Optimizing Off-Season Training: Metabolic Damage Control

By Shannon Grady, M.S. Exercise Physiology – CEO/Founder GO! Athletics

The Off-Season is typically the “make or break” preparation time, where athletes put in the hard work for the grind of the upcoming competitive season. Coaches and athletes will evaluate the previous season’s successes and/or failures, tweak their training, put in more work, harder work, and faster work with the goal of improving next season.  But is more better? Is faster better? Is harder better?

Yes, the Off-Season training is critical to the upcoming season’s performance outcomes but most often Off-Season training regimens break the upcoming season rather than make it. It is quite the common scenario, approximately 97% of team sport athletes enter into the Off-Season not fully recovered or metabolically functional enough to begin intensive or demanding training regimens.  Most often in team sport athletes, it is the ANAEROBIC system that is depleted and needs at least 6-8 weeks of complete recovery before attempting to train it again. The ANAEROBIC and genetically gifted/superior athletes are the ones who are able to make to the collegiate and professional level in any sport, but humans tend to abuse this gift for performance purposes.  

The ANAEROBIC system is not meant to operate long-term or frequently, it is meant to be the LION; fast, strong, and powerful then rest, recover, and sometimes hibernate for optimal performance.   If the lion was out performing daily meaningless tasks, the lion would not remain the king of the jungle.  Overtime, the lion would lose his speed, strength, and power and be eaten by the anaerobic beast that was rested properly.  Yes, the anaerobic system does need to be trained but it needs to be trained delicately and appropriately with adequate and frequent rest periods.

In most sports where the ANAEROBIC system is continuously called upon to perform almost every movement, there is a challenging dilemma for coaches to know when to train and when to rest.  Once the competitive season starts, it is impossible to perform sport demands without trying to trigger the anaerobic system as the primary energy driver but unfortunately, constant triggering of the anaerobic system leads to its weakening and demise.  

For example, initial physiological profile testing conducted by GO! Athletics of 130 Division I and/or National team soccer athletes, resulted in 96.9% of tested athletes at a physiological and metabolic disadvantage (severe to moderate system shutdown), 69.2% at increased risk of injury, and 40% poorly conditioned optimally perform the demands of soccer.  In short, inappropriate training volume and/or intensity is putting most athletes at a competitive disadvantage.  Essentially, the anaerobic system was used too often, too frequently, and it essentially ran out of gas.  

What this means is that most athletes are typically underperforming during peak season and entering into Off-Season training in a metabolic hole.  97% of the time, addressing underperformance by putting in hard, intensive work in the OFF-Season will drive athletes deeper into a metabolic hole, not yield the best performance adaptations, and increase risk of injuries in the upcoming season.  

Below are typical examples of Division I soccer player physiological profile and bioenergetic testing results (off-season, post off-season, and post competitive season).  Ideally, performance outputs for any event or sport requires at least 5 systems functioning to ensure the athlete is in an energy balanced state for training and competition purposes.  For every system that is bio-energetically unavailable, the athlete will be performing with 6-8% LESS force, power, and velocity. Encountering this scenario is all too common but typical Off-Season training plans that are not based on actual individual athlete physiological will not address metabolic dysfunction appropriately.  In addition, when a training plan or sport continuously demands athletes to perform tasks outside of their current bioenergetic spectrum, the athlete will ultimately get hurt.

These two examples represent initial physiological profiles testing of two Division I soccer players.  The first test (April 2016), represents bioenergetic availability entering into the Off-Season and the second test (August 2016) represents bioenergetic availability after the Off-Season.  Both players were in a severely energy imbalanced state entering the Off-Season, meaning they were continuously putting out more energy than they were putting in, leading to decreased ability to adapt to training, perform optimally and at greater risk of injury.  

When the training load is inappropriately prescribed for an athlete’s current metabolic status for two months or more, common signs and symptoms of “overtraining” will be displayed and Systems will shut down or become unavailable.  Following their April 2016 evaluation, the players were prescribed System Priming training, volume and intensity that matched their current bioenergetic availability, for their Off-Season preparation.  

The main goal of the Off-Season Priming was to increase bioenergetic availability, improve metabolic functioning, and enhance physiological development with an decreased risk of injury.  As evidence from the August 2016 evaluation, both players significantly increased (53-75%) their bioenergetic availability, metabolic and System functioning making both individuals greater contributors to the team unit in the Pre-Season and beyond.   

Training and periodization of training absolutely needs to be dynamic and based on individual physiological data in order to maximize the performance of each athlete.  The goal of periodization is not only to improve or maximize performance but also to reduce risk of injuries.  Even if the athlete is on a team sport, the team will be a much stronger unit with more metabolically functional individuals contributing to that unit.  

The Off-Season is the best time for coaches and athletes to perform METABOLIC DAMAGE CONTROL.  Metabolic damage control can be achieved via System Priming or preparing athletes appropriately to increase System functioning and bioenergetic availability so they are adequately prepared for the demands of the competitive season and at a decreased risk of injury.

System Priming is a training method prescribed to create a biochemical and physiological catalyst prior to full System phasing or overload stimulus of any one energy system. Carrying out System Priming will induce a stronger reactionary response during a full System phase.  System Priming is typically done during the off-season or early season training phases. The System Priming focus and order is dependent on individual Physiological Profile testing results, goal event or competition, and time until goal event or competition.  

When planning periodization, it is best not to emphasize one System too long or too frequently, especially the anaerobic system. Each System is important and each System will play a role in performance. Training to perform your best at peak season requires thorough knowledge of the human body, responses to training, and type of training required to perform the specific sport or event. Understanding the role each System plays in performance combined with bioenergetic and physiological profile data will provide greater insight on how to individualize periodization for each athlete.

So how do you apply this to YOUR training? Send us an email or connect on social media, we look forward to hearing from you.

Shannon Grady



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