The off-season should be a time of less intensity, but for many triathletes it becomes another layer of stress. It can be hard after a year of intense training to adjust to the off-season mindset. But don’t think that being in the off-season means you entirely stop what you are doing.
While the off-season is definitely a great time for rest, recovery and reflection, it is definitely not the time to kick your feet up and backtrack on all of the fitness gains you made this past season. In fact, it is a great time of the year to focus on your limiters while maintaining a solid aerobic base in order to set yourself up for another personal record season. So, think twice this year before taking the typical off-season approach to your endurance training.
The off-season is not just about letting the body recover, it's also about letting your mind take a break from the beat-down of the racing season. There are some general principles you can apply to training in the offseason that are definite musts. You absolutely must keep your training fun. Training in the offseason can even be semi-unstructured to the point where you aren’t concerned with hitting specific workout targets or making it to masters three times per week. It is important that while you continue to train you must allow yourself the mental break from that ultra-structured training. Once you’ve tackled your mindset you can focus on some of the more detailed tips that follow to help set yourself up for your best race season yet.
As busy enthusiastic athletes, rest is something we easily overlook, even fearing that our fitness will desert us if we are not training hard every day! Physical and mental fatigue from the months of training and racing will have built up. Take a week or two catching up with the jobs you’ve been putting off or spend some quality time with the family, you’ve earnt it and you need it.Focus on one discipline, while maintaining all three.
In this video, 6x Ironman World Champion, Dave Scott discusses the importance of collecting your thoughts in the off-season and especially recognizing your successes.
A Triathlon Focused Off-Season
Begin by assessing what it is you need to work on by identifying a weakness. Go back to race reports from last season, and take notes on your performances in each leg of the event. Was one of the three events weaker relative to the others? One way to find out is to look at your placement within the field. If you swam and biked in the top 25%, but ran in the bottom 50%, chances are good that your running needs special attention.
Once you have decided on your weak link(s), work with your coach to devise a plan to improve these limiters. Here are some suggestions, but by no means is this comprehensive:Weak swimmers. Frankly, this group contains most of us. In fact, I say that if you are not swimming faster than 1 min, 30 seconds per 100m in a pool consistently, you are a weak swimmer. Now, when I refer to a weak swimmer, I do not mean he or she needs to build strength per se. What I mean is you need to get faster. You do this by improving your body positioning and balance in the water, and by building your swim specific fitness by swimming hard, often.If this is you, swim no less than three to six times per week. Frequent swimming will help you keep a “feel” for the water, which is to say, it will keep your body used to moving through the water, and gaining efficiency. To note: I had the privilege to watch some of our nations best triathletes (Kemper, Haskins, Chrabot, Collins, Fretta, to name a few) swim this past summer. They all swam five or six days per week. Why? Because they want to be faster, and that is what it takes. For your off season, there is not a big need to swim big volume, so anything from 1500m to 4000m per swim workout will suffice, depending on what you are used to doing, and what your goals are going to dictate. The key is swim quality yardage on a frequent basis.
Weak bikers. Triathletes are notoriously poor bike handlers as a group. If this is the case for you, I suggest spending a month or two getting off the roads, and onto the trails with your mountain bike. Off-road cycling presents a set of bike handling challenges that are extreme compared to what triathletes normally encounter on the roads. Mountain biking is a fun way to begin building better cycling skills, while maintaining, and even improving, bike fitness.
Another option for weak cyclists is to build fitness in areas that we as triathletes rarely have the opportunity to work on, due to the nature of how we race. Specifically, the ability to accelerate quickly for short bursts. As a road cyclist, you would learn this skill, and force you body to adapt to performing these short bursts very quickly, otherwise, you would end up being spit out the back of the peleton. Although we rarely use this skill in a non-drafting triathlon race, triathletes can benefit quite a bit by increasing our ability to produce very high amounts of power for anything from 10 seconds up to 5 minutes. Studies have shown that increasing your bike fitness in this way will also trickle down into your abilities to time trial over longer periods of time, which is the normal manor in which we triathletes train and race.
Weak runners. More often than not, a triathlon is won or lost during the run. If you feel that your running ability is holding you back, then spending time focusing on running is going to be your best approach during your triathlon off season. As simple and “natural” as it seems, running is actually a quite complicated activity. I would venture to say that all of us could use run technique improvements, and off season is a great place to begin making new running habits that will make you a more efficient runner. Spend 15 to 30 minutes of each run workout doing running drills and exercises that are going to address your running inefficiencies. Seek guidance from a running coach who will help you identify inefficiencies and prescribe the drills that will address these problems.