After a long season of training, you may be taking some time off during the winter. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get better at your sport of choice during this time. What can you do off-season to help preserve your performance and keep you in shape? The answer is strength training.
A vital part of a great sports performance is pulling back from the sport and engaging in other forms of exercise. Instead of worrying about missing long-distance runs, focus on strength training to benefit your overall performance. Here’s why strength training in the off-season is valuable and what kind of exercises you should incorporate into your routine.
Strength Training as a Foundation
Strength training is an effective way to build a foundation for any sport you plan on partaking in. The goal is to target weak muscles that may feel painful at the end of your racing or sports training season, whether that’s in the hips, glutes, hamstrings or another area. If athletes and active exercisers address these issues, their bodies will be able to handle the hard work ahead of them when they pick their sport back up. Thankfully, you don’t have to go to the gym every day as the American College of Sports Medicine recommends dedicating two to three days per week for an optimal routine.
Strength Training Exercises
In the off-season, it’s important to start with the basics and build your way up to the more challenging exercises. Trainees should begin with basic movements. These four exercises can help anyone who wants to get stronger in the off-season and ensure steady progress.
If you’re a newcomer to strength training, it might be helpful to start these exercises without weights and gradually add in five to ten-pound dumbbells, a light barbell or a ten-pound kettlebell as you get stronger. Increase the weight once comfortable with the routine and can perform reps and sets without getting tired. Aim for four to eight reps for each exercise. The heavier you lift, the lower your rep count (until you build up the strength.) Include three to four sets for each rep.
Bulgarian Split Squats
Why: This exercise is a great exercise to target the quads, hamstrings, calves, glutes and core. These muscles are especially vital for running. The unilateral (one-sided) exercise is great for strengthening each side of the body. This helps avoid any muscle imbalances that could lead to injuries.
How: Start by standing in front of an sturdy, raised object like a chair, step, or bench and face away from it. Step far away from the object so you can comfortably rest the top of your back foot on it. Lower the body down into a lunge, bend the knee 90 degrees while the back knee hovers just above the floor. If your front knee extends beyond the toe, move the front foot forward more. Drive your weight through the front foot to stand back up. Repeat and switch sides. Remember to keep your core tight and your chest tall.
Why: Deadlifts are a movement that we perform in everyday life and on runs. They work our posterior chain—i.e., the glutes, hamstrings, lower and upper back muscles. They also give a great workout to the abs; all of these body parts are essential for good running form.
How: Start by standing with your feet apart. Move the hips by sending your butt backward and knees bent slightly. Keep your back flat and keep your shoulders down and away from your ears. Use a barbell or set of dumbbells while driving your feet into the floor and engaging the glutes to stand back up. Repeat and make sure to engage the core the entire time, so you don’t strain the lower back.
Why: This classic strength training exercise is excellent for runners. It’s designed to strengthen and tone the glutes and hamstrings, which help support efficient running mechanics.
How: Lie faceup, bend the knees with your feet planted on the ground. Place your arms to your side on the floor with the palms facing down. Keep your feet on the floor and squeeze your glutes while lifting the hips upward. Pause, then lower the hips back to the floor. Repeat this exercise and remember to engage the core. Remember to avoid arching your lower back. When you move your hips down, your back should be flat on the floor. A pelvis tilt toward the sky helps maintain the position.
Why: Kettlebell swings allow us to strengthen numerous muscle groups at once, including the glutes, core, hamstrings and back. Our core and back help support us as we hit our strides or balance ourselves during certain sports. The hamstrings and glutes are vital to maintain good form. Mimicking an arm swing with a kettlebell is also critical for maintaining balance and momentum in our sport of choice.
How: Start by standing with the feet slightly side than hip-width. The kettlebell should be placed on the floor in front of you about an arm’s length away. Lean forward at the hips, and move butt backward. Next, grab the kettlebell’s handle with both hands, and pull the kettlebell straight back between the legs and behind you. Powerfully drive your feet into the floor and send the hips forward to swing the kettlebell to shoulder height. Allow the weight to lead you back down into the starting position. Repeat the exercise.
A great tip for this exercise is to ensure that you’re not squatting while swinging. The movement should be quicker, more powerful deadlift motion (hinging at the hips). Core engagement is also essential. Consider incorporating a plank position at the top of your swing. Feel the momentum of the kettlebell as you swing.