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Off Season Training

Three things you should achieve after a racing season

The off season.  Traditionally known as a time where you have completed your A race of the season and you plan to spend a few months without any races on the schedule.  But an off season can also happen for other reasons such as recovering from injury, or an increase in life stressors such as a new job or a baby.  Some athletes lose motivation to train in these time periods, but with a fresh outlook on training, you can set yourself up for your best performances to come.

Here are three things to focus on during your off season:

  1. Decrease training volume.

Endurance athletes typically increase volume in the months leading up to a big race with the goal of achieving peak fitness and form on race day.  It is not physiologically possible to maintain peak form for more than 3 – 6 weeks, so a reduction is training volume after a big race is necessary to achieve peak form again at a later stage.

– How much should you decrease volume?

There is no magic formula for how much to decrease training volume. It depends on several factors including how fatigued you are, if you are dealing with any injuries, and when you plan to start racing again and what distance.  However, one thing to keep in mind particularly for runners is that you will want to maintain a lower but consistent running schedule to keep your bones, muscles, and joints accustomed to running.  This will reduce your risk of injury when returning to higher volume.

-Can you mix up the training modes?

The off season is a great time to include different training modalities.  For example, making more time for strength training, trying a new sport, or focusing on a seasonal sport such as Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, or trail running are all great options.

  1. Work on technique/form.

When training with high volume it is very difficult to make any changes to your running form.  Any inefficiencies or imbalances you have are only made worse as you fatigue with increasing distance.  The off season is a great time to focus on technique/form. A few things you can do:

-Perform a biomechanical assessment with a motion capture system.

This would not be available in every city, but some sports institutes and universities will offer this service.  You would run across a force plate with anatomical markers to provide forces and angles at several joints throughout the running cycle.

– Schedule a visit with a physical therapist who specializes in endurance athletes and can do       diagnostic testing for muscle imbalances or limited mobility.

Seeing a physical therapist before you are injured can be a great resource.  They can provide exercises to include in your routine to improve your range of motion and stability of specific joints and muscles.

-Perform non-fatiguing runs with an emphasis on drills, strides, and form.

An example of this type of workout would be to start with a warm up routine specific to running.  I like Coach Sandi Nypaver’s follow along pre-run activation. This is then followed by mobility drills such as leg swings, skips, butt kicks, chase the chickens, etc.  A sample dynamic warm can be seen here:  You then do a short run of 15 – 25 minutes where you include 4 – 5 x 20 second strides with full recovery between.  It can also be helpful to stop approximately every 5 minutes to check your posture – is your core engaged, are you rolling through your big toe, do you have a slight forward shift, are you running tall?

  1. Set goals.

If you successfully completed a half marathon last season does that mean you should go for a marathon next season?  Many endurance athletes can get caught in a linear goal setting pattern which some coaches encourage as they view them as realistic goals.  I would encourage you to consider what you are inspired to do first and foremost.  If you’ve been a marathon runner for the last 5 years, you can move to 5 kms or even a whole new sport!   Honor what your heart desires.  This is supposed to be fun after all.  Of course, some practicality should come into play.  Good questions to ask yourself when setting goals:

-What event(s) or personal challenges am I inspired to do?

-How much time will I realistically have to train each week?

-What support will I need to achieve my goal? For example, if you sign up for a triathlon do you need   the support of a master’s swim group or a personal coach?

-If you dealt with any overuse injuries last season, what steps can you take to avoid the same or new injury next season?

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