Off-Season Training Tips for Beginners

author : sallyddrake
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Off-Season thoughts for new triathletes including indoor training, Computrainers, heart-rate training and strength training.

By Sally Drake, USAT Level II Triathlon Coach 

The triathlon season is over and it's going into the holiday season.  It is now time to focus on what improvements you can make for next year. First, recap your season by writing out a summary of your races, including split times compared to goal times, etc. Include areas that need improvement or, weaknesses.  Next, take some time to relax, make up some lost time with your family, and do fun things that you may not have been able to do during your triathlon season. Not only will the mental break help your motivation going into your off-season training, but the physical break is highly beneficial. An athlete cannot stay in great triathlon shape all of the time. It is best to get out of shape to recover both mentally and physically from the stresses of a busy season of training and racing. The idea seems elementary, however many athletes try to maintain a high level of fitness all year, continuing to swim, bike and run. So, take a few weeks off and then plan your off-season training schedule.

Heading Outdoors

The first action that an athlete needs to take to prep for winter training is to shop! Training in cold weather requires technical clothing made with wicking and thermal fabric. This will ensure that your skin and muscles stay warm, and sweat is wicked away from your skin. The running stores and bike shops will have experts to help you choose the appropriate gear. 

Next, find groups to train with during the winter months. There are plenty of runs around town, including run series. These feature a run every two weeks, which will progress to longer distances. This makes it much easier to go out into nasty weather, especially if you can coordinate plans for coffee or pancakes post-run!

Taking up a new discipline during the off-season can help an athlete stay motivated and help maintain fitness, and even build strength by stressing the body in different modes. Some ideas include mountain biking, trail running, indoor climbing, yoga, rowing, or adventure racing. This does not mean that the triathlete should hang up the road bike for the winter, but instead mix some of these ideas into training.         

Indoor Training

After a summer of long rides and running outdoors, the transition to sitting on a trainer or running on a treadmill is difficult. This is a great time to focus on heart rate, power, strength and speed skills. It is also the perfect time to work on weaknesses and enter into the new race season with marked improvements. It is important to keep your workout schedule interesting and challenging, while allowing some time for fun and recovery.   

When training for the bike, it helps to have an indoor stationary trainer, power meter or a Computrainer. The trainer will allow you to do workouts on the bike that you will be racing on. This is important because riding on a stationary bike or spin bike does not transfer to riding your triathlon or road bike. For example, if you are sitting more upright on the spin bike, you may lose hamstring flexibility. Also, working with a power meter and/or heart rate monitor can help an athlete gain incredible strength and speed during the off-season. Just as we use heart rate zones to plan workouts, we can also use power zones. A Computrainer, power meter or a trainer with watts will provide all of this information.

  • A Computrainer is an indoor trainer which is used with your computer and the software will provide resistance and a visual ride, while measuring heart rate, speed, cadence and power. 
  • A heart rate monitor can help an athlete build a strong base, and incorporate interval training into workouts. A coach can help determine the proper heart rate and/or power zones using field tests, and then design workouts using these zones. Or, metabolic VO2 max testing can be performed to find the exact heart rate zones.

Establishing a strong running base is beneficial during this time. Trail and treadmill running combined with organized runs can help to prevent injury and add variety to workouts. Another option to keep up the running is to sign-up for a spring marathon or half-marathon. Having this set goal can provide motivation in the cold winter months, and training groups usually form for any given marathon. A gait analysis can help to discover biomechanical issues that a coach, or your chiropractor or physical therapist can help you correct through drills, running shoe selection, and exercises. The off-season is the time to work on this so that you are ready to race in the spring.

For many triathletes, the swim is put on the back burner for the winter. They may hit the pool in the spring just before a race. On the other hand, these few months can be used to work on skill, incorporating drills and form work. Taking a lesson from an expert coach, joining a Master’s swim team, and/or watching drill videos are all beneficial ideas for this season. Don’t neglect the swim!

Strength Training

The subject of strength training includes an incredible amount of options, so this article will just touch on a few that can add strong value to at triathlete’s program. First, making the correct choices in the weight room can save time and undue need for recovery. The triathlete should follow a prescribed program from a coach, or personal trainer specializing in triathlon to learn proper form in strength training. There are sources that can be helpful for guidelines, such as the “Triathlete’s TrainingBible” by Joe Friel. 

Core work is frequently neglected during racing season, so this is the time to work it! There are choices in the gym, or you can set yourself up at home with just a few pieces of inexpensive equipment (or toys!). The stability ball is wonderful to stretch your back, as well as for performing various ab and back exercises. A book, personal trainer or coach can help with proper form and workout suggestions. Pilates and yoga are nice for the core, as well as for flexibility. There are many exercises that can help strengthen your core: plank, push-ups, lunges, sit-ups, Superman, etc. It is important to work your abs and your back for a strong and balanced core. Boot camp classes are also fun and normally have a focus on core strength. 


The off season is a time to relax a bit, but also to focus on what was missing in the last racing season. Determine weaknesses and turn them into strengths for next year. Achieve improvements in nutrition. Enjoy new forms of training. Experiment, grow and come back stronger than ever!          

For more ideas, a consultation, personal training session or coaching contact:

Sally Drake


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date: December 21, 2012