For endurance athletes, the off-season can seem counter-productive and it can sometimes feel like your athleticism is beginning to fade away. You are training to go for as long as possible anyway, right? The temptation to keep up the good work can be obsessive, but without ample recovery time, your intensive race season could prove too much for your body, swatting away your goals for the year.
Or, if you live in chillier climes, the motivation to hit the trails in the ice and snow might be fully lacking. The off-season therefore provides good mental training to allow you to recover and psyche up for the next race.
Everybody’s off-season will be different, but here are a few helpful guidelines to frame your own goals:
- Keep the volume down
- Build your strength
- Improve technique
- Psyche up
Keep the Volume Down
The off-season is perhaps better described as the down season: the races are off, but your training is not – it should just be put down a notch or two. For cycling, you can still head out on your bike 3-4 times a week, but make it more like an easy stroll with friends, have a chat and share your passion for the sport. Remove the speedometers and do not worry about your average pace. By race season, you might even have enticed others to join you on the more serious sessions!
Running too can be maintained at 3-4 sessions a week, but rather than trying to always hit your best, head out into the cold without a watch and any technical gear; focus on technique (as discussed below) and hit a relaxed pace. Try and keep the time at about 30 minutes – trying to run a marathon during this season will really sap you come race time.
Swimming should become the focus of your down season training, and a heated indoor pool is certainly a lot more inviting than an icy sidewalk at 6am! Again, don’t get too into the technical gear and how many yards you swim, but make the swim sessions count. Make them fast to build your strength and focus on your technique, something which a lot of triathletes neglect.
All told, you might total 8-10 hours a week, or less.
Build Your Strength
High intensity swimming sessions will definitely help you build up your strength, but you will also want to consider weight exercises at the gym. Target the muscles which will give you that added power in all three disciplines: deadlifts will work your back and legs (and almost everything else), squats are ideal for building leg strength, and use the cable machines to help stabilize your core.
Avoid exercises like biceps curls and triceps extensions – they are time consuming and won’t add much to your swimming, cycling or running. You can also look at these gym sessions as routine-breakers to help you relax and take a different view on the different disciplines. Most gyms are indoors too!
The down season is the perfect time to recalibrate any niggles you might have in your technique. Your running stance, your cycling cadence or your freestyle stroke might be a little bit off, but during the race season, changing it can be difficult. Since changing or improving your technique might lead to working little-used muscles, you might over-use them during intensive training and thereby cause yourself an injury.
In the down season, however, you have ample time to target what needs improving and to make the necessary changes. Swimming is the most technical of the three disciplines, and this is another reason you will want to be spending more time in the pool, alongside its heated qualities. The more technical aspects of down season swimming training for triathletes will be detailed in an upcoming article on this site.
The psychological aspects of the down season are perhaps the most important, and they have been a theme running through the other guidelines above. It is your time to relax, recover and discover or rediscover things about the sport that you love. The race season can be tense when you are aiming to smash your personal records, so now is the time to take a step back.
Do not stop entirely, but maintain your endurance and abilities by simple runs, relaxed rides and focused swims. Friends and family might be more enticed by a leisurely cycle than a high-tempo flash ride. Using a mountain bike to hit the dirt trails instead of the tarmac might also give you a new perspective on the sport.
Improving or altering your technique can also feel like you are returning to stage one: any improvements in technique will form a check shape, and you might see your form take a dip before it truly begins to improve. It therefore takes mental toughness to see through the changes and reap the benefits come race time. It might also be the case that you have a set training routine.
The down season is your chance to shake that up, which is mentally refreshing. It might also give you the opportunity to work out a new and improved routine.
The off-season/down season is your opportunity to take a step back, relax and look at your sport from a different angle. It is a chance to refresh your body and, just as importantly, your mind after the strains of the race season. There is no need to stop entirely, but decrease the volume of your training to let your body recover.
Hit the gym to strengthen the muscles which will help you propel yourself through the water, push the pedals and dominate the run. You ought to also have the time to make any improvements in your technique, to make small tweaks which could spell injury during race season, but benefits in the down season.
And finally, this is your time to psyche up for the coming race season, to picture your goals before making the moves to achieve them.