Should Weightlifters Have an Off Season?
by Mike Dewar - BarBend.com
The following piece comes from our Official Media Partners at BarBend.com.
Olympic weightlifting is a one rep max sport that is showcased in a split second on stage. While one may view the outcome of a training season and think it's all about maxing out, the truth is that the foundation of muscle, technique, and strength is built across months and months of arduous training leading up to the singular event or season.
Off-season training for Olympic weightlifters should allow for coaches and athletes to work through technical issues with lighter loads, attack weaknesses, add muscle mass, heal any nagging injuries from the competitive season, and improve general physical preparedness.
Additionally, the athletes should be able to mentally relax and learn to enjoy training, do new movements and variations to aid in overall performance, and train in a less regimented and intense manner.
In this article, we will discuss:
Benefits of an Off Season for Olympic Weightlifters
How Long Should an Off Season Last?
How to Transition from an Off Season Program into a More Regimented Competitive Weightlifting Preparatory Program
Sample 4-Day Off Season Weightlifting Program
7 Benefits of Off Season Training for Olympic Weightlifters
Below are seven key benefits of off season training for Olympic weightlifters, in no specific order.
The off season is a great opportunity to address any muscle weaknesses of areas in your performance that need more attention. If a lifter struggles with leg strength in the clean, you could take this time to repattern a better front squat, increase leg mass and general strength, and improve any unilateral asymmetries they may have.
Whatever the weakness is, the off season is a time when you can dial back the intensity, take more time to address positions, and help to repattern and rebuild a more solid base for more strenuous strength blocks and competitive peaking cycles.
Heal Nagging Injuries
Odds are at the end of a competitive season or big event, you will have a few areas that may need some extra TLC. This may mean allowing the area to heal by simply backing off certain movements, or adding some extra rehabilitation and physical therapy work. It may also mean not spending as much time every session snatching and cleaning and jerking, and instead doing more general fitness and strength training movements to help rebuild after a tough training and competition season.
Increase Lean Body Mass
Increasing lean body mass during the off season will pay dividends when you enter strength blocks and competition prep cycles. Ideally, the weight gained during the off season (assuming you are not stuck in a weight class) should be mainly muscle gain. For most recreational and even competitive lifters, body weight tends to slowly creep up as they progress throughout their training careers due to increased LBM. If you are looking to gain muscle mass, the off season is a great time to train that quality as you do not need to lift as heavy (intensity), and therefore can spend more time doing higher volume work and less technique heavy training.
The off season can be a good time to take a step back and analyze your lifting, which may mean taking kilos off the bar (a little or a lot) and squashing bad habits that may have come out in the last competition prep program. During the competitive season, you can address some technical issues when you are still months out of a meet, however in the last month or so before a meet or competition cycle, you need to be more concerned with lifting heavier loads relative to you max, which may mean you cannot devote as much time and training energy to improving technique (this isn't to say you can't train technique, however it does mean it gets more difficult to since loads are often very heavy relative to maximums).
Increasing general physical preparedness is something that can help keep lifters healthier and be able to ride out tougher training cycles to come. If a lifter enters a hard training cycle or competition prep program with improve work capacity, sound movement patterns, and no nagging injuries, they should hopefully be able to endure harder cycles, for longer periods of times, which means they will be able to progress or train harder, and still recovery, closer and closer to the competition event.
Mentally Deload from Competition Prep Cycles
Ask any weightlifter who has endured a strength block and competition peak and taper, and they will tell you there were many days that they felt tired, beat up, and didn't feel 100% excited or ready to train. That is part of the process, as the body, CNS, and mind takes a beating the deeper into a hard training program and the closer you get to competition.
The off season is a period of time when coaches can be less strict on athletes, and athletes are allowed to focus on just lifting whatever loads they feel are reasonable(with coaches oversight), and are not required to lift heavy max loads and train to near failure.
Learn to Enjoy the Process Again
Not everyone will go through periods of burnout or near burnout following a hard competition cycle, however some lifters (and very high level ones too) feel the effects of months of preparation, dieting, and mental stress leading up to an event (or right after). If the event goes poorly, or even if it goes well but the lifter is just mentally drained afterwards, they may find it difficult to get back into the gym to train with the same intensity or enjoyment they once did.
That is a normal part of competitive lifting and hard training, which makes the off season a great time to remove the stress and expectations placed on a lifter, and allow them to just do a program that will help them enjoy fitness, training, and the process again.
How Long Should An Off Season Last?
The length of time an official off season should last will vary depending on a variety of factors. Longer off seasons may occur post longer competition season, or during periods where the lifter has months to recover and prepare for the next event season. If however, a lifter has a large event every three months, the coach will need to determine how to balance out all those hard training cycles with recovery, or start to prioritizing one or two events as the main events to push hard for, and use the other events to gain more experience yet not push too hard (this is something that more advanced athletes need to be aware of).
Generally speaking, an off season can last anywhere between 4-12 weeks, depending on the athletes and their long term training schedule and goals. Note, that a good off season program should allow a lifter to seamlessly transition into a more regimented Olympic weightlifting strength or competition pre training cycle.
How to Transition from Off Season Training to Competition Prep Training Cycles
An off season program can vary athlete to athlete, coach to coach, however most off season programs should place less emphasis on lifting above 80-85% loads, pushing lifters to failure on main lifts, or having the lifter attempting 90% + lifts in training.
The goal of an off season program is to recover, rebuild, and recondition the body and mind for hard training cycles to come.
The coach can be creative in exercise selection, rep schemes, and training the lifts during this time, however all programs should be able to seamlessly tainsion a lifter into a more strength focus program within 1-2 week of ending the off season cycle.
Below is a sample 20-week training phase structure following a competitive event or the end of a training season (for example, USA Weightlifting National Championships, July 2021). It would end with the athlete preparing and competing over the course of the next five months to compete at the USA AO Finals, December 2021).
Off Season: 4 Weeks
Base Weightlifting and Hypertrophy Phase: 4 Weeks
Strength and Weightlifting Block: 8 Weeks
Competition Peak and Taper Block: 4 Weeks
Sample 4-Day Off Season Weightlifting Program
Below is a 4-day sample off season weightlifting program. Note that this is a sample program, and is built for an intermediate to advanced lifter who is looking to get back into the gym following a hard competition season.
Day 1: Snatch, Squat, Lower
Hang Muscle Snatch: 3-4 sets of 3-5 reps
Back Squat: 3-4 sets of 8 reps
Walking Lunge: 3-4 sets of 20 steps
Back Extension: 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps
Side Plank: 4 sets of 30 seconds per side
Day 2: Clean, Jerk, Upper
No Contact Clean: 3-4 sets of 3-5 reps
Push Press: 3-4 sets of 8 reps
Bent Over Row: 3-4 sets of 8-10 steps
Lateral Raises 3-4 sets of 10-15 reps
Bicep Curls: 3-4 sets of 10-15 reps
Day 3: Snatch, Pull, Lower
Slow Snatch: 3-4 sets of 3-5 reps
Clean Deadlift: 3-4 sets of 8 reps
Front Rack Bulgarian Split Squat: 3-4 sets of 8 reps per side
Back Extension: 2-3 sets of 15-20 reps
Weighted Plank: 4 sets of 45-60 seconds
Day 4: Clean, Jerk, Upper
Hang Power Clean: 3-4 sets of 3-5 reps
BTN Snatch Push Press: 3-4 sets of 3-5 reps
Pull Up: 3-4 sets of 8-10 steps
Dumbbell Bench Press: 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps
Dips: 3-4 sets of 10-15 reps
How Heavy Should You Lift During the Off Season?
During the off season, lifters should do most of their main barbell strength work with loads under 80-85% of maximum. They can take this time to train in higher rep ranges (6-8-10 reps), increase unilateral movements, and use training techniques like tempos, pauses, and movement variations to help increase muscle mass, improve movement patterning, and rehabilitate any muscles or connective tissues. The goal during this phase is to not get stronger necessarily, but to prepare the body for harder training cycles.
The weightlifting movements can be trained with 2-5 reps per set, and often done with a variety of movement variations set to improve technique and address any positional issues that should be addressed following the previous competition season.
How Should You Progress Week to Week?
Usually simple linear progressions either by way of increasing the loading, sets and reps (training volume) or manipulating tempos can be the easiest ways to progress a lifter.
It is important to note that simple progressions can be made during this period, as the main goal is to get back into training and prepare for a longer, more strenuous pre-season and in-season training program.
Hopefully with the help of this off season weightlifting training program guide you will be on your way to developing a long term approach to training for any level athletes; and allow for them to properly recover, rebuild, and recondition themselves for harder training cycles and competition seasons to come.