In-Season vs. Off-Season vs. Pre-Season Training: What are the Differences??

In an ideal world, I would get the opportunity to work with an athlete year-round, and that consistency would reward that athlete in a big way. But if this athlete was involved in one or more sport, the program the athlete would follow may look quite different from in-season to off-season, and look even different leading up to the next season.

Here’s the deal: you don’t always have to be going a thousand miles per hour, or pushing it 110 percent, even when you are on the quest for stronger. There are times you can absolutely push to the max, and there are times you just need to do what is needed but what feels good. Dan John does a great job explaining this theory on training intensities. Dan explains it as a tale of 2 benches (the kind you sit on outside, not the kind you do bench press on).

The first bench is the bus bench. If you are sitting on a bus bench, you have a reason to be on it, and there is a certain level of expectation, such as a bus being there to pick you up any minute. If that bus isn’t there when you expect it to be, you may have some anxiety about it. If it doesn’t show up at all, your day is ruined.

The second bench is the park bench. It may look the exact same as the bus bench in every aspect, but you are sitting on it for an entirely different reason. You have no expectations when sitting there. Things may happen, people may pass by, and you may see a squirrel or two, but there’s no guarantee, and you are just fine with that.

If you bring these benches back into the gym (the theories, not the benches themselves) you come up with bus bench and park bench workouts. With bus bench workouts, you have a definite reason and even timeline for being here. You need to be able to do this by this time, and if that doesn’t happen there may be some anxiety. With park bench workouts, there is no real timeline for things. You are here to get stronger, yes, but if you don’t hit “these” goals in “this” time, all is not lost.

When looking at an athlete’s calendar, we can plug these different bench approaches into a training program nicely.

During the athlete’s sport season, the sport is what the athlete is focused on, so training in the gym should be more of the park bench variety. Yes, we are looking to get stronger, but if a new personal record (PR) doesn’t happen every single week, we won’t beat ourselves up. The goal is to do well in the sport, so we aren’t going to risk that by pushing too hard in the gym. The goal in the gym is to feel good, change things if needed to make sure that happens, and see if we can get stronger over the course of the season. Again, if PR’s aren’t coming left and right, that is ok, because their time will come.

Summer is a great time for most athlete’s to be on a bus bench program. Most don’t have much else going on, so they can devote most of their attention to the gym. We can work on getting as strong as possible and hitting those PR’s. It is a short time frame, so it’s a great time to really bring the effort and intensity.

Off-season training is often somewhere in the middle. It often depends on when the athlete has his or next sport. If it is fast approaching, we may take a few more weeks on a park bench approach, and then shift gears and go more toward a bus bench so that we can really make sure we’re ready for that next sport.

If the athlete only has one sport and has a long off-season, the bus and park bench approaches may ebb and flow a little bit. The goal is obviously to get as strong as possible by the time the next season hits, but it doesn’t always have to be done at 110 percent. If we spent the entire off-season in a bus bench approach, we could very easily burnout.

Again, I wish I got the opportunity to work with every athlete that comes through the door for 12 months out of the year. It would be super fun to see the progression an athlete could have in that time. But the thing to remember is that we don’t have to push it to the max all the time. Burnout is a thing, and unfortunately, it’s beginning to happen in younger and younger athletes. Giving athletes a time to really go for it in the gym, then giving them a time to just move and see if we can progress is all necessary. The key is to balance the two so we can get the best outcome.

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