First let’s establish what we mean by off season. It is simply the period between your last race of the season and the time you start race specific training for the next block of racing. Now this will obviously be at different times for different people but in general it tends to be between October and February. It seems to be a perennial area of confusion for athletes as they try and decide what they should do with this huge block of time. The simple answer is; use it to improve.
Shouldn’t I just be resting?
Of course a small period of rest is required at the end of the race season but 7-10 days is plenty of time to recover from all but the most gruelling of race seasons. It should be noted that rest is just that, rest. There is very little evidence to show that slow or easy sessions help recovery but it may well continue to aggravate problems. A short period away from running, biking and swimming will not overly detract from your fitness levels and will give small soft tissue injuries and glycogen stores plenty of time to recover. In addition, after 7-10 days most athletes are itching to get back to it, so your enthusiasm and motivation will be an all time high! After this, it’s time to start building for next year!
Long slow miles?
The Long Slow Distance (LSD) approach to base building has now long been discredited as an efficient method of improving performance. Most science shows that training at a variety of intensities, distances and volumes throughout all training phases is the optimum way to build aerobic capacity and improve the broad range of performance metrics. This is good news for amateur athletes,because if are going to train with long swims, bikes and runs then your going to need a lot more training hours (remember if you simply reduce intensity but maintain volume, fitness will decrease). With daylight hours in the northern hemisphere getting shorter and days getting colder LSD training is a tough way to build aerobic capacity!
This is a fairly simple idea that was created to allow more recovery for elite athletes in the off season whilst maintaining fitness and to work within the climatic constraints the northern hemisphere imposes on training outdoors. It also fits well with the idea that power, strength and/or speed should ideally be developed before endurance. In simple terms reverse prioritisation means keeping the off season training volumes relatively low and then building these up as you head into the preparation phase (usually coinciding with spring and improving weather and daylight). In the reverse prioritisation model athletes usually work on short, high intensity indoor bike and swim sessions with the aim of improving threshold power or vV02max. Running is normally kept to limited mileage and intensity, although there is no reason high intensity running should not be completed at this time, but most athletes prefer to wait for warmer weather, fearing injury.
Short blocks of time focused on improving a single discipline can be an incredibly effective way to improve your race performance through the off season. this is an ideal way for amateur athletes to structure their training as it fits well into the reverse periodisation model. It ensures each discipline can be improved whilst limiting training hours. The traditional model of completing 2 swims, 2runs and 2bikes per week can mean that athletes do not complete any one area or intensity frequently enough to make significant gains. Stimulus training is essentially putting 2 disciplines in maintenance mode whilst ramping up the volume and frequency of the third. Typically a bike stimulus block may look something like; a very hard v02 max bike set, a longer z2 ride and a shorter threshold session. Swimming and running would be kept to 1 or 2 sessions and focus on 60-70% effort (this should maintain fitness and economy but allow adequate recovery). Over six weeks the increased frequency of bike sets (particularly the high intensity efforts) should allow significant improvements in bike economy and threshold power.
The above covers the main things most people should consider for the off season. However the most important thing to remember is that the off season is a perfect time to improve, so use it wisely!