How to Plan the Perfect Off-Season to Smash Weaknesses

Need a little guidance when planning your off-season? Here are three tips to get you on track!

I’ve written a lot before about how difficult meet prep can be: it’s stressful, it’s a time when you’re more prone to injury (because of the heavier weights and higher stress levels) — and it can also be hugely rewarding. The off-season is equally difficult, for the opposite reason. You feel like you have all the time in the world to get stronger, but — with no immediate goal or reward in sight — so many lifters end up squandering this time instead of using it to get stronger.

That’s one of the major mistakes I made in the past year, and it’s certainly an understandable one. But if you truly want to reach your potential, you have to find the discipline to set goals, make a plan, and follow through on that plan, even in the off-season. This where I can offer some good news: it’s not so difficult if you’ve got some guidelines to work with.

Off-Season Tip 1: Start by Identifying Your Weaknesses

No one wants to admit their weaknesses, but it’s imperative that you set your ego aside and spend some time soul-searching on what’s held you back in the past. If you can do that, weaknesses won’t be hard to identify: chances are, you remember the bad misses in your powerlifting career a lot more than the triumphs. But, if you’re struggling, here’s a step-by-step method for identifying weaknesses.

How to Identify Weaknesses

  1. Start at the macro level: what’s your best lift? What’s your worst? Don’t confuse “best” and “worst” with “favorite” and “least favorite.”
  2. Consider your worst lift, and ask yourself a few questions. Where do you tend to miss? Do you attribute those misses to technique or to muscular weaknesses?
  3. Repeat step 2 for your other two lifts.
  4. Finally, take a step back and evaluate any other high-level weaknesses that stand out. Are you frequently injured? Does your schedule prevent you from training consistently? Is your diet poor or is you bodyfat percentage too high for efficient lifting?

You really don’t need to dig any deeper than this. Many lifters try to identify very micro-level weaknesses (the lateral head of my triceps isn’t up to par, it must be ruining my bench), but this is likely an exercise in futility.

Off-Season Tip 2: Brainstorm New Ways to Improve Those Weaknesses

Once you’re identified your weaknesses, it’s really tempting to try to apply strategies you’ve tried in the past to improve. After all, just identifying those weaknesses probably pushed you outside of your comfort zone, and you’ll want to get back in there as soon as possible. But take a second to think it through: if what you had tried in the past had worked, you wouldn’t still be facing the same problems.

So instead, spend some time brainstorming things you haven’t tried. Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box here! Personally, I really enjoy applying bodybuilding training concepts to my powerlifting programs to address weaknesses, but you can borrow from other methodologies and even other sports.

Think Outside the Box

Don’t limit yourself to the physical, either. If one of your weaknesses involves squat depth, maybe the issue isn’t muscular. Maybe you just get nervous in the hole, and would benefit some most from a meditation practice that helps you deal with that underlying nervousness.

Check out this video for some ideas on identifying “cures” for your weaknesses:

Off-Season Tip 3: Make it Cohesive

You can’t just stick a bunch of ideas together and call it a plan. Even though it’s the offseason, you still need to remember the core concepts of good programming:

  • Periodization: Over time, your total training volume should decrease and your training intensity should increase
  • Effort regulation: Most athletes require some degree of flexibility in loading parameters based on day-to-day variation in recovery and preparedness

Need help with these concepts? Check out my YouTube series below.

My Off-Season Program

This program was designed to improve my muscular weaknesses — quad and shoulder strength — while still providing plenty of practice with the competition lifts so as to not get rusty during the off-season when weights are lighter. To strengthen my quads, I’m falling back on my old staple, front squats; and for shoulders, I’m trying some new strategies. All of this is incorporated into a framework that I know works well for me: five training days per week, benching 3-times per week, squatting twice, and deadlifting once.

Day 1: Quad & Shoulder Focus (Heavy)

  • High bar squat: warmup followed by 70% 1RM for max reps; 3-5×10 with 80-90% of top set weight
  • High incline bench press from pins: 5×5 with a weight I could use for 6-7 reps
  • Fat grip dumbbell row: 2-3 sets of 15+ reps with moderate weight
  • Ab work

Day 2: Upper Back/Bicep Accessory Day

  • Pulldown, seated row, shrug, curl. This is a lighter training day.

Day 3: Quad & Shoulder (Light)

  • Front squat: 5×5 with a weight I could use for 6-7 reps
  • Standing overhead press: 70% 1RM for max reps; 3-5×10 with 70-80% top set weight
  • Dumbbell lateral raises (all directions): 3-4 sets of 20 reps with light weight
  • Bench press static holds: 150% 1RM for 3-5 sets of max time

Day 5: Deadlift & Hamstrings

  • Low deficit deadlift: 70% 1RM for max reps; 3-5×5 with 80-90% top set weight
  • Rack pull: singles to a max starting at top deadlift weight
  • Glute-ham raise: 3-4 sets of max reps with bodyweight
  • Ab work

Day 6: Bench Press & Triceps

  • Close grip bench press: 70% 1RM for max reps; 3-5×5 with 80-90% top set weight
  • JM press: 5×5 with a weight I could use for 8-10 reps
  • Weighted dip: 3 sets of 8-10 reps with heavy weight
  • Triceps extension: 3-4 sets of 20 reps with light weight (choose two movements)

Remember: this program is designed to work my weaknesses. It might not work for you, but if you think your shoulders and quads need to come up, well, maybe it will!

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Feature image from @phdeadlift Instagram page.