Ah, the Off Season … that time of year when the wind starts to get a bit nippier, the leaves turn colors, and white stuff starts to fall from the sky …
At least that is what I have heard happens. I have yet to really see white stuff falling from the sky. Being lucky enough to live in Florida we have no real “off-season” … even though it does get cold, it never gets to the point that you are chased inside. As we like to say “We Train Where You Vacation”.
Everyone is not lucky enough to live in this climate though. Even a short drive north to Georgia is enough to put outdoor training, especially cycling and swimming, on hold for three to four months.
So … what to do what to do …
Let’s explore this, shall we?
The “go to” response from most athletes is that they take this time to work on a weakness, and that usually means the swim. So they will hit the pool for months, working on form, pace, breathing, etc. 3-4 times a week at times. And this, in my opinion, is a mistake.
When I first left the Navy and entered college I got a job at TJ MAXX as a receiving lead (which meant that instead of $4.25/hour I made $4.30/hour). The tagline for TJX at that time was “The Maximum for the Minimum”. Our joke was that it meant the maximum work for the minimum pay. As much as I hated that saying, it does work for training. The trick is to find the best way to gain strength and ability with the minimum amount of time invested. We all have lives. The fact that you are reading this blog probably means you are a middle to back of the pack runner or triathlete, which also means you have a job, maybe family, kids, dogs … all things that take up a good portion of your time during the day (plus sleep … if you want to count that). So, if you have a spare hour on the weekdays, and maybe three or so on the weekends, we need to find a way to make that hour count … get the maximum benefit from those 60 minutes.
And, I am sorry, swimming just ain’t it.
Let’s look at each discipline ….
This is the one most people say is their weakness and most use the off-season to train for, and as I said above, this is a mistake. If you go to the pool three times a week at an hour each session, you MAY reduce your swim by 10 seconds/100m. And the thing with swimming is that the better you get, the smaller the improvements. Is this worth it in the grand scheme of a longer course race? 3 hours of training a week for three months to gain, maybe, 2:00? There are better things to do.
If you’ve been racing for any length of time your swim form is probably just fine, so I would recommend one session per week just to keep the form up and muscle memory alert. It’s all you need. And guess what? You will STILL get better.
This is where your time should be spent.
If you don’t have a trainer, get one.
Athletes hate the trainer. I hate the trainer. it’s boring, hurts my ass, and way too easy to stop and get off of if you just don’t want to do it. But trainer rides are the core of improving in racing. The best thing about the trainer is that you have direct control over what you are doing without the added issues of stopping for traffic, cars getting too close, heat, cold, wind, etc. I would say that taking into account all the outside distractions a 45-minute trainer ride is equivalent to an hour outdoors.
If you are lucky enough to be able to afford a top end trainer, like the Wahoo Kickr then get it. It allows for real control on your gears and tension. Most trainers are set as far as tension. Once you get on it that is what you have unless you get off the bike and reset it. Pain in the ass (literally). The Kickr is expensive (and not counting setting it with your current cassette type) but gives you a lot of bang for the buck.
In any case, you can mimic some serious climbs using a trainer. Here is one that kicked my ass in the past:
- Set the tension so that you have to be off the saddle to even move the pedals
- Out of the saddle, go as hard as you can for 1:00
- Sit down and rest for 2:00
- Do it again
- Do it again
- Do it again
- Do it again
- You’re done
15:00 workout and I guarantee your legs will be noodles after it. Do this once a week as a workout and your climbing skills will improve ten-fold.
The other standard 60-minute sessions during the week should be intervals … meaning pushing hard for a specific amount of time and then easy spinning to recover. I am a TRUE believer that intervals build strength quickly and work better than the long, slow rides we are all used to. Yes, saddle time is important also, but I am not sold on it building strength overall.
Long slow rides are not going to get me up those climbs. I learned that lesson in Tahoe. Hill repeats will.
I feel this is the easiest discipline to keep up with even in the cold. You can still run outside in cold weather. Much easier to do than cycling for certain, but the principle still holds. I love intervals even in running. 400m sprints followed by 2:00 walk/rest done 4 times at least once each week. I am also NOT a believer in having to do the distance of your race in training. I know there are some that feel that it is good mentally to know that you can run the distance before getting into the race, but the wear and tear on the body for running is MUCH worse than any of the other disciplines and is just not worth it. The chance of injury in running is also the greatest threat of the three disciplines. Yes you have to do some time on the road, just for stamina, but intervals make you faster … not time … and for God’s sake … WALK some if you need to.
The Off Season is also a great time to do other things. Let’s face it … the season is long and it can be mentally taxing. But you don’t really have the time to spare to find other things you might like doing outside of the triathlon experience. Find the Fun again, because I KNOW you are mentally exhausted. Personally, I find mountain biking a blast. Love it. Now you go do it. Don’t have a mountain bike? Rent one. Most trails have shops close by that will provide a bike. Go lift heavy things … this will help you in the end also. if you need a beginning program let me know and I’ll send you one. Try yoga (I know … but I tried it and it was actually pretty helpful). Boxing classes will shred your upper body and melt pounds away if you need that (which I do).
So, the bottom line is to use time wisely. If you let training become a “job” you’re going to stop eventually. No one likes working, so try to keep the training you do fun, and use the off-season to recharge the fun.