Its easy to work hard as endurance athletes. When the season is young and hopes are high, anybody can find the motivation to get out the door and go put in some long miles and hard efforts. The building process will often take you through a 6-10 month window of focused training that is meant to make you faster and stronger. However, while you spend the majority of your season looking to get faster, you also must understand the importance of off-season and the purpose it serves. There are three key topics that should be focused on in the off-season which can be seen below.
One of the key things to focus on in the off-season is balance. Not only with your body, but with your life as well. As amateurs, sometimes I see athletes thinking they need to build through the off-season to get even faster for next year. I’ll be the first to tell you that this often leads to peak form in the Winter/early season and a burned out athlete by mid-season of the following year. We should all take a page out of professional athletics here and see that even pro’s take an off-season to recover. During the season your muscles go through so much that you often create unbalanced muscles that may present themselves as tight legs or strained muscles. The off-season should be spent working to re-balance those muscles for optimal training and racing the following year. Beyond just your muscles though, we often neglect other important areas of our lives during the season. The off-season gives us extra time to focus on other responsibilities and get our life back into a balance that allows for our success as an individual.
I gave you an example in the last section about an athlete that wants to continually build through the off-season. This athlete I have found will do 1 of 2 things. Either A) they will burn out half way through the next year because they can’t handle the constant focus or B) they will fall into a rut of doing the same training everyday and completely neglect specifics when it is time. What many forget to realize is that athletic performance is made up of two factors. Those factors are the psychological side of athletics and the physical side. Just like we rest and rebuild our physical side for optimal performance, we also much rest and rebuild our mentality during the off-season. The best way to do this is to get away from specifics for a while and just relax mentally! Let me repeat that last point… relax!
Goals and Maintenance
I’ve preached taking time off mentally and rebuilding your muscles/life balance. While its critical to get some rest, we also don’t want to start next year at absolute zero again. This is where a coach comes in for optimal balance of time and maintenance of some fitness. During your off-season you should be having a conversation with your coach to discuss the season and the goals of the next year. All we want to think about is just very generalized ideas of goals and targets to shoot for. While its fantastic to make SMART goals, remember that you’re giving yourself some relaxation time mentally so these goals right now just need to be ideas. Its the coaches job to put things in place as they should be, its the athletes job to trust the coach and spend the rest of the off-season relaxing. SMART goals come into play during the pre-season when motivation is building again and the body is ready to start the build for the next year.
Once the coach and athlete have talked in general terms of goals for the following year, then the coach must work to maintain a base level of fitness but get the athlete away from specifics as much as possible. A great way to do this is to mix in 2-3 solid training days a week to maintain, but the rest of the week should be made up of physical activity that is good for the athletes state of being. An example of this is hiking in the rockies or cross-country skiing in the winter or playing soccer/hockey with a club team. We are trying to maintain some fitness, but to not sweat the little things like a missed days workout or going to play hockey instead of riding a bike.
I’ve come to find that the off-season may be one of the best times to have a coach or invest in a coach. Whether you’re the athlete that wants to keep building or the athlete that wants to cut everything, the coach is there to keep things in balance and direct your path. You need to get away from some things but you want to maintain others. You need to rest your mind but you want to have a long term idea of things to come. You want to re-balance your muscles but you don’t want to bulk up. The off-season is what sets you up for your fastest season yet. Let your coach do all of the thinking and allow yourself to relax and re-find your balance as an athlete.