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Year-round conditioning the key

The Algarve Cup has come and gone and there are no big events on the horizon for the US women's national team, but that doesn't mean players can start to slack. In the current climate of professional sports, the offseason is the key time to work on conditioning and technique and make yourself a better player.

A productive offseason can make things easier once team camps roll around and games are just around the corner. After a tournament like Algarve, where we played four games in seven days in Portugal, the natural inclination is to relax and let your body recover from the punishment. Even so you can't take too much time off because it's important to maintain the fitness base that's been built up for a tournament like that.

Most national team players either head to Europe - Kate Markgraf and Kristine Lilly are overseas now - or find good men's teams to practice with. I work out with a local Under-18 team in Florida and Abby Wambach works with the same age group out in Arizona. It's sometimes hard to keep up with the quickness and strength of these youth teams but the challenge makes us better players.

Having said that, as critical as workouts are, there's no replacing actual matches as a training tool. As a result I signed on with the USL W-League team in Orlando and several other national team members are playing in Boston, New Jersey and Charlotte. For those of us who chose not to play in Europe the W-League is our best opportunity to stay game-sharp.

With games every Saturday, my training regimen is intense Monday and Tuesday then tapers off slowly as the week goes on. I always take the day off after the game to get ready for those two intensive days at the beginning of the week. At this time of the year, I'm in the weight room three days a week, as well as practicing with the men. On the days I'm not playing against the guys I'm either doing a four or five-mile run, or speed work, to make sure I still have some burst when I get back on the field for real.

I also like to break up the monotony of constant training by adding in some spin classes, kickboxing and pilates. Changing things up keeps my training fresh and helps with motivation. The benefits of entering national team camp in peak condition is that it allows me focus more on technical and tactical side of things during camp.

The problem right now, though, is that we don't really know what our schedule will look like in the near future. It's critical to strike an important balance in our training, making sure we're in shape but not too burned out when camp opens. The body can only take so much, and if an athlete isn't careful, over-training before opening camp can wear you down.

As a comparison, things are totally different for the men's team right now as they are in the midst of World Cup qualifying and the MLS season is also in full swing. They're playing weekly games against quality competition, working with coaches and utilizing team facilities. On the other hand for the women, it's the first time in a long time that we're basically on our own.

We had the same luxury the men are now enjoying before the last Women's World Cup when the WUSA was still in operation. However, without that resource and with the next World Cup and Olympic tournaments so far away it can be hard to stay motivated and find constant practice opportunities. We don't really get to workout together outside of camp but regular conference calls help us all push one another. The known competitiveness of national team camps is enough to encourage us to stay in shape.

Just as they say in pro football or baseball, there really is no offseason anymore. Year-round training is a must, no matter what approach one takes.

Heather Mitts covers women's soccer for ESPN and is also a member of the U.S. women's national team and former WUSA All-Star.