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Though it can be tempting to jump right back into swim, bike, run preparation for 2019, there might be better areas to focus on in the off-season that could lead to more gains.
During the season, it’s difficult to focus on that extra 10 percent, which is why the winter is the time to do all the things you’ve been putting off. Sure, there are no prizes awarded at the end of the pre-hab finish line or 30-minute core workout, but it will pay off come next year.
Here are some ideas on why and how to emphasize the “extras” so when you hit triathlon-specific training, you’re healthy and ready to go!
Focus: Rehab or pre-hab
Got that one nagging little issue (or nervous to acquire any in the future)? Treat the off-season as injury prevention time. For many types of injuries, you need rest combined with proactive treatment for best results. Josh Glass, owner of Georgia Sports Chiropractic in Atlanta, Ga., points out that the majority of endurance athletes’ injuries are overuse in nature, and hands-on treatment, improved biomechanics and rest can all help.
Your training plan: Work with a healthcare professional to devise a rehab or pre-hab “training plan.” Making sure you’re not weak or lack mobility in a key area will pay dividends when you ramp up the volume down the road.
Glass says that the most important part of treating or preventing any injury is identifying the cause and getting an individualized treatment and home rehab plan you can do daily. Give yourself goals such as getting to the point where you can do an activity pain-free, achieving X range of motion or improving to a level of strength that your healthcare professional advises.
Focus: Body composition
It can be the best of times (less training) and the worst of times (holiday season) to work on body composition during the winter months.
Ilana Katz, a licensed dietitian and the owner of Optimal Nutrition for Life, says it is difficult to achieve in-season weight loss because peaking aerobically is complex, and part of it has to do with metabolic efficiency. “An aerobically efficient athlete’s body uses calories sparingly,” she says.
“During the peak of the season, endurance athletes aim to match their training calorie intake toward calories burned, yet they are also at their peak of aerobic efficiency.”
Simply, this means it can be extra difficult to get lean while pounding away hours swimming, biking and running. The off-season is a great time to focus on returning to lean as a main goal, because balancing calorie burn with calorie intake is much more simplified when aerobic efficiency is reduced. Katz recommends combining small changes in diet along with resistance training to maximize results.
With this plan, she says, “you will be amazed at the lean physique emerging at the other end of the holidays ready for a new season leaner and stronger.”
Your training plan: Solo or in partnership with a dietitian, identify the low-hanging fruit as far as nutritional changes you can make and combine with a sustainable healthier diet.
It’s motivating to have a start and end date, so force yourself to record your starting line with an accurate body fat measurement and set a date to be re-measured.
Focus: Functional strength
The argument over the exact role of resistance training in triathlon is as old as the sport. But it’s hard to argue the fact that you need some baseline level of strength to run with proper form, hold the aero position or pull with greater force. (Plus, there’s the added benefit that a functional strength program can also help support your aforementioned goal of improving body composition.)
All too often, even when weight training appears on an endurance athlete’s workout schedule, it gets very low priority. But weight training enables you to build lean muscle and significantly increase your metabolism, which helps you reduce body fat and body weight. With the reduction of high-volume endurance in the off-season, there’s zero excuse not to get into the gym and start lifting.
Your training plan: One option is to work with a trainer or follow a basic functional strength routine online. If you fear the drudgery of following a plan, consider a fun push-up, pull-up or squat challenge with friends. Think of a challenge that will get you motivated to get stronger. Maybe it’s 500 push-ups a week, working toward unassisted pull-ups, or simply hitting the gym three times a week.
Though swimming is the most technically driven of the three sports, how efficiently you run and bike also depend on technique. During the season, technique can get shelved in lieu of mileage and intensity goals, but now is the time to become a technically proficient athlete.
Your training plan: Swim
The first step toward improving your swimming technique is to get a “before” shot. Have someone video your stroke—preferably above and below water—and consider a lesson or two with an experienced swim coach to identify stroke flaws that could be hindering your efficiency. If a video lesson isn’t in the budget, try a website like Swimsmooth.com to identify your swim type and provide recommended drills for improvement.
There are potentially inefficiencies in your pedal stroke that could lead to power loss on the bike. To check differences in right versus left pedal stroke, a good place to start is with a CompuTrainer spin scan. If you have a Pioneer power meter (pictured above) available, there is new technology in the unit that allows you to measure your complete pedal strokes and potential inefficiencies through its patented formula. A simple at-home test is doing one-legged drills for 60 seconds and noting where there are “dead spots” in your pedal stroke.
Identifying run form improvements also starts with a video. Running is where you should exhibit the most caution in trying to alter your form as changes can lead to injury. Many common form issues are symptoms of weakness and flexibility and not root causes. For example, if you find that your cadence is quite low (less than 85 steps per minute), you should seek to understand why instead of just consciously increasing your cadence.