Training in the Transition Phase

By Chris Breen | Jan. 30, 2019, 2:05 p.m. (ET)

Winter Trail Run

 

If you raced late into the season last year, then you are probably still in your “offseason” or “transition phase.” This phase of training applies to any time of year when you are not formally training for a race. The transition phase typically encompasses the time your race season ends to the time you begin your base phase for the next season.

Your base phase generally begins six months prior to your goal “A” race. That is on average and like most things in this sport, depends on many individual factors. So, your first race may not be until late spring or early summer. I personally don’t care for the term “offseason” because of its implication that you are taking time off from exercising for the entire phase. On the contrary, after a few weeks of complete time off (which probably occurred already), you are continuing to train during this phase, but with varying degrees of structure, volume, intensity, and frequency.

Early to mid-transition, I recommend cross-training with activities such as hiking, rowing, mountain biking, trail running, yoga and (weather permitting) sports such as stand-up paddling, kayaking, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing. Mid- to late transition, it is worthwhile to get back to our specific sport.

It is not a secret that to be a successful endurance athlete, you need to stress your central system (heart and lungs) with many hours logged at an aerobic pace of approximately 60 to 85 percent of threshold heart rate, or a 3-6 effort level on a scale of 1-10 (modified Borg scale). Some of the world’s greatest cross-country skiers have reported logging over 850 yearly hours of training, with 75 percent of their time spent in the aerobic zone. That being said, those athletes’ livelihood requires them to do just that. In a perfect world, the average age grouper would have disposable time where they could log at least 90 minutes of training per day. It is my assumption that most of, if not all of those reading this, are in this sport as a hobby and hopefully a lifestyle. We have families, careers, houses to maintain, and—dare I say it?—possibly even other interests (there are many good books out there that have yet to be read).

With that being said, I am giving you permission to structure your workouts this time of year to fit into the context and landscape of your current life. Make the sacrifices when you need them the most. This will likely happen during your base and build phase, as those are the phases that require the heaviest load of training. If you are consistent with your year-round periodization, it’s OK to embrace intensity during this phase. It is not recommended that you do threshold work every session. But increasing your heart rate to approximately 90 percent of threshold heart rate or a 6.5 - 8 effort level on a scale of 1-10 (modified Borg Scale) is OK to do in some of your sessions.

Besides some traditional strength work with weight training, which I recommend, be sure to include some strength work on the bike with some low-cadence work on the trainer. For the run, incorporate hilly trail runs (powering up the hills) or hill bounding into your weekly schedule. For the swim, leave the long endurance intervals for later in the season and incorporate shorter intervals that focus on a quick turnover at higher tempo (80-90 percent). Try shorter swim sessions with more frequency if possible.

Below are some sample workouts that touch on what I mention above and can be incorporated into your week.

Swim

300-500 easy warm-up

20-30 x 50 meters at a moderate to high pace focusing on a quick turnover with 5-second rest intervals

300-500 easy cool down

Bike

(on the trainer)

10-minute easy warm-up

4-6 x 10-minute aerobic pace with every 3rd minute being a low cadence (<60 rpm) hard effort in a big gear, with 2-minute rest intervals in between

10-minute easy cool down

Run

45-60-minute hilly trail run powering up the short hills.

Remember the sessions at this point do not need to be multi-hour endurance sessions. Be realistic and adjust based on time availability. Maintain a good baseline of fitness, build durability, establish good practices, and make consistency your number-one habit.

Christopher Breen, PA-C, ACSM EP-C is a Certified Physician Assistant specializing in sports medicine and orthopaedics, a Certified Exercise Physiologist by The American College of Sports Medicine, and a USAT Level 1 Certified Triathlon Coach. He is the founder and head coach of ARIA Endurance Coaching, LLC and also works at Winthrop Orthopaedic Assoc., PC in Long Island, NY. He can be reached at www.ariaendurance.com and ariaendurance@gmail.com.