Off Season Tips and Tricks to Stay in touch and get ready to be your best for next season – By Nick Croft*
Now we are into the off season, the question for some athletes possibly new to triathlon – is where to from here and what does one do in order to keep the momentum and fitness going that you have worked so hard all season to achieve?
One of the first things you must ask yourself is what am I training for between now and next season? The next thinks to ask yourself – what are my next season goals? This answer of course varies widely but for those wrapping up and coming off their first season or two 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. In order to improve we must raise that bar. By not having such a big break and period of inactivity this will lay a bigger foundation and base for the next season.
But first, some down time will be on the cards. As no matter how motivated we may be coming off the high of having as successful season, everyone needs to take some down time physically and emotionally to restore reserves and freshen up. I like to give my athletes some respite of anywhere between four to six weeks at seasons end from the structure of a program. This is also a great time to re-evaluate the season just gone by.
Below are some tips to assist in getting through the winter here in Australia.
Time off – 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.
Physical screening by a professional – by a physiotherapist, experienced personal trainer 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 inflexibility, 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 or plyometrics are a good offseason 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 finetuning technique. For example – for the bike it may be group weekly wind trainer 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.
Swim focus 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 offseason 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 wind trainer 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 up grading 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.
I have just really touched the tip of the iceberg with ways to keep active with the race season in hiatus. 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. Doing the same thing week in week out all year around is unrealistic and will soon become tiresome for you. Above all else make sure the process is (mostly) enjoyable and has the element of variety.
Nick Croft* Former professional and Australian Triathlete of the year. A two- time Noosa Triathlon winner and coach for the last 26 years. Nick coach’s athletes of all abilities in his home town of Noosa on Queensland’s Sunshine coast and runs Noosa Tri Camps and online coaching through www.mscsport.com.au