“Champions are made in winter” - we all know that. But they are also made in the off-season, which is maybe the most underestimated part of the training cycle. Why is it so important and how to best approach it is the subject of this article.
The end of the season and the “doing nothing” phase
Most athletes will finish the season with a significant race – Ironman Hawaii in October or a late fall marathon(e.g. Chicago, New York or something local), where many will chase a PB, trying to leverage on mileage and form accumulated and earned in summer. Hopefully the last race is an ace, so you can ease into some real time off and enjoy life as a normal human being, immune to endurance and multi-sport virus. Should the race not be up to your expectations, well, then you need this break even more – most probably you over-exhausted yourself during the long months of training and racing. In any case, everyone, pros and age-groupers alike, need a quality break from their most favorite addiction, 3-4 weeks in total.
The best recipe is 2 weeks of active recovery and 2 weeks of doing almost nothing.
It does not come easy to some athletes – we are, at the end, the creatures of habit – so they get restless and all too worried that they will lose the form, put too much weight on, get lazy, and so on. Losing some form is actually desirable in this phase – if you want to build a taller building, you need to strengthen the fundament! And to do so, you need to knock down a couple of levels. By “doing nothing” we want to give all systems quality time to relax, restore and replenish. Our joints and tendons need a break, as well as our nervous system. The mental recovery is very important too – it is time to do and think something else than “swim-bike-run” and stop controlling and monitoring your form, food, HR, TSS etc. We have to step back to expand our response capacity to positive adaptation triggers and take a larger step next season! “Doing nothing” does not, of course, mean being totally sedentary. We just don’t do anything specific to our sport and we do not follow a training plan – for just 4 weeks! We go with the flow, exercise when we feel like it and we also try to move our body in different ways: we walk, rollerblade, skateboard, climb, play volleyball or just go to the sauna and spa.
Off-season - pre-season - transition season
No matter how you call it (I think transition season is the best descriptor), this is the time after your time off following the last big race of the season. It can be visualized by this simple formula:
“Last race + 2 weeks active recovery + 2 weeks of “doing nothing” -> 6-10 weeks transition season”
Transition season is about preparing you for the specific training of the main season. It lays the overall fitness foundation and has the following objectives:
1) Improve foundational strength and stability by general training
2) Sustain and improve cardiovascular endurance
3) Improve strength & conditioning of sport-specific moving muscles
4) Develop technical skills (focus on swim and bike) and range of motion.
The strategies to achieve the above 4 objectives are the following:
1. Transition season is the functional strength season
I am a big supporter of functional training throughout the season and recommend approaching it as 4th discipline, if you are a triathlete. Meaning, there is a periodized yearly plan for strength and condition training – with transition period being the high volume part of it. We start with general conditioning training for all big muscles groups and work on general mobility. The number of repetition is high (15-20) and load is easy. We use predominantly drills with our own weight and over time add some additional weight to our exercises. After 3-4 weeks of doing this general training, we make functional training a bit more sport-specific: we engage specific moving muscles, reduce the number of reps and increase the weight. Result is progression in strength, increased mobility, motor control and balance. 2 sessions per week of ca 50min are ideal.
2. Transition season is swim season
Foundation for the good run in triathlon is the swim. We pay for a weakness in the 1st discipline by low energy on the run. So swim, swim, swim – this will build your endurance, power and fatigue resistance – all in a low impact, injury-free way. Start with “baby-swims” – mini-sprints of 10-15 meters, many reps, build it out to longer sprints, more “cruising” intervals, swimming with paddles, “sponge”, etc. If you have any deficits in your swimming technique and form, address them now, work with a coach, go to a swim camp. Transition time is swim time – and cold and darkness outside are quite conducive to warm, well-lit swimming pools. Swim at least 3 times per week if you can. If you can, swim more. Only good things come from swimming for endurance athletes.
3. Transition season is time to play around with other sports
To prevent mental fatigue and also to add some fun to our training, we use alternative sports to work on our endurance, motor skills, balance and strength. MTB is great for max power and bike-handling skills, indoor climbing will make your core, arms and shoulders stronger – perfect for the swim. Rollerblades and skateboards are great for balance, quads and core. And if you are lucky enough to live close to snow and mountains, then cross-country (Nordic) skiing is the best alternative sport ever. It is endurance, functional training, VO2max, balance and coordination training – all in one! Did your know that VO2max records for both genders are held by Nordic skiers? One longer session of alternative sport, like 2hrs of MTB or cross-country skiing, would be ideal.
4. Transition season is time to save your running legs
Running sucks. It sucks because on average every runner has one running injury per year – from a minor tear to a serious overload injury. So we try to save our running legs for all the kms of training waiting for them in spring and summer time. Instead, we try to load running muscles by plyometric drills and to develop hip strength. It is in the hips where our true running engine is located and we need to learn how to engage it better to create propulsive running motion. We also do “dry running” in the gym, using light weights and cords to simulate running movement. And since you will be in the pool a lot, it is also a good idea to add 20mins of aqua jogging to your session. So, very little running, only short runs and progression via number of runs per week and a slight progression in their duration, with pretty much zero progression in intensity. Intensity is hidden in plyometric and functional training. You will it feel the benefits later, I guarantee it.
Enjoy your well deserved vacations from a structured training for a month – and then get back on the horse with smart, versatile and progressive transition training to set a foundation for a successful 2018 season!
You can buy my Off-Season/Transition Season plan (10 weeks) on TrainingPeaks store. Thanks!