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Establish these now to come back even stronger next year.
Whatever it is you’ve resolved to do differently next season—be it weekly strength training or a vegan diet—needs to begin now. The oft-repeated rule of thumb is that a new habit requires 21 days of conscious practice before it becomes automatic. Researchers, however, have found that effectively establishing habits actually take more time than that—an average of 66 days of consistent practice, to be exact.
In other words—don’t wait until the new year. Start now. The off-season is a perfect time to begin practicing new habits! Small actions, taken every single day, become powerful habits that dictate the results you see at next year’s races.
Start with these quick and easy off-season habits recommended by experts and coaches.
Roll It Out
Your workouts may not make you sore now, but that’s no reason to skip the foam rolling sessions. Take five minutes after every workout to utilize a foam roller now, so the habit becomes automatic as training ramps up.
“Foam rolling and roller massage have been shown in our articles to enhance recovery from exercise-induced muscle soreness and the accompanying symptoms of delayed onset muscle soreness,” says Dr. David Behm of the School of Human Kinetics & Recreation at Memorial University of Newfoundland. Behm is part of a team of researchers who showed that rolling every day after damaging and painful exercise allowed athletes to decrease the muscle soreness and recover muscle activation and range of motion in comparison to athletes who did not foam roll post-workout.
Reset Your “Easy” Button
During the regular season, many athletes get caught up in mile splits and wattage, even on days that call for an easy effort. Coach Matt Dixon says the low-pressure off-season is a perfect time to recalibrate an athlete’s definition of “easy” workouts.
“Too many lift the floor of intensity and allow lower stress sessions to become more stressful than anticipated,” says Dixon. “It leads to fatigue accumulation, injury risk and lower performance yield from your hard work.”
Easy workouts should be just that—easy. Leave the technology at home on such days and go at a relaxed, conversational pace. Make note of the cues your body gives you during these workouts—and remember them when your training plan calls for “easy” days in the regular season.
Training is only one part of life, but it can affect and be affected by other elements, such as work, family and social obligations, says coach Troy Jacobson.
“To create balance in a lifestyle that can often times get out of balance, I encourage athletes to get in the habit of taking a daily personal inventory,” says Jacobson. Take five minutes at the end of each day to write down the answers to the following questions:
- What did I accomplish today that moved me in the direction toward accomplishing my goals?
- What can I work on doing better?
- What are my goals and intentions for tomorrow?
- How can I maintain a balance between my training, and other important areas of my life, like my relationships and work?
Doing this inventory daily allows the athlete to take a big-picture view of life, celebrate successes and identify areas to improve upon each day.
Upgrade Your Grains
“It doesn’t get any easier than athletes taking the off-season to create a new habit of switching at least half the grains in their diet to whole grains,” says Registered Dietitian and pro triathlete Kim Schwabenbauer. “Americans, as a whole, eat less than one serving of whole grains daily. Whole grains have big health benefits, including reducing the risks of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and obesity. “
Whole grains include grains like wheat, corn, rice, oats, barley, quinoa, sorghum, spelt, rye and even popcorn. Schwabenbauer suggests starting by becoming a student of the ingredient list on all packaged foods like breads:
“Athletes can easily tell if a loaf of bread or other product is whole grain. The first ingredient should be “whole” grain or wheat (vs. “12-grain” or “made with”). Plenty of new options exist for those who want whole grain health benefits with white flour appeal.”
Be Here Now
One of the best muscles a triathlete can flex during the off-season is the brain, says sports performance consultant Alan Goldberg, who suggests building mental toughness by learning to focus on the here and now, not past complications or future worries.
“Keep your focus of concentration in the now,” says Goldbert. “The way you do this is by practicing two mini-skills: becoming aware the instant your focus ‘time travels,’ either to the past or ahead to the future, then quickly and gently bringing your focus back to the now.”
Regular practice of his mental habit will allow athletes to take stock of things they can control in the present, instead of dwelling in past complications (“I couldn’t hold this pace last week, why even bother trying again?” or “I can’t race like I did last year.”) or becoming overwhelmed with worry about the future (“I’ll never be able to catch up after changing this flat tire,” or “How will I ever be ready for this Ironman in June?”).
Stop Feeding The Machine
When training, most athletes eat by schedule, not hunger—a snack before a workout or a large amount of calories at breakfast to replace what was lost in a long run. In the off-season, many stick to that same routine, which can lead to weight gain when calories don’t match exercise levels. Dr. Stacy Sims, Exercise Physiologist and Nutrition Scientist with Osmo Nutrition, says the off-season is a great time to develop more mindful habits surrounding food.
“Learn what it feels like to be ‘not hungry,’” says Sims. “During the season people are tired and eat to feed the machine. In the off-season, practice eating to be satisfied, nourished and full, but not stuffed.”
Before opening the fridge, ask yourself if you are truly hungry, or if you are eating for other reasons, such as habit, boredom, thirst or emotions. If you are, in fact, hungry, eat small portions and stop when you feel satisfied.
Assess Yourself (Before You Wreck Yourself)
Many triathletes accommodate or ignore weaknesses during the regular season, citing a lack of time to perform corrective measures. Dr. Simon Stawhorn of Maximum Mobility says the off-season is a perfect time to make a habit of seeking out and targeting those weaknesses to come back even stronger.
“Consider the off-season a prep time,” says Stawhorn. “Take stock of your abilities in each individual discipline and how that matches up with what is needed for a successful race season. Some things will be hardware issues, like a need to develop better leg strength for the bike. Others will be software, like losing posture in the water during your stroke.”
Because it’s hard to perform a honest, unbiased self-assessment, consider recruiting the help of a coach, physical therapist or other expert to give regular feedback and instruction as you work on becoming a more well-rounded athlete.