How to Transition Into the Off-Season

This article features tips on how to transition into the off-season and plan appropriate training to prepare for the next year of racing. Each of the respective guidelines will be categorized for athletes with different levels of experience. You may fall into a gray area between categories, so use your discretion in choosing the best strategy for your own needs.

Giving yourself permission to “shift gears” in your off-season training may be the most valuable thing you can do to ensure that you continue to improve from year to year. All too often athletes continue training at the same intensity and/or volume throughout the year and inevitably their performances will plateau or deteriorate. In the off-season, your body needs to do one or more of the following:

  1. Do something different
  2. Change the stress
  3. Change the intensity and volume

In each of the following segments I will discuss special considerations for each level of athlete embarking on your distance.

Do Something Different

Whatever your primary sport(s) of choice are, one of the best ways to freshen things up is to do something completely different in the off-season. Some examples include skiing, snowboarding, ice skating and cross country skiing in colder climates; team sports such as soccer, volleyball, hockey and basketball; or individual sports such as tennis, golf, backpacking and climbing. Each provides a diverse set of skills and stresses on your body that will make you a better and more balanced athlete. Caution should be stressed as you embark on new sports, as your endurance fitness doesn’t necessarily apply to their demands. Always honor the principle of “Specificity of Training.” This means that every different stress demands different adaptations by your body. In this category each level of athlete is on even footing, unless you have experience in these alternative sports.

Change the Stress

It is important to give your body a break by altering the stress that it is specifically trained for, while still maintaining or improving specific skills. Some examples include:

  • Running – road runners should run trails; trail runners should run roads.
  • Cycling – road bikers should try mountain biking and/or cyclocross; mountain bikers should get out on the road
  • Swimming – pool swimmers should try getting out in the open water.

If you are a single sport athlete, try adding one or more of these endurance sports to diversify your training. As in the previous case, each level of athlete is on even footing and should exercise some caution when changing their routine in this manner.

Change the Intensity and Volume

Most athletes are coming off a long season of racing and whether you are feeling fit and fast or can’t wait for a break, it is time to back off and recharge your batteries. Attempting to maintain or continue to improve your speed at this time of year is a recipe for disaster. Now is the time to cut back the intensity of your training and establish or reestablish a strong aerobic base.

Beginners – This is probably the first time you have been in this position and you should think of this transition as an opportunity to evaluate what you have accomplished in the last year and start looking forward to the next racing season. In most cases this will be your first opportunity to do a dedicated base training period. Doing this properly will give you a strong foundation from which to build your upcoming race season. Anywhere from one to three months of building a mileage base at a moderate heart rate (65%-75% max heart rate) will do wonders for a new athlete.

Intermediate – You have at least one year of training and racing behind you and have done a base building phase. In your case the best thing to do is to extend the duration of the base building phase and/or extend the duration of individual workouts within your routine. Doing this will take you to a higher level of performance in your next race season and “reset your boundaries” in terms of what you are comfortable doing in your training and racing.

Advanced – You have several years of training and racing behind you. You have likely gone through a few seasons of base training and the best way to raise your performance next season will be to include one or more “Epic” weeks in your routine. Within the context of your normal base building phase, one week per month you can do significantly larger volume. For example, try increasing your weekly training hours by 50% more than your regular training volume for one week. This can lead to dramatic fitness gains. Be sure to keep your intensity moderate (65%-75% of max heart rate) and take a low mileage recovery week the following week.

Taking time away from racing should be a restorative time for all competitors. It is important to understand that the off-season is vital to your overall health and wellness, and to improving your performances year to year. Enjoy the time reflecting on your past season and begin to mentally prepare for your upcoming season.

Tim Monaco is a Multi Sport Coach, Licensed Massage Therapist, Corrective Exercise Specialist and Holistic Lifestyle Coach from Bend, OR. He is a former professional triathlete who has won Vineman Ironman, Buffalo Springs Lake Half Ironman and has completed 15 international Ironman events.