Athletes: Tips to Stay Fit in the Off-Season

As a runner, I look forward to fall because it’s race season. I train hard throughout spring and summer so I’ll be in peak condition once autumn rolls around. But that doesn’t mean take it easy all winter.

If you’re also a runner - or a cyclist, tennis player or ice hockey player - you may not participate in your sport year-round. But chances are you’ll want to stay fit even when you’re not actively preparing for races or games.

The off season is not a time to exercise too hard, nor to give up fitness all together. Here’s how to stay in shape.

Keep Up Your Fitness

For a competitive athlete, staying fit in the off season is a delicate balance. It’s important to get enough rest so your body can recover from months of grueling workouts. But it’s also key to maintain some level of conditioning so you don’t lose the valuable gains you worked so hard for during the season.

Everyone’s off-season training needs are different. Your workouts will depend on:

-How many weeks you have until the next season starts.

-What physical improvements you want to make before next season.

-Your history of injury, and any advice or recommendations from your doctor, coach or physical therapist.

The Building Blocks of Off-Season Training

While everyone’s specific training will vary, your plan will likely include these essential steps:

Rest up. Before anything else, you need to let your body heal from the demands of a long season. Rest is crucial. Take several days off from exercise. For the next two to four weeks, if you feel like you need to exercise, do short, easy cross-training sessions. If you’re a runner, try walking, cycling on a LIVESTRONG exercise bike or swimming. Then gradually add in short, easy runs. Cross-training and easing back into your sport will keep you fit and injury-free in the long run. If you’re coming back from an injury, don’t return to exercise until your doctor or physical therapist gives you the OK.

Reflect. Think about last season. What were your strengths? What were your weaknesses? Taking some time to figure out what went right and wrong can help you determine what to focus on during the next training cycle.

Enhance endurance. Did you find yourself tiring out half way through tennis matches? Stopping to catch your breath on the soccer field? If so, you need to gain some endurance. Doing interval workouts and gradually increasing the length of your cardio sessions can help you improve.

Gain speed. Speed is a crucial component to almost every sport, and getting faster is possible with hard work. Flexibility training and regular sprint workouts will help make you quicker. It may also be helpful to have a coach look at your form - sometimes even simple changes in your technique can help you get faster.

Get stronger. Many athletes log long hours in the weight room. This is because strength is needed to help you excel in any sport. Talk to a coach or more experienced athlete about what resistance training exercises are best for your sport. Doing lunges, squats, pushups and abdominal work may help you transform into an above average athlete.

Athletes: how do you stay in tip-top shape in the off season?



Avoiding Training Plateaus

One of the most frustrating problems that afflicts amateur exercisers and professional athletes alike is the training plateau. This insidious snare can happen at any time and not only stall your progress, but discourage you from continuing to pursue your fitness goals.

What is a Training Plateau?

When applied to an exercise program, the term “plateau” refers to a sudden and dramatic decrease in the noticeable results of your regular workouts. This can manifest itself in both strength and cardiovascular training, as well is in weight loss. The human body is a master at adaptation, capable of quickly adjusting to meet the demands of any workout. If your workout is not continually evolving to keep up with the increases in strength and endurance that your body is making, plateaus will occur.

How to Avoid and Bust Plateaus

Consistently and strategically changing your workout will keep your body from adapting, therefore helping you to avoid hitting training plateaus. The exact methods that will be best for you will depend heavily on your individual goals and fitness level.

Periodization, a carefully planned training progression, is commonly used by athletes and bodybuilders to avoid hitting plateaus. Fitness expert Andre Farnell suggests breaking your year up into three cycles each with different objectives. Each cycle should focus on various aspects of your fitness goals such as strength, endurance, speed and muscle tone.

To encourage increases in muscle size and strength, the American Council on Exercise suggests that the solution may be increasing the intensity of your workout, without necessarily making the workout any longer. Changing the order and type of exercises you perform may also be effective, such as replacing the bench press with push-ups or dumbbell presses.

Plateaus in cardiovascular endurance training can also be busted by varying the type of your workout. If you commonly run, switch to biking or utilize a different track to emphasis hill-running or speed. Classes, such as spinning or aerobics will also give you a change of pace while helping to improve your cardiovascular endurance. The best home treadmills available on the market will include a variety of programs designed to help you work through plateaus. Making use of these preset programs, or even designing your own, will be a powerful tool for avoiding training plateaus.

Because the root cause of training plateaus is adaptation, be sure to continually challenge your body by making use of several different methods.
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