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A Pro Athlete Speaks on Off Season Program Design

April 22, 2009

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.

  1. 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)

  2. 8 – 10 x 15 sec. shadow drills (shadow your partner, many different movements) (45 sec. rest interval)

  3. 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)

  4. 12 sets x 15 sec./30 sec work to rest ration running

  5. 10 sets x Kettlebell Swings 30 sec./30 sec. work to rest ratio

  6. 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

X-Band Walks

Monday: Lower Body – Maximal Strength/RFD Emphasis/Chaos

Alternating Lunge Jumps 4 x 6/side

Power Skipping 4 x 25 yards

  1. Trap Bar Deadlift 4 sets x 3 reps

  2. 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

  1. 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

  1. Box Squat w/ chains 8 sets x 2 reps (45% of 1RM)

  2. Tire Flips or Rack Pulls 3 sets x 5 reps

  3. 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

  1. 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

luka@hocevarperformance.com

12 Comments leave one →
  1. Ben Slade permalink
    April 22, 2009 11:59 pm

    Is there a place I can go for definitions/explanations of some of the exercises? A lot of the terminology is unfamiliar to me. Thanks,
    Ben

    • Jeff Rathburn permalink
      April 23, 2009 10:08 am

      I’ve found the best utility is youtube. Just enter the excercise, and I’ve yet to be unable to find a video demonstrating it. The above program sounds exciting to try (even though it’s 5-6 months until the offseason for us non-college players), but I admit about 75% of what’s in there I have no clue what it is.

    • April 23, 2009 1:07 pm

      If you can be specific with your questions I can try and answer them, as well as, Luka will be checking back to answer some questions.

  2. April 23, 2009 12:55 am

    Interesting stuff.

    I’m particularly interested to see some thoughts on in-season training though; the reality of being a college player is that, between the collegiate season stretching fall-spring and the club season from spring-fall, there’s little to no off-season–merely pre-seasons and short breaks.

    Balancing the desire to improve with the need to be continually game-ready is one of the biggest challenges in programming for an ultimate team, in my mind.

    • April 23, 2009 1:16 pm

      Mackey –
      I have been thinking about this a lot lately and the conclusion that I am coming to is that teams should really treat the earlier months in the season, as the off-season. Luka talks a little bit about this above. While the early parts of the season are important, I am starting to like the Furious George approach to peaking in the series, and working hard to get better before that. I plan to apply that to my training for the season.

      Another concept that I am taking away from Maximum Strength by Cressey is, varying the intensity of your workouts from week to week. Meaning the sets and reps actually change, and some times you leave out specific lifts. It would go something like High-Low-Very High-Very Low etc. You can take your tourney schedule and bust your ass on the weeks before a tourney, but give yourself adequate rest when it comes to the days/week of a tournament.

      Thoughts?

      • April 23, 2009 9:58 pm

        Matt,

        That’s pretty much what we wound up doing at Dartmouth the years I was there–in college, the fall becomes a de facto off-season, though depending on the year we’ll start ramping up before the last big tourney of the fall in November.

        Winter then becomes something of a pre-season where we really hit the training, backing off the week before a tournament somewhat so we don’t kill ourselves on the field, and spring shifts to full in-season mode.

        The notion of the taper is a related concept I’d love to see given its due course eventually here too. This applies to lifting somewhat, but in terms of conditioning and especially speed work I think there’s a knowledge void.

  3. chris a. permalink
    April 23, 2009 3:58 pm

    some feedback-
    personally, i would like to see an article on weight training during the season. maintenance lifts, etc…

    i’d like incorporate my thoughts with those of someone with an exercise science background.

    thankee-
    chris a. (college of musical knowledge alum)

    • April 23, 2009 9:20 pm

      Chris –
      I think your maintenance lifts are the same as your “building” lifts. Maintenance status would just imply a decrease in workload. Like what I said above, varying the amount of workload that you have during the season, according to your competition schedule.

    • April 24, 2009 11:35 pm

      Chris a.,
      during the season the lifts stay more or less the same (honestly you should rotate the main lifts even less because you don’t want to introduce too many new lifts as they induce soreness quite easily and it can affect your performance in games negatively).

      So your lower body lifts will still be squats, deadlifts, lunges, etc. and your upper body lifts will still be bench, pull ups,rows, push press, etc. but you will be working with a lower volume (in most cases intensity would still be high) and including less (if any) plyo’s and less conditioning.

      Hope that clears things up a little more. If you have any more questions I’d be happy to answer them.

      Luka

  4. April 23, 2009 9:59 pm

    Hey guys,
    I see that there is a lot of interest in the in season programming which is definitely different, once again depending on a lot of variables🙂
    I was going to write a second part to this that addresses the in season program so that you can then apply some of the things to help you out in your own programming.

    Also, please let me know what exercises and drills you are unfamiliar with and you can’t find on the internet (youtube, etc..) and I will try to put some videos together and send them to Matt or include them in another post/article.

    Hope that will help.

    Luka

    • April 26, 2009 5:13 pm

      Hi Luka,

      Nice to see a RKC helping to educate the Ultimate community🙂

      Were you at the SJ RKC this last Feb? I haven’t seen folks span the Ulty / RKC worlds just yet, but here’s to a good start.

  5. shanest permalink
    May 24, 2011 7:12 pm

    How would you compare this program to Westside for Skinny Bastards III? Is either one more applicable to ultimate specifically?

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