It's October, and for many the racing season is coming to a close. Coaches are starting to look at the off-season training of their athletes, and how best to ensure that everyone enters the upcoming season refreshed, and with the best preparation possible.
For many athletes, their primary question is: "What do I do during the off-season?"
The off-season is an overlooked, and undervalued, part of your training periodization. You’ve raced and trained hard all season. You can't train hard twelve months out of the year. You risk overtraining, burnout, and not getting the full recovery you need both mentally and physically to start the next season fresh.
This isn’t to say that you should take two months off. Take too much time off and you risk losing your base fitness, and thus starting your pre-season back at square one. Two to three weeks of downtime is great. You can rest, and reenergize yourself, without losing your base aerobic fitness. You should follow this period of time with two to three weeks of unstructured training provided by your coach. Then you can begin your pre-season refreshed, energized, and ready for more intensive training.
Over this period of time, you won't lose much aerobic base or capacity. You won't. Two months off? Yes. But a few weeks, followed by some easy training, you're going to be just fine.
This is the time that you recharge your batteries. Have meetings with your coach. Talk about what went right, or wrong, last season, and what you’re both going to do to remediate limiters moving forward. You should be discussing your upcoming season races and goals. Based on this collaborative discussion, your coach can then look at what the upcoming season looks like and begin creating the high level plan that is required for success.
Off-season training period should include a lot of cross training. Take that extra yoga class. Go to the gym an extra session per week. Get off-road. Hit the trails. Do things that one wouldn’t normally do. You’re mostly a road triathlete? Go mountain biking and trail running. Mountain biking is great for road cyclists – a nice high cadence and smooth pedal stroke will transition very nicely back to the road. And handling skills will improve as well.
This is a great time to lay the physical groundwork for next season. At the gym, work on strengthening muscle groups that support the prime movers. It’s about adding strength where needed. It’s about risk prevention for when training intensity picks up. (It’s hard to build up supporting muscle groups during the season). And, you can take advantage of this time to work on any deficiencies. Were you lacking a little power on the bike? Then the gym can be focused on prepping the body for the work to come when the off-season is over.
The key during this period is to keep the intensity low. Let your coach dictate the efforts. You'll keep it aerobic. Just maintain your base. It's only a few weeks until your pre-season starts, enjoy the down-time.
Now, a lot of athletes worry about gaining weight during the off-season. And it can be tough during the holidays – this isn’t carte blanche to eat and drink whatever you want - you do need to be smart about your caloric intake. However, it’s okay for weight to increase a bit during the off-season. A lot of times, the weight that is maintained during the racing season is unsustainable without the high training volume.
It’s normal for your body weight to go up 5% or so. And for women, this can be quite beneficial if they become very lean during the race season. Calcium and vitamin stores can be replenished during this period.
Then, after these 4-6 weeks of downtime and unstructured training, the pre-season can begin in ernest. Training that is more structured in nature, and specific based on athlete needs. After a solid off-season you'll be better prepared for the training to come.