Four tips to help high-school and college athletes capitalize on off-season training

As a certified strength and conditioning coach, Nick Brattain understands the science of rest and recovery as an aid to optimal athletic performance. But Brattain’s passion for urging student athletes to use the off-season strategically is based on something more than science. He’s also motivated by a desire to keep others from repeating the error he made as a college athlete.  

“Halfway through track season, we were getting more and more competitive, and I tore an adductor muscle,” says Brattain, a certified strength and conditioning coach at Indiana University Health Sports Performance. “Primarily, I was using the muscles in the front and back of the leg. We weren’t doing lateral movements or strength training, and those adductor muscles were getting weaker and weaker, to the point that they couldn’t stabilize me.” 

Body imbalances—which occur when one muscle group gets stronger while others are neglected—are just one of the many reasons athletes should think of summer as a time of preparation and rebuilding. In today’s post, Brattain and one of his colleagues at IU Health Sports Performance, Luke Mehringer, share advice for high-school and college athletes who want to make the most of the summer off-season.

Seek care and treatment for lingering injuries. During the season, many athletes try to outlast their injuries. “When you’re practicing and playing through an injury, your healing time may be prolonged,” Mehringer says. “Summer is a good time for spring athletes to target injuries by seeing a physician, doing some rehab or giving the body time to heal.” If regenerating the body and mind is important for a healthy athlete, Mehringer says it’s even more essential for one who is injured.

Get away from your primary sport for at least two weeks—maybe three. The mental strain of continual competition can cause athletes to lose their zeal. “They begin to take it all so seriously for so long that they forget why they originally got into it,” says Brattain. He encourages athletes to stay in shape by playing other sports that use different muscle groups for the first two to three weeks of their off-season. Short cardio runs, stretching and soft tissue massage during the early off-season may help get the body back to its healthiest state.

Return to the basics of strength and conditioning. In the midst of an active season, it’s hard for most athletes to make big gains in strength and performance. That’s why the off-season is a perfect time to build total body strength. “We use the middle part of the off-season to start at ground zero and work our way back up, building the foundation for athletic performance,” says Brattain. No matter what the sport is, conditioning looks similar during this phase of the off-season. This is the time to work all the muscle groups. A simple plan that targets the whole body can help athletes avert injuries from neglect, compensation or sports-specific overuse.

Prepare for the active season. Just before it’s time to begin full-time training for your sport, start focusing on sports-specific movements. “The pre-season is the time when we might differentiate workouts around the athlete’s sport,” Brattain says. A golfer might be focused on developing rotational speed and torque, while sprinters work on vertical force displacement—the force applied to the ground as an athlete sprints down the track.

Whether you’re in or out of your athletic season, IU Health Sports Performance can help with your strength and conditioning program. Contact us for a free consultation at 317-848-5867, or send an email to sportsperformance@iuhealth.org.

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