As endurance athletes, autumn typically signifies the end of our race season. We’ve worked hard and put in ridiculous amounts of volume and mileage for several consecutive months. We also might be experiencing some physical and mental fatigue. The 4AM wake-ups, 95 degree bike rides and 3 hour runs have taken its toll on our bodies and minds. For many, the “post-big-race blues” may have also set in, leaving us unmotivated due to the lack of a specific goal (race). We look forward to taking some time off to rest, recover and recharge.
The off season is the perfect time to build yourself into the athlete you want to be next season. I’ve learned a few things about making each off season pay huge dividends the following year.
7 Ways to Maximize Your Off-Season:
Rest- But Not Too Long
I’ve come out of a race season so spent from swimming, biking and running, my planned 2 week hiatus became a 2 month training vacation. My lack of MOTIVATION in week one grew to a lack of DESIRE in month 2. I simply took too much time off from structured training. I got used to sleeping in, enjoyed eating everything in sight and became complacent with my lack of performance in the little training I did. It took a Herculean effort for me to get off my butt and start training with a purpose again. I was able to do it, but it wasn’t easy.
Take a few weeks off after your last event, but keep it limited to a few weeks. If you go too much longer, fitness is lost at an exponential rate. It could then take months to regain the fitness you had, making the buildup period before your first event next year much shorter and more panic stricken. A few weeks off will do everyone some good (including your family), but understand that when you restart your training, you won’t be picking up where you left off. That leads us to the next part; consistency.
The best bang-for-the-buck is training consistency. Running for an hour, three times a week will yield greater benefits and build lasting fitness much more than one three-hour run each week. The off season should be a time of reduced volume and intensity, but your frequency should remain close to mid-season numbers. It’s not really about the number of swims, bikes and runs you get in, rather it’s the time BETWEEN sessions of each discipline. I am currently in midst of proving this point.
After IMLP, I began a marathon-focused training block in preparation for the NYC Marathon in November. My plan was to bike and swim only once per week, but making those sessions fairly long and intense. Within 2 weeks, I couldn’t even come close to my pre-Ironman power numbers on the bike and my swim was just a mess. I was engaging in quality training sessions, but it was the 6 days off between sessions that stripped me of my ability to perform. Each successive week got worse until I revamped my plan and now train 2-3 times per week in each discipline. I decreased the length of each session and reduced the intensity a bit. I have built back some of my fitness but more importantly, I’m not losing any more.
Even if you only train for 30 minutes at a time, keep the frequency and consistency up. You’ll be much better served next year.
Include Strength Training
Lift heavy stuff. This is the best time of year to ramp up your strength training and more specifically, your FUNCTIONAL strength training. Throw around some sandbags and kettle bells. Flip a few tractor tires and climb a rope. Take your kids to the playground and spend some time on the monkey bars (yes, you should play on the monkey bars). Do some body weight squats several times throughout the day. Burpees at work are always fun! Go heavy and go hard. The benefit of heavy strength training in the off season is that if you go overboard, your next training session is probably not a highly critical one. You can run on sore legs and not care about your pace. The strength you build now can carry you into, and through all of next season. Don’t miss the opportunity to build lasting strength.
Periodize Your Training
I have yet to come across a good argument against periodization. Periodization is the training format where you start with slow(er), more aerobic-based sessions and build throughout the year to more race-specific training. The workouts we perform in November should look nothing like the sessions we did in September. Take a step back, build endurance, focus on form and create a nice foundation for next year. But, don’t forget to do some hard stuff! I generally keep my easy to hard ratio at about 80% to 20% in the first part of the off season. By mid season, I will have a 60% to 40% balance.
Experiment With Nutrition
Now is a great time to make the changes you always thought about. Play around with macro nutrient ratios, begin the process of becoming fat-adapted, try new types of fueling for longer sessions and do all of this with zero risk of tanking your performance. It takes a long time for your body to adapt to dietary changes. Since you are probably 6-8 months away from your next race, you have very little to lose if something doesn’t quite work.
Revamp Your Form
In between my 2012 and 2013 seasons, I decided I needed to start over on my running form. I adapted a Pose/Chi/Minimalist running form over the course of the off season. I had to take a huge step backwards when I began, but it paid huge dividends by the time spring rolled around. Don’t be afraid to go out for a ridiculously slow run while you adapt a more efficient form. You’ll have plenty of time between now and your first race to make it work.
Reconnect With Your Family
Although we put the physical stresses in our bodies, we also put some emotional stresses on our family and loved ones. This is a great time of year to skip a workout so you can play soccer with your kids. Date nights can be a little later because your alarm won’t be buzzing at 4am. Our families supported our crazy obsession for the past several months and made sacrifices that enabled us to meet our goals. This is the perfect time to say “yes” to anything they ask of us and support goals that may not include a ribbon and finisher’s medal. No single workout will ever be the difference between meeting a race goal or not, especially with off season workouts.
Be present and engaged. This can only lead to buy-in and a greater level of support when the craziness starts up again.