There are three ways of approaching the triathlon off season - stop exercising, get fat and lose your edge; keep training, burnout and get injured; or let the body recover, build your base and race better next year. This article is about the last of these.
When I develop a triathlon annual training plan – measuring out the duration of periods, base, build, taper, peak, off, transition, and preparation periods – I start with the off season.
The fall and winter is a time most athletes wrap up their race season, take some time off, and let their body recuperate from the rigors of high-intensity training and racing. Some take as much as four weeks off, and their off season includes their transition season.
For me, off means off. No swim, bike, run, weights – nothing that will stress my heart, lungs, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. The duration of my “off” season is typically a week or two. It may be shorter or longer, depending on my current and future fitness goals. I typically take time off after the last event of the season. During this time, I reflect on what I accomplished. I try to get more sleep, rest and relaxation. While some struggle taking time off, I have learned to take seasonal rest seriously, as it allows me to race much better the next season. Trying to maintain peak fitness will not be beneficial to your results next year. I tried to maintain my fitness 12 months a year back in the 90s when I started training for triathlon. It did not enhance my performance, it only led to injury, illness and overtraining.
After I take time off, then I’m ready to start moving again, and my transition season consists of two to eight weeks transitioning into activity. I don’t do sprints, speed work, climbing, hill repeats or other intense training, so my body continues to get a good rest and can repair itself fully. When I am ready to start moving again, I follow these guidelines:
- I don’t plan workouts. I do what I feel like when I feel like doing it, and I don’t train, I exercise.
- I don’t have restrictions on what I do, just guidelines.
- My weekend to-do list includes taking naps instead training.
- I do reduce training and intensity while maintaining a level of fitness.
- I don’t indulge (eat whatever, whenever “forbidden foods”) or try diet when it comes to nutrition. I like to keep my nutrition under control 365 days a year.
- I do think about goals and events for next year.
- I don’t get post-training race blues because I prepare for this time of year to happen: (I will link this to my plan article).
- I do plan my preparation and base period:
- I don’t gain more then eight pounds.
- I do enjoy my transition period.
When it is time to start training again, and focus on building my base fitness not just exercising, I go through a preparation period of 8 to 12 weeks. During this time, I do some general strength training, preparing tendons, bones, ligaments and my mind to start base training and getting into a training routine.
Building your Base
I describe the base phase as the time you start to train. Most athletes start building their base sometime during the months of January to March. The base phase should last between 12-16 weeks, depending on how much time you have to train. I increase the volume of my training, but keep the intensity low and aerobic. My base period starts about 16-20 weeks before my A race for next season. The first four weeks of base training I simply perform low-level aerobic work.
The second four-week block I begin to work on technique, skill, and efficiency, with primary workouts to perfect my spin, stride, and stroke so that I do not reinforce bad habits. Efficiency is a huge component of becoming a faster athlete. I have a library with a variety of drills to increase cadence, efficiency, leg speed, and coordination.
During the third and forth block I start to increase overall volume while adding some higher aerobic end intensity. I perform the majority of my weight work in the base period.
Your base training builds the foundation for higher intensity and sport specificity, a phase that often comes in the spring or summer. It may last 8-12 weeks, depending on the race date.
Competitive Season – Building your Sport Specific Intensity
Once you build your foundation give yourself about 8 weeks to add sport specific intensity. This is the phase you add more tempo and threshold workouts and slightly decrease your training volume while adding Intensity. Examples of workouts would be to train on a course that simulates your race, train at an intensity higher or at least that same as your race pace. Practice bricks, swim to bike, and bike to run workouts. I will go into more details on competitive, taper and peak seasons in my next article
The details when it comes to frequency, intensity and duration during your off, transition, preparation and base training phases depend on your goals, experience, and, to a certain extent, trial and error. Learn from what works and what does not for yourself, not what works for someone else. Seek advice from coaches and other experienced athletes and then find what works for you.
You can find more about Wendy and T2 Coaching here