We were going to write a post about taking an ‘off-season’, but Marc Keys gone and done it beautifully. So this is a repost from his blog, Cast Iron Strength. You may remember Marc from his pressing template and no-bullshit approach.


We’ll be chatting to him on our podcast soon too.
You’ve seen what happens when you stop training: it’s not as bad as you think.
The industry likes to spread folklore of the catabolism monster under your bed. If you follow some simple strategies, you can keep the monster at bay.
But taking our foot off the pedal is scary. We’re struggling so hard to make meagre incremental progress that we think it’ll all come crashing down when we stop. So as a result, we start making silly decisions, like training in spite of injury.
You can’t smash it 100% of the time. You’re mashing the accelerator when you’re out of petrol.
I’m currently training around a back injury, and continue to make the classic error of trying to push it too hard, too soon. All that ends up happening is it extends the healing process, and ironically takes LONGER to get back to full function.
I hope you realise when we write these articles, they’re as much reminders to ourselves as anyone else. Looking back, our last few months of training has consisted of:
 > attempting to lift heavy,
> sending the lower back into spasm, (hamstring in Jonny’s case)
> being forced to lift lighter loads or try some cautious leg-press, not really getting anywhere
> getting frustrated, feeling the pressure of impending competitions
> trying to lift heavier.. because the spreadsheet says so
> failing lifts
> prolonging injury
> not accumulating any appreciable amount of training volume, while being too stubborn to branch out and train something else
> repeat
What’s happening here is a clear signal from the body that it isn’t able to tolerate the current training load, combined with an external deadline (GBPF nationals) and a stubborn insistence not to change the training approach. Result? Lack of progress and frustration.
Wouldn’t a better picture have been to accept the injury as a reality, and adapt your training focus to something you can do? If I wasn’t an idiot, I’d have rolled with the punches, and used the time more wisely to focus on flexibility, yoga, handstands and flibblybibblys. If you’re currently struggling uphill against an injury, imagine how much of a slinky sloth you’d be if you’d redirected your efforts to what you can do?
I’m no stranger to these ironic backfire strategies, such as neglecting to meditate during exam period.
Yes, grit is admirable sometimes, but the problem is that we’re not willing to acknowledge that we’re fallible, fragile and limited. We have to exhale to make room for an inhale.
/pseudophilosophical preamble. On to Marc:

The Powerlifter’s Off Season

I’ve worked with sportsmen and women for nearly a decade now. I have worked with Olympians, International team sports stars and youth athletes who have never stepped in a gym before. One thing that every one of these athletes do, that I have never done as a lifter is an off-season or pre-season. Here is a question for any serious lifters who read this blog.

When is the last time you had a deliberate break from lifting that lasted more than 3 weeks?

Pretty much every other sport has a chunk of time built into their annual plan (not sure many lifters have annual plans!) where there is a deliberate period of detraining form their sport.  This period of downtime allows for a period of both mental and physical recuperation and refreshment.  It is not possible or desirable for a muscle or tendon to stay in peak physical condition all year round, since the processes that keep it in this state of nonequilibrium necessitate large stressors. This continual exposure to stressors can only lead to an overuse injury or niggles if the body is exposed to it consistently for a long enough time frame.

It is not possible or desirable for a muscle or tendon to stay in peak physical condition all year round

Lifters who compete in untested federations or sports have a natural “off season” in their training due to the nature of their training and “supplement” routines.  Yet for lifters who compete in tested federations or who don’t utalise “supplements” there is no natural time in which to take some time out for the specific competition lifts or to change the focus of their training.

This ultimately ends up being the cause of the vast majority of woes that most lifters suffer from – tight backs, hips, knees, sore shoulders and elbows can probably be attributed to the consistent and unrelenting stress that they put themselves through in training week in week out without any sustained periods of rest and recovery.

Active brunette in yoga position on white isolated background

It is likely if you have recovered from a moderate set back or injury that has side tracked your training for 2-3 months you have found that once you were able to train yourself back to a similar level of strength to prior to your injury you have been able to break through previous plateaus.  This is a very common experience for lifters who train with consistently high intensity week in and week out.  People experience this phenomenon due to their body sustaining stressors on a regular basis without a sufficient drop in intensity or volume to allow supercompensation to occur.

What should my off season look like?

As a powerlifter around 90% of your training is specific or special preparation for your sport i.e. squat, bench and deadlift and variations thereof.  Therefore it is best to get away from these training routines/exercises during your off season as to not stress your body using the same movement patterns and loads take this time to try some new hobbies and to change your focus in the gym.  Generally your off season should fulfil the following criteria –


  • Allow for a deliberate drop off or detraining in specific preparation/fittness of 5-10%
  • Allow you to develop other general physical qualities that can help you in your following block of training.
  • Provide a period of mental de-stress
  • Provide a break from the physical stresses you put your body under in the competitive season (for power lifters heavy spinal loading and heavy shoulder loading will probably be the main things to avoid).


Some physical qualities you can work on in your off season.


  • Glute and single leg strength areas often neglected in a bilateral strength sport these can help to address some weaknesses and loading issues in the lower body and aid in prehab whilst potentiating a better lower body training environment for the next block of training.
  • Cardiovascular fitness – a lot of recovery issues that lifters feel (lack of ability to recover from heavy training) is down to a poor level of conditioning.  Fitter lifters will recover from workouts faster they will also recover in sessions quickers an be able to sustain higher workloads or have a the potential to develop a higher work capacity.
  • Relative/calisthenic based strength a lot of bodyweight movements can help to develop a more stable and strong shoulder joint as well as who a lifter some fun ways of doing core training.
  • Mobility/Flexibility – general training designed to emphasis range of movement such as yoga or pilates can be a great way to expand your training horizons whilst improving your general physical condition.

A sample off-season programme: 3-4 weeksskp_4976

Monday – Weights

Glute and core circuit to warm up

Pistol Squat – 5 sets of 5

Split Squat – 5 sets of 8

Dips – 5 sets of 10

Pull ups – 5 sets of 10

Candle Sticks – 5 sets of 5


Yoga followed by Swimming

Wednesday – Weights

Glute and core circuit to warm up

Pistol Squat – 5 sets 5

Single leg stiff legged deadlift – 5 sets 8

Dip Bar Press ups – 5 sets 10

Wide grip pull ups – 5 sets 10

Ring Levers – 5 sets 5




Glute and core circuit to warm up

Pistol Squat – 5 sets of 5

Split Squat – 5 sets of 8

Dips – 5 sets of 10

Pull ups – 5 sets of 10

Candle Sticks – 5 sets of 5


Hiking, Climbing, Surfing or Pilates


Long walk with dog/family.

This routine will drive a lot of lifters up the wall but if you give it a chance I will guarantee you when you come to your first block of general preparation you will feel probably more enthusiastic and physically ready for your next competitive season then you have in years.

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