By:  Doug Daniels

Off-Season Is In.

       When you think of the off-season in sports, you think of football’s period after the Pro Bowl until the start of the pre-season. For baseball, it’s from the conclusion of the World Series to early April, though for the Chicago Cubs, the off-season usually starts around mid July. But for most athletes, the off-season does not mean that training to improve performance stops. Most professional teams enforce off-season training programs. Athletes spend time on the weights, aerobic machines and even in the tape room reviewing past performances looking for ways to get better. For powerlifting, the off-season is not clearly defined, as there is no competitive season as contests take place all year round at all levels of competition. So just what is a powerlifter’s off-season and what is its purpose or goal? How should we train during that period?  Let's start with the first question.  This author defines the off-season as the time during your training year when you are not specifically training for a contest.  That could be the time just after a meet, to 8-10 weeks prior the next one.  Training during off-season can be dramatically different than when you are nearing an upcoming contest.

      There are three major goals of the off-season. The first is to improve on weaknesses, whether they are a specific lift or part of the lift. The second is to improve on strengths; why not! The last is to rest both the mind and body from heavy contest training.  Hitting big lifts during contest training can add up over time.  The mind can also tire from continually trying to push the body.  This type of training if continued for too long, can result in a drop in motivation or even injury.

      Exercise selection and training methods, as mentioned earlier, can vary dramatically from contest training.  I recommend lifters include exercises outside of the 3 powerlifts during the off-season but with an emphasis on exercises that resemble the 3 lifts for the most positive transfer of strength. This means you should not concentrate on performing the actual powerlifts in competition style at this time. 

         For squatting, close stance squats should be your exercise of choice. Keep your legs at shoulder width and try to keep the back upright and flat as possible. Avoid using a belt, squat suit, or wraps at this time.  Leg presses can be used on light days. They can provide stimulus to the thighs and hips, while allowing the lower back to recover.  Include a few sets of leg curls to balance against your frontal thigh strength and calf work for better stability in and out of the rack.  That is all that's required or desired for the squat during the off-season.  Other exercises like leg extensions and the like are marginal and unnecessary.

       The bench can be worked by doing wide grip benches to emphasize pec power and close grip benches to work the triceps.  Overhead presses with a barbell, dumbbells or machines work the delts.  If you must include dumbbell flies and shoulder laterals, do them after the good stuff and at most, once per week to avoid overtraining.  Lat work is key to a big bench as well as the deadlift.  There are two types of lat exercises; pulling the arms down or pulling the arms back.  I’m not smart enough to know which is best, so I suggest alternating their use. Lat work is best performed with lighter weights. The key is to think of the arms as ‘hooks’ and making the back muscles to do the pulling back or down.  This might take a little practice to get the hang of it but the results will be worth using less weight. Yes that last sentence is not a misprint!

       To work the deadlift, perform deadlifts off the block to the exclusion of regular deadlifts.  Stand on a sturdy platform or plate that allows a little extra range of movement while not letting the bar crush your feet at the lowest position, perhaps about 2-3 inches high.  This exercise really develops the pull from the floor.  Even if the start of your deadlift is strong, the extra power developed will help the bar to be pulled past any sticking point higher up due to the velocity of the bar.  Shrugs are the top pick for lockout power.  Be sure to get a full range of motion, pulling up to your ears and hold it for a count and then lower.  Relax the arms and let your traps to the lifting.  Lifting straps are invaluable here so don't limit your shrugs in an attempt to strengthen your grip.  

       You can not overlook the importance of strong abs for powerlifting.  Ab crunches can be done 2-4 times per week for best results.  Strong abs aid in stabilizing the torso in proper lifting position for all 3 powerlifts.  Bicep power also contributes to all 3 lifts.  Work these 2 times per week for 3-6 sets.  Use a full range of motion for best results. Flexibility also can not be overlooked. Increasing your flexibility, especially in the hamstrings, can help prevent injury and also improve your lifting form, which in turn can result in bigger totals. Keep this up 12 months of the year.

       Repetitions should be higher, between 6-15, during the off-season than what you are used to during your training contest phase.  If you train a lift twice per week, one day can be lighter maybe 80% of the heavy day.  Rest between sets should be much less than usual.  We may take 10-15 minutes between heavy deadlifts during contest training, but strive to pause only 1-3 minutes between sets here. Using lower weight and higher reps allows this. Increase weight only when your strength allows you to use good form. I can not mention enough in my articles that a contest judge does not care how much you can cheat curl, so do not cheat yourself by using sloppy form just to use heavier weights. Keep in mind that you will have to lower the weights used in close stance squats, wide and close grip benches and deadlifts off the blocks in comparison to your normal competitive style due to increased range of motion, etc. If you are not sure of what weights to start at; 50% would be a safe starting point and slowly adjust from there. 

       As you can see, there really is no off-season when it comes to developing power or improving athletic performance in general. The off-season is just as important to your progress as your contest season is. Each has it's own goals and training methods. Take about 7-10 days off from weights after a major contest and start up your off-season training. If you do not have a good off-season plan and are experiencing results not up to your expectations, try some of my ideas. Training to improve your performance never stops; the off-season is in.

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Reproduction of this article, in whole or part, for any purposed other than personal use is prohibited without written consent. Copyright 2000 Doug Daniels.