Your Best Tri Season Starts in the Off-Season
At the start of the offseason athletes will generally ask: “Where to from here?” and “How do I maintain fitness in the offseason?” Firstly, you need to look at your goals and what races you’re planning to compete in next season. The goal may be as simple as repeat the races you did this season but be faster or more competitive, or to step up to the next distance if you started with shorter events. But in order to improve, you must raise that bar. Minimising the break and period of inactivity will lay a bigger foundation and base for the following season. Don’t worry, some downtime will still be on the cards, as no matter how motivated you may be coming off the high of having a successful season, everyone needs a break (typically 4-6 weeks) physically and emotionally to restore reserves and freshen up.
Here are some tips to help you get through the winter:
It is important to have some downtime and, to break the structure and routine you have set yourself all summer. By all means stay in touch with some light training but make it more social – cut out intensity, drop the volume and frequency, make sure you sleep-in and break away from normal training patterns. Keep up aerobic activity but try to change from the swim, bike, run norm and broaden your activities.
Physical screening by a professional (physiotherapist, experienced personal trainer or qualified coach)
This may help you discover potential weaknesses to work on during the offseason. For example, areas of inflexibility, gluteal strength, core, lower back or lower leg weaknesses, all of which can be worked on during winter.
The first stop after a screening may be the gym depending on the outcome of the analysis. You will find this a good place to seek refuge in the colder months too, with various group fitness programs on offer, as well as the ease of finding expert advice on how to implement your core or specific program into your training week. Spin classes and body pump style circuits or plyometrics are good offseason alternatives and break away from the normal triathlon structure.
Many tri clubs offer winter programs that are devised by the club coach and emphasise offseason training, focusing on maintenance and technique. For example, for the bike, it may be weekly wind trainer sessions working on pedalling technique, incorporating one leg isolation drills and fast-spinning while maintaining good technique and big gear muscular tension efforts.
Yoga is another popular indoor winter activity. I include a weekly, triathlon-specific yoga session into my coaching squad program all year round. We focus on lower and upper back, arms and shoulders, hips and glutes, back of legs in hamstrings, calves – so a lot of downward dog pose, which works wonders for those tight backs of legs.
Training in a different location
A great way to spice things up is a weekend away or attending a training camp. It does wonders for the motivation, and helps to pick up new ways to train and get in some good training to help your early season preparation.
Swimming falls into the ‘weakness’ category for many and therefore not something that gets much attention when there are no races coming up. Certainly having some time out of the water is expected but there are some things you can do as part of your offseason program to make the return to training a little more enjoyable. Include some swim specific exercises at the gym that maintain swim strength and endurance. Areas of weakness in swim muscles generally would be triceps, lats, shoulders and, lack of flexibility in upper and lower back. Doing two gym workouts per week that include these muscle groups, along with hitting the water 1-2 times per week in the offseason is enough to stay in touch and builds a platform on which to increase the volume and intensity as the season draws closer. Using dry land stretch cords is also a great way to stay in touch with the feel of the water. Doing a set of 10x 1-minute, two times week with the rubber bands (with hand paddles on) helps you keep the strength of the catch and pull.
I’ve already mentioned spin classes group wind trainer sessions etc., as a way to stay in touch with the bike during the colder months. During the week, lack of time and daylight makes it harder to venture out. So, the indoor option is one of the best ways to maintain and even improve your cycling. Forty-five minutes to one hour, one or two times per week on weekdays is doable. The offseason is also a good time to get a bike shop, professional bike fit organisation or coach to check and fit you up properly on your bike if you have not done so already or if you are thinking of upgrading or changing your bike.
Winter is the run season in Australia. Traditional goals tend to be the 10-kilometre fun runs or half marathons. Emphasising running is a great way to improve your triathlon run leg, stay in good shape and make the most of what may be limited available training time with shorter daylight hours. Go through the run calendar and pick out three or four events between June and October to work towards and use as time trial efforts over varying distances depending on your tri race distance.
Establishing a good routine (stretching, rolling, yoga) to get certain ‘hot spots’ (areas that need to be maintained regularly) under control in the off-season is the first step to allowing you to get the next season off to a good start by helping you to move freely.
The above is just the tip of the iceberg with ways to keep active in the offseason. Certainly, reduce your swim bike and run volume for a period of time and replace this with some of the alternatives listed above. The best age group athletes are the ones who maintain enthusiasm and consistency in training, and adjust the training schedule according to the season and time of year. Remember to make sure the offseason is (mostly) enjoyable and has the element of variety.