B.A.S.E. Sports Conditioning – Articles 35

 Off the Mark

 Common Off-season pitfalls to avoid. Part I: Training.

By Mike Mejia, CSCS

Now that the fall recruiting season is over, players’ attention has turned toward getting ready for next year. While there will surely be some team practices and the occasional tournaments to keep busy over the winter months, for many lacrosse players this time of year means stepping up fitness and nutrition efforts in hopes of becoming a better player.

Admirable as that may be, making the commitment to getting yourself more physically prepared to play isn’t as simple as hitting the gym on a regular basis and drinking the occasional protein shake.

Each offseason, I witness scores of young players making the same silly mistakes when it comes to training, eating and just taking care of their bodies in general. Not that they’re doing this on purpose; many are just victims of misinformation and their own good intentions.  

So to help ensure that you’re on the right track, I’ve put together the following offseason preparation checklist. Divided into three sections (training, nutrition and recovery), this handy guide will give you a quantifiable way to gauge whether or not you have a solid handle on what to do during the offseason.

Training:

1. You’re not doing some type of strength training.

The days of just trying to get by on sheer talent and love for the sport are over. Today’s top players know that strength training is key to helping them perform at their best and avoid injury. This is not to imply that you should just run into the gym and start pumping iron with reckless abandon; strength training takes many forms and involves everything from lifting actual weights to tossing medicine balls to using your own body weight as resistance. Start slowly and master basic body weight exercises like squats, lunges, planks and push-ups first. Just make sure that you start, and once you do, make a regular commitment to training at least 2-3 times per week.

2. You tend to favor machine-based exercises over free weights.

If you are already working out on a regular basis, that’s great. If much of that training time is spent using machines, not so much. Most machines only require you to move weight along a set path of motion, which is not how you move as an athlete. Three-dimensional compound movements like squats, lunges, step-ups, presses and rows will have much greater transfer to your on-field performance than positioning yourself on some type of contraption and merely pushing the resistance back and forth. Whenever possible, opt for free weight versions of squats, lunges, step-ups, presses and rows.

3. You’re big into isolation exercises.

Biceps curls, chest flys and leg extensions might be nice if you’re a bodybuilder, but they have virtually no place in an athlete’s training program. Chasing after smaller muscles like these not only wastes valuable time and energy that could be spent getting stronger on big, compound lifts, but they also tend to promote muscle imbalances by focusing so heavily on your “mirror muscles.” If you want to include a little isolation in your workouts, try going after oft-ignored areas like your glutes and rotator cuff.

4. You stress weight over proper form.

Come on, admit it! You have a tendency to let proper form go out the window once in a while in order to put up “big weight.” Big mistake. Using more weight than your body can handle is one of the quickest ways to get hurt in the weight room. Instead, strive to use the best technique possible and perform each lift through the full range of motion.

5. You fail to engage in a thorough warm-up before working out.

Walking into the gym and cracking your neck a couple of times before you hop on the bench press does not qualify as a warm-up. Nor does doing a couple of lazy static stretches before busting out a set of sprints. If you’re serious about getting the most out of your workouts, you need to put your body through a thorough dynamic warm-up/ movement prep prior to each and every training session. You’ll end up lifting more weight, doing more reps and running faster and more efficiently, simply because you’ll be giving your body a chance to adequately prepare for the task at hand.

6. You don’t pay any attention to your rest intervals between sets.

Muscles need to recover before being asked to repeat a given work output. You can’t, for instance, attempt a one rep max on a bench press or squat and then think you’re going to equal, or surpass that effort a minute later. Well you can, you just won’t like the result. The point being, certain goals require specific rest intervals, so you need to start paying attention to how much time you take between sets in order to get the most out of your training. The following chart will help point you in the right direction:

Goal Rest Interval between sets
Muscle Endurance 30-45 seconds
Hypertrophy (Muscle Growth) 60-90 seconds
Max Strength 2-3 minutes
Power (i.e. Plyometrics/ Olympic Lifts) 3-5 minutes

7. You do high-repetition power exercises.

Thanks to the CrossFit-inspired mindset that seems to be sweeping the country, it apparently became okay to do explosive power exercises like box jumps, cleans and various types of medicine ball throws for very high reps. This, despite the fact that the energy systems that power these types of explosive movements only have the capacity to last about 10 seconds. So, when you perform exercises like these for extended durations, they not only cease to be “explosive,” but the potential for injury rises significantly. If it’s power you’re after, keep your reps in the 1-5 range (and 1-3 is probably even better).

8. You place too much emphasis on linear (straight-ahead) speed work.

Lacrosse, like most sports, is a game of multidirectional speed. And while it’s nice to be able to accelerate straight ahead, chances are it’s not something you’ll be doing for long before having to veer off, change direction or encounter an opponent. Needless to say, this makes it imperative that you also include plenty of change-of-direction work in your speed and agility sessions. Drills that utilize agility cones set up in different configurations that cause you to cut and maneuver around them need to be a large part of your training, with special emphasis paid to proper foot placement and body alignment so as not to subject your knees, ankles and hips to any unnecessary stress. Look for more articles on this type of training in the future.

9. You don’t include any interval cardio work.

This is another mistake I see all the time — young lacrosse players either do all long-duration, steady-paced cardio work, or just sprinting like their hair is on fire. Because of the number of times you’ll start, stop, change direction and run for extended periods with little to no break, you need to incorporate more intervals into your program. Drills like broken 400-meter runs (where you jog the curves of a track and sprint the straight aways), or hollow hundreds (start at the goalline of a football field and alternate between jogging 20 yards and sprinting 20 yards until you reach the other goalline) are just a couple of examples of great ways to build stamina for lacrosse.  

Up Next: Nutrition

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