What Elite Triathletes Do During the Offseason

By Annabeth McKay | Dec. 12, 2017, 11:42 a.m. (ET)

Find out what offseason training looks like for elite athletes and what advice they have for age-groupers.  

Improving your sprint, focusing on the mental game or spending time with family — there is not one right way to train in the offseason. Trying to decide what to do during the winter months can be a daunting task for any athlete. Add in juggling family and work commitments, and it can be difficult to successfully train outside of competition season. We are then left with a question that plagues athletes of every level: What should I focus on in the offseason? 

A few elite athletes give insight into what they are and aren’t doing this offseason and offer advice to age-groupers on what they think are the best areas to focus on to get ready for the first race of 2018.

Kevin McDowell

2017 Huelva ITU Triathlon World Cup silver medalist│2017 Sarasota ITU World Triathlon World Cup bronze medalist

kevin mcdowell

USA Triathlon: What are your main goals going into the offseason?
Kevin McDowell: With the Mixed Team Relay now being a part of the Olympic Games, it will be an area of focus. I want to be in a position to be representing USA on the team relay in upcoming events, like the World Championships and the Olympic Games.

USAT: What are some things that you consider weaknesses that you plan to improve upon?
KM: It's no secret that I don't have the best sprint. It’s improving, but it is still an area that I will be looking to develop through the next few seasons. I believe a big part of that comes down to strength and power, which I have lacked in past seasons. Work in the gym and sport-specific drills have helped with this and are something I'll continue to do.

Another area that needs work is the technical aspect in cycling. My coach, Jono Hall, was a professional cyclist before becoming a coach, so I'll be doing some focused work with him. We have introduced cyclocross into my training in the offseason and I have found that to really help with my cycling. It's also a fun change of pace! 

USAT: Do you work on your mental game in the offseason?
KM: Confidence has been something I have struggled with in the past. I have a great support team around me that has helped a lot on the mental side of the sport. I have been able to develop more confidence and belief in my abilities the longer I have been in the sport and competed. I work with the team around me on the mental side and have found some books that focus in this area. One I recommend is “The Art of Learning.” 

USAT: How do you stay motivated throughout the winter months? 
KM: Ever since I started triathlon I have been on some sort of team. Having a great squad is critical for me. It makes the training a lot more fun being in a group environment. We all bring different strengths to the group and help push each other. We all hold each other accountable during our sessions, but the big thing is we also know how to have fun in training. Rarely is there a session that happens without a few hard laughs!

USAT: What advice do you have for age-groupers?
KM: The offseason is a great time to find areas you need to improve and focus on. Put an emphasis on something you need to make that jump in to help you achieve the goals you want. It's fun and easy to work on what you are good at, but the biggest gains will be made for the next year if you work on some areas that need work.

Taylor Spivey

2017 ITU World Triathlon Leeds silver medalist│2017 Miyazaki ITU Triathlon World Cup silver medalist│2017 Madrid ITU Triathlon World Cup silver medalist

taylor spivey

USAT: What are your main goals going into the offseason?
Taylor Spivey: For me, the offseason is a time to not only recharge physically, but mentally as well. The season is long, and I spend most of the year far from family and friends, in hotels. I counter this feeling by spending it at home and with the people I care about most. Happiness takes the forefront in the offseason, and training is secondary.

USAT: What are the main areas of training that you plan to focus on?
TS: After a few weeks completely off from anything swim, bike or run related, I slowlypick these up again. With the energy and time to delve into other physical activities, I practice yoga, go on hikes, surf and begin a strength routine to improve on weaknesses from the season prior.

USAT: Do you participate in any races during the offseason?
TS: During the offseason, I don't race. That way, when race season comes around, I am hungry for competition.

USAT: What do you look forward to the most when offseason starts?
TS: I look forward to taking my mind off of the focus and travel that the bulk of the season requires. I enjoy being a homebody and having fun with my workouts with a little spontaneity. I recharge my mind and body totally so that come preseason, I am excited to get back into shape and improve upon the previous year.

USAT: What does nutrition look like for you? What is your favorite meal to eat during offseason training?
TS: I enjoy eating healthy year around, however, during the offseason, I indulge a little bit more. I enjoy feeling normal for a month, and don't restrict myself. If I want to indulge, I go for it. I don’t feel as guilty when I binge on a box of dark chocolate. But no matter the time of the year, I will always devour a side of sweet potato fries!

USAT: Is there any advice you can give to age-group athletes regarding mental training?
TS: As athletes, we fixate on our physical state, and often neglect our mental being. One underlying goal that we all have in common, is to be better at whatever it is we are doing. But if we are not mentally prepared, we tend to fall short. Personally, I have focused in on this aspect of myself recently through an app called Headspace. It only takes 10 min of sitting totally and completely still. Otherwise, if you have a bit more time, I recommend the weekly meditative yoga class as well.

Chris Hammer

2017 ITU Paratriathlon World Championships bronze medalist│2017 Sarasota CAMTRI Paratriathlon American Champion

chris hammer

USAT: What are your main goals going into the offseason?
Chris Hammer: My big limiter ever since I have got into triathlon is my swim. This offseason is the first time that I am focusing almost exclusively on the swim and kind of taking a break from any serious bike or run training. I’m sure we will get into some quality biking and running as the season approaches, but for now my goal is to make some gains in the swim.

USAT: Thinking back to before you were an elite athlete, what is something you wish you would have known about training that you know now?
CH: The only real regret concerning training and triathlon that I have is that I didn’t get into swimming at a younger age. I started in 2013, so I was already 26 or 27 years old. I feel like I am just now starting to get a hang of it, but I still have 10-year-olds or out-of-shape looking people swimming laps around me at the pool. 

USAT: What is your favorite part of offseason?
CH: I really enjoy the not traveling aspect of the offseason. When I was younger and when traveling the world was new, I jumped on any opportunity to travel. But now that I have a couple of kids at home and I’m working on finishing my dissertation, I find I prefer to travel less. I also enjoy eating a whole thing of brownie mix after the season, but I regret that decision almost immediately once I’m done.

USAT: In your opinion, what is something that elite athletes do differently than age-groupers in the offseason?
CH: I actually think that a lot of elite athletes might fall into the same mistakes that some age-groupers may make. I think too often, athletes either take too much time completely off or don’t take enough time off and continue to train at a high level (which just isn’t sustainable).

USAT: Tell me about the mental side of your training this offseason.
CH: Since I am getting a Ph.D. in sport psychology, I would be remiss if I didn’t highlight how important the mental aspect of training and competition is. I think the offseason is the perfect time to work on some new skills that you can incorporate into the next season. For myself, I find that mindfulness meditation can be really beneficial in controlling my heart rate and staying focused on the present. But like anything else, there is always room for improvement.

Allysa Seely

Paralympic Gold Medalist | 2017 Yokohama and Gold Coast  ITU World Paratriathlon Champion│ 2017 Sarasota CAMTRI American Champion

allysa seely

USAT: What are your main goals going into the offseason?
Allysa Seely: Heading into the offseason, my primary goal was to get healthy. Now that I am on a good path to achieving that my offseason will be focused on making gains in both strength and endurance so when it is time to build speed, my aerobic and muscular base will be solid.

USAT: What does a typical day during your offseason look like?
AS: A typical day starts with a focused swim workout, breakfast with friends and some reading before heading into my afternoon workouts. I try to end each day with a little bit of reflection through journaling on what I did well that day and what I could work on. I also look at my goals and how best I could build upon them and refine them.

USAT: When you aren’t training in the winter months what are you doing?
AS: When I’m not training I can be found snuggling on the couch with my dogs and a good book.

USAT: How do you stay focused and motivated during the offseason?
AS: During the offseason, I try to stay focused by mixing things up a bit. Getting out more with friends, exploring new routes, spending more time on the dirt — trail running and mountain biking — and throwing in some cross training. Having a good mix of activity that is different from my typical swim, bike, run but still lends to my training is key to staying motivated.

USAT: What advice can you give to age-group athletes who may be lost when deciding what to focus on during the offseason?
AS: The advice I would lend to any athlete in the offseason is you can’t focus on speed 365 days a year. The offseason is a great time to mix up your workouts, focus on the fun of the sport and build a strong base so when it’s time to work on speed your body is ready to go.