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How and Why to Take an Off-Season

The secret to getting faster, fitter, and having more fun with your sport in 2018? Take a break. Nope, we’re not kidding. But it’s not quite as simple as sitting on the couch for the entire winter. Here’s how to capitalize on the off-season so you come back next year better than ever. 

If you feel like you pushed your body and mind to the brink this season, take some time to fully rejuvenate. Recover completely for one to a few weeks, and then incorporate unstructured training and cross training as you wish. This downtime enables your body to return to stasis, resetting hormone levels, resolving minor injuries, and restoring your mind so you’re ready to return to another year of training and improving.   

“I take short breaks throughout the racing season, a few days here or there, or a week after a major Ironman race. But I always look forward to an extended three week break after the final race of the year, usually in November,” professional triathlete Josh Amberger says. “Each year I go off grid with my partner Ash for a total unplug. We're away for eight to nine days doing some remote camping and touring in my Defender truck. It's perfect for us because there's nothing else on our mind apart from finding fun things to do day to day, and catching fish to eat for supper at night.”

This period is also an optimal time to give your body a little TLC. Invest in some body work to resolve imbalances, adhesions, and other niggles that may be holding you back or precipitating recurring injuries and issues. Spend some of your newfound free time stretching, rolling out, and doing yoga or pilates. You may even want to consider starting to incorporate meditation into your daily routine to learn how to listen to your body and mind and grow mentally tougher for next season. We recommend checking out Headspace. 

How do you know you’ve rested long enough? You’re raring to get back into the training flow. This might be after a few days, or after a few weeks. Some professional endurance athletes like elite marathoners famously take a whole month off after a big race. Listen to your body and to your mind.

After you’ve taken some down time, it’s time for a reset. Or if you feel like you didn’t reach your potential last season and are still chomping at the bit after your last race, jump right into this phase. Transition back into base level training, while also focusing on getting strong and resolving your weaknesses. Incorporate strength and mobility training a couple of times a week. You can do this by hitting up the gym, and also by adding in agility drills before or after some of your runs. If you’re a triathlete, you may want to consider doing a single sport focus. Is swimming your weakness? Spend more time than usual in the pool, and less time running and on the bike. If you’re a runner, you can use this time to slowly increase your mileage if you want to build a bigger aerobic engine. Or if you feel like speed and strength are your weaknesses, keep your mileage lower and incorporate sneaky speed work like uphill strides (six to eight 30-second uphill sprints, a few times a week) to increase your top end speed, which translates into being able to sustain a faster pace in races. 

If you’re a trail runner and love to ski, you might consider venturing into ski mountaineering. Commonly referred to as skimo, this sport combines skiing uphill and bombing downhill and is an addictively fun way to get fit. Other winter activities like nordic skiing and snowshoeing are also prime ways to build aerobic fitness while enjoying winter.

For Josh, his remote getaway also serves as a physical and mental reset while staying in touch with his endurance base. “For over a week, our soul returns to life on the land and in these moment of relative isolation, we feel like there's nothing else missing from our lives,” Josh explains. “We go to bed early and sleep in late, but keep active during the day. This holiday is perfect for us as athletes because really, we're probably not losing much strength or fitness. Each day we're hiking or planning an adventure. But the heart rate is not pounding so it's still very much reset for the body. It's the perfect balance between finding a release from triathlon before preparing for another big year, and still living actively like endurance athletes love to do.”

Don’t be afraid to spend the offseason getting your feet wet in competition -- just mix it up from what you generally race. Jump into some shorter holiday season road races just for fun. Don’t feel compelled to train specifically for them. Or even try competing in a different sport! Hop into a swim meet, a skimo race, or a snowshoeing competition. Or if you need a break from racing, embrace it. While you’re not performing on the big stage of competition, you are stealthily growing stronger and steadily earning your breakthrough.