Off Season Triathlon Maintenance and ways to keep and extend your fitness
As the end of the season is here and the last events are been run and won, the time has come to change into off season mode. Even though we may be motivated to keep up the hectic tempo of the season just finished it is now time to back off and allow the body and mind some down time. It is hard for some athletes to actively take a step back as by taking rest days and even rest weeks, aren’t we risking losing momentum and the fitness that we have worked so hard all season to achieve?
This is a question that as a coach, I face frequently at this time of year. Especially for those quite new to the sport and possibly facing their first off season after the highs of getting through season number one in triathlon.
One of the first things you must aim to do is take a break. You may find that many squads will actively have a month or so down time where squads are scaled back and if you are on a program even told that nothing structured will be set so you are forced to take some rest. I have seen coaches actually threaten highly motivated clients with locking their bike up for a few weeks to ensure the training is kept to a minimum! This is a good time to take stock and plan the events and goals for next season. In order to improve we must raise that bar and it may be as simple as not having too much total time off between seasons. Identify the limiters that have been possibly negatively impacting the results.
First though, some down time is needed. I like to give my athletes that have been on a structured program for a full season up to four weeks at seasons end. As mentioned, this is also a great time to re-evaluate the season just gone and ask yourself: -
• What did I do well in training and racing this past season?
• What needs some work and what are my weaknesses?
• How do I improve overall times and efficiency, technique?
• Do I train more? / Faster? / Smarter?
• Start using a coach or join a club?
• How many hours do I have to train to achieve these – for the off season and new season?
You will find a great deal of motivation comes from putting pen to paper and list a simple and realistic plan to take into the off season with you. The key is to keep it simple and above all else keep it real.
Once you have a strategy and plan for the following summer, now we come to the question of what do we do to get to next season (some four to six months away depending on your geography in Australia), to make training interesting and maintain that hard fought fitness.
Time to Rest – as already mentioned, it is important to have some down time and break that 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 have some sleep in’s and breakaway from the normal training patterns. Keep up aerobic activity but try to change from the swim, bike, run norm and broaden your activities – it is true of the saying that a change is as good as a break.
Below I have listed a number of different ways to get through winter and gain from the off season in order to come out the other side a stronger and more tuned athlete ready to go to a new level.
Physical screening – by a physiotherapist, experienced personal trainer with some triathlon knowledge or qualified coach. This will go a long way to help you find out potential weaknesses in your physical self to work on during the off season. Things like overall or certain areas of flexibility, gluteal strength, core, lower back or lower leg weaknesses – all which can be worked on while the winter sets in and the focus comes away from the swim, bike run volume that summer dictates.
Head indoors – the first stop after a screening may be the gym based on that outcome. You will find this a good place to seek refuge in the colder climates with various group fitness programs on offer, as well as find expert advice on how to implement your core or specific program into your training week. Spin Classes for the bike, and some of the body pump style of circuits are a good off season alternative and break away from the normal triathlon structure and will add a twist to keeping up the fitness in a different environment for a few months.
Many Tri clubs now offer winter programs that are devised by the club coach and emphasis off season training which is different to in season and is geared more towards maintenance and fine tuning technique. For example for the bike it may be group weekly windtrainer sessions working on technique pedalling, incorporating one leg isolation drills, fast spinning while maintaining good technique, big gear muscular tension efforts and so on.
Another indoor winter activity becoming more popular with triathletes is Yoga. There are many different types and orientations. I like to work into my own coaching squad program a Yoga session and make it triathlon specific in a weekly class 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. It will be the best stretch you do all week and the meditative side also helps clear the mind and helps you refresh. Doing this on a Monday is a great way to start the week.
Training in a different location is a great way to spice things up and focus at the task at hand and leave the normal worries of the world behind. A weekend away or doing a training camp does wonders for the motivation and pick up new ways to train and get in some good training to help your early season preparation.
Swimming falls in the category for many as a weakness and therefore not something that gets much attention when there are no races around the corner. Certainly having some time out of the water is expected for us but there are some things you can do as part of your off season program to make the return to training a little more enjoyable. Having your time in the gym should include some swim specific exercises that maintain some swim strength and endurance. Areas of weakness in the swim muscles generally would be triceps, lats, shoulders and lack of flexibility in upper and lower back (yoga great for this). Doing two specific gym workouts per week that include the above muscle groups and being able to hit the water once or twice a week in the off season is enough to stay in touch and build a platform to up 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 without getting wet. Doing a set of ten times one minute twice a week with the rubber bands with hand paddles on the hands helps you keep the strength on the catch and pull. These are handy to travel with and a great way to warm up pre swim in the cold or before a race.
Bike – I have already made mention of spin classes, tri clubs group windtrainer sessions etc as a way to stay in touch with the bike during the colder months. During the week with the lack of time and daylight this makes it harder to venture out – the indoor option is in my option 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. Also getting a bike shop or professional bike fit organisation / or coach to check and fit you up properly if you have not done so or if you are thinking of upgrading or changing your bike.
Run – winter is the run season in Australia. Traditional goals tend to be the ten kilometre or the half marathons to work towards. Emphasising the 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 the lack of daylight hours. Go through the run calendar and pick out three or four events between June and October to work to and use as time trial efforts over varying distances depending on your tri race distance.
Body maintenance Once we get over the age of thirty you will find you may need to spend more time doing the stretching, and using other forms of maintenance to enable you to get out on the road and moving freely. Most triathletes that have been doing the sport for some time will tell you they have areas they know that need to maintained daily regularly. So kicking off and making good a routine to get these ‘hot spots’ under control now that the season is done is the first step in allowing you to get the next season off to a good start.
Off season Tri Circuit - You shouldn't go straight into gym-based strength training if you have never done it before. You need a good strength base to get the most out of this type of training and not get injured. This is where circuits come in. Circuit training workouts often consists of about 8 – 15 exercises. These are usually performed for 15 - 90 seconds with 15 - 90 seconds rest between each exercise.
As you progress you can increase the duration for each exercise or reduce the rest time between them. Choose only one progression at a time however. A total of 1-2 times round the circuit.
A total body circuit is tabled below takes about 20min to work through and includes a tri specific off season routine. There are literally hundreds of different exercises you could do as part of your circuit. When putting your circuit together alternate body parts or combine them to give a particular area a real hit.
Repeat this circuit 1-2 times depending on your level of fitness. When you’ve finished the circuit, take 5 to 10 minutes to stretch.
You can only be limited by your imagination with off season ways to stay in touch with your fitness. Never before have there been as many options available through fitness centre, tri clubs or training squads. Certainly reduce your swim, bike and run volume for a period of time and replace 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. I can also tell you that it may take up to 5-7 seasons to realise your aerobic potential doing this sport (not great news for any one in a real hurry)! But for those that can take it on board as a life style and work around a year of following the above guidelines will see a continued progression from season to season.
Slow Training Down | Stretching for Triathlon | Stretch
for Swimming | Deep Water Running
| Heart Rate Monitors
| Long Course Nutrition
| Bike Strength Training
| Swim Faster Exercises
| Training with Power