5 Tips for a Great Off-Season

December 14, 2016

Dave Sheanin



These days, it seems like triathlon season goes year-round.  But if you‚Äôve finished (or are about to finish) a traditional spring-to-fall season, here are 5 tips to help you have a great off-season.1. Take a Break

The first step in having an off season is to admit to yourself and accept that it‚Äôs the off season.  For many folks, this is the hardest part!

Rebuild your family-time bank account.  Watch your kid‚Äôs soccer game.  (Yup, the whole game.  Leaving at halftime to squeeze your run in doesn‚Äôt count.)  Stay up past 9:30pm and sleep in past 5:45am.  Eat a little candy on Halloween.  Put ranch dressing on your salad.  Skip workouts.

Triathlon is awesome but it can be all-consuming.  Give yourself a little mental break as well as a physical break.  The reason a great training plan works is that it mixes hard work with rest, balances volume and intensity, and takes life into account.  With mental balance comes longevity.  You‚Äôll love this sport forever if it doesn‚Äôt rob you of other important things in your life.

Communicate with your coach.  You don‚Äôt have to abandon a training plan altogether but this is the time of year to take an extra day off, go for a beautiful hike instead of your scheduled run, and ride bikes with your children.  Don‚Äôt wear a watch or compression socks and leave your heart rate monitor and power meter at home.

2.  Examine and Fix Your Limiters

What will make you a stronger triathlete next season?  You may know off the top of your head.  Maybe your swim needs work or your transitions are slow or you always fade in the last few miles of workouts and races.  Check out percentiles in your race results.  Were you top 10% in the swim, top 20% on the bike, and top 40% on the run?  The run is your limiter.  Again, communicate with your coach to make a plan.  The off-season is a perfect time to work in sport-specific blocks.

And here‚Äôs a key takeaway:  It usually takes a special kind of discipline to improve.  Your focus cannot be on the usual output metrics‚Äìtime, pace, power.  You often need to change your technique (inputs) to achieve the gains in speed or performance that you‚Äôre looking for.  This can mean getting slower before you get faster.  If you swim countless yards and don‚Äôt get faster, your problem probably isn‚Äôt volume‚Äìit‚Äôs technique.  Same for cycling and running.

Don’t just do more of what’s not working; fix what’s keeping you from improving.

Change is difficult.  There are two primary reasons why people don‚Äôt change: they don‚Äôt want to or they can‚Äôt.  For triathletes, it‚Äôs often the former.  We don‚Äôt want to slide down a lane in the pool to focus on technique.  We don‚Äôt want to get dropped on the group ride.  We don‚Äôt want to be outrun by our training partner.  Give yourself permission to slow it down and fix what needs to be fixed.  Only once your technique is perfected will the speed come as you add volume again.

3.  Train Indoors

If you have the right equipment, it‚Äôs pretty amazing what you can accomplish with indoor training.  The winter is a great time to train indoors to escape cold and nasty weather.  There are great benefits to training indoors, particularly in the convenience of your home.  When you work out indoors, there‚Äôs no need to dig through the laundry pile to find your toe covers and full-finger gloves that you forgot to wash after the last ride.

You can focus on specific elements of your training.  Bike trainers and rollers are excellent for working on cadence and pedal-stroke.  Treadmills can help you learn to pace.  Weights and stretch cords can isolate muscle groups and motions to make you strong and reduce your chance of injury.

Some examples of smart and time-efficient workouts at home or at the gym could be: 30 minutes on the rollers working on eliminating dead spots in your pedaling.  20 minutes on the swim bench working on catch.  Intervals or tests on the treadmill or CompuTrainer.

What I love most about training indoors is how focused and time-efficient it can be.  You may not have all of the equipment you need in your home to do complete triathlon training, but investing in a stationary trainer is money well spent as a first step.

When substituting indoor training, I reduce long rides or runs to about two-thirds of what was scheduled for outdoors and I‚Äôll max out at 2 hours on the bike (trainer) or one hour on the run (treadmill).  There are always exceptions but these are general rules of thumb.  When possible, make your indoor workouts about technique or higher intensity training rather than endurance.  Riding four hours on the trainer is boring, painful, and usually includes a substantial amount of garbage time.

4.  Train Outdoors

Getting outside in the cold and wet can be pretty awesome.  Often, you‚Äôll have the roads or trails mostly to yourself and you can build great mental and physical toughness while improving your skills.  A word of caution, of course: There may be a reason why no one else is training outside.  Be smart about your decision-making to train outdoors in tough weather.

If you live in an area where it‚Äôs wet or snowy during the winter, be sure to invest in the right clothing for the conditions.  Cycling-specific winter clothing in particular can be expensive but once you have the appropriate gear, riding in the cold or wet can actually be very comfortable.  There are plenty of examples of races where there‚Äôs been a downpour or near-freezing temps at the start.  If you‚Äôre mentally and physically prepared for the conditions, you‚Äôre going to perform better on race day.  Similar to training in the heat during the summer, you can get big benefits from training in the cold during the winter.

5. Plan Next Season

Before you lock in the same slate of races as last season (and the season before that‚Ķ), do a little brainstorming.  Expand your horizons.  Maybe this is the year you pick a goal that scares you a little bit.  Try a trail marathon, Xterra, or open-water swim.  Step up to a full distance tri or work on your speed at short-course races.  Maybe what really works is racing the same events you did last season after all, but taking some time now to explore what‚Äôs out there will help keep you focused on the event calendar you ultimately decide on.

And one last tip: Talk to your family, folks you work with, and your friends before clicking the register button on your big races for next season.  Are you setting goals that will be supported by the people who are important to you?  Will your goals give you enough time to balance training and racing along with work and family?  Are you putting yourself in a position to be successful and happy with your season?

Have a fantastic off season and enjoy your winter training this year.  By the time spring rolls around, you‚Äôll be ready‚Äìmentally and physically‚Äìfor a big season!

Coach Dave Sheanin is an advocate for aligning triathletes with their race goals. He believes that becoming “triathlon literate” is key to meeting your goals. Triathlon is indeed a lifestyle and like the other important areas of your life, knowledge is power. He encourages you to explore the nuances of the sport, be open to new ideas and ask questions – of yourself, of fellow swimmers, cyclists and runners, and of your coach.  

Coach Dave is a USA Triathlon and Training Peaks Certified Coach.  Coach Dave was honored by USA Triathlon with the Community Impact Award.

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