I received this question via twitter (well I reached out to the TriWives Club), and they actually got back to me – I feel privileged). To answer this in a broad sense the off-season can mean different things for different people. I hope to answer this question in depth, but for me to do so I need to break it down into two parts. Physical Goals and Nutritional Goals, two aspects of training that make up what you see and what you accomplish on race day.
Physical Goals in the Off-Season
Physical Goals are exactly that, goals that deal with your body and making or keeping it running as lean as possible. The first and foremost aspect of an off-season. With my athletes I change this in their mind so they see it in a different aspect, I call it “Transition Period”. This to me means we are transitioning from a year long season of races into something less taxing and less “traditional” where an Off-Season means that you just stop what you are doing which is far from the truth.
Physical Goal 1 – Recovery (Phase 1)
Recovery from racing and recovery from training means training in no real structured plan, but really just getting back into the swing of things. My athletes take at least 1-2 weeks of nothing or not hearing from me from their last race of the season to allow them to mentally recover from the year, rediscover their relationship, take that vacation they have been putting off and falling in love with themselves and with their partner in crime. This is also where you should sleep in and really the length of this phase of recovery depends on the length of the season and the intensity of your training.
Physical Goal 2 – Rehab and Prehab (Phase 2)
Prehab and Rehab go together in the sense that it is for the athlete to focus on any nagging injury (which I refer to as “niggles”) or anything they think might bother them in the next season. This means the foam roller may make its initial debut, heading to the physical therapist or Functional Movement Screener. This is where the big debate of whether triathletes should add strength training or if they shouldn’t. This by itself can warrant its own article, but I believe that every athlete should add some type of strength training. Here we don’t focus on a muscle group, but training movement patterns with functional full-body weight exercises and should try to shoot for not being in the gym for longer than 45 minutes per session. I think you can get alot done with more meaningful and purposeful training session then slogging through the gym for an hour or more. Here is where you can begin to introduce a slight form of structured training, but again the biggest thing to be careful of trying to get back into group training that is intense or mentally stimulating where the goal is to get a mental break from this.
Physical Goal 3 – Keep Things Fun
This is really the most important I believe in my eyes and probably should be at the top of any list as to why an athlete gets started in any sport. It should be kept fun. With so much structured training in a year (or more), it’s easy to forget why we stared this sport in the first place. For me? I started racing because it was something to do while I was deployed, but then this changed to being able to push myself and accomplish something that many others only dream and being surrounded by like minded individuals. As a coach now this has changed tremendously to being able to give others that smile on their face and help push them to accomplish their goals that they never thought was possible. You, as an athlete must rediscover why you fell in love with exercising and fitness in the first place. Was it because you enjoyed running half-marathons? Then find a half-marathon and start training! Did you love riding your mountain bike on the weekend and now it sits in the garage? Get on that sucker and find a trail and get lost for a few hours on the trail. Rediscovering that sense of kid you in can get you back into a new training mind and training focus you may forgot you had.
Physical Goal 4 – Work Hard and Hustle on that Weakness! (Phase 3)
As much as keeping things fun, the other big reason to train is to begin working on that weakness. I consult with athletes all the time (and free of charge) and my buddy was a terrible swimmer this year who is looking to turn pro and was swimming 27,000 yards a week during the winter of 2012 compared to 12,000 – 13,000 yards during the 2013 racing season. Needless to say, he improved his swim greatly and now his running (which was a strength beforehand) became something he needs to work on*. This goes along with keeping this part of it fun. If you are a weak cyclist, maybe pick up a new sport such as cyclocross and make it a priority by keeping it fun and finding races to compete in. The focus here again could be on technique or speed skills, flexibility and frequency of sessions like this is key to success into the racing season.
Nutritional Goals in the Off-Season
With Physical Goals there is nutritional changes that need to be made. This especially difficult during this time because as the weather drops in temperature, it means staying inside more often, possibly being less active and with the holidays nearing it can be very hard to keep off any unnecessary weight and fat gain. The entire aspect of nutritional goals is to help shift the behavior and make a change in the athlete.
Nutritional Goal 1 – Manage Your Emotions = Managing Intake
As said before, the holidays begin creeping up soon and that means possibly succumbing to peer-pressure. This means emotions can get in the way and before you know it, you just ate in upwards of 3000 calories of desserts, treats and cocktails. I am not suggesting you deprive yourself, but instead using rational decisions with managing your impulses and emotions will lead you to success in managing the intake of foods and possibly high-calorie treats.
Nutritional Goal 2 – Out of Sight, Out of Mind
Lets face it, sports nutrition goes away in the “off-season” and when you do keep those ideas of training and how much energy you are expending just suddenly go away, its hard to keep that mentality of not eating as much you did before compared to now. The other side of out of sight, out of mind is making sure you keep the foods you don’t want to eat out of your environment, such as not buying things at the grocery store or throwing out or donating foods you know you shouldn’t have during the off-season but can have during the normal training and racing season.
Nutritional Goal 3
With my athletes I focus on them on trying to answer one simple question which is this: “Why are you eating ______” (fill in the blank with a food you are about to eat). Are you drinking coffee in the morning? Why? To help you wake up sure or if its in your nature that you are meeting someone for coffee. Trying to answer this question of why you are about to eat something can trigger the mind to snap out of a funk that they might be in and stop eating eating with emotion or because they are bored. It is under this goal that I then have athletes log all food for 1 week. I believe food logs have their purpose, but counting calories and portions of the food they eat constantly can drive a person crazy, but doing this in the off-season can help teach an athlete the meaning of food and that it is fuel for the body and not something else. With the food log, I also have my athletes take photos of their food to help in this process so if they forget to log everything, they can have a better estimate in terms of portion control and calories.
These are my goals for my athletes that I use and can used in any sense for any athlete. The point is to regroup and recoup from so much hard work over the season to not break down and burnout before the spring and summer. If you have any specific questions regarding workouts or ideas feel free to leave them on our Facebook page. Please share this article with other athletes you train with because you never know if they need advice like this right now.
*He is still a very very good athlete and still runs extremely well, but when looking at his racing and where the rest of his peers are, his running is in need of getting faster.