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Off-Season Training: The Key to Success

By Chris W. Mcevoy

When sophomore tailback Eion Hu smashes through linemen or women's soccer star sophomore midfielder Emily Stauffer sprints downfield en route to a game-winning goal, their athletic success is largely the result of intensive off-season training.

Most people agree that those who put in the most effort during the off-season are usually significantly rewarded during the competitive season.

"It all comes down to how hard [an athlete] wants to work at it in the off-season, which will pay off during the season," says Dominik Sardo, Harvard's strength and conditioning coach, who structures most of the varsity team's training regimens in collaboration with the coaches of the particular sport. "People who work hard earn the right to win. They get everything the hard way...and that's true for any sport."

"I'd definitely say that training hard in the off-season makes you without question a better athlete," says sophomore Brian Famigletti, a defenseman for the men's hockey team. "But I think everyone on our team trains pretty damn hard."

However, some athletes are quick to point out that there are gifted athletes who barely break a sweat during the off-season but are still phenomenal on the playing field. They do agree, though, that while off-season training may have little effect on your natural athletic ability it will still improve your ability as a team player.

"I would not say [people who train intensely]] are necessarily the best athletes, but I would say a lot of the best players [on the football team] are the ones who train the hardest," senior inside linebacker Brian Borg says.

Sardo explains that a serious athlete tries to gain as much strength and conditioning as he possibly can during the off-season to become better at his sport and to prevent injuries during the competitive season. When designing an off-season program, Sardo takes into account the sport, the physical demands of the sport, and the type of athleticism involved in the sport.

"Different sports require different demands...but individually each sport is working just as hard proportionally to other sports," says Sardo.

At a time when the recent destruction of Carey Cage has demolished not only Harvard's varsity weight-room, but the off-season training programs of many Harvard athletes as well, some worry that the limited facilities will effect the performance of teams during the competitive season.

"[The destruction of Carey Cage] will effect our team during the competitive season just because it effects us so much during the off-season," Stauffer says.

"I wouldn't be surprised if there was an injury because [the facility now] is too busy for comfort," says junior Whitney Smith, who plays goalie for the Harvard women's hockey team and mid-fielder for the field hockey team. "I certainly think [the destruction of Carey Cage] is going to have an impact on the way people approach off-season training because it's such a hassle."

Sardo, however, was much more optimistic about the diminished facilities.

"It's just a little hiccup...we just got to be more creative and it's just temporary so when we do get the new facility, it's going to be just unbelievable," Sardo says.

As far as training goes, weight-lifting, sprinting, long-distance running, plyometrics and sport-specific ball drills are the fundamentals tools in most athletes' off-season arsenal.

Athletes and coaches often break off-season programs into cycles, with the first cycle primarily focusing on developing strength and muscle mass. In the weight room, this translates into lower repetitions and heavier weights. As pre-season approaches, athletes usually focus more on improving their conditioning and doing higher repetitions in the weight room.

Heavyweight crew captain Cary Donaldson describes crew's notoriously difficult off-season program.

"In the winter we lift weights a lot, we [row on an ergometer] a lot, and we row in the tanks [indoor rowing facilities]," Donaldson says. "As the winter progresses we shift to lifting more reps and lower weights so [training] is more like a race."

Pre-season is the ultimate test of an athlete's conditioning and the out-of-shape player's worst nightmare. Each sport has a particularly tortuous regimen to push a player to his maximum and beyond.

"Our bike program is twice a week, and its usually a 15 minute program. A lot of our team gets pretty nauseous," says Famigletti.

"We have [ergometer tests] once a week in the beginning of the year," says Donaldson. "In the winter you have [erg tests] too. That certainly adds intensity because everyone is competitive all the time so the task is to downplay the competition."

Stories still circulate about one collegiate crew coach who told a team after a particularly brutal workout that no one had put in their best effort because no one had thrown up.

Throwing up or not throwing up withstanding, the "no pain, no gain" slogan is the hallmark of any serious athlete's off-season program. As fanatical off-season workers like Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith show, intense off-season training almost always translates into increased success on the playing field.

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