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The Most Important Time of the Year: Off Season Training – Michael Harlow and Parker Spencer

The Most Important Time of the Year: Off Season Training – Michael Harlow and Parker Spencer
October 9, 2015 Michael Harlow

It is the off-season! It is time to sleep in later, eat whatever you want and let your bike collect some dust for the next few months. Or…you could use the off-season to focus on goals you have for the next year by improving a weakness and making your strength an even greater weapon on race day.  Neglect the off season and you should expect minimal to no improvement next year.

It is true that after your last race you should take some time to recover and let your mind relax for a few weeks but you can’t let this drag out missing key improvement while you sit on the sofa.  You want to take just enough time off to let your body rest and heal but even more importantly let your mind relax enough that training does not feel like a chore.  You need to get hungry again – want to train, want to race, and want to get better.

This rest should take the shape of 1-2 weeks completely off followed by a period of light training that focuses largely on technique.  The early off-season is the greatest opportunity within the year to refine your technique and your future success – both speed and injury prevention – is dependent on this focus.  Improving run technique will ultimately allow you to run faster and with less risk of injury. Improving your position on the bike and becoming a better bike handler will result in huge time gains over the course of a race where minutes are made up by having better skills.  This is the best time of the year to get a bike fit – your body and skill most likely has changed this past year which demands tweaks to fit.  Improving your form is also essential to having a breakthrough in the swim where speed is largely driven by technique.  Refine your technique now before it is time for hard, long workouts.

With technique refined, it is time to slowly build volume and intensity while focusing on your weaknesses.  Many argue that “base training” should consist of all easy work which is false.  Breakthrough seasons come from a strong off-season of intensity.  Without the constraints of upcoming races, the off-season allows you to focus on your weaknesses, be it a segment of triathlon or a limiter within your single sport.  At the same time, you should not ignore your current strength so that you can turn it into a stronger weapon when race season comes around. No other time of the year allows you to focus so purely on your training and improvement.  With this focus, fitness can sky rocket in just a few short months.

The off-season is also a key period for strength development.  Despite contrary opinions, substantial research has proven that strength training is essential to reaching max performance and keeping you injury free.  During the race season, strength training must back off slightly in terms of volume and intensity due to race specific preparation and recovery, but the off season does not have these same constraints.  During the off-season, you can build great strength which in-season strength training will seek to maintain and refine.

Lastly, the off-season is a great time of year to try something new and have a little fun. Enter into some 5k races or hit the trails on a mountain bike.   With a well thought out training plan, these can enhance your off season training.  Mountain biking will improve your bike handling skills and running an open 5k can give you a great workout while keeping you motivated.   You have to be focused on your key races in season so the off-season is the perfect time to try something new.

Your greatest opportunity for improvement next year is upon you – what are you going to do about it?  Now is the time improvement is made because during race season, it is more about maintenance.  What are you going to be maintaining next season – 3 months of sitting on your sofa or 3 months of building your best fitness yet?  Use this off-season to set up your best season yet.


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