A Pro Athlete Speaks on Off Season Program Design
Are you familiar with knowledge bombs? Well luckily, Luka Hocevar is a former pro athlete and currently a baller strength and conditioning coach, is ready to make it rain k-bombs. You may recognize the name from a previous post that contained a link to a free program that Luka created. I asked Luka to do a guest post, and he delivered…big time. Click below to find out how to program your off-season training, from a master of the arts!
Off Season Program Design
by Luka Hocevar
When you talk to many athletes about off season programming and training, most will just say that they play their given sport and hit the gym when they have time or they feel like it. There is pretty much no rhyme or reason to the training that they are doing. Stop me if that sounds like you too?
I know for many of the athletes it stems from not knowing how to approach the off season training while others just don’t give a shit or believe that training their sport all the time is going to be enough. If you want to become a better athlete so that you can be better at the sport that you play, then you need to pay attention to how you approach off season training.
I want to give you practical info that will help guide you in the right direction when it comes to putting together your own off-season program as you have to understand that there aren’t cookie cutter programs that will work for everyone, as all athletes are unique and the program should reflect each athlete’s distinctive needs.
So even though you may not have a top strength/performance coach assessing you, it would be a good idea to sit down and write down (or test) the things that you know you need to work on, a.k.a. your weaknesses. Are you strong and fast? Do you get tired early on and play sluggish towards the end of the game? Do you get injured often, or maybe there is always some minor nag that hinders performance? Do you accelerate fast enough, or even more importantly, do you decelerate (stop on the dime) fast enough?
How to put together an off season program?
I’m going to speak from what I have seen and experienced in my career as a pro athlete and strength and conditioning coach. Most athletes need to improve their relative strength, posterior chain strength, explosive strength and the ability to stop (the faster you stop, the faster you will accelerate) – this is key in most team sports. Another really important thing is making sure you are paying attention to the demands of your sport so that you can fix imbalances and stay injury free. A couple other things that you may have to fix to improve performance: poor strength speed/speed strength, lack of reactive ability, lack of mobility/flexibility, technical flaws, soft tissue restrictions, existing injuries (require rehab) and excess body fat (no one seems to think this is very important…hmm).
After you have determined what physical capabilities you need to improve, then you can have a clearer picture of what the program should look like. At Hocevar Performance we use concurrent training as it addresses multiple physical capabilities rather than the western linear periodization, where one phase focuses on one quality and the next phase focuses on another (ex: phase 1 – hypertrophy (muscle mass), phase – rel. strength, etc…). The reason being is that when you stop training a certain quality, you will lose it, so while you are moving through the phases in traditional linear periodization, you aren’t maintaining the qualities that you just trained. In concurrent training, all qualities are addressed simultaneously but there is an emphasis on the one’s that are most relevant to what you need.
As far as conditioning goes there is a need to look at your sport to determine what type of energy system development you need. Most sports fall somewhere between the anaerobic-aerobic continuum, which means that you are not strictly sprinting nor are you doing long distance running (a good example between the two extremes is an Olympic weightlifting and marathon running). The biggest mistake most athletes make when it comes to conditioning is doing too much steady state cardio and distance work. There is a problem with this because most team sports fall far from that continuum. Let’s take basketball for example (I can relate because I played for many teams that made us do a shitload of steady state cardio in and out of season). 80% of basketball happens in the ATP energy system, 10% in glycolysis and 10% in the aerobic. So why the hell are athletes (and coaches) spending the majority of the time training the aerobic system?! This is the reason many athletes get out of breath and cannot maintain the tempo during certain sports even though they’ve done a lot of distance running.
A smart way of organizing conditioning is to look at your sport’s energy demands and then apply interval training into your program.
I will give you a couple examples of different things we may use in the late off season (we do not put too much emphasis on conditioning during the early and general off season). The drills and implementation can be really varied depending on sport and needs.
5/each direction x 5 yards sprint/shuffle/backpedal (30 sec. rest interval) followed by 6 x 5 -10 – 5 into sprint (30 sec. rest interval)
8 – 10 x 15 sec. shadow drills (shadow your partner, many different movements) (45 sec. rest interval)
6 sets x 10 mountain climbers into 10 yard sprint (30 sec. rest interval) followed by 6 sets x clap/turn/go 20 yard sprint (30 sec. rest interval)
12 sets x 15 sec./30 sec work to rest ration running
10 sets x Kettlebell Swings 30 sec./30 sec. work to rest ratio
10 minute team Prowler pushing x 30 yards high/low (rest interval depends on the time it takes others to go through the course)
I hope that gives you some examples into how you can integrate conditioning with linear and lateral movement training or just using interval training with different tools.
Before I outline a sample program I would like to mention some other points that I find really important but could take up a whole article by them selves.
Foam rolling and self myofascial release techniques are an everyday part of my athletes’ routine. If you are not applying it then you are honestly shooting yourself in the foot. Get a foam roller (and a tennis or lacrosse ball) and spend 5-10 minutes before training on your glutes, tfl, adductors, calves, lats and any other are trouble area.
Implement a good dynamic warm up with mobility, activation drills and a select few stretching exercises (ex: hip stretches, sleeper stretch, etc.). Not only will these improve mobility in areas it is restricted but it will set you up for a great training session. It only takes the athletes one time to bullshit through this to see how much of a difference (negative) it will make in their training.
I’m a big fan of strongman training and chaos training so I will implement exercises and/or strongman days into the program. Apart from building great confidence and mental toughness in my athletes they are fun and challenging and little competitions with strongman exercises builds team unity amongst athletes. Strongman training is chaotic as it in unpredictable in many cases which mirrors sports.
Oh, did I mention that they have a great functional carry over to sport and they train both strength and metabolic conditioning (if you don’t believe me then go flip a tire and then drag a sled for 40 yards and let me know where your heart rate is……. or the food you ate for lunch).
Nothing like flipping a tire…..resisted
The off season is not all the same. What I mean by that is that there is an early off season, general off season, late off season and a pre-season. Training varies depending on the stage of the off season. For example, we won’t focus on conditioning that much until the late off season as this quality is a lot easier to train than strength, speed and explosiveness (especially sports that are more anaerobic).
Individualization is really important when putting together a program. For example, some athletes may be very neutrally inefficient and might be able to handle 3-4 shock training sessions a week, while other may only handle 1-2 (neutrally efficient athletes). For some athletes shock training should be kept to a minimum and only implemented in low volume before lower body training or during the session (complex training).
This could also mean the difference between having 3 training sessions a week or 4 sessions a week. My point is, don’t just take some other program and do it “just because”. Assess your needs and build the program around that.
If you have built imbalances during the season (many sports are imbalanced and create unilateral differences), then you need to account for that in the program. This may come in the form of more posterior chain strengthening, single leg training, external rotation exercises, specific mobility/stretching, etc.
I am best at visual learning and from my experience many people like to see what a program would look like as it makes them understand what I’m talking about. So, here is a sample 4 day a week program for an athlete that has decent strength (still trying to improve it) and needs to work on his spring proficiency, while also putting on some functional muscle after a season where they lost
Warm Ups (these are done before every training session, I will make a full body warm up even though it may be split between upper/lower sometimes)
Foam Roll: IT Band/TFL, Quads, Hip Flexors, Hamstrings, Adductors, Thoracic Extension, Lats
Warrior Lunge Static Stretch x 15 sec./side Broomstick OH Squat x 10
X – Band Walks x 12/side Scap Pushup x 12
Wideout Drops x 10 Behind the Neck Band Pulldown x 10
Single Leg SLDL Walk x 8/side Straight Leg Bearl Crawls x 20 yards
High Knee Skip x 10/side Crab Walks x 20 yards
Inchworms x 5 Upper Trap Stretch x 15 sec./side
Monday: Lower Body – Maximal Strength/RFD Emphasis/Chaos
Alternating Lunge Jumps 4 x 6/side
Power Skipping 4 x 25 yards
Trap Bar Deadlift 4 sets x 3 reps
BB Reverse Lunge 3 sets x 8 reps/side
C1) Glute Ham Raise 3 sets x 10 reps
C2) KB Swings w/band (hip) 3 sets x 12 reps
D1) Sledgehammer Slams (Tire) 3 sets x 8 side
D2) Side Planks 3 sets x 30 secs./side
Tuesday: Regeneration and/or Skill Work
Wednesday: Upper Body Strength/RFD Emphasis
Foot Fire 3 sets x 10 seconds
High Box Jump (onto box) 4 sets x 8 reps
Close Grip Bench Press w/ 2 sec. Pause (bottom) 4 sets x 3 reps
B1) Neutral Grip Alt. DB Bench Press 3 sets x 8 reps/side
B2) Bent Over Sandbag Rows 4 sets x 10 reps
C1) Chaos Pull Ups 3 sets x max.
C2) Face Pulls 3 sets x 12 reps
C3) KB Windmill 3 sets x 8 reps/side
Thursday: Skill work, light scrimmaging, recovery sled and prowler work (depending on variables)
Friday: Lower Body Strength-Speed Rep Emphasis
Single Leg Lateral Box Jump (onto box) 4 sets x 8 reps/side
Bounding 4 sets x 25 yards
Box Squat w/ chains 8 sets x 2 reps (45% of 1RM)
Tire Flips or Rack Pulls 3 sets x 5 reps
Zercher Hold Sandbag Reverse Lunges 3 sets x 8 reps/side
D1) Elevated Split Squat Iso Hold 3 sets x 40 secs.
D2) Power Wheel Hand Walking 3 sets x 30 yards
Saturday: Upper Body Strength – Speed, Rep Emphasis
MB Throw into Explosive Pushup 5 sets x 5 reps
B1) Arm KB Clean & Push Press 4 sets x 5 reps/side
B2) Bodyweight Rows (elevated) 3 sets x 8 reps
C2) Elevated Push Ups 3 sets x max.
C3) Lying Band External Rotation 3 sets x 12 reps/side
Sunday: Regeneration or completely off
Hopefully this sample template can give you better insight into the off season program design and most of all I hope that it helps you better your own training. Remember, it doesn’t matter how great the program is if you don’t put in the work and dedicate yourself to constantly improving performance. Your dedication and environment is a huge key to success, so get a group of crazy mofo’s and find a gym where you can throw around heavy shit and not get bothered.
In a later article I will address the differences I would make in designing an in season program.
Luka Hocevar is a highly sought after strength and conditioning specialist and RKC
instructor based out of Seattle, WA where he trains athletes from high school, college and
pro ranks, not to mention regular people that want to perform like them. Luka is owner of
Hocevar Performance and the The Body Project gym based in Slovenia Europe where he
also played 4 years of professional basketball. You can find his thoughts, tips and training
methods at http://www.hocevarperformance.com and you can email him at