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Almost Off-Season… Now What?

We’re approaching that time of the year where athletes start to wonder: what should I do now? My season is over (or almost) so what can I do to race faster next year?

Here are my thoughts on the off season:

Take a Physical and Mental Break

Once you finish your last race of the season it is time to take a little break. It is important to let your body recover and, perhaps even more importantly, to let your mind rest from all the training and racing stress. Play a team sport, go hiking with your loved ones or go on a skiing trip. You can still do some running, swimming or biking. Just keep it fun and unstructured. New activities will invigorate you, while your non-triathlete friends and loved ones will be glad to see you.

Concentrate on Motor Skills

Once you resume triathlon-specific training, keep the volume low and work on your motor skills. The best time of the year to do extra work on your motor skills is the off-season. During the racing season many athletes are so worried about split times and distance that they forget about the importance of motor skills. Get me to film your stroke when you’re swimming. If your bike is uncomfortable, this is the best time of the year to get a new bike or get a professional bike fit on your old bike. Your body will have the time to adjust to any bike changes. For the run I recommend working on efficiency to improve leg turnover and minimize the time your foot is on the ground. Most top runners can maintain 90 steps per minute or better. Count the steps on one leg only, or double to 180, and count both legs over a minute.

Don’t be a (January) National Champion

I am not sure where I heard this quote, but I like it. Every time someone tells me about a great set of repeats or some crazy ride done at an incredible pace during the off-season, I use the quote. The likelihood that this athlete can maintain this type of effort throughout the entire year is not very good. Training takes effort, it causes pain and it wears on you. Save that energy for when it counts later in the season. Being fit in January does not mean that you will be that much fitter by summer. The more likely scenario is that of low performance during the summer due to overtraining and getting mentally drained from all the high intensity. In the same breath, don’t go completely non-physical during this time as you’ll spend the first 6mos. of the new year trying to get back to your ideal race weight! Believe me, I’ve been down that road before!

Train Your Weaknesses

I like this motto in general but I want to make sure that training weaknesses does not turn into doing mega-mileage during the off-season. If swimming is your weakest discipline, concentrate on motor skill improvement rather than swimming 5000m 5x/wk. Most improvements in swimming come from repetition and frequency. If you swim 25,000m a week using bad technique you will be cementing bad technique into your muscle memory and make it that much harder to fix. You will become a very fit slow swimmer.

Similarly, if running is your weak sport I do not recommend training for a marathon to become a better runner. Work on your running technique by improving your stride rate as mentioned above. If you have to schedule a running race I suggest distances up to a half marathon. A full marathon is generally a very difficult and demanding event. It will promote a huge catabolic effect on your body and micro tears on your muscles (slowing recovery). A marathon can take up to a month to fully recover from, and it could drain the energy needed for your triathlon racing season.

I often hear, “But coach – I signed up for Ironman Canada and I want to make sure I can run a marathon.” Here is my take on that: For most triathletes, an Ironman is an exercise in energy management. The great majority of athletes walk during the marathon to insure fluid and food intake. The Ironman marathon is more like a training run. A solo marathon on the other hand is more an exercise in pain management, the pace is high, runners barely break stride to get that half cup of water. Most runners do not walk unless they hit the wall. It is a very different event. Running a marathon in the winter only proves that you can run a marathon and you can handle a three- to five-hour effort. I have seen many top marathoners struggle during an Ironman.

Performance at one does not translate to the other. Scheduling a few long training runs of 3 to 3 and a half hrs during Ironman training should mentally prepare an athlete who has any doubts of their capability to complete a marathon. I suggest you save your energy during the off-season and train properly for the Ironman.

Finally, if the bike is your weak discipline, it is usually because you lack strength. Get on your trainer or go outside if the weather permits and work on developing strength with low-cadence high-resistance intervals. Get a consistent and small dosage of aerobic riding during the off-season. I find that getting on a trainer is not the most fun activity over the off-season, especially for runners and swimmers. Make that commitment and you will be glad you did when triathlon season comes around.

Strength Training

As triathletes, we like to think of ourselves as very fit individuals. We run, we bike, we swim – we do it all. Yet we find ourselves getting sore if we go play tennis or do yard work. This is even more so as we get older. Strength training will help us strengthen those muscles that we generally do not use in triathlon. I recommend strength training year round. However, I know that many athletes cannot seem to find the time to do all three disciplines and also hit the weight room. The offseason is a great time to get back on some strengthening program. It will improve your power, and help with injury prevention. (Remember the word Prehab?). Another great benefit of strength training is to promote the anabolic effect on your body to balance the catabolic effect of endurance or high intensity training.

Plan Your Racing Season

Start planning your racing season now. You may have to sign up soon as many top races fill up way in advance. I like having a nice progression to a racing season. Schedule some shorter races early in the season and finish with perhaps a big effort in a longer race. Other scenarios are possible, especially if you are a short-course specialist. Just be sure to give yourself enough time between races of different distances to do some proper training. This will improve your chances of performing your best at various races and distances. I recommend you work backwards from your big goal races and schedule some shorter races that you can use as stepping-stones on the way. You can start specific training for the intermediate races earlier in the season. These races will also keep you focused and provide a base from which to build on.

Andrew Tuovinen
BCRPA-Certified Personal Trainer,
Athletic Endeavors Personal Training and Coaching Services
NCCP-Certified Head Coach, Leading Edge Triathlon Club

September 24, 2011 | Blog, Personal Training, Running, Triathlon Coaching | 0

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