raise your right leg to the front until parallel with the floor, then pull it back down to the floor, brushing your toes on the floor, and kicking up behind you so that your right heel touches your right buttock. Turn around and repeat on the other leg. The weighted version is the same, with a small weight on the ankle – about 1kg to start.
  • Hamstring drops. (This is best done with the help of a training partner, or with your feet hooked under a secure bar.) Kneel upright with your thighs at a 90° angle with the floor, in front of a bench. While your partner holds tightly to your ankles, lower your body down to the bench. Return to the start position and repeat. In the second phase, lower your body all the way down to the floor.

All of the above programmes should be conducted in the off-season, as a way of conditioning the body for the more sport specific training that occurs during the pre-season. If you train with the prehab programme 2-3 times a week, while keeping up with your general conditioning training, you should enter the pre-season training phase better equipped to cope with its demands. During pre-season and (depending on your schedule) the competitive season itself, you can reduce the intensity of the load and simply conduct a maintenance session once a week.

James Marshall

References

  1. JSCR, 18, 4, p898-903 (2004)
  2. JSCR, 18, 4, p861-866 (2004)
  3. JSCR, 18, 4, p837-877 (2004)
  4. JSCR, 18, 4, p703-707 (2004)

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