Fall has arrived and most of us in the Northern Hemisphere are entering our off-season. So what exactly is the off-season? The term can be a bit misleading.
The off-season is not time taken off from training, but rather it is time taken off from racing. This all so crucial time away from racing allows you to focus more on your training to make bigger advancements in your overall fitness and future racing ability.
Here is how a year of training and competition looks to a committed, high-level amateur or professional endurance athlete:
END OF SEASON BREAK: after a short 1-2 weeks of time off, truly 'on vacation' from their primary sport, they're ready to get back into training during their off-season.
Pro Tip: As a general rule of thumb, this break should be shorter for older and/or time-crunched athletes (who overall do less training volume).
If you only train 8-12 hours a week, you don't need to take much of a break. Simply changing the type of training you do in the off-season will be enough of a change of pace. It is just too hard for most people to get back into 'training mode' and too much fitness can be lost if the break is too long.
The younger or higher-volume athlete may take up to 2 weeks off from training. These athletes will recover faster and have a higher fitness base that will not drop off as much with more rest time.
- Pro Tip: As a general rule of thumb, this break should be shorter for older and/or time-crunched athletes (who overall do less training volume).
THE OFF-SEASON: the off-season is the large chunk of time sandwiched between your short 'end-o-season break' (above) and the start of your competitive race season (below). With the stress of racing and being "race fit" removed in the off-season, athletes can focus purely on training that improves weaknesses to gain a higher level of fitness for the next race season.
Pro Tip: Depending on the athlete and when his/her race season begins, the off-season can be as short as a couple months (i.e. end racing in October and begin racing in February), or it can be several months (i.e. end racing in September and begin again in April).
Keep in mind that the longer your off-season, the more time you have to train and improve your fitness, which will likely lead to greater improvements in your racing ability during the next season. Those athletes that can't stay away from racing and pack their annual schedule full from spring through fall are often the ones that don't improve a whole lot from year to year, or they are getting paid to compete (and are already at the top of their game!).
- Pro Tip: Depending on the athlete and when his/her race season begins, the off-season can be as short as a couple months (i.e. end racing in October and begin racing in February), or it can be several months (i.e. end racing in September and begin again in April).
THE RACE SEASON: this is the time of year that the bulk of racing occurs (typically Spring through end of Summer or early Fall). This is when training becomes more race-specific as athletes build up to their top priority events. Training also becomes more polarized, with race prep training and recovery taking priority. During this time, overall training volume often drops when compared to the height of their off-season. This allows for more freshness as they begin to add the demands of racing to their schedule. This is why you must make the most of your off-season training – racing gets in the way of training once race season arrives!!
- Pro Tip: You may still race late into your off-season, but these are typically low-priority events that are done more as workouts and early season fitness gauges, as opposed to peak races where you’re looking to perform at your best. Your goal in the off-season is to build your fitness to the highest point possible, and then once in race season you are sharpening your fitness to the specific demands of your goal event(s), and recovering between multiple events.
For most endurance athletes, you should be TRAINING to the best of your ability from November through April so you can RACE to the best of your ability in May through October!!
SOME THINGS TO CONSIDER FOR YOUR OFF-SEASON:
Move from 'Least Specific' to 'More Specific' training as your progress through your off-season.
- As you enter your off-season training, your race season is many weeks, if not months, away. The further from peak performance you are, the less sport-specific your training needs to be. This 'non-specific' training allows for a nice change of pace, using muscles that aren't frequently used, and ups the enjoyment factor of training differently.
Weight training in the gym and cross-training by hiking, rowing or skiing are great examples of non-specific training. Then you can progress toward easy/slow base miles to build your aerobic system if your race-specific training is typically fast and powerful; or train the power and speed side of things, if your target events are long distance (i.e. slower), like Ironman or marathon mountain bike events.
Later in your off-season, you can progress toward training that gets closer to your target race demands as fitness improves.
Train Your Weaknesses First.
- Similar to the "Least to More" training progression described above, start your off-season by focusing on your weakness(es). Again, racing is a ways down the road, so take the time to actually improve your ability. Then as you move toward the racing season, progress your training toward training your strengths. This method will encourage improvement early on and then build confidence as you approach race day.
- Don't be afraid of the gym or 'getting huge' and slow. Improving the strength of your individual muscles fibers has been proven to improve power production, delay fatigue, and improve injury resistance. This can only be accomplished by moving your body in different ways than you're accustomed to and adding resistance.
- Read my BLOG post about strength training concept HERE.
Break your Off-Season into Thirds.
- Look at how many weeks you have available for your off-season training and divide the amount into three distinct training blocks that focus on the following...
- 1/3 Focus = low-intensity, aerobic base building combined with building movement strength in the gym.
- 2/3 Focus = medium-intensity, anaerobic threshold training combined with peak strength in the gym.
- 3/3 Focus = small amounts of high-intensity training combined with peak power in the gym.
- Once you complete off-season training, you're ready to move into your race prep training and progressively back out of the intensity; from high, where you finished off-season, to progressively lower as you build toward your goal race. As you back out the intensity, you develop the volume (endurance) needed for your target event(s).
Athletes focusing on races under 2 hours can often race very well right out of their off-season training, while racers looking at 2-5 hour long events need extended endurance training to really peak, and ultra-distance racers need to add even a bit more volume to their program to be ready for their event demands.
- Read my BLOG post about aerobic conditioning concept HERE.
Get on the Trainer!
- The trainer is perhaps the perfect environment for improving your cycling economy, strength, and power. Through training with the new generation of Smart Trainers in our S:6 Trainer Studio the last three years, I've seen larger improvements on the bike than ever before. By utilizing cadence, power, and heart rate you can maximize your time and make the most out of your off-season training on the bike.
- Check out my 24-Week Off-Season Trainer Plan available on Training Peaks.
Don't think you can't race.
- You can still race while in your "off-season." Most people do. And you can sometimes race particularly well in the last third of your off-season training. You want to create an annual training program that targets a few goal events for the year. During the start of your off-season, it may be 6-8 months until your next "A" race, but you will likely (and should) race a few times before your first target event. Plan your off-season to finish with 3-12 weeks of Race Prep training before your "A" race (depending on the duration of your “A” race). Go ahead and plop some races into your program along the way both for fun and to gauge fitness and race-readiness as you approach your target events.
If you like what you've read thus far, consider my Complete Off-Season Training Program for cyclists of all kinds and triathletes looking to make a statement on the bike next season. If you live in the Denver area you can join us for in-person training from November through April, or for those who live outside of Denver you can download my program via Training Peaks and follow along at home on your trainer and at the gym on your own.
Learn More: Complete Off-Season Program
Whatever you decide and whatever your training & racing goals are for the next season, be sure to make the most out of your off-season. Don't let this valuable time of the year pass without maximizing your fitness gains, which will lead to better performance when your next race season rolls around.
This blog post was written by Cody Waite, professional endurance athlete, endurance sport coach and founder of Sessions:6 Sport Performance. Looking for help with your endurance sport training? Check out S:6’s Training Plans, Team Programs and Personal Coaching options created to fit your needs and budget.