Now that we are well and truly in the offseason (with some Christmas parties and family get-togethers thrown into the mix), many athletes see it as a time to indulge in what we have routinely denied themselves during race season: sleeping in, rich food and drink, and socializing with family and friends. But more often than not, the loss of routine and purpose after the big race wreaks havoc on our fitness, physique, and psyche.
Maybe we should change the way we look at the offseason. Instead of thinking of it as a very, very long vacation from training, we should look at the offseason as a bridge between what we’ve accomplished and what our future goals are. What we do in the offseason is determined by the previous season and should lay the groundwork for the next season.
While races are held year-round these days, one cannot continue to train and race without accumulating fatigue and little niggles along the way. The grind of building up, peaking, and competing can also take its toll mentally. Taking time off allows our bodies and mind to recover and heal so that we can be at peak health when we start training for our target races.
But while we have a plan for how our season will unfold, the way most athletes use their offseason leads to a loss of fitness. When we start training again, it feels like we’re starting from zero every year.
We can use the offseason to get ready for the next season by planning how to spend it. Here’s why you need a plan in the offseason:
- to build strength and mobility and improve technique
In-season training leaves very little time for general strength and mobility work in the gym to help you move better, or put focused attention on improving technique in any of the three disciplines.
- to maintain fitness, motivation, and consistency
How many of us have felt like we’re back to square one after an indulgent offseason? Following a plan will also bring some consistency back for someone who struggles to train when there is no immediate goal set, so we don’t lose the fitness gains we earned during the season.
- to get foundational work done before the season starts
Building on the fitness from your maintenance plan, a race-dedicated training plan is a calculated timeframe to prepare for a specific event. It should vary in volume and intensity over the period and drop you into race day in the best condition for that given date.
The offseason can and should be used as a time to recover as well as rebuild fitness. Professional athletes like four-time world champion Chris McCormack train through their offseason, but differently than in-season work.
Offseason, Part 1: Recovery
Macca divides the offseason into two parts. He says, “To give you an overview of what you should be doing in the offseason, Number 1: take some downtime. Give back to your family. Unwind a little. Take four or five weeks where you just train when you want to, not because you have to.”
Many athletes use this period to try out new activities or indulge their love for another sport. This active recovery phase keeps the blood flowing but keeps the athlete free of pressure to hit any set training targets.
A little weight gain may be expected since we may be doing less than what we did especially during peak training weeks. This isn’t such a bad thing. Macca believes the additional weight is beneficial in three ways:
gives your body a rest from your “fighting” weight;
allows you to deliver better on strength workouts; and
helps you recover better.
Offseason, Part 2: Preparation
The second part of the offseason deals with the kind of work we can and should do leading into the season. Because the offseason usually takes place during the winter months, athletes have a daylight constraint on training, and long hours on a bike trainer or on the treadmill aren’t particularly appealing. We are blessed in the tropics where December, January, and February are mild, cool, and dry months. (Only swimming falls by the wayside because we find 27-degree water too chilly!)
Macca says, “A lot of triathletes are so caught up with volume; they associate base work with the offseason. I think winter is where you hibernate a little bit, setting yourself up for the spring where you can start to lay the endurance.”
Instead, he recommends more strength-specific work that isn’t as time-consuming as volume-based work. This includes the following:
general strength conditioning through gym work that corrects muscle imbalances
specific swim, bike, and run workouts that promote better movement and technique and maintain your muscular strength
There’s much less mileage, but it is all purposeful. This prepares the body for the season’s training volume and intensity, prevents injury, and improves performance.
I’m currently using a MaccaX 12-week offseason Maintenance plan. It gives me a reason to exercise everyday (and what session to do so I don’t exercise aimlessly). The maintenance plan also focuses on aspects often neglected by athletes during the racing season: motor skills, training any weaknesses, and strength training. The key is to keep motivation and enjoyment high while performing workouts, with options to select workouts that you would not have the time to do or experience on a more race-centered plan.
Find an offseason maintenance plan here. You can choose from Beginner, Intermediate, or Advanced and there’s also a women-specific plan in there from Ironman legend Belinda Granger.
“You can really build a lot of strength in the offie,” Macca concludes. “When spring comes around, you add some endurance to it and if you’ve got the right strength, that’s a lethal mix.” Add to it renewed vigor, and you’ll be sure to smash the training and racing.