What should athletes do on off days?
The life of a college student-athlete is a total grind.
Morning lifts, AM classes, PM classes, practice, homework, then bed.
If you’re lucky, there’s time in there for meals and a shower. But that’s about it.
At least once a week, however, college athletes are given a day “off”. This is precious free time that isn’t taken for granted by college athletes.
Most athletes spend this time recovering from the other 6 days, and for good reason- they are exhausted.
“Recovery” on a lazy Sunday for most college athletes looks like this:
- Wake up at 10am (hungover).
- Meander to the dining hall for breakfast.
- Watch Netflix in bed until 6pm.
- Eat again.
- Do 1-2 hours of homework.
- Go to bed.
While you’re certainly promoting recovery by staying sedentary with this routine, it doesn’t leave a lot of room for much else.
The 6 days on, 1 day off routine with no real recovery efforts on day 7 is not the best approach for peak performance.
Almost any student-athlete following this cycle will tell you they’ve experienced burnout.
If you’ve ever felt like you were left hanging on by a thread by the end of the season, this article will help.
If you’re serious about maximizing your 4-year sports window, day 7 should be a total “reset” day. It should be a clear transition from one week to the next.
It only takes 1-2 hours to wipe the slate clean, but the invested time will be worth it.
Your performance will be more consistent, you’ll have more clarity, and you’ll add 5-7 hours back to your week.
And bonus, you can still do everything on this list even if you go out partying the night before.
Here are 7 things college athletes should do on their “reset” day:
#1. Reflect on last week’s performance.
Taking even 20 minutes to reflect on your performance- in all areas of college life- will help you clarify what you want to accomplish next week.
Think about yesterday’s game for a minute and call it good? No, not exactly.
I encourage you to actually reflect- this may mean just spending some alone time thinking, but it could also mean journaling, going for a walk, or something a bit more task-oriented.
One way you can reflect on last week’s performance is to use this 5-10 minute journaling template:
- Write down 1 achievement or “win” you had the previous week in these areas: school, sport, work, social life, finance, personal development.
- Write down 1 thing you’d like to improve on or one thing you fell short with from each area.
- Based on #1 and #2, create 1-3 goals you have for the upcoming week in each area.
#2. Take a contrast shower.
Unless you’re living in a really fancy college suite, you probably don’t have access to a bathtub.
But fortunately, you’ve got access to a shower (and in a dorm, no water bill!)
Contrast baths are a popular solution for reducing muscle soreness, joint inflammation, and increasing white blood cell counts (which helps with recovery)
Some of the research says being totally immersed in water is required, but at the very least, you’ll feel energized and invigorated once you’re done.
#3. Go to the gym.
You probably stopped to read this one to make sure it wasn’t a joke. It’s not.
Going to the gym on a rest day can actually be a great way to expedite your recovery, assuming you don’t push it too hard.
It’s not a real workout day, so don’t expect to lift heavy weights or set a PR on your mile time.
Instead, head to the gym for 20-30 minutes of light cardio– running, swimming, rowing, etc.
And if you compete in a sport where muscular strength and endurance are pertinent (i.e. wrestling, weightlifting, football), you may also consider hitting light weights.
Shoot for 3 sets of 10 using loads of approximately 30-40% of your 1RM targeting all of your sore muscle groups. It will feel easy, and it’s supposed to.
You’ll feel amazing once you’re done.
By pumping fresh, oxygenated blood to your sore muscles, you’ll expedite the recovery process and reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) from your week of competition.
#4. Hydrate and supplement with electrolytes.
Hydrating is a good habit to enlist every day, but you can dedicate more time to your hydration on off days.
Shoot to drink at least 70% of your bodyweight in ounces of water on your rest day.
Consider adding a bit of sea salt to your water. I’m not advocating a lot of the false science out there about drinking “sole“, but you lose plenty of sodium in your sweat and it will help.
There are also benefits to adding an acid like freshly squeezed lemon juice or apple cider vinegar to your water. Research shows these can help improve digestion and keep you feeling full longer.
#5. Watch game film.
What mindset do you need to approach this upcoming week with?
Turn to last week’s game film to find that answer.
If you’re able to access your game film, commit 30 minutes every Sunday to filing through your on-field performances.
Either taking mental notes or physically writing it down, determine what you did well, and what you need to improve on.
Watching game film and studying plays is also a surefire way to get you noticed by the coaching staff. Whether you are a fringe player or advocating to be a captain next season, they won’t forget your attention to detail.
#6. Call home.
A great way to reset from your weekly grind is to spend some time with loved ones, even if that’s by phone or Facetime.
It’s an underrated form of recovery, but there’s something to be said for various forms of spiritual recovery and growth on college Sundays, too.
While you may love your friends and college life, a simple call home to check in with family is a great way to invigorate yourself and give you energy for the upcoming week.
It’s also a good opportunity to score some major points with your parents. They will appreciate your weekly calls, and you may never know how that could benefit you later on.
#7. Meal prep.
Peruse this site enough, and you’ll get sick of hearing me advocate for you to prep your meals.
But honestly, what you put into your body is what you’re going to get out of it. Eating crap from the dining hall for every meal is short changing your performance on the field, whether you realize it or not.
The guide above walks you through a 2-hour per week meal prep start-to-finish working with $60 or less.
That’s reasonable for most college students, and can be adjusted to fit your specific needs.
#8. Set up your schedule and goals for the upcoming week.
The final step for transitioning into the coming week (and hitting the “reset” button) is to clarify your goals for the coming week.
Take 30 minutes to clarify what you have going on this week, and what your goals are.
Most of your teammates plan to “survive” this week. You can excel above them (positioning yourself as a stand-out as you go) by knowing exactly what, when, and how your week will go.
This little ritual will also give you some additional headspace after the week starts, because you won’t have to constantly be thinking about what you need to do and where you need to be in 45 minutes.
Wouldn’t that be nice?
I’ve been using the Dayminder Yearly Planner since 2015, and recommend it highly.
For college students, you can block out your days in 15-minute increments and have a visual of your week in your hands at all times.
What Should Athletes Do On Off Days?
Use this precious bit of time to transition: debrief on the week before, and set up a great week ahead.
Nothing on this list will take you more than 2 hours, which means you still have plenty of time to Netflix, eat, nap, and recover from staying out late the night before.
Physical “resets” you can do include constrast showers, hydration, meal prepping, and a quick visit to the gym.
Mental “resets” include reflection, watching game film, setting up the week ahead in your planner and establishing goals.
Spiritual “resets” are calling home, or whatever else floats your boat.
As a college athlete, your time is valuable. Treat your off-days as an opportunity to certainly do less, but not do nothing.