Post image for Back to basics: Off-season training and exercises

Back to basics: Off-season training and exercises

by The Coaches on November 9, 2009

For many in the northern states, we’ve now entered the ‘off-season’.  This normally means that formal training is replaced with a recovery phase where both the physical and mental batteries are recharged.  This also, however, can result in a very unstructured training phase lacking any real goals or direction – training plans downloaded from internet sites or obtained from magazines or books don’t cover the ‘off-season’ so well.  So what should you be doing?

Firstly, you should be exercising – the off-season doesn’t mean ‘stop’!  That said, you don’t need to necessarily be swimming, biking or running but you should be doing something.  Examples of common alternatives include mountain biking, hiking, trail running, ice skating / roller-blading, skiing – a couple of our clients have started mixed martial arts and kickboxing as a winter sport.

Secondly, we encourage athletes to partake in exercise or activities that involve a degree of lateral movement – swimming, biking and running are very much uni-directional.  A season focused on these can lead to imbalances in the supporting lateral muscle groups.  Do you currently have imbalances or nagging injuries that seem to stem from deep inside your shoulders, hips or core?  Here is a summary of tests and improvement exercises that we suggest all athletes should look at (adapted from October issue of Men’s Health article) – one comment – your desk job is probably how some of the imbalances have been created or reinforced yet you can do many of these exercises on-the-go or in your office:

Fix muscle imbalances with these exercises

Fix muscle imbalances with these exercises

Serratus Anterior: Located on the side of your chest along your ribs – plays a major role when you raise your shoulder to flex your arm and move it away from your body.  TEST: do a pushup and have someone look at your back – if you have a winged scapula your shoulder blade will stick out – a strong serratus sucks your scapula in during the movement eliminating the winged appearance.  IMPROVE: standard push-ups strengthen the muscle but doing variations is the quickest way to correct any weakness – perform incline push-ups on a barbell or other supporting structure (see fig 1) – start with your body at the lowest incline that doesn’t allow your shoulders to wing.  Do 3 sets of 10 reps.  As you become stronger and learn to control your scapular motion, work your way down until you can complete pushups with perfect form and body alignment.

Piriformis – Deep in your butt – helps with thigh rotation and tends to suffer from overuse.  Weak hamstrings and glutes force the piriformis to take on some of the work that the large muscles should be doing creating back and hip pain and limiting performance.  TEST: Sit on a chair and cross one leg over the other, with the crossing ankle of one leg resting on the bent knee of the other. If you can’t get your top leg parallel to the ground, your piriformis is probably tight.  IMPROVE: (Fig 2) Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet placed wider than shoulder-width apart on the ground.  Press your knees together and then return to the starting position – do 2 sets of 15.  Also do some soft tissue work – sit on a foam roller with weight shifted to your right butt and place right ankle on left knee.  Roll your right glute from top to bottom for ~60s.  Repeat daily.

Psoas – Runs through your hips to connect lower portion of back to top of thigh.  A main stabilizer and hip flexor.  If you sit all day, the psoas can become rounded and, when you stand, will pull your back leaving your prone to lower back injury and pain. Can lead to secondary knee pain and hip-flexor issues.  TEST: Lie on your back and pull one knee to your chest keeping the other one straight – if your leg sits above the floor your psoas is either stiff or shortened.  IMPROVE: (Fig 3) Sit with knees bent on a low box or bench (6-10 inches high) – maintaining good posture, keep abs tight and use your hips to raise one bent knee slightly higher than your hips (>90 degrees)- hold for 5 seconds and lower.  3 sets of 5reps each leg.

Tensor Fascia Latae: This muscle starts along the outer edge of your hip and affect lateral movement.  If tight you will be prone to lateral knee pain since it attaches to your iliotibial band tissue. TEST: Lie on your side with your legs straight and raise your top leg to about 40-degree angle then lower it.  You should be able to lift your leg in a straight line without hip or thigh moving forward (keep core and back straight during movement).  IMPROVE: (Fig 4) stretching is the secret – stand with left hip adjacent to a wall, cross your right foot in front of your left.  From here, contract your core and left glute and then push directly into your left hip.  Don’t let your hips move backward and instead, make sure your left hip pushes to the side – hold for 30seconds and then switch legs.  Repeat 3 times on each leg every day.

Supraspinatus and Subscapularis: Small muscles at the top of your shoulder that make up the rotator cuff.  Blame your desk job for weak shoulders.  Strengthening can greatly help your swimming.  TEST: bring your harms straight out in front of you at about 45 degree angle with thumbs pointed up like your about to hug someone.  Have a friend stand in front of you and push your arms downward with moderate pressure. If you feel soreness in the your shoulders or can’t resist the pressure, you probably need to strengthen the muscles. IMPROVE: (Fig 5) Stand holding a light pair of dumbbells in front of your thighs.  Keeping your thumbs pointed up, raise your arms up at a 30 degree angle to your torso until just above the shoulder height – hold for 1 second and lower.  2 sets of 10 reps.

The off-season is a great time to resolve muscle imbalances and ensure that you start next season’s training with a reduced chance of injury.  By keeping active and correcting any alignment issues, you’re setting a great foundation for next year.

Post comments if you have any other exercises or tips.

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