Inspired by Coach Kristina Centenari’s experience training as a competitive athlete, these workouts will help you feel stronger, more capable, and more resilient.
By Jonathan Flicker
Every time you do a coach-led workout on Tonal, you’re completing a specific series of exercises in a particular order designed to maximize your results. In this series, The Why Behind the Workout, we break down the science behind a particular workout or program.
Here, we go deep on Off-Season Strength with Tonal coach, certified personal trainer, and competitive athlete Kristina Centenari.
Who It’s For
Off-Season Strength is an intermediate-level program designed for competitive and recreational athletes looking to excel at the sports and activities they love. Even if you don’t play a structured sport, you’ll benefit by developing a strong foundation to move better through everyday life.
“It’s for someone who is looking to get really strong by getting back to the basics and get a better understanding of how their body moves through those basics,” explains Centenari, an accomplished runner and triathlete, skier, and former competitive tennis player. In addition to getting in-depth knowledge of your own body, you’ll also gain the confidence to perform your activity without pain or injury.
Centenari knows that it’s easy to get sucked into a state of mind where you prioritize performance over long-term health in your training. “I did that as an athlete, and it took a heavy toll on my mind and body,” she says. “This program is designed to help you build a foundation so you can bulletproof your body.”
You’ll do that by building muscle, power, and connective tissue strength in the tendons and ligaments. “Our connective tissue is there to stabilize the joints, so we need to make sure that it can handle the demands of our training and our daily activities,” adds Josh Clay, a certified strength and conditioning specialist.
For athletes, there’s a lot of talk about raising the ceiling of achievement, but, as Centenari says, “if you don’t have a solid floor or foundation, you’re putting a limit on yourself, and it sets you up for injury, plateau, or burnout.” Off-Season Strength is all about building that solid floor to help you become your strongest, most capable, and most resilient self.
How It Works
In this program, Centenari uses tenets of the Conjugate Method, which exposes you to varying degrees of intensity to improve both strength and power. She adds accessory and isometric work to improve lower-back stability, connective tissue strength, and overall joint health.
In the program, you’ll complete four workouts per week for four weeks. Two days per week will be devoted to maximum-effort strength, while the other two will focus on dynamic-effort power, with each day targeting either the upper or lower body. Because each day focuses on either strength or power, the intention behind the blocks varies depending on the goal of the workout.
The first block of each workout pairs a primary, low-repetition move with an active recovery or accessory exercise to increase your range of motion and give your muscles time to rest. The two strength days feature a descending rep scheme working up to a heavy last set. But in the power workouts, Chains mode is activated to maximize velocity with the goal of getting every rep over the 80 percent line of Tonal’s power meter.
The second block on each day is all about either hypertrophy and core or power with moderate repetitions. Here, you’re being exposed to movement patterns you may not be used to, such as moving laterally, plus a primary upper- or lower-body move to enhance power.
The third and final block contains rotational and anti-rotational core moves to increase spinal stability. You’ll also see accessory exercises including isometric holds to build postural endurance and connective tissue strength around the hips, knees, and ankles. “Isometric movements require maximal contraction of the muscle [and] the more muscle we can recruit to work, the more strength and power we will be able to produce,” says Centenari. “Isometric strength is largely dependent on overall core strength and trunk stability, which is why we are aligning these concepts throughout the program.”
The Key Moves
The front-loaded squat is a staple of lower-body strength days. This foundational lower-body push move strengthens the quads and glutes, but the upright position of your torso requires a ton of abdominal strength, making this a great core exercise as well.
The bench press is a classic compound upper-body strengthening movement. With this exercise, you’re targeting your chest, shoulders, and triceps all at once. “Having a strong upper body will help in pretty much all aspects of life, sport, and movement,” says Centenari. “Whether you are a tennis player swinging a racket or a runner swinging your arms back and forth, this compound lift will help you efficiently build more strength and power.”
Neutral Grip Deadlift
A foundational hip-hinge move known for its potent ability to strengthen the glutes and hamstrings, deadlifts actually work your entire posterior chain, the muscles on the backside of your body that run from your heels all the way up to the back of your neck. In this program, you’ll do deadlifts on power days with Chains mode activated so you can focus on force and velocity.
Close Grip Bench Press
Unlike the traditional bench press, the shoulder-width grip of this move activates the triceps more than the shoulders, allowing for greater power and velocity. Clay points out that “power is the first thing to degenerate as we age, so it’s really important that we continue training to increase it.”
Isometrics (Iso Squat Hold, Iso Split Squat, Superhero Iso Hold)
An isometric contraction is a muscle contraction without motion, and Off-Season Strength has three isometric moves that are key to improving connective tissue strength and spinal stability. “The bottom of your range of motion, when muscles are lengthened, is best for strengthening connective tissue,” says Clay, which is why the two lower-body exercises are performed in the lengthened position. The superhero iso hold is designed to strengthen the lower back’s ability to tolerate spinal extension.
While holding an exercise may seem easier than moving heavy loads, Centenari points out that many people underestimate how hard isometrics are, so be sure to bring your focus to these.
When to Do It
Off-Season strength consists of 16 workouts designed to be completed four times per week for four weeks. Clay recommends doing the first two workouts of the week on consecutive days, followed by a rest day; and then the third and fourth workouts on consecutive days followed by two rest days. A sample schedule might look like:
“You have to work and put in the reps to be consistent but be smart about it by giving yourself the rest you need to get stronger,” says Centenari.
If you’re training for a sport, it’s best to do this program four to eight weeks out from when the season starts, or complete it a week before your first day of practice or training.
“If you have performance goals, do this program before you start that specific training,” says Centenari, and Clay adds, “The number one thing is to show up consistently, and to train with an intensity that drives adaptation. Intent is everything.”
What to Do Next
“If you feel confident, start to explore more specific goal-focused programs,” says Centenari. 20-in-20 for Runners has a focus on unilateral work and is a great program for the recreational runner, or anyone looking to move better in sports or through life.
While this program was designed to improve performance specifically for skiing, Clay recommends this as another great follow-up to Off-Season Strength. Sports are very much about deceleration and change of direction, which requires a ton of eccentric strength. Ski Strong heavily emphasizes this while also focusing on power-based exercises.
If you’re ready for the next challenge and are interested in building muscle, especially in the glutes and chest, consider this hypertrophy program. It also uses the Conjugate Method to build strength, muscle, and explosive power, but Power Build has a progression in terms of load due to lower reps and correlating higher weight.