Are you ready for a breakthrough year? A great year of racing starts with what an athlete does in their offseason.
Regardless if you’re in a position to win your next race, continual self improvement is one of the driving factors that keeps many triathletes motivated. It’s satisfying to set a new PR or complete a longer distance triathlon for the first time.
The offseason is the perfect time to set yourself up for success come next year. Quite simply, there’s no pressure of an immediate upcoming triathlon you want to do well at. This provides you and your coach with a great deal of flexibility in your training schedule to make significant improvements and yield serious results for next season.
Here are five ways you can take action and make the most of your offseason.
1. Set Clear Goals
If you don’t know where you want to go, it’s impossible to know how to get there.
It’s important to establish clear goals. Once you know what you’re looking to achieve, you can determine how best to take care of business.
The goal of “get faster” is a good place to start, but you’ll want to get more specific then that. In fact the more specific you are, the better.
How do your swim, bike, run and transition times compare to those in your age group?
Do you want to become a stronger cyclist? How much stronger/faster? This can be based on mph or watts (which I recommend). Do you need to improve your climbing ability on your bike? Have you been injury prone over the years and want to increase your overall durability?
Once you have determined what you need to improve, you can begin to decide how you will make the improvements you desire. Working with an experienced coach to determine “the what” and “the how” will help significantly.
2. Work on Your Limiters
Most triathletes enjoy doing what they’re good at and avoid the things they stink at. The problem is if you continuously avoid your weaknesses, you’re never going to improve. Instead of thinking about them as a sore spot, think of them as opportunities for improvement.
In the offseason, you may have more time to focus on your limiter(s). It may be as simple as spending more training time in this particular discipline or it can be more complex.
More experienced athletes looking for extra improvement in a particular area, may need to train specific energy systems (aerobic, muscular endurance, threshold endurance, VO2, lactate threshold, etc.). Improvement to your form and technique may significantly aid in your development, too.
It is not uncommon to do a specific training block where the focus is on the area you’re looking to improve. That’s not to say you won’t continue to train the other disciplines during this time, but instead put them on “maintenance mode.” This can be done at select periods during the season but it is best achieved in the offseason.
3. Focus on Technique & Form
Every athlete can improve their technique. Even the best athletes in the world regularly tweak and refine their form.
Depending on what you’re working to improve, it is very likely all intensity (especially during technique-oriented sessions) is taken out of the plan for this discipline. There’s no sense to go hard or go fast if you’re not moving in the correct way to begin with. Some coaches won’t allow their athletes (even Olympic and pro athletes) to move past low-intensity workouts until they have their technique down.
The offseason is the perfect time to improve technique in one or all areas of the sport, because there is no pressure to be race ready for a while.
This may all sound boring, but the payoffs can and will be big if you commit to this. Not only will your speed and efficiency improve by leaps and bounds, but improved injury resistance will be another by-product.
Remember, nothing happens over night. Patience and repetition is extremely important when it comes to improving technique.
4. Add Strength, Flexibility & Mobility Training 2-3 Times a Week
Most triathletes and runners are lacking when it comes to strength, flexibility and mobility. You’ll find great benefits if you train these areas this offseason.
Due to a lack of time and know-how, endurance training is the primary focus for most triathletes. And with a time demanding training schedule on top of work, family and other commitments, it’s tough to do anything but the absolute necessary.
Somewhat paradoxically, the other reason this stuff gets put on the back burner is laziness. No matter how busy you are, we can all find an extra 15, 30 or 60 minutes a week. Even during your season when time is most limited, finding time to regularly work on strength, flexibility and mobility can be game-changing for many triathletes and runners.
Regardless of your limited time during your season, the offseason presents the perfect opportunity to work on your strength, flexibility and mobility. These three forms of exercise are part of the secret sauce to longevity (and performance) in your sport.
Each category helps with injury resistance and overall improved performance. Improved range of motion and flexibility will help maximize your power and speed. All three work together.
Being proficient (or better) in each category of exercise will allow you to maintain good form longer during training days and races (especially long ones).
Plan to integrate these forms of exercise two to three times a week during the offseason. You can and should warm up with some type of cardio — 10-20 minutes of running is great. You can also swim, bike or do something different.
This is the perfect way to mix up your regular endurance training schedule with something fresh and different. The great thing is you can be confident your efforts will directly benefit your race results next year.
5. Minimize Weight Gain
Offseason weight gain is normal, and it’s actually not a bad thing. Before you get too excited, put the ice cream down for a second.
It’s not necessarily healthy to be at your race weight year round (unless of course your race weight still puts you in the category of overweight according to your doctor). However, it’s important to keep it under control.
It’s different for everyone, but if you had to put a number on it, limiting weight gain to 8 percent of your race weight or 10 lbs (whichever is less) is a good place to start. Don’t forget this is from your race weight, which may not be the weight you ended the season at.
The main thing is to set a weight limit for yourself. This will help keep you in check as you navigate the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. It’s also another reason why it’s good to work with a coach during this time of year. Accountability!
In the end it’s much better to begin your new training/race season without too much additional baggage. Imagine what you can achieve and how much more productive your training can be if you don’t have to worry about shedding significant weight at the beginning of the year.
Chris Kaplanis is the co-founder and assistant head coach at RTA Triathlon. RTA works with athletes from across the country offering a variety of services to get you faster, fitter and on track to successfully accomplish your goals. He is a USA Triathlon Level II Endurance and USA Cycling Level II Certified Coach. Kaplanis is a five-time IRONMAN finisher, in addition to IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship and USA Triathlon National Championships finisher. He is a USA Triathlon Al- American. Learn more at ridgewoodtriathlete.com.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.