When athletes refer to the “off-season” or the “winter” season, they are referring to the time of year when they are not actively racing and when training duration, volume and intensity lessens, allowing the mind, body and spirit time to recover and rejuvenate.
This, however, is not the same thing as doing nothing. The key is to find the right balance between zero exercise and zealously maintaining peak fitness, which ultimately leads to injury, burnout and exhaustion.
The happy medium between the two is sometimes referred to as the “transition season” and is typically divided into three phases: Recovery, reintroduction and base-building. The length of each phase will vary depending on how long the race season was and the type of races undertaken.
According to nolimitsendurance.com, the longer the race season, the longer the races, the longer the break.
When race season ends, recovery is the first order of business. While it’s important to let your body recover, your mind also needs a break from the stress of training and racing. There should be no structured training and nothing overly taxing or challenging during this phase; getting plenty of sleep should be the top priority. Attempting to maintain peak fitness throughout the year is never a good idea. As noted on endurancecorner.com, “There is much greater risk from a week too little rest, than a week too many. Part of the benefit of a longer period of total rest is that the short term loss of fitness prevents you from smoking yourself when you return to training.” While there’s no specific formula for how much time to take off, it’s important to listen to your body and honor what it needs.
After an adequate period of rest, the body will naturally start itching to get moving again, but you will need to allow yourself time to rebuild your aerobic capacity and endurance. The best way to do this, according to endurancecorner.com, is to “do a little something every day” at an easy to moderate effort.
This aerobic reintroduction period is a great time to focus on new skills and technique, particularly in your weakest areas. Consider having someone film your swim stroke and incorporating swim drills into your workout. Ensure that you have a good bike fit and practice single-leg pedaling and pedaling perfect circles. Use running drills to improve turnover and form, and be sure to hit the gym to strengthen muscles specific to triathlon as well as those not generally used during triathlon training. Ideally, strength training should be practiced year-round to maintain core strength, increase power and aid in injury prevention, but be sure to keep the weights light during the off-season.
When it’s time to resume base-building in earnest, start by increasing your frequency and adding a few short, high-intensity sessions with plenty of recovery time built in. Be patient and kind to yourself during this phase and remember that you have plenty of time until your first key race; your return to training should be stress-free and enjoyable.