While your days aren’t yet packed with swim/bike/run, check out three out-of-the-box alternatives that will still prepare you to tri.

For the majority of triathletes, offseason is in full swing. Despite having lofty goals and a race schedule set for 2020, it can be challenging to bridge the gap to spring when the days are short, the temperatures are low and the roads are dangerous. Even for those that live in warmer climates, changing up your routine can keep training fun and exciting after a long season of swim-bike-run. Here are three ideas of non-tri-adjacent activities to consider adding to your routine (and the gear you’ll need to get the most out of them!):

1. Gravel Riding

Photo: Brad Kaminski

Gravel riding is a form of cycling that is becoming more and more popular, especially for adventure seekers. Gravel riding can provide a change of scenery and a break from your normal cycling routes, as it takes you on unpaved terrain such as dirt or forest roads. While the bikes resemble slightly beefier versions of cyclocross bikes, think of a bike that’s at home on fire roads and dirt driveways—not necessarily serious downhill singletrack, so don’t be afraid.

Chris McGovern, a former professional cyclist and now cycling coach for Boulder-based coaching company, Forever Endurance, believes gravel riding is a great offseason activity for triathletes. “Gravel will provide great opportunity to train base aerobic fitness and muscular endurance in a cycling-specific manner that is so fun you might just get hooked.”

Although the fun factor is present with gravel riding, there is some risk in managing types of terrain that are more challenging than road riding. However, if you are up for the thrill and change of pace, McGovern believes that gravel riding provides a one-two punch of disguised intervals around lactate threshold, as well as a skill component. “Gravel will allow you to accomplish a ton of sweet-spot work with the added bonus of some new bike handling skills.”

Another positive of gravel riding as an offseason activity is that the sport is incredibly specific to the demands of cycling in triathlon.

Kristen Ouelette, PhD and professor of exercise science at Springfield College speaks to the “SAID” Principle—which stands for specific adaptation to imposed demand. Simply put, the body will actually change to the types of demands placed on it.

“If you think of this as a target, with your sport being at the center, the activities that are most relative or close to your sport will have a greater impact on your performance,” Ouelette says.

Gravel riding is a great alternative to road riding and will leave you refreshed and rejuvenated to hit your normal routes and interval sessions come springtime.

What you need:

Trek Checkpoint SL 5

$2,900, Trekbikes.com

Recommended by Velonews’ gear master Ben Delaney, this is a full-carbon gravel bike that checks all the boxes for a great gravel ride at a good price: frame pivot for comfort, hidden mounts for fenders or racks (five total mounts for extra expandability), big tire clearance, and a very cool Blendr stem mount for electronic accessories like a GPS, lights, or action camera. This bike is well-suited to racing, commuting, training, or even light-duty bikepacking. While heavy wheels may be the only downside to this setup, it’s nothing that should hold back an aspiring tri-to-gravel convert.

Castelli CW 6.1 Cross Glove

$50, Competitivecyclist.com

A good pair of full-fingered gloves is essential to any offroad rider, particularly if you’re hitting the dirt for the first time. This pair of midweight (read: not for super cold or wet winter riding) gloves is super ventilated—which is important because you’ll be working hard while riding gravel. Most importantly, these gloves are some of the most sticky and grippy gloves on the market, so you won’t need a death-grip on your bars as you rumble along. 

Giro Privateer Lace Shoe

$140, Competitivecyclist.com

Yes, it’s a lace-up cycling shoe, but that’s part of the fun, irreverent gravel vibe. For under $200, you get a ready-to-go shoe that feels broken in out of the box but it durable enough to last more than a few seasons in the dirt. Gravel guru Velonews gear editor Dan Cavallari recommends this shoe for comfort and walkability, and says that the tough microfiber upper stays ventilated while protecting your foot. 

2. Fastpacking

Fastpacking, a subgenre of hiking, combines trail running and light backpacking for an exploratory workout and adventure. This niche sport, which involves carrying an intentionally light pack, allows you to cover big miles in undeveloped areas such as state parks or national forests over multi-day periods.

This is a great activity for a triathlete, who typically rides the trainer, runs on the treadmill, and stares at a black line in the pool during the winter months. Fastpacking allows you to travel by foot, fall asleep under the stars, and wake up in the wilderness to enjoy the morning sunrise as you continue your trek.

Morgan Hoffman, head coach of Playtri in Dallas, TX., USAT Level II, and USAT High Performance Team coach., is a fast packer herself. “With triathletes spending race seasons immersed in data and driven by quantitative goals, fastpacking may be the perfect cure for the athlete who hopes to unplug and unwind this offseason, while simultaneously building a functional foundation for the next season,” Hoffman says.

Hoffman, who does physiology testing at Playtri, believes fastpacking can be beneficial for triathletes in their offseason routine. “Much like trail running, fastpacking typically includes a mix of terrain-dictated walking and running, with the added functional strength benefits of running on naturally varied/unstable surfaces and hills.”

Fastpacking is known to be incredibly rewarding, as your efforts of hiking, running and walking for hours brings you to beautiful sights and landscapes. Hoffman speaks to the psychological benefits of implementing this activity into your offseason schedule. “Fast packers also experience prolonged exposure to nature, which a growing body of research shows can have a significant positive impact on mental health – just what the doctor ordered for an overworked triathlete.”

What you need

Hoka Speedgoat Mid Gore-Tex 2

$170, Rei.com

Though it looks more like a hiking boot, this “mid” version of the popular Speedgoat trail shoe is the perfect match for any fastpacker. Light enough for running, this very high mid running shoe proves excellent ankle protection for all terrain, and the outsole grip works on literally any surface (save ice). Be sure to wear high-ankled socks to prevent chafing, and don’t be shocked when you see how high the ankle is—but the rear cutout helps prevent any Achilles issues. Gore-Tex helps keep out pretty much everything you could encounter on the trail.

Inov 8 All Terrain 35 Backpack

$150, Inov-8.com

This is a pack literally made for running/hiking fast. Thirty-five liters of carrying space with tons of access points highlight this super light pack that fits to your body more like a hydration bag than a backpack. Front pockets on the shoulder straps give lots of options for nutrition storage, and tons of hooks, loops, and mesh pockets let you shed or add on the go without too much rustling around. 

3. Boxing

Boxing is a great option to change things up during the offseason because similar to the training demands for triathlon, it is a full body workout.

Through correctly throwing punches, you will use your legs, hips, glutes, core, obliques, back, shoulders, chest, and arms. Anaerobic in nature—which is different than most of the endurance training that triathlon entails—boxing can allow you to train that upper-end in a way that is fun and different than sprints in the pool, zone 5 intervals on the bike, or 200 meter repetitions on the track without creating the strain or potential for injury in swimming, biking, and running muscles.

“The stabilization that occurs in your core and the power generated with your upper body would translate well to swim strength,” Oulette says. “In addition, it would help build the strength required to hold yourself up on the bike.” Not to mention the massive cardio component. 

The key to getting started? Find a class or a trainer who’s willing to show you how to properly throw punches and wrap your hands to avoid injury. From there, focus on heavy-bag work in rounds of 1-3 minutes on and 30 sec to 1:30 off. Shoot for a 30-minute workout (including warm up and cooldown) before making your way to an hour. Expect to be extremely fatigued the first few sessions as you learn to “pace” your punches and use new muscles.

What you need

Pro Extra Long Hand Wraps

$13, Proboxing.com

This small, seemingly insignificant piece of equipment is first on the boxing list because it’s arguably the most important. Even if you have a $200 pair of gloves, if you don’t have hand wraps, you could very easily injure yourself seriously. Go for extra long unless you have particularly tiny hands, and take some time to try out a few different wrapping strategies if you can’t have a trainer help you. (This video has a good, simple technique to try.) Be sure to wear these every time you strike a heavy bag.

Decathlon Sparring Advanced Boxing Gloves 900

$55, Decathlon.com

This steal-of-a-deal pair of boxing gloves from Decathlon are the perfect choice for a triathlete who’s new to striking. Lots of padding makes these a great option for heavy bag work, though it’s extremely important you wrap your hands and wrists—as with any pair of boxing gloves. While there may be other pairs of gloves that could last longer and provide more wrist support (for more $$), this pair is far better than what you could find at a sporting goods store. Be sure to get the 16-ounce pair for the best possible workout.

Everlast Nevatear Heavy Bag

$55, Everlast.com

The most important thing about a heavy bag is how you hang it. Ideally use a large heavy bag spring, and if you’re using chain to hang it on a strong enough beam, put some carpet remnants between the chain and the beam. Vibration is your enemy. Otherwise, get a bag that is roughly half your body weight, and be sure whatever you’re securing it to is strong enough to support at least twice the bag’s weight. You won’t need anything fancy, but avoid a freestanding bag if possible, as it can move around a lot.