Instead of working toward a goal or a key race during the off-season, use the winter months to focus on active recovery.
The off-season is an important time in any triathlete’s training schedule. In fact, some coaches believe it’s just as important, if not more important, than the rest of the year. Generally, it’s a time to de-stress from the racing season, when the typical triathlete’s week consists of 5 a.m. wake-up calls, interval workouts and nap-inducing training.
At the end of the season, most coaches recommend athletes take one to two weeks off completely, with perhaps a little walking here and there just to keep the body moving. But after taking these two weeks off, many coaches believe that one of the worst things a triathlete can do is to immediately get back into regular training.
Instead, most coaches recommend active recovery—training that helps rejuvenate your mind and facilitates physical recovery. In short, active recovery is easy, non-structured training that helps your body recover from the long triathlon season more quickly than if you did nothing. It’s restorative in nature—the increased blood flow you get with easy exercise speeds the healing of achy muscles and joints. Active recovery also helps rejuvenate your mind by removing the pressures of meeting certain times, watts, training hours per week and other expectations normally associated with structured triathlon training.
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“The No. 1 thing is [active recovery] needs to be non-structured,” says Paul Huddle, a top pro in the ’80s and ’90s and current coach for Multisports.com. In terms of deciding what activity to participate in, it should be “stuff that excites somebody or motivates them and is different,” Huddle says. It could be golf, bowling, fishing or whatever you can think of in terms of winter sports (curling, anyone?), Huddle says.
Three-time Ironman world champion Craig Alexander likes to practice his golf game once the season has ended. “I try to get out onto the golf course for a few rounds,” Alexander says. “I’m usually pretty rusty. I go OK for the first five or six holes and then I’m spraying them everywhere for the last few holes.”
Six-time Ironman world champion Mark Allen, who now coaches many elite age-groupers via Mark Allen Online, used to give himself two-and-a-half months of active recovery after the world championship every year. He spent a lot of his time surfing and would usually run four times a week for 30 or 40 minutes. “If you stop running, you lose the integrity of your joints and tendons,” Allen says. “They soften up, so the easy, short running is something I recommend.” Just make sure that the run isn’t the same as a typical in-season training session. It should be something you use to de-stress and just get outside, he says.
To assist with the mental rejuvenation, try other activities that force you to get out into wide-open spaces, such as hiking, cross-country and downhill skiing, or snow shoeing.
For someone who’s new to active recovery, hiking is probably the easiest way to get the off-season rolling, according to Bob Augello, one of Lance Armstrong’s early triathlon coaches. “Hiking is a great place to start because triathletes are notorious for overworking themselves,” he says. “Time is also a limiting factor with hiking. It’s pretty hard to do so much of it that it could become something negative—physically or mentally.” Augello recommends hiking the varied terrain of rolling, steep trails, as this helps increase your eccentric strength, or the strength used in lengthening the muscle as opposed to contracting it.
Whatever activity you choose, make sure your active recovery sessions are easy. “I am a big fan of an easy swim or bike for active recovery,” says Olympian and former Ironman 70.3 world champion Joanna Zeiger. “But, it must be easy! A lot of people go too hard on their easy workouts.”