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7-Keys to Off-Season Recovery

Very early in my career I saw how linked my racing was to what I did during the previous year’s off-season recovery.

I also learned by watching other athletes and how they raced compared to their previous off-season recovery methods. Some did it right, but most missed the mark. They never had their best racing at the end of the next year when the biggest races happened.

Believe it or not, off-season recovery is often the most important key to racing your best next year. Yet as important as off-season recovery is, it’s rarely addressed by athletes or coaches. But how you recover from this past season is just as important as what you will do during your focused training next season.

I personally tried a lot of strategies including keeping a decent level of training up, cutting it to almost nothing, and everything in between until I finally hit on what I saw was an ideal off-season recovery strategy. Here are 7 keys that I found absolutely essential for off-season recovery. Use them and they will set you up for an amazing year next season.

Let your fitness drop down

Getting outside and moving but at lower intensities so that your off-season is one big active recovery.

When the off-season begins we all go into it at what is likely the highest level of fitness we are at all year. But recovery means letting that drop down. Peaks of fitness cannot be sustained forever without burning someone out. Going to the next level of peak fitness in the future requires coming down off that first plateau before rebuilding again. It’s impossible to hit a peak and then without some amount of deconditioning get to another level and then the next.

Yes, the most important overarching goal guiding things in the off-season recovery is to let your fitness drop down. I know this can be tough to do mentally. We all work hard for that top level of fitness. It’s tough to think about letting that go and getting a bit out of shape on purpose! But that is what off-season recovery is all about. The knee-jerk reaction at the end of a season is universal. Whether you finished your season with a great race performance or finished it with a lousy one, the first instinct is to immediately try to get ahead of the game for the next year and keep the training going.

That will have you in pretty good shape very early in the year. But by the middle or end it’s almost guaranteed to lead to a completely meltdown and loss of fitness that comes from burning yourself out. The deep energy reserves in our bodies that get tapped into during the season take a long time to rebuild. They are like the water tables underground. One big storm does not fill them up. It takes a lot of rain and a lot of time to gradually replenish them. Our deep energy stores are just like that. They can only be replenished when we cut thing way back in training and let our fitness drop down so that real recovery can take place.

Cut the volume…significantly

Cutting down the volume for off-season recovery is an art. And the reason is that our gauge of “normal” training gets set pretty high by the end of the season. So the volume that effects great off-season recovery is going to feel pretty pedestrian until your fitness starts to dip from its peak and you really start to see the cuts necessary to fully recharge.

Drop the intensity…significantly

Along with volume, the intensity of training also has to be reduced. This is the only way to achieve the first key of letting your fitness drop down. Cutting out almost all speedwork is a must. Taking it easier on your other workouts will help as well. All training if approached as something you are doing because you like the feeling of moving is the call. Feeling like you are “training” will not recharge your batteries.

Change up what you do

Change up what you do so that you are still active but not necessarily training.

Off-season recovery is not about laying on the couch for a month and watching television. Staying active is still essential. Every kind of movement works! If you have alternate activities you like to do now is the time to do those. Instead of cycling on the roads maybe you do more mountain biking. If you are in cold places, cross-country skiing could take are of both cycling and running. Maybe some long hikes in the backcountry get put on the calendar. Stay moving, but keep it from feeling like you are really training. That will come soon enough!

Run

Keep modest running going on a consistent basis during the off-season recovery and maintenance.

Of the three sports in a triathlon, running is the one that is fairly important to keep doing at least a few days a week during your off-season recovery. The reason for this has to do with the impact demands of running. If someone takes a long period off from running their joints, tendons and ligaments will decondition. They will lose the integrity they need to withstand the impact of running. Then when they start back up, there is a risk of injury. Cardiovascular fitness always comes back faster than the fitness of joints, tendons and ligaments. But even doing easy 20-30 minute runs a few days a week will keep things structurally sound and ready to bump things back up next year.

Get flexible

Add in some flexibility work into your off-season recovery is ideal. There are less other demands on your body so it’s a great time of year to work on gaining greater range of motion in all three sports. Keep it relatively gentle. Keep it consistent a few days per week. Enjoy the peace of mind you feel from just taking time to work on flexibility.

Sleep

Getting high quality sleep is important all year, but especially during the off-season recovery.

Sleep is one of the best ways to recharge and regenerate during your off-season recovery. When you first go into off-season mode and cut down on your workout volume you may feel overly sluggish and tired. That’s simply your body knowing that it can now take advantage of a lower demand for output and is using the time for energy reserve input.

Go with it. Keep as good of track of your sleep patterns now as you do in the season. Off-season recovery sleep will likely be some of the best you’ll get all year. Part of that is because most people have their off season when the days are getting shorter, which is a time of the year when we naturally want to sleep more. It’s also a great time to set the pattern of for your next year of getting into a regular rhythm of good consistent sleep. Yes, off-season recovery is laying the groundwork for a great year of racing next season.

Start your Off-Season Maintenance and Recovery training here!

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