Don’t let your fitness fade by making it an “Off Season”.
As an endurance coach I see the following scenario take place about this time of year. From late October through the end of November an athlete’s race season comes to a close and they descend into a few month period of rest, recovery, relaxation, eating, sleeping and weekend’s full of couch surfing. They say to themselves “THIS is the Off-Season!” Read More...Indeed, endurance athletes need a time in their training program to reduce training load, shift focus and allow the body and mind some time to recover from many months of hard training and racing. However, for many, the mythical “Off-Season” can last for a couple months, or more, which is long enough to erode all the hard earned fitness gains from the previous year. Then, come January or February, I get “The Call”. It goes something like this...
Athlete: “Coach! I had a good race season last year and improved my performance, but I want to do even better. I had a PR at my (insert your event here) and want to get back to structured training so I can really make big improvements in my times.
Coach: “Great to hear from you (insert your name here). I know that you had a decent season with solid performances including some personal best times. What are your goals for the New Year?”
Athlete: “I want to compete on a higher level in my age-group and improve my (insert your race distance here) times year over year by being more focused and consistent.”
Coach: “Those are reasonable goals to establish for yourself. What have you been doing since your final event from last year?”
Athlete: “Yeah, I haven’t done anything for three months. I’ve gained (insert your weight gain figure here) and never bothered to put the pedals back on my bike from (insert your destination race here). I forgot where I put my swim goggles and never took my run shoes out of my race bag from last season.”
Coach: “Oh, $&!t…”
You can see where this conversation is going. I’ll spare you the details of how rapidly the body’s energy systems detain from their peaks. I’ll save that topic for another month’s blog post. If there is no “Off-Season”, then what do you do to make sure that the next race season is a greater success than the previous? I have outlined some topics below that you might consider implementing into your “season between seasons”, so you can gain fitness year over year, become more competitive, and stay motivated and consistent and injury free.
Reflect on the season gone by & plan for next year:
Take a detailed look back at the previous season’s events and discuss with your coach what went right and what areas are critical for improvement. This will not only help you develop a plan for the fall and winter, but it will allow determine the key races for the upcoming year.
Develop a weakness into a strength:
Many athletes continue to focus on the sports they enjoy between seasons. Why not consider putting your stronger discipline(s) in a maintenance mode and work to make a limiter a strength in the New Year. This could be working on swim technique and fitness; developing running economy; building core strength & muscular endurance; and/or shedding unwanted weight to improve your power to weight ratio. Whatever you, & your coach, decide to do, commit to it 100%, knowing that the work you put in will pay you back nicely in the next season by allowing you to attain your goals much easier.
Think “maintain” fitness, improve your mental health & regain, or refocus, motivation:
If you are happy with your sport specific fitness as you end your current race calendar, your post season progress might involve switching your focus to other sports. Consider taking on Yoga or Pilates classes; developing your bike handling skills via mountain biking; rowing; trail running; racquet sports; and/or a detailed strength training program can maintain, or continue to develop your overall fitness. This is a great time of year for you to also seek out different routes for running or biking. Websites such as www.ridewithgps.com, www.mapmyrun.com or www.strava.com allow users to search routes in specific geographical areas. Who knows, you might find a hidden gem of a route right in your own neighborhood. You might also try running on vacation, or during a business trip. I had a recent occasion trip to two major cities that allowed me to run from one attraction to another and see these locations from a completely different perspective!
Don’t obsess over holiday weight gain…much:
While we all love the Holidays, and the parties and decadent meals that accompany this festive time of year, gaining a significant amount of unwanted weight can be a big issue. In fact, this gain in adipose fat can seriously derail your plans for next season before it even begins. At the same time, try not to obsess over it and still enjoy the delicious Holiday menus at those parties. It does require some discipline and planning on your part to stick to a dietary strategy that will see that you can enjoy all the Holidays have to offer without adding too many unwanted pounds. Our goal isn’t to always try to lose weight, and during the Holidays we can apply the simple objective to minimize it. Even elite level athletes allow themselves to gain a few pounds of fat in between seasons, but they are cautious about exactly how much AND very methodical about shedding it when their volume begins to increase towards their goal races.
Reduce your dependence on technology…temporarily:
Throughout the season we record and review just about every training session that we complete. Over time, this puts a strain on how we view our training. It’s critical that you allow yourself some workouts where you unplug from the technology that continually drives our workouts. We are constantly looking at our power output, stroke rate, pace, heart rate, speed, cadence, vertical gain, Variability Index, 100 yard splits and a host of other metrics that tell us how we are performing at any given moment. This can take the fun out of the training and make it feel more like work. How do you combat this? In between seasons (and occasionally in middle of your regular training blocks) discuss with your coach about removing the technology from certain workouts at various times in the training cycle. I call these Free swims, Free Rides and Free Runs. During these workouts, the data is typically still recorded for uploading and review by the coach, but ignored during the actual workout by the athlete, allowing them to detach from the technology and swim, bike and/or run like a kid…purely for fun.
Utilize your off-season to take your triathlon career into your own hands by being active while enjoying downtime. Think about weaknesses and strengths as a starting point for the next year. Communicate those to your coach to assess and improve them together. You will be thankful going into your next season.