Blog Post: Off-season training and activity
Fall is upon us. The days are shorter and nights are cooler. I really love this time of year. In Colorado, the air is crisp and clear, but autumn can be short here 90 degrees one day, snow the next and we’re onto winter!
Off-season training: what does it mean? What is the best use of your training time in the fall? Is it training or activity? Read on for great tips to keep you healthy and on track to meet your fitness and performance goals. I cover a lot of ground in this article, so see what rings true for you.
- Take time off. Your body and brain need a break after training consistently and racing a full season. Mental and physical rejuvenation take place when you let go of the structure for a while. Give yourself permission to dial down and take a breather. In the long run, your performance will only improve. Even if you were not happy with your performance, take a break, then tackle your plan on how to improve next season.
- Prevent major fitness losses. Yes, a break is needed, but too much down time will cause excess detraining. Taking a 4-month break will leave you starting at square one. A good rule of thumb is to take 2-4 weeks off, depending on your goals and circumstances. Yes, you will lose some fitness, but will gain improved motivation and health in the long term.
- Skills. The off-season is the best time to work on improving existing skills or learning new ones. Triathletes are notoriously poor at bike handling. It’s a good time to re-tool your swim stroke if you’re giving up too much time in the water. Get a run mechanical analysis to improve your run skills. This is especially important for triathlon running as you will always race in a fatigued state.
- Address weaknesses. Take a look at any weaknesses in skills, but also your overall execution in training and racing. What worked, what did not? Take some time to sit down and go over your strengths and weaknesses. The off-season is a great time to spend more time making a weakness a new strength.
- Set new goals. It’s easy to be full of ambition and dreams at the beginning of the season, but how are you doing now, at the end of the season? If you didn’t hit your goals, time to reassess and create new ones. Take a fresh perspective. If you did hit your goals, what’s next? What’s new?
- Weight loss & weight maintenance. The off-season is a great time to lose any excess weight you might want to take off. It’s difficult to train, race and lose weight all at the same time. Weight maintenance through the off-season is very helpful when you return to regular training. You will feel better and perform better on all levels. This time of year make sure that the calories you take in do not exceed what you’re burning.
- Clean up your diet. If you’ve gotten sloppy with your eating habits, time to clean it up. Eat basic, simple foods, organic when possible. Avoid processed, chemical-filled foods. Take some time to cook delicious, healthy meals. Learning a few easy recipes will stay with you for a lifetime. It’s a good time to work on improving your fat burning capacity through metabolic efficiency training.
- Try different activities. Now is a great time to cross train. Give your body something else to think about and work on: Rollerblading, cross-country skiing, hiking, ElliptiGo trainer (elliptigo.com), mountain biking, yoga, etc.
- Strength training. Strength training needs to be part of a year round training plan. Just in case you’ve slacked off, now is the time to get back to it. A good strength training plan should address weak areas, build muscle, burn fat and improve all activities in your life. Keep the strength training functional and change it up throughout the year to keep your body ‘on its toes’.
- Stretching. If you have trouble with excess tightness, time to stretch. Get on the foam roller or try yoga. Balance out those overused muscles with some active recovery. One new activity I’ve been using for a couple of years is called the Melt Method. (www.meltmethod.com) Using gentle movement, this method rehydrates your tissue matrix, relaxes muscles and reduces pain in any and all areas of the body.
- Hill training. Get out and run and ride the hills before they are covered with snow and ice. Hills help you build a base of strength.
- Long or short sessions? In general, the off-season is a good time to keep things short. But, short doesn’t have to mean easy. It’s ok to add in some intensity in the way of intervals. If you’ve done a lot of hard intervals over the past few months, go in the other direction: nice easy long rides and runs. A great time to explore new trails, routes and training buddies.
- Take a break from technology. Slave to your Garmin or power meter? Let it go and learn to train by feel, tuning into how your body feels at different paces and intensities. Connect with yourself instead of an external device.
- Learn to use some new technology. Now is a great time to learn how to use a power meter or go deeper into how your Garmin works. Take the time to read the manual! You’ve spent all that money on the device, make sure you know how to get the most out of it.
- Late season races. If you’re still keen to race, participating in single sport races can help maintain your motivation and work your weaknesses. Try something new: mud runs, cyclocross, 5ks for speeds, ½ marathon for sustained efforts, Gran Fondos, century rides, etc. Pick events that will be fun and/or challenge you to work your weaknesses.
- Intensity & speed. As long as you are injury free, now is a great time to work on getting stronger and faster. Do your intervals from point to point instead of by your watch; try using RPE instead of your HR monitor. No need to go overboard on volume of intensity, but keep your body in touch with all energy systems.
- Post IM Blues. For anyone doing a late season IM, plan activities in the weeks after the IM to prevent the blues. Time with friends and family, light activities, laughter, etc keep your endorphins running and body recovering. Your body needs the downtime, but has become “addicted” to the constant levels of endorphins. You can feed your brain while rejuvenating your body.
- Hire a coach! Study after study proves that athletes who seek professional advice and support perform better and stay healthier in the process.
- Fun. Finally, whatever you do or do not do, keep it fun. This is what we do for recreation, health and fitness. Enjoy!