I know when I started out in triathlon, after my last race of the season, I stopped training completely for at least a month, probably longer. I had no fall races planned and I thought because I was relatively fit, I could stop all activity and pick up where I left off. HA. Was I ever wrong. You know that saying Use it or Lose it? That's exactly what happened to me. I didn't have a big fitness base at the time so taking over a month off resulted in some serious deconditioning. I would stay that when I got back to regular activity that I was starting from square one but it was pretty close. It usually takes about 7-14 days for endurance to start to decline so bear that in mind when taking time off. The theory is the bigger the base of fitness you have, the longer it will take you to become deconditioned. So seasoned athletes can afford to take a bit more time off without losing too much fitness. Beginner athletes shouldn't take too much time off if they want to maintain a good measure of fitness.
How much time is enough?
How much time "off" depends on the length and intensity of the last race of your season. The shorter the race, generally the faster you recover. If you've done a summer of sprint racing, then I'd suggest a week to 10 days off any structured swimming, biking or running for you to relax and regroup. That may not be necessary for you to fully recover physically but you may need to mentally recharge as well. If that means sitting on the couch for a week binge watching Game of Thrones, then so be it. After that getting back to some kind of regular activity is key to maintaining your fitness over the winter.
For myself, I always like to take at least 5-7 days off completely after a major event like a marathon or a half ironman. That doesn't mean I'm sitting around on the couch. I still like to move my body so I will go for a walk or do some gentle yoga. If I've run a marathon, I find one of the best things for my legs is swimming. Recovery varies by individual. Some people take longer to recover, others take less time. Men tend to recover faster than women and the younger you are, the faster you recover. So us old broads really need to learn to listen to our bodies, ha ha.
Structuring Your Training
As I mentioned in this post, this is the time of year where you focus on improving your weakest link in the sport. A typical training week in season looks something like this: Swim 3x a week, run 3x week bike 3x a week. In off season for me, it looks more like this: Swim 4x a week, bike 3-4x a week run 2x a week. Running is hardest on my body so I prefer to do less of it. That is just enough to maintain a decent amount of running specific fitness, especially if one of the runs is a long run. Swimming is my weakest link so I'm adding a 4th swim that is all technique and drill focused vs. volume. And it's now cyclocross season so I will be doing one ride a week like that and then ideally 2-3 more easy rides.
Off season isn't the time for high volume or a lot of high intensity. My training volume in the off season is about 1/2 to 2/3 of what it would be during my race season.
Integrating Strength Training
This time of year is the best time of year to bring regular strength training back into your training as well. You don't need to spend hours in the gym. Two 30-45 minute sessions a week is great. If you can do three times a week that's even better. Start by working on muscular endurance with lighter weights and higher reps, and build to working on strength and power with heavier weights and lower reps or some plyometric work. In the off season I like to do my weight workouts after a short run or ride. The cardio element can be your warm up so you are ready to tackle your weight workout. I have some weights in my basement along side my indoor trainer so when I'm done my ride, I can start my weight workout. It's the most effective use of my time.
Over the years I've managed to become fairly self motivated in terms of my cycling and running. Swimming is where I have a hard time. Knowing that, I joined a Masters swim club. If there is any sport that you have a tough time getting done on your own because you either 1) don't enjoy pushing yourself in that sport or 2) you're not sure what kind of workouts to do, then I'd highly recommend you join a training group. The Toronto Triathlon Club offers coached swim sessions across the city and there are various Masters groups as well. If the thought of spending solo hours on the trainer isn't appealing, there are plenty of places to ride inside with other people. There's Watts Up in the West End, Dig Deep Cycling Fitness uptown and The X3 Lab in the east end. If none of those are convenient, there's always ZWIFT. which is social in it's own way.
Alternatively, you could always hire a coach to help you take the guesswork out of your off season planning and to help you make the improvements you're looking for leading into your next season of racing.
On that note, I do have a couple of openings for coaching as of November 1st so if you're interested head on over to my coaching site and take a look around. Shoot me a note if you have any questions!
Thanks to all the folks that responded to my IG stories question in regards to posts they'd like to see. This was the first one and I'll be putting together more over the coming weeks!
~ Coach PK