Last week, Skyd introduced our panel of training professionals and elite level athletes (Andrew Berry, Lindsay Hack and Jamie Nuwer) for our training topic of the month. If you have follow up questions, please ask them in the comments. We have encouraged our panelists to respond there.
And now for the questions and responses:
1. Connor asks:
How much time should you allow yourself for recovery after the last tournament of your fall season before you start to condition for Spring?
Well, I will start by taking your question very literally. If you are interested in preparing your body for the start of the club season after coming off a more relaxed period, you don’t need more than 6-8 weeks of conditioning, depending on your fitness history, to get ready for the Spring club ramp-up. So this would be a February/March time frame, depending on your team. On the other hand, if you are asking about recovery time prior to an off-season program, I’d say it depends on the state of your body after the end of the Club season. If you came out of the season relatively healthy, there’s no recovery-related reason not to get into off-season activities within 2-4 weeks after Club finishes; I’m a believer in letting your body come down a little bit because that helps prime it for another peak. Some years I wait two weeks. But if you come out of the Club season injured, the most important thing is to get your body feeling good again prior to stressing it too much. This doesn’t mean being idle. It means doing the small things to help yourself heal and still progress physically. One year I nursed a hamstring injury coming out of Club, so I took it easy through New Year’s – working on lengthening/strengthening/pre-
hab, etc. prior to ramping up my off-season in January.
Connor, that depends on whether we are talking about college or college and club. Since this sounds like exclusively college, I am going to go that route. My apologies if you were asking about a college player who also played club.
In theory, a college ultimate player could be playing almost all year round (minus June – July – half of August). If that is the case, you want to break those nine months into three “mini-seasons.” Each mini-season should be designed so that you taper and peak for a particular event. But, keep in mind that after one mini-season, you are right into the next “mini-season.” The good news is that you probably just tapered for 2-3 weeks for your previous “mini-season” so you just had 2-3 easier weeks, and then you start at the bottom of your volume for your next mini-season. So, long answer short: if designed correctly, you probably do not need to allow yourself much recovery time (as in time off completely from activity) but need to make sure your next phase of training for your season begins with low volume.
There is not an exact answer to this question. Some athletes take no time off and go straight into their college fall season. Some take the whole winter off. If you feel that you pushed yourself to the max with your club team then I’d recommend two weeks to a month off.
In winter focus on aspects of the game that you really want to improve on. For example, if you want to work on your jump height start working on explosive movement at the gym and with plyos. Start slow and build up. Don’t train for Ultimate more than 3 days a week in the off-season to avoid burn-out. If you want to work out more than 3 days a week, then play another sport to cross-train.
If you have any nagging injuries from the club season then the winter is the perfect time to treat them. First take some time off. Most over-use or over-training injuries will go away within 4-6 weeks without any treatment. An example of a good injury to rehab is an ankle sprain or chronically unstable ankle. Start an ankle rehab program so it won’t bother you next year. You can get a program tailored to you from a sports medicine doctor or a physical therapist. You can then do rehab on your own or with a therapist.
2. Elliot Erickson and Punky submitted similar questions:
What is the best way to recover from a club season while still trying to stay in shape for the college season? There isn’t really an off-season, so how do you strike a balance between continuing to play year-round and not getting burned out? Should there be a ‘peaking’ phase in your workout plans?
Elliott and Punky,
This is a great question. I actually have two seasons too – ultimate and track – and am very familiar with the difficulties of balancing both. My track season runs from Jan – June, so it overlaps almost exactly with the college season. The activity in your Nov/Dec months would depend on the the health of your body and how many years of training experience you have. If you are feeling a bit injured/flat after Club, then, as above, you should put every effort towards healing up and addressing the factors that led to your injury in the first place; in this time, you could cross-train with swimming, biking, or another sport. Starting your running workouts in Jan would be more than enough for you to peak physically by May. Now, that said, there is something to be gained from maintaining a good level of fitness through the winter months without burning out. So, if you feel your body can handle 10+ months of training/year then I would recommend starting a lighter pre-season routine in Nov/Dec with shorter gym/running sessions every 4-5 days, or more often if you are able. I got a lot out of a interval running/squat/pull-up pre-season routine last year. My sessions were short, started off light, and slowly built as I got to Jan and the start of my track season.
The club athlete is a tricky monster. All of the college girls I coach who also play Phoenix with me are instructed to “coast” through CCC (which is usually mid November) and then depending on the athlete, they are instructed to take it easy from mid November to mid to late December. During this time, I highly stress yoga, swimming, biking, etc (basically low impact – high therapeutic activity). It is important to maintain a cardiovascular base, but in general, one should not be “training” for college.
This can also be a tricky question to answer. If you are a role player on your club team or you aren’t playing a lot of points then the transition to the college season may not require much of a break. To get re-focused mentally I’d recommend at least week long break. If you have a big role on both teams you may need a longer break. You could also consider going to college practice and teaching, but not playing. That’s a way to let your body recover and also feel like you’re doing your job for your college team.
In terms of peaking, it’s certainly possible to peak multiple times in a year. Marathon runners have done this successfully for a long time. Since the peak times are different for college and club you should have plenty of time to build up for each peak. When I coach I break the season into thirds. In the first section I focus on the fundamentals, individual skills and mental development, and team building. In the second section I focus on endurance, team skills and mental development, and mental toughness. In the third section I focus on sprints and explosiveness, polishing team skills and mental development, and cultivating the will to win.
3. George wants to know:
Long time reader, first time poster. How do you shift your nutritional demands as the season comes to an end? The caloric demands from in-season to post-season are much different, but it takes some time to shift the mentality. Also, how should you eat/ use supplements to gain the most before next season?
In all honesty, this is something I have difficulty with as well. This year, in particular, I was shocked at the number of calories I was consuming the week after my season ended. In the short-term, this is natural, because tournaments – especially ones like Nationals – tax your body in so many ways: mentally, physically, and calorically. During the season, I pay attention to what I eat, but sometimes I get in modes when I just need to consume. A few weeks into the off-season, though, I often make the conscious shift to consume in smarter ways and grab less often for the high-glycemic foods. Once my off-season ramps up, though, the demands on my body are high enough that my caloric requirements pop back up again, so I basically need to monitor more carefully through the New Year.
In terms of supplementation, one that I make use of year-round is protein powder. Regarding other nutrition in the off-season, I am most conscious of what I eat the day leading up to and the day after my 1-2 primary workouts each week. Leading up to my workout, I make sure to avoid high-glycemic sugars and consume plenty of complex carbohydrate and protein. If I’m working out right after work and haven’t had the time to eat well since lunch, I’ll often have protein powder and water (a protein shooter) 15 minutes before my session. Immediately after a moderate to difficult session, I make a point to consume 3 or 4:1 ratio of carbs:protein, ideally in a shake (milk + protein powder + honey, for ex.) and avoid fat intake. That evening and the day after, I make sure to eat when I normally eat, continue to focus on carbs and protein, and make sure to hydrate and get ample electrolytes, vitamins, and minerals.
I am pretty terrible (all things considered) when it comes to nutrition. During my peak training times, I am really monitoring to make sure I am getting enough protein. But, I also crave protein during that time. Once my volume drops, my body does not crave as much protein and I essentially turn into a vegetarian. Basically, try and listen to your body as your metabolism generally changes to meet the demand. But, if not, decrease your protein, eat just as often, but decrease the size of your portions.
Your body will still be building for a few days after your last tournament of the season so it’s fine to ease out of your training diet over the next week. Your off-season dietary needs will depend on what you are doing. If you want to build muscle then you’ll need more protein for muscle building and simple plus complex carbs for recovery. If you are doing a rehab program then you won’t need as many calories in your diet as during the training season. A healthy balanced diet for an active person should be good for the off-season when you’re training less. If you want specific ways to estimate your body’s calorie needs and protein/carb/fat breakdown refer to my comments in the sports nutrition Expert Panel that Skyd did a few months ago.
In terms of nutritional supplements, be very careful to research what you put in your body. Analysis of common and popular supplements have shown these compounds are not always what’s advertised. Researchers have found heavy metals (lead, mercury) in some of these supplements. Other things they’ve found include illegal sports supplements or derivatives such as testosterone, DHEA, and growth hormone. WFDF and USAU are starting to implement screening for these compounds in Ultimate athletes (see the Executive Director’s column in the last USAU magazine). Make sure you research any supplement that you put in your body and make sure no reports have been made against that supplement. My preference is to use foods rather than supplements. You can find all the nutrients you need to train in regular food without supplements.
Disclaimer: I am the Chairwoman of the Medical Anti-Doping Committee for WFDF and participate in screening athletes for banned substances. More information on banned substances can be found at: http://www.wada-ama.org
4. Falstad Wildhammer wants to know:
How do you vary your intensity between November (season just ended) and May (tryouts)? After Nationals, I’ve been inclined to hit the weights and keep training right through. What would you suggest for maximizing gains (physical and mental) while protecting against burnout (again, both physical and mental)?
Mr. Neeley Wildhammer,
My intensity takes a bit of a lull in early November and then increases slowly through the end of the year and into Jan. March and April are my toughest off-season months for sure. I then taper for races in May and June. Per my answers above, while there are some athletes that are experienced enough to train at a high intensity year-round, I would recommend letting yourself come down a bit after the season. I burned out one year because I worked too hard in Nov/Dec and then went into a grueling track season. I overly focused on my squat for too long at the expense of my track work and completely broke down physically in April. So do some different things and don’t challenge your body with long, grueling sessions too early on. Work hard but stay fresh through shortened workout times/lighter routines/more days between session for these first few months. You can challenge yourself with very intense workouts in the late winter/early spring and then taper/fine-tune for a great start to your season.
I like to have different focuses throughout the year. I come from a pretty serious running background and from November until about March I like to focus on running and swimming. March through June I like to continue to have that focus and add strength training. June through October is spent mostly with the team doing team workouts (agility – anaerobic – aerobic – power) and the “off” days left for recovery runs and maintenance lifting sessions. But, that is me. I can see the use in “hitting the weights” earlier and depending on your role on your club team, there might not be as great of a need for you to run as many miles as I do.
As I alluded to in a previous answer, it is good to break your year up into mini-seasons and figure out events/tournaments to train for at somewhat evenly spaced out increments throughout the year. It is difficult – mentally and physically – to train for Nationals all year round. Rather, setting mini goals and having mini peaks has worked better for me in the long run.
I’ve mostly addressed this above. One other thing that I’ll mention is that you can make major gains in your flexibility and body composition during the off-season that can’t be done during the training season.
Flexibility is most important for athletes that have a difference in flexibility between each side of the body. Test your flexibility and make sure it’s the same on both sides. Also if you tend be inflexible then you can really improve your game by working on flexibility. Take your calves for example. Having flexible calves helps prevent shin splints, but it also allows you to sprint faster. If you can only dorsiflex your foot to 90 degrees you are missing 15 degrees of optimal flexibility for sprinting and 10 degrees for running. You can have a sports medicine doctor or physical therapist measure your flexibility and give you a training program specific for you.
Body composition (ratio of muscle, fat, and other things) can be worked on during the off-season much more than the training season. Never try to lose weight during the training season. You will not be able to build muscle and will get excessively tired if you are calorie-restricting during the training season. If you want to lose fat, but not muscle you will need to decrease your calories but continue building muscle by working out in ways that build muscle (plyometrics, weight lifting). You should not lose more than 2 lbs per week otherwise you are also losing muscle. When you start calorie restriction you will often not see any weight loss for a month. Rather you may have a slight weight gain or stabilization of weight until you start losing. If your Body Mass Index (BMI) is 23 or less do not try to lose weight. If your BMI is less than 20 then you need to see a doctor to help you with your nutritional needs. You can calculator your BMI at: www.nhlbisupport.com/bmi
Thanks to our wonderful Panelists for their insights and to all of our commentors for submitting questions.