Off Season is the Best Season

author : Will Kirousis
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Six key performance factors for triathletes in the off season.

Off Season is the Best Season

Will Kirousis, MS, CSCS, | [email protected] | @willkirousis

Every year, the end eventually comes. For every athlete, in every sport, there is a seasons end. This end point, far from the next seasons races, can feel unconnected to your future athletic success… But it’s not! The next several months leading into spring are the most undisturbed training window of an athletes year. It’s NOW, that you set the stage for your best race season next year!

What can you do to get the best out of the “off” season? Build these six key performance factors!

Relationships – Throughout a year of training, it’s easy to miss time with family and friends. Making time during the coming months to enjoy social opportunities is huge for maximizing your happiness. Happy athletes are healthy, motivated, and focused athletes! Happy athletes are able to execute workouts ideally and make the best decisions about pushing a workout forward, or pulling back and cutting a workout short, preserving energy for another day. It’s hard to imagine that simply having dinner with family and friends or taking in a movie or going for a social walk, etc. could help you train and race better. But it truly can. Take a rest day or two each week, on those, do your best to spend more time with family and friends socializing. During “rest” weeks performed every 14 to 21 days throughout the year, really step back your training, both for rest, and so you have more time to enjoy your family and friends.

Brain Power – Use the off season as a chance to improve your mental skills. A great area to start is through the development of mindfulness. This skill can be built during workouts and throughout the day, beyond training. When you notice your frustration or stress level rising: 1.) acknowledge what is occurring without grade; 2.) get curious: “what’s possible now”; 3.) Try one of your ideas; 4.) let go of the original thoughts and move forward, repeating as needed. This strategy does a great job of helping you learn the skill of mindfulness, while also serving as a race/workout ready approach you can use when things get tough!

Get Strong – Strength training often takes a back seat during the competitive season for endurance athletes. With life, work, specific training… It can be hard to accomplish everything! As a result, you can use the next several months to develop strength consistently! There are a few keys to effective strength training for endurance athletes.

  • Two days of the week is plenty for most athletes.

  • Each workout should include 1-2 “level changes” where your center of mass moves vertically (variations of squats, dead lifts, lunges, step ups, etc); either a horizontal or vertical push and a horizontal or vertical pull.

  • Each workout should also include 2-3 exercises which connect the lower and upper body, often thought of as “core” training. Don’t focus on static and held exercises. These may play a role at times but should not be the primary activity over the “off” season. Focus on “core” exercises which challenge more than your endurance. Rather than just “planking” try various forms of crawling, rolling and crab walking. Rather than just “core” exercises laying on your back, try doing standing movements. If you are not working with a coach, youtube search those ideas and you will see many great options to experiment with in your training.

  • Aim to start out with modest resistance and 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets, but steadily progress to 5-8 repetitions for 3 sets as the winter moves along. You build endurance via your sport, use the gym to build strength which helps you perform best long term.

  • Allow 1-3 minutes between sets so you can perform each to the best of your ability.

Speedy Bike and Run Skills – One area many endurance athletes have not developed is their speed skill. This relates to your ability to move fast, with coordination. Short bouts, done fast can pay off well here, assuming you are mechanically healthy enough to do this work. This does not have to be complex. On your next few rides, every 8-12’ do 1 X 10-15” at the highest cadence you can without bouncing in the saddle. Over time, the cadence you can use without bouncing should increase, showing improved pedaling coordination. (You bounce at high cadence due to one leg pushing down while the other is not getting out of the way of the rising pedal – not pulling it up - just getting out of the way.) Using a similar strategy while running, via pickups or strides, where you ramp up to a speed like finishing a 5k or faster, focused on quiet foot strikes and a total body – ear lobes to ankles – forward lean can help improve both your coordination to move quickly, but also your durability to perform more intense workouts down the road. Again, just 10-15” at a crack with plenty of lower intensity around each acceleration works great here. Adding speed skill work to steady aerobic training can add fun “spice” to those workouts in addition to improving your performance long term.

Aerobic Engine – This may sound like I’m pounding the drum of all endurance sports coaches before me, and to a large degree, I am. It’s your aerobic fitness which is the ultimate limiter in endurance sports. If you have not developed the aerobic engine well, at some point, you will not continue to develop particularly well. Sure, some high intensity training can be used to help build your aerobic fitness, in fact, that fun and fast interval training is quite helpful. The point I’m getting at here though, is the value of the other end – low intensity! It takes a surprisingly low intensity to get your highly enduring slow twitch muscle fibers stimulated and improving. So, doing the low intensity portions of your training at an effort which does not produce heavy breathing and feels guilt producingly light, is spot on! What’s that mean? It means 55-74% of “threshold” power or 80-89% of “threshold” heart rate (or below either of those ranges) or 90-94% of swim “threshold” pace. What’s threshold? Ill give you an approximation tool. How intensely could you go for a roughly hour-long time trial on the bike or run or swim 2-3 X 400-500 with short rest intervals or a straight 800-1200 (yds or meters)? There is your starting point! When you are doing steady aerobic workouts, or not doing higher intensity work, those are good ranges to focus on. Low intensity training is going to help you increase your aerobic fitness without creating excess fatigue resulting in better performance overall.

(Note: if you have questions on specific testing methods or related to the concept of “threshold” I’m happy to help. It creates to much length in this brief article, so I opted to use a general example which works as well for folks vs outlining tests.)

Finish Wanting More – Sometimes folks get really zoned in during the competitive portion of the year. They work to nail workouts, get every moment in, and maybe a few more. And folks, diligent preparation helps! No doubt… But you know what, taking it to excess leads to increased burnout rates. If you want the best growth, manage your efforts and duration, so you finish workouts wanting more. Sure, occasionally, you may go particularly long or have a really tough workout/race and think “I emptied it all out”. Attempting to do that all the time, will lead to less growth long term. Finish wanting more. Imagine doing intervals, and notice that number 5 on an 8 interval set has power/pace/HR that is not as high as it has been and the effort feels really high? In that situation, do you feel like and see yourself not performing as well as planned? Try one more, if those symptoms are repeating, pull the plug, cool down EZ and call it a day. Train for the long term – which means, stimulating yourself to grow, rather than beating fitness into you. The latter will shorten your enjoyment of and the length of time you can enjoy sport, while the former will EXPAND the enjoyment you have and help you grow over the longest time frame. Finish sessions wanting a little more!

Those are a few key areas which, when applied consistently this “off season”, will have you performing better than ever this coming year! Enjoy the coming months. They are when athletes can make the biggest leaps in performance!


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date: November 30, 2019

Will Kirousis