Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
The off-season is one of the biggest opportunities staring down all high school athletes as they enter winter break. It’s a great time to repair, build, and bring a focus to your weaknesses. Whatever you’re focused on—the 2 mile, 800, or sprints/ hurdles—your best season is made long before your official season starts with your team.
Even if you don’t live near a club to meet up for a run, you can still benefit by focusing on a few key components. As you approach the off-season, focus on how you can build Strength, Speed + Agility, and Stamina.
No second chances
This is your chance to get a head start on your fitness and preparation for the season so you can perform at your best. The demands of track racing require that your body is prepared not only for the increased speed and volume of in-season workouts but also preparing for multiple races in a short period of time.
Don’t wait too long as racing into fitness is an excellent way to get injured, hurt your confidence, and squander your best performances. Look at your in-season practices as a chance to hone your skills, and use a few indoor races, or even a few time trials to wet your palette for the coming season. Go into the season confident and prepared, don’t leave your fitness and best performance to chance.
Relatively speaking, the number one thing high school athletes lack isn’t strength as much as it is understanding how to effectively apply force efficiently into the ground. The strength training I advise for youth athletes involves plyometrics, as well as integrating push, pull, and hinge movements.
The basic movements of a squat, a jump, and integrating resistance bands do far more than complex movements that “look cool” but lack direction and purpose. I advise that athletes start with a few basic movements, do an activation series for the first few weeks before moving into a build of squats, deadlifts, single-leg work and plyometrics.
In your activation series, focus on five Areas: Push, Pull, Core, Hinge, Squat
Push: Sleds, Push Ups, Dumbbell Press, Bench
Pull: Dumbbell Upright Row, Bent Barbell Row, TRX Row
Core: Front & Side Plank, Leg Raises, Flutter Kicks, Hollow Rock, Crunches
Hinge: KB Swing, Glute-Hip Bridge, Deadlift, Good Mornings
Squat: Back Squat, Front Squat, Front, Reverse, Side Lunges
Here’s a video demonstrating all of these:
Speed + Agility
Don’t let speed and agility scare you. As you build towards track and move further away from cross country, you’ll want to build strength to support shorter more intense efforts which requires better coordination. The best sprinters and even middle and long distance runners have trained speed & agility movements like speed ladders, mini hurdles, drills, and acceleration and deceleration. This gives your strength direction and allows you effectively apply force into the ground with accuracy.
Spend your time focusing on drills that are specific to the demands of your key events. For distance athletes, focus on A-Skip, B-Skip, small hurdle jumps on a single leg, and lateral hurdles and ladders. For sprinters, accuracy is key and repetition is the best way to become more attune to your movements. Focus on block starts, body position, and integrating form drills, parachutes, and video work with a coach or teammate.
Stamina means something different to a sprinter and a distance runner but for either it requires the athlete to build a machine specific to the demands of the events they plan to participate in. To a distance athlete, stamina comes from increased mileage throughout the off-season, then increasing the specificity and duration of race-pace workouts closer to the season, and, finally focusing even more specifically as you approach the key races of the season.
For a sprinter, stamina means building a machine that resists slowing down while holding form and mechanics for as long as possible. The best sprinters hold their form and slow down the least over the entirety of the race.
Stamina is built on a foundation of strength and speed. Depending on your goal event and specific demands build up your volume gradually every week as you work towards the start of the season.
Find a Crew, Be Consistent
These three areas of focus are truly about building a machine for a specific purpose. If you don’t have access to a club team, work with your HS coach to build an off-season program that you can follow. Don’t be afraid to join in with an adult track club, or, if the weather doesn’t allow for great outside running, feel free to get creative. Any regular and consistent training will help you prepare for the season even if that looks like swimming, boxing, cycling, or a Crossfit or bootcamp. As you get closer to the season, start to make your training more focused on running skills and drills.