After the pressure, excitement, and hardships of preparing for your A race, nothing can be as fulling as crossing the finish line. Yet, once the festive and energetic atmosphere dies down, we’re left to stare blankly into nothingness. With no apparent race in the near horizon, what would drive us to push on with each training session? What’s there to aim for? Most find this time of the year very difficult. A lot of athletes experience something called "Post Race Blues", a phenomenon that is very similar to depression or withdrawal symptoms. The terms "down time" or "off season" give a rather negative connotation. Instead of referring to the off season as a "necessary evil," we should embrace it as a integral part of our development as athletes.
I’ve been asked often about how each athlete should approach the off season. Do I need to train? Can I do other sports? Should I run a marathon? To help address these questions, I came up with a few guidelines about what one needs to do during the off season.
1. Take a Break!
The wear and tear of training and racing takes its toll. Chronic fatigue physically, mentally, or emotionally should be addressed during the off season. The demands of training on top of handling a full time job, family commitments, and personal issues are the main problems of any triathlete. With no races immediately in sight, it’s time to reset your bearings. The best way to do this is to recover, take a vacation, do unstructured training, or try out a different sport.
Just remember that rest is the primary focus of the off season (at least for the first couple weeks or so). As a caveat to this, take note that complete rest is also detrimental to overall progress. Once you’ve destressed and recuperated, gradually introducing workouts again is necessary. Just remember that the overall load should be less both in terms of duration, frequency, and intensity.
2. Recap Your Season
What’s done is done; there’s nothing we can do about the past! However, instead of brushing everything under the table, a wiser option is to learn from what transpired over the course of the season. Learn from your successes and the things that you did wrong. Analyze whether you raced to your potential, trained as effectively as you could, or managed the season effectively. Use your past season(s) as a means to improve on your general approach.
3. Focus on Your Weaknesses
Everyone has something they need to work on. From a performance perspective, either the swim, bike, or run are the first things that come to mind. However, there might also be other things that you should address such as weight issues, bike handling, swim confidence, and run consistency.
4. Fine Tune Form and Technique
With the drop in training volume, there’s now more time to focus on making your chassis more efficient. The best way to do this is to work on form/technique. For most age group triathletes, the best advice I could give is to hire a competent swim instructor. It would be even better if he/she could handle you 1-on-1. After a few sessions, you’ll immediately see the improvement! Getting a proper bike fit, gait analysis, and an assessment of your functional movement (i.e. muscle imbalances) is also highly recommended.
5. Do Strength Work
With the race season in full swing, strength and conditioning is often neglected. What most people don’t realize is that focusing on proper strength training will allow you to prevent injuries, develop more power, and improve efficiency. Having a strong core, addressing muscular imbalances, and developing proper muscle fiber recruitment are important to stay healthy all year round. Remember to seek help from people who know how to handle endurance athletes (especially triathletes). A bodybuilding (i.e. typical gym) program usually focuses on other things like muscle hypertrophy and shape which are not of any concern to triathletes in a practical sense. Engage in a strength and conditioning routine in the off season but still follow through with proper maintenance work during race season itself. Visit our friends at www.santeimpact.com to learn more (don't forget to mention FlyingDonV Coaching to avail of special discounts!)
6. Manage Your Weight
A common mistake is that people tend to let themselves go during the off season. While it’s common (if not healthy) to gain some weight during the off season, too much will definitely be a problem. The more you gain during the off season, the harder it will be to get back into shape. Eat healthy especially when you aren’t training as much. More importantly, don’t binge eat during the holidays!
7. Plan Your Season
From my experience as an athlete and coach, most age group triathletes don’t get to plan out their season properly. Selecting the proper races, managing time and effort, and doing the right kinds of workouts should be a top priority. If you want to have a long, successful, and enjoyable career, you have to manage your training load (both in the large and small scale) properly. This is where a coach (or at least a well-informed adviser) comes in. Having an experienced, objective, and well-trained person to help you manage your plans is probably the best investment you could ever make (yes, that includes getting aero wheels or a superbike!)