Ask a Trainer: How Can I Make Off-Season Strength Training More Fun?

Focusing on moving differently and improving overall athleticism can be a great way to play and come out of the off-season a more durable triathlete.

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Every Sunday afternoon I sit down in my home office prepping for next week’s clients directly in front of one of my favorite quotes:

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

While George Bernard Shaw has many famous expressions, the words “grow old” in this particular quote could be replaced by any number of phrases directly relevant to a triathlete.

We lose motivation when sessions get long or boring. We aggravate old niggles when our training is out of balance. We plateau with lack of variability. I have found few in this sport who aren’t striving to remain youthful, vibrant, and competitive as they age. So if you’re one of these athletes, now’s your time.

Off-season is when we incorporate play, or “general athleticism,” into strength and conditioning work to promote durability (resistance to fatigue/injury), enhance mobility (muscular tension, length, and coordination in movement), and reestablish stability (control). The spontaneity and variability of play help to recondition, stretch, and strengthen your muscle fascia – that super suit of connective tissue that supports every muscle and organ in your body. Healthy fascia gives us fluidity in movement (free watts) and that proverbial “spring” in our step (free speed) we all search for as the racing season hits full stride.

RELATED: Strength Training for Triathletes

Make Strength Training More Fun in the Off-Season with Play

Here are a few components I think about when planning strength sessions for my athletes that incorporate play, yet are still sport-relevant and excellent use of precious time.

1. Keep it fun.

You might like skipping! I do not. It reminds me of warming up for high school track meets with an aggro coach wearing a whistle straight out of the military (literally). I avoid it even as a “fun” running drill. Incorporating play into your strength routine should invoke light-hearted, positive feelings or memories. Find those activities that cause you to lose track of time, make you smile, or give you that much-needed social component.

2. Give a little structure.

I work with very few endurance athletes who feel comfortable without some simple boundaries or confines —even when the schedule calls for unstructured training. For example, adding a time limit (AMRAP—as many rounds/reps as possible) or building in a community component for support (Zoom workouts with training partners) can mentally refresh the most mundane but necessary mobility workouts. I participated in several challenges for vertical feet this summer, which had me chasing some very steep Strava segments while hiking on my local Boulder trails. They were also incredibly effective, non-traditional strength workouts that replaced one of my weekly lower-body gym sessions.

3. Be creative, not reckless.

I love a good Instagram highlight reel from a celeb or pro athlete doing something physically impressive in the gym. Just remember that juggling dumbbells while standing on a stability ball represents a fraction of the actual work that athlete has already put in to master it. Instead, try something that is a step or two away from movements you are already proficient in and then gradually add creativity. For example, I often have my triathletes warming up with throwing and catching this time of year, which can be elevated with movement, increased specificity, and gamification. Yup, even dodgeball.

Whether you incorporate the five D’s (dodge, duck, dip, dive, dodge) into your off-season, try an on-demand core class, or throw around a frisbee at the end of a gym workout, remember that off-season is the time of year to move differently. We want to bend, pull, turn, and twist in ways that are not strictly swim, bike, and run. Becoming more mobile, total-body durable, and generally athletic now in ways that are mentally refreshing (play!), will only ensure that we are healthy, well-rounded, and ready for our high quality, specific workouts to ramp up this spring.

Kate Ligler has specialized in endurance training in both functional strength and conditioning, as well as technical program creation for cyclists, runners, triathletes, and multi-sport endurance athletes for well over a decade. She is a NASM cPT in addition to a NASM CES (corrective) and PES (performance) specialist. 

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