• How to train smart in the off-season

Author: Gary Rafferty

The football season is long. At professional level it is often described as a year-round sport.

It’s very common for players to feel like they need to do more in the off-season to gain the extra edge during pre-season. Whilst this may seem like the right thing to do, if training isn’t planned correctly then you could find yourself hitting a slump later in the season.

Training harder isn’t the answer, training smart is – especially in the off-season.

After 2-3 weeks of mental and physical rest away from the sport itself It’s a great time to improve your general endurance. Football is an alactic-aerobic sport so set aside a 4-8-week block of training to focus on the often demonised ‘aerobic’ component of training, which will pay huge dividends as the season goes on.


Some principles you can follow during this block:

  1. minimise lactic work – intense work with little rest. This is the exercise that is going to accumulate those hydrogen ions causing that burning sensation in your muscles.
  2. If you are currently having issues with strength then this is the time to focus on it. If your strength levels are where you want them then put more emphasis on power.
  3. If lean muscle mass is a goal then keep high volume aerobic work (45-90mins) or any lactic work you do choose to do 24-48hrs from your strength session. If relative strength is your goal, then this isn’t an issue.
  4. 15-20 mins moderate aerobic work post strength session can help recovery so don’t be concerned about principle 3 in this scenario.


Unsure where to start?

  1. 2-3x a week of Low intensity/low pressure exercise (swim/cycle/jog/skip/elliptical) for 30-90 mins at heart rate of 130-150bpm – avoiding running in earlier part of off-season can give the body a rest from that form of exercise.
  2. 2-3x a week of strength training for 2-4 sets using a tempo of 2020 for 6-10 reps. A few big compound exercises will be fine with one or two accessory exercises to address any muscular imbalances (for most players I’d address the glutes, hamstrings and core).
  3. Focus on increasing strength relative to your bodyweight
  4. 1x per week of 10-20 mins of Hill Sprints or sled drags . 10-12s reps with 1:3-1:5 work to rest.
  5. Regular mobility work around hips, ankles and thoracic spine.
  6. Practice sprinting, landing, acceleration/deceleration and change of direction mechanics in your warm ups.
  7. Prioritise sleep, nutrition and hydration as your modes of recovery.

Increase reps/duration week by week. Complete for 3-4 weeks before increasing intensity including some variation or increasing intensity.

Is this the only way to train? Of course not. The program you choose should be individual to your needs and goals. However, above all for everyone I would strongly recommend the main focus is on being consistent, ignoring any gimmicks and do the basics well.