Sports scientists know it and can prove it. Professional sportspeople know it and use it. Yet, the vast majority of age-group triathletes continue to ignore it year after year, season after season.
We age-group triathletes watch our favourite AFL player have major knee surgery and come back stronger and faster the following season. We watch young rugby wingers get bigger AND faster over the off-season. Sure they may have been assisted, a little, by some artificial sweeteners but…
…the key was the variation and change of focus in their training – over the off-season!
Over the off-season they allowed their bodies to recover from the previous grueling season. With their coaches they identified their key weaknesses and planned how to correct and fortify those weaknesses. With the total hours of training reduced they had the time and energy to work on strength, which they know is crucial for an injury-proof body and a long sporting life. With the relaxing of their schedule they had time to commit to technical drills to improve their skills without the burden of volume demands hanging over them.
Then as the next competition season drew closer they started to introduce sports specific drills and technical capabilities. Then they started to work on their endurance and general fitness in readiness for the season openers.
Across all sports the household sporting names are the ones that trained smartest and hardest in the ‘last’ off-season!
So why do so many age-groupers ignore this very clear protocol and science? The answer is partly the fact that we love our sport and racing. As soon as we finish one goal A race we are back entering the next, then the next. Maybe we had a great race and want to go even faster. Maybe our race fell apart and we are keen to race better and achieve what we set out to do last time?
Some of us, myself included, need a race circled to get up and train each day. This is where prioritising our races needs to be considered seriously. If every race is an A race and super important to achieve XYZ goal you will eventually drive yourself into a never ending rut.
To break out of the race-rut-race cycle we need to assign a priority to each of our races. As the triathlon season is now pretty much never ending it is important to choose an A race for the season. Two A races is the absolute maximum. Two B races can be perfect, with a third stretching the line a little. The beauty of the C race is that you can do them as often as you like – monthly even. They can be a great litmus test and are the best way to hone your racing skills.
If you really want to knock your next A race out of the ball park you need to sit back, put your feet up (preferably in our Normatec boots!) and take stock. You need the Ultimate Off-Season Program of at least 14 weeks followed by the Best Build Program of about 12-16 weeks. This means your next big goal A race should be about 26-30 weeks away.
To get to that A race in tip-top, goal busting shape we need the Ultimate Off-Season. Here are eight (8) steps to make the most of your off-season:
Review past season
Sit down with a coach or friend and review your past season training and racing. In particular look at the strengths and weaknesses of your racing. The best way to do this is by looking at your place in the age-group as a percentage of the total age-group. This removes hard/easy/short/windy race course anomalies and also goes a little way to removing varying race entry levels. Be sure to write down these findings.
Identify your weaknesses
This may not be as simple as it sounds. You may be a very strong rider in your training group, but come race day you don’t perform as well as you planned. Many folks I know just put this down to a tough course or an unlucky day. Chances are however that your training in the group is too hard and your solo TT work is not planned well.
Conversely, a poor run does not necessarily mean poor run training. In fact, it is often the case that you need better bike preparation to allow you to use your strong run.
Once identified, plan how to correct your weaknesses. Once again this can be pretty tricky. A weak swim or bike will usually (not always) come down to poor technique. Before throwing more volume at these technique problems you are best served correcting the technique. For triathletes a weak run leg will often be fixed with volume (runners with varying styles and techniques still run fast). The problem then becomes, how to manage the volume.
Sports specific strength
Regardless of the weakness sports specific strength will improve performance. Strength and mobility drills can also be used to correct swim, bike, run technique. So it is important to give priority to strength sessions during your Ultimate Off-Season.
General strength & robustness
General all-body strength sessions should be used to balance the body. Over 90% (source: Google it) of joint pain and injuries will stem from imbalance in muscle pairs in the body. In a quad dominant triathlete, the hamstrings and calves are often not strong enough to counter-balance the quad and provide stability through the knee. So, the Ultimate Off-Season will have a strength focused program to build a robust injury proof body.
Reduce volume & intensity
The idea is to reduce volume and intensity overall. Keep some intensity but use it sparingly, for e.g. instead of a weekly hard bike smashfest, you may choose to do the smashfest once every 2-3 weeks.
While volume should be backed off substantially it is beneficial to maintain frequency to some degree. Generally speaking 2 sessions sper sport, per week is enough for maintenance when combined with increased strength sessions and maybe a little commutraining (commute training).
Single sport increased volume
Yes, I know I just said the opposite. However, it may be beneficial to hit one of the disciplines with volume. With overall volume reduced it may be possible to increase the normal volume of one of the sports during a portion of your Ultimate Off-Season. The key with super big volume is to reduce and manage intensity – this is where the vast majority go horribly wrong when playing with big volume. However, the rewards can be great.
End with a B race
Finish off your Ultimate Off-Season with a B race. You will not have trained with the volume or intensity you normally train with so the idea of this B race is to shake up the body ready to start your A race preparation.
You may feel pretty crap or you may feel great in your B race. There is no hard and fast rule. Some folks come out of the off-season like a rocket while others feel slow and sluggish. Either way, once you start you’re a race preparation you will feel stronger fitter & faster! Here is my tip – you will more than likely PB this B race.
Bottom line is, by allowing yourself and off-season you will give your body
time to recover from the past season,
strengthen your weaknesses,
build an injury proof body,
have time to give back to your family – social – work life,
lay down a rock solid foundation from which to launch your “A” race program,
mentally and physically ready yourself to nail your PB’s in the coming season.
Much more can be done to improve your triathlon skills and times during the off season than in the actual race preparation or race season. Only when you are stronger and fitter can you get faster.
Shameless plug: Seac Studio has created the Ultimate Off-Season Program! Allow us to build this tailored program based on your results and weaknesses and watch your triathlon goals come into range and focus in the next 14 weeks! (join here)