The Off-Season: Keeping Your Fitness Level High

By Tom Holland, MS, CSCS, CISSN on October 21, 2016 , categorized in Health

Off-season training

When it comes to sports as well as exercise, a saying that is often used is “There is no off-season.” Well, yes and no. Professional athletes all have an off-season, and weekend warriors, recreational athletes, and competitive athletes alike might benefit from one too. There are numerous reasons why you may choose to have a dedicated off-season.


Periodization is a way of structuring training, one that involves the cycling of volume, intensity and rest to achieve peak performance. Many coaches and competitive athletes believe periodization models can maximize competitive outcomes while reducing the chance of injury.16US Sports Academy. (2016) Tools and Benefits of Periodization: Developing an Annual Training Plan and Promoting Performance Improvements in Athletes. Accessed on 9/14/16 from:

While these models can be varied and complex, the basic involves increasing and decreasing activity in a cyclical fashion. You can think of it visually as peaks and valleys. You build up gradually, increasing the amount of training and exercise over time, then you decrease and recover for a set period of time, continuing this progression of ups and downs. Pushing your body too hard for too long can have detrimental effects, as can extended periods of inactivity. The key to periodization is structured variation.


An off-season is essentially a period of transition. It may be due to a change in climate for the outdoor recreational enthusiast, the end of the sporting season for the one-sport athlete, or the period in between sports for those participating in numerous sports throughout the year.

Whichever group you may belong to, you’re probably hoping to maintain your fitness during this transition time. So what the saying “There is no off-season” really means is that, rather than sitting  on the couch for weeks or months on end, you can engage in certain activities to help you to recover from the sport or activity that has just ended while preparing you for the next one to come.


One of the simplest ways to maintain your fitness during the off-season is to engage in cross-training, 17Barlett R, Gratton C, Rolf G. (2009). Encyclopedia of International Sports Studies 1st Editionswitching to activities that are different yet complementary to your primary sports. Runners can take up cycling, cyclists can take up swimming, swimmers can take up yoga, and just about everyone can benefit from strength training. No matter how much you enjoy the exercise modality or sport you participate in, doing it exclusively isn’t always the best idea. Altering your muscle recruitment patterns may help reduce issues such as muscle imbalances, all while helping to maintain your hard-earned fitness.18Barlett R, Gratton C, Rolf G. (2009). Encyclopedia of International Sports Studies 1st Edition


Another sports saying is that you should, “Work on your weakness until it becomes your strength,” and the off-season presents a great opportunity to do so. Whether it’s a lack of flexibility, lack of core strength or a specific weak muscle group, the off-season is the perfect time to work on these nagging issues. Look back at your prior activity and take an honest assessment of your current fitness metrics and sports skills, using this time to identify and bring up your weak areas. Doing this can not only help you maintain your fitness, but you can emerge from the off-season a strong athlete.


When it comes to the off-season and your aerobic fitness, consider spending the majority of your time exercising at lower intensities, allowing your body time to recover while maintaining your base fitness. That being said, if you are used to H.I.I.T. (High Intensity Interval Training), engaging in occasional H.I.I.T workouts can help you maintain the fitness you gained during your sport season while still allowing for recovery time.19American College of Sports Medicine. (2014). High Intensity Interval Training. Accessed on 9/14/16 from:


Often overlooked is the potential mental benefit of the off-season. Failure to take adequate periodic breaks from a sport or activity can lead to what is sometimes referred to as “burnout.”20Kreher JB, Schwartz JB. (2012). Overtraining Syndrome: a practical guide. Sports Health. 4(2): 128–138. Accessed on 9/14/16 from: You therefore not only can benefit from giving your body a rest from your sport, but your mind as well. Taking a break, switching it up and engaging in different forms of exercise can help give you time to rest and recover, coming out of the off-season primed and ready start up again.

So think of the off-season as “active recovery.” Mix it up. Strengthen your weaknesses. Throw in periodic H.I.I.T workouts if that’s your thing. Having a good off-season can help maintain your fitness during a period of transition so that you come out of it a strong athlete.

Note: Talk to your healthcare practitioner before starting a new fitness routine.

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tom holland

Tom Holland, MS, CSCS, CISSN

Tom Holland, MS, CSCS, CISSN is an internationally-recognized exercise physiologist, certified sports nutritionist, freelance writer, and regular contributor to Vega’s Expert Panel. He is the author of “Beat the Gym”, “The Marathon Method”, “The 12-Week Triathlete” and “Swim, Bike Run, Eat! The Complete Guide to Fueling Your Triathlon”. He has hosted numerous best-selling fitness DVDs including “Supreme 90 Day”, “The Abs Diet Workout” and “Herbalife 24 Fit”. Tom’s workouts and fitness articles have been published in Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, SELF, Women’s Health, Oxygen, Men’s Journal, Fitness, Time, The New York Times, Runner’s World, Triathlete, Inside Triathlon and more. Holland is an elite endurance athlete with 23 Ironman triathlon and over 60 marathon and ultramarathon finishes around the world, including races in Malaysia, South Korea, New Zealand, Australia, China, Brazil. South Africa, Germany, Italy, France and Ireland. Tom is a frequent fitness expert on television with appearances on The TODAY Show, Good Morning America, CNN, FOX, QVC & HSN.