“We must undergo a hard winter training and not rush into things for which we haven’t prepared.” —EPICTETUS, DISCOURSES, 1.2.32
After a long and arduous season of training, playing, and in the case of the 2020 season trying to stay motivated through the stops and starts, the off season is welcome when it comes around, for the mental and physical respite it brings.
With the current season being drawn out into the colder winter evenings, the idea of going straight into a structured training regime may be off putting for some, but this is far and away the best time to make overall improvements to your physical performance. Having evenings and weekends free feels like a luxury when you’ve been slogging away throughout the season so by all means take a small break, do things you missed out on during the season, but don’t let this time pass without taking advantage of it.
In season our primary aim is to stay fit, fast and strong and avoid injury so that we can play our game. Large improvements to these physical components can really only be done during a focused period of training when improving them can be the aim, as opposed to maintaining them.
If we can imagine a three-tiered pyramid model. The top or peak would be specific sports skills, whether that be high fielding, winning the ball in front of an opponent or generally being effective for the whole game, these are what games are won and lost on. These are the performance defining elements of the game, and ones that everyone could benefit from improving. These are targeted in-season, close to competition, and training is specific to enhancing these elements and should remain the priority during the in-season period.
The second tier in the pyramid are also specific elements, like jump power, sprint speed, and the endurance to repeat these highly explosive actions for the course of a game. Again, these are worked on in-season, but only trivial improvements are made. The foundation of this pyramid are elements such as strength, aerobic endurance and co-ordination. Without being a certain level at these, a certain level in the other more specific elements can’t be realized in season. What we must understand is, by developing the foundational qualities to a certain level, they will improve everything else in the tiers above. If we can visualise the pyramid, think of training the foundational qualities as ‘’widening the base’’. The wider the base of the pyramid, the taller it can go. Training these qualities does happen in-season but is not a priority. This is why we need to focus on them in the off-season.
The image above is a visual of the process of training foundational, non-specific qualities. The further away from peak (championship) we should aim to train these qualities before becoming more specific as we get closer to when we need to peak at a certain specific task, like playing a game and executing our tactics.
Devoting oneself to a tough, winter training program will bring about benefits that aren’t limited to physical. Going through a tough off-season and pre-season builds confidence and mental toughness that will benefit your game during the competitive season.
Dave is a strength & conditioning coach and games promotion officer for Kildare GAA. Dave has been coaching S&C in Kildare for the last 4 years with the minor and under 20 teams, doing his final year thesis in 2018 with the U20 All Ireland winners. Along with some colleagues from the sports science industry, Dave has created a content website called Elevate Performance which aims to provide quality information in all areas of performance. This site can be found here or on Instagram @_elevateperformance. While you can follow Dave on Twitter here.
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