At the end of any key race many triathletes are lost as to what they should be doing regarding their own training. While the months prior have been filled with many long, hard swim, bike, and run sessions, there is now a gaping void to fill, and often it is hard to know what to do with all those extra hours.
I find most athletes are aware that the body needs a break at this stage, but I find many athletes are not sure exactly how they should best utilize this down time.
If you are someone who isn’t necessarily concerned with performance, then the off-season should be used to enjoy yourself and take a break from training and racing. It is great to start socializing with friends who you most likely haven’t been able to catch up with as regularly as you’d like. It is also a great opportunity to undertake any different challenges or off-season sports that you haven’t had as much time for.
However, if you are committed to improvement and want to maximize your training during the off-season so that you are ready for some PB’s next season, then you need a specific and targeted approach to your own training.
Here are the three most important things you should focus on in order to head into next season with that extra performance edge:
1. Get strong
Whilst strength training is slowly gaining traction with endurance athletes, it still seems many athletes are reluctant to incorporate this type of training into their own regimen at the expense of another swim, bike, or run session.
A strength-training program for an endurance athlete is very different to typical strength routines that power athletes most associate with strength programs. Therefore, make sure your strength program is reflective of your own individual needs.
One thing I regularly say to athletes is that you rarely slowdown in an Ironman because you are out of breath, you usually slow down because your musculoskeletal system starts to fatigue and break down, so getting in the gym will help resolve this and build your durability.
2. Work on your weaknesses
I regularly hear athletes say they are determined to work on their “weakness” during the off-season, which I agree with. However, when the grind of doing something that is harder and typically less enjoyable than other disciplines hits home many athletes find it hard to stick it out and instead revert to doing the things they enjoy more and are typically better at.
There is nothing wrong with doing this, however if you look at your opportunity for improvement, you will usually find the biggest scope for improvement comes in your weakest and least enjoyable discipline, so stick it out and be patient. Remember Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Patience and consistency will be rewarded! Don’t be worried if your stronger disciplines suffer a little bit, sometimes you must go backward to go forward again. Your strength will usually always be your strength, so relax and know that the form will come back when you reintroduce that discipline back into your training.
3. Critically analyze your previous race season
This is one of my biggest issues; when I see athletes fail to understand why a race didn’t go as intended. While it also very important to analyze your good race days, I find bad race days (while super frustrating) usually provide the biggest opportunity for education.
Probably the biggest and most frustrating issues I see are when athletes blame nutrition for a poor run performance, when really it was because a lack of run conditioning. Or when an athlete falls away during the back end of an Ironman ride, which they will put down to a tight back or some other pathology, but really it was because they did most of their riding in a group and didn’t spend the necessary time in the TT position honing their skills.
Be sure to be honest with yourself about your performance, because sometimes nutrition and/or a tight back are legitimate reasons why your race didn’t go to plan. This usually means checking your ego at the door before you analyze the performance.
For most of us athletes the sport is not our livelihood, therefore it is also important to reinvest your time and energy back into work, family and friends, all of which have usually had to make some sacrifices over the final few months to support your training and racing. Remember to make these people the priority again before you focus on improving your own performance next year.
This article originally appeared at Trainingpeaks.com.
Ben Griffin, AEP is an exercise physiologist and coach with Craig Alexander’s Sansego Coaching Team. He is a 14-time Ironman finisher (PB of 9:15) and enjoys helping both age-group and professional athletes reach their goals.