Should Exercise Have An Off-Season?

Apr 7, 2022

Next time we go on a family vacation ... we will choose activity over exercise.

Should Exercise Have An Off-Season?

We all know the term off-season. It broadly categorizes the period, usually when an athlete’s professional season is over, that is dedicated to time off and physical (and mental) recalibration. I bring up this notion of off-season because for many of us who have a committed exercise practice…well, we don’t really have an off-season. But maybe we should!?

Taking a Physical Vacation

Case in point. Last June we were very excited to go on a long-awaited family vacation. We had planned and cancelled this trip twice because of COVID and couldn’t believe we could finally go. It was to be 10 days of well-needed rest and family time on a Greek island called Naxos. Of course, our bags were packed with all our intentions: running shoes, enough dri-fit to get us through a few consecutive days of working out without washing, and workouts downloaded on our MOSSA App…just in case we didn’t have reliable internet.

We arrived, settled into our Airbnb, and started to plan how our days would go. “Let’s work out first thing and get it out of the way!” seemed like the right idea. Until island time took over. Everything basically shuts down between 2 and 6 p.m. You don’t even consider dinner until 9 p.m. and everything is so alive and vibrant until at least midnight, your head doesn’t hit the pillow until the early hours of the morning. “How about we work out in the early evening?” was our next plan. But, the 100+ degree temps made it… not the slightest bit fun.

So here I was, with my least favorite feeling. I have committed to working out but haven’t yet and now it’s hanging over my head like a dark, damp cloud. It was taking up way too much emotional bandwidth. So, by day three I suggested that we treat our vacation as our off-season. No formal working out. We were already being active, walking a ton, swimming, hiking, and riding bikes. I proposed that we enjoy the rest of our vacation as a time to let our bodies and brains re-charge. I felt like the Greek Gods had come to my rescue!

Now…I do want to be transparent. I might have been getting a little antsy by the end of the vacation, but I interpreted that as a good sign. My low grade, niggly, hip flexor injury was completely gone. I had slept a ton, walked for days, ridden up some steep hills on rickety old bikes, and my body felt like a million bucks! I was physically fresh and excited to get back into my routine when I got home. To me that is an indication of a great vacation.

Typically, a professional athlete uses off-season for two key things. To develop some type of physical competency that becomes a base for the specific training required in-season, a lineman might be working on power and gaining muscle during off-season, or to recover from injuries. It’s also an important period to have some mental time out from the rigors of in-season, where high levels of motivation and mental tenacity are required.

Now most of us aren’t training like professional athletes; we are working out. But there is something to be said for taking a break from the physical things we always do and replace working out with simply “being active.” There is also something to be said for re-charging our motivation muscle. We all know it takes disciplined thought and action to have a regular exercise practice, so just taking it off the table for a little while is like a vacation in itself.

An off-season practice is not a one size fits all. I know people that would go literally crazy not working out for that long, but I think there are several different strategies that can be employed. Here are some tips, ideas, and considerations for implementing an exercise off-season strategy.

Make a plan

Next time we go on a family vacation, we agreed that we would decide well before we leave what our intention is going to be. Likely, we will choose activity over exercise. This means we know we don’t have to pack any dri-fit or Lycra, and we can replace our running shoes with hiking shoes. We will build more activity into our planned itinerary and look forward to it as part of our vacation adventure.

Replace workouts with work-ins

Another strategy I have used before, is to replace all my workouts that are more physically demanding with work-ins. I took my yoga mat and my bands and committed to do Centergy most days, along with all the restorative physical therapy exercises I am supposed to do on an ongoing basis. It was like taking my body to the shop for a tune up. I felt great by the end of the week, like I’d hit a physical refresh button.

Change it up and do something different

Maybe you really do still want to work out. I get it. What if you just changed it up for a week? Maybe you use the MOSSA programs that don’t require equipment. Or you run or walk or bike ride. Doing something different is akin to periodizing your workouts.

Work on a specific physical outcome

Maybe your flexibility is waning, or you have been doing a lot of heavy lifting and your cardio fitness feels like it has suffered. Just like athletes, you could focus your energy on a different physical goal. Sometimes narrowing your focus expands the results.

Choose an activity that adds to your vacation

We discovered in Greece that riding a bike and walking were two activities that added tremendous value to our vacation. Biking and hiking got us to remote beaches we never would have discovered had we driven, and walking was the ultimate gateway to people watching and exploring. Pursue activities that will add to your vacation memories.

Strategically plan for an off-season when you know you’ll need it

Maybe you have something coming up at work that demands a lot of time and attention. Maybe you have felt a little physically flat. Maybe your motivation muscle is waning a little and mustering up the energy to work out has felt like it takes too much bandwidth. Well, strategically plan an off-season week. Put it in your calendar, make sure you’re covered if you’re a coach or instructor, and decide in advance how you are going to approach it using the ideas above.

A strategic off-season isn’t the same as just getting lazy and falling out of routine. It’s thoughtful, designed, and planned. We do it for a specific intention. In other words, you should be able to plug in the blanks in the following sentence: I am going to replace my regular workout schedule with an off-season strategy. Specifically, I will (blank) in order to achieve the objective of (blank).

The results of a well-timed and well-planned off-season will be a restored mind and body and a motivated return home, where your “usual” will feel unusually welcoming. And we can only hope the ultimate result may be the reward of working for and planning next year’s off-season stay- or vacation.

Next time we go on a family vacation ... we will choose activity over exercise.


Cathy Spencer Browning
VP of Training & Programming

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