Taking a break in the off season

26 June 2017

You’ve just successful completed your ‘A’ race. Congratulations!

So, what now? What to do with all those hours that you usually spend training? What about all those hard-earned fitness gains, you don’t want to lose them now do you?

I encourage all the individuals I coach to take a break from formal training after their ‘A’ race, and especially so if this is at the end of the season and there are no goal races coming up for a good few months. This is the chance to do the things we don’t normally have time to do, without a guilty conscience. For me, the off-season is a chance to stay up later, get up later, drink more wine, catch up with my non-triathlon friends (this is difficult in-season as I am usually wanting to go to bed at the same time they want to go out!), walk my dog more and other fun things that get squeezed out of my schedule in favour of lying on the couch after a 7hr brick session (yes, I do question my choice of hobby at times).

But what about your fitness? For those who use the PMC (Performance Management Chart) on Training Peaks, to see the blue line go down rather than up is alarming and often you jump back into
training to try and slow or stop the decline. I’ve been guilty of this myself, particularly when I was new to triathlon. With experience from both myself and coaching others though, I’ve realised that line must hit free fall, particularly if the ‘A’ race was an Ironman. One of my mantras has become:

“A peak is called a peak for a reason. If you try and maintain a peak, it becomes a plateau”

By having a break in the off-season and coming right down off your peak, you can build to a higher peak by the time your next ‘A’ race comes around. If you try and maintain the peak, your
performance will at best stay the same and at worst drop off. You know that saying; “If you do what you always did, you’ll get what you always got”, that applies in this situation.

So how long should your break be? My answer is always it depends. It depends on many things including how long your season was, distance of your ‘A’ race, how much the training has taken out
of you mentally and physically and how much your training has detracted from your life outside training. The greater any of those aspects, the longer the break will need to be. While the body
recovers physically fairly quickly (especially if you are conditioned going into the race, less quickly if you winged it), mentally it can take a lot longer. If you are in tune with your body, you’ll feel when you want to start training again. The key is wanting to rather than feeling guilty because you aren’t. For some people its two weeks, for others two months. For those who stepped past the overreaching line that we all dabble with and into an over trained state, it can be many months.

A break doesn’t have to mean sitting on the couch for a few weeks and definitely shouldn’t mean forgetting all about your diet. While I believe it’s a good thing to gain a kg or three, you don’t want it to be much more otherwise it can take a much bigger chunk time to shed the unwanted body fat. Instead you can use your break to do more recreational activities; hike with your friends, ride with a bunch, hit the trails, go paddling or anything else that you can’t really fit in alongside triathlon training. Off season usually coincides with winter and being outside is less appealing making it a good time to hit the gym and fix those imbalances and niggly injuries that you have nursed during the season as well as getting stronger so you have a more powerful catch and can put more force through the pedals.

Enjoy your break while it lasts, it will soon be time to get going with pre-season training again!