I recently told my coach, I was thinking about writing a piece on the off-season. To which he replied, “that is going to be a very short article… you don’t take one.” Needless to say I do not have the best history of taking an appropriate off-season. You may now find yourself wondering how I consider myself qualified to write about the topic. I have learned from my success and failures and have been gaining a better understanding of a proper off-season. Thus, this post serves not as a complete guide to the off-season, as I still have much to learn, but more as a compilation of tips that have brought me closer to mastering the “art” of the off-season.
I am a person who enjoys putting the hard miles in day after day. Needless to say, my coach suggesting 1-3 months of no activity whatsoever was very scary to me. What in the world would I do with all my free time? During the first few years he suggested this, I would diligently try to do nothing for a few days before caving and resuming my regular training routine. I always felt my body didn’t need a break and that my desire to train indicated I wasn’t in need of a mental break either. However, as I grew older and wiser I began to link some training disruptions I was experiencing year after year with my dysfunctional off-season habits. Below are my guidelines for an effective off-season.
Choosing the Right Type of Off-Season
There are three types: full, partial, and rolling. I see full as being more useful for shorter rest periods such as a mid-season break. For longer durations full is best avoided as it has the potential to make most of us triathletes a little crazy. An exception would be if you had an injury that needed total rest to heal or if a long season had left you very mentally drained, in these cases a full off-season may be required. Partial off-season involves taking time off for some, but not all of your training. A good way to do this may be to just do what you want to do. Instead of having a rigid training schedule, take it day to day doing whatever training you feel like. My personal favourite is the rolling off-season. This involves complete rest from each of the three disciplines, but not all at the same time. For example, after my last race I took a complete one-month break from swimming. Since resuming swimming I have been on a break from cycling. During all this time I have still been running. My run break will be the last part of my rolling off-season and will occur after my last running race of the year. I believe this type of off-season is superior as it allows you to maintain fitness while giving your body a complete break from the movement of a particular activity. Ultimately, it comes down to what you are more comfortable with. It is imperative that an athlete listen’s to their body at all times, but especially at the conclusion of their season to find out what break both their body and minds require.
Choosing the Duration of your Off-Season
There is a wide range of recommended durations for off time. I don’t think there is one right answer. Again, this comes down to personal preference. I usually wait until I find myself craving a good workout in a discipline I am taking a break from. I then wait another week before resuming training. This builds up the anticipation and makes it feel that much more exciting when you get back into it. It is easy to lose enjoyment for the activity during times of fatigue and extensive training. It is important to remember why we initially got into the sport, for enjoyment.
Find Ways to make it Bearable (Maybe Even Enjoyable)
The off-season is the perfect time to catch up on other areas of your life that have become less of a priority during the season. Catch up with your friends, clean your basement, have a Netflix marathon…whatever you have been missing out on, now is the time to do it. It is also the best time to try new things without having to worry about hurting yourself or compromising your training. If there is a new sport you have wanted to try – why not? It will serve as a great mental break and there are always benefits to cross training.
So that is my take on the topic. Athletes tend to hold very different views on the off-season that can fall on either extreme or somewhere in the middle. I firmly believe there is no right answer and that finding something that works for the athlete is the only criteria that should be used to evaluate effectiveness.
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