The off season is what you make of it. And it is also what you need it to be. It’s a time of year to throttle back and find the way forward. As always it depends on where you are and where you are going. Me, I’m a back of the pack triathlete on a one-man mission to fight my way to the middle of my age group. I want to go faster, and if I can pull it off, I’d like to go further.
As I see it there are three main goals in the off season. Carry fitness forward into next season. Address your weaknesses. And have some fun. You want to hone your edge but not burn out. It’s a fine line. I’m not good with lines fine or otherwise. Last off season I made a ton of gains but pushed so hard that by mid season my training had become a grind: more tirbulation than elation.
This off season I’m taking a more laid back approach. I’m working on my weakness and giving myself permission to skip workouts on days that I’m not feeling it. Let’s take a look at my plan and my priorities. Maybe something in my approach will be helpful to you as you navigate your off season. I want to emphasize that your off season training has to fit your needs. A friend of mine is just doing whatever workout he feels like doing each day. That’s his plan. He’s 10 times the athlete I am, and he will do well. I need more structure both physically and mentally.
I’m sure most of you have heard of SMART goals. Basically SMART is mnemonic acronym to help set good goals. What each letter stands for varies a bit but let’s go with the following:
Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time Bound
My off season goals are to hold on to bike speed I’ve gained this year, to improve my swim, and to gain strength through old school barbell strength training. Let’s look at each in turn.
Working on bike speed is my number one priority. I’m legendarily slow on the bike. This year I gained a couple of miles an hour through pushing harder than I thought I could. The key was less solo training and more riding with other cyclists including making it to one of my local group rides where I struggle to maintain visual contact with the group for as long as possible. No one likes being dropped but it is motivational.
So the plan is to make it to my local Saturday group ride as often as possible. Get to my mid-week computrainer class and try to work in a trainer ride. The Saturday ride is a key workout so Friday is my rest day.
Second on the list is improving my swim. I’m a three minute per 100 yard swimmer in the pool and a bit slower in open water. Clearly the swim is holding me back and even a slight improvement would be a big step forward. I contacted a local swim coach, Katie Malone, who evaluated and videoed my swim. She identified three problems: late breathing, body position and shall we say, a less than propulsive kick. She has given me drills to address these issues, and I check in with her every month or so. One check in so far, and we both agree that I’m making significant progress.
My swim plan is two to three workouts doing the drills and sets specified out by my swim coach with focus, concentration and a mindful approach. On working on the swim you must be present to win.
During the off season last year I started barbell strength training based on Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength program. I was surprised at how much my strength increased and at how much strength improved my running. Free weights aren’t for everyone and aren’t appropriate for everyone but it has been a game changer for me. If you are considering working with free weights get a personal trainer or strength coach to teach you the exercises. Don’t just watch other people at the gym. Many of them are doing it wrong, and you won’t be able to tell just by looking.
So I’m back at the squat rack this winter. As much as I hate to admit it, I’m really still at the same place I was back in PE 100 at dear old NC State all those decades ago. Understrength and overweight. So the plan is three barbell workouts a week with the realization that some weeks I will only be able to get two done. Baby steps grasshopper.
Let’s run those bike, swim and strength goals through the SMART filter.
Hold or Improve Bike Speed: Specific: Hold or improve my bike speed. Measurable: Garmin data: compare end of this season average speed on same distance road rides with beginning of new season aiming for 15+ mph in the sprint distance. Achievable: I think so. Relevant: The bike is half of race time for most triathlon distances. Time Bound: My race season starts early to mid May so that’s the deadline.
Improve Swim Speed Through Better Technique: Specific: Address breathing timing, body position and kick technique. Measurable: Garmin data: compare time per 100 yards in pool aiming for 2:30 to 2:00 per 100 yards. Achievable: Yes. Relevant: Faster triathlon times while using less energy. Time Bound: Again early May.
Increase Overall Body Strength Through Barbell Training: Specific: Increase strength through regular, progressive strength workouts. Measurable: Compare weights lifted based on 5 reps and 3 sets for each exercise aiming for 300 lbs for squat and deadlift, say 200 lbs for bench press and 150 lbs for press. Did I pull those numbers out of my hinee? Maybe but they would be PRs. It is not clear to me how strong is strong enough for triathlon. Achievable: Probably. Relevant: I think so. Last season improved lower body strength appeared to improve my run and add watts on the bike. Time Bound: May.
The Fun Factor
That just leaves fun. The idea is to change things up. Unwind. Avoid burnout. Do I have a plan for this? Not really but I’ll work on it. Maybe I’ll try to get out mountain biking or take a class. Get out and train with some of my friends. I might have found another weakness to address here.
I’d also need to improve my diet and nutrition but we’ll save that topic for another day. Say sometime after I figure out how to go from “a mindless eating machine” to a more educated endurance athlete who uses nutrition to improve body composition and fuel workouts.
Goals Outside Triathlon
Finally maybe look at your life outside triathlon. Remember those odd people who are always saying they were wondering where you’ve been. We’ll call them family, friends and coworkers. This is a good time of year to hook up with them again. Spend some time with your family. As you walk through the house make it a habit to put something away, clean something or get something ready for tomorrow. Make an effort to message, text or – just to suggest something completely bonkers – actually see a few friends face to face. At work, talk with your coworkers, take a look at how you do what you do or make an occasional positive observation. Life is about relationships and community. Get in there. They need your energy and input and believe it or not they want it. Stumble onward.