This is the first in a four part series of how to best approach and maximize your off-season to set you up for the best possible 2014.

The triathlon season is winding down for the year and this is the time of year when folks start asking “What should I do during the off-season’ There is plenty of non-triathlon related fun to be had as well as not-so-fun obligations to catch up on, however this blog will assume your primary goal is to maximize your fall and winter to set yourself up for an improved 2014. It also assumes that you aren’t burnt out, and are healthy and injury free.

No matter what you’ve been doing, it’s time to take a step back after your last race of the season and take a break from training. That doesn’t necessarily mean creating a permanent indent in your couch but rather a break from metrics, intensity and careful planning of workouts. If you still want to swim, bike, and run, consider doing it sans Garmin and doing social, fun workouts.

If you can’t stand to not do something productive, this is a great time to treat those little niggles and minor injuries you may have been ignoring with some appropriate bodywork such as chiropractic care, physical therapy, or massage. Also, if you’re dealing with any nagging injuries, remember that the combination of rest and treatment can be powerful.

If you’re healthy and serious about improving, however, the off-season should not last more than a few to several weeks depending on your schedule and goals. Now is the best time to set yourself up for an even better 2014. Lots of people have this goal, but what does it really mean? Does it mean jumping directly back into high volume Ironman training or trying to maintain the same meticulous schedule you’ve grown accustomed to in-season? Unless you have a very early season long-course race, then definitely no.

The fall and winter, however, is the very best time to work on what’s been limiting you in the past- if you are willing to do it. Let’s start by talking about some of the pitfalls that can keep the most dedicated athlete from achieving this goal.

  • Training your strengths- We are all tempted to work mostly, or only, on our strengths in the off-season. If you’re a runner you’re probably excited about hitting the local road racing scene. If you’re a swimmer (maybe?) you get excited about hitting the cold pool in the winter (is that even possible?)
  • Not addressing technique –When you’re ready to start in to structured training again, it’s good to start back with technique. This is where you might start tuning out because frankly, “working on technique’ sounds really boring. But it doesn’t have to be. Here are a couple of examples of If you’re not a lifelong swimmer a few swim lessons will go a long way. Small group lessons can be a way to add a little fun. For running, pick a few drills and try to get yourself into the habit of doing them prior to every run. For cycling, get in the habit of doing some one legged drills and spin-ups during your warm up. And for all three, develop a few simple strength and stretching routines to even out your imbalances and strengthen stabilizer muscles
  • Resting too Long- Whatever you decide you want to work on, make sure that you start sooner than March. We all know good athletes who dust off their bikes in the spring and spend nearly the entire summer just getting back to where they were the previous year. Performance improvement is something that happens building year over year and not in a 12- week training program

So let’s say you’ve committed to working on your weakness for a period of time, even though it’s more fun to work on your strength. What should your actual workouts look like? One school of thought emphasizes lots of ‘base work’ long, slow, and easy during the winter months, while others stress increasing your power/pace at short distances, then adding the endurance piece later. And what to make of off-season swim training? Is it better to hang it up completely during the winter months, since you probably won’t win the race on the swim? Or are there other benefits to winter swimming that make it worth continuing, or even emphasizing in some cases?

The answer to most of these questions is “it depends.” In the next three parts we will discuss different approaches to attacking your weakness whether it be run, bike, or swimming based on your starting point.