“Summer Races are won with Winter Training” by Campbell Hanson,
Now that the cold weather has arrived, those that did Ironman Australia have had a good 6 weeks to recover and the Club prize giving has been and gone it got me thinking about the off season and what it means to most athletes. The above saying “Summer Races are won with Winter Training” couldn’t be any closer to the truth. However it’s also a time of year that is easy to let slide by without making any meaningful gains and it’s easy to just go through the motions and train for the sake of it. The key to a productive off season is to set yourself some goals so you have some clarity and purpose to what you are trying to achieve. It also makes getting out of bed on cold mornings a lot easier!
The off season is a great time to improve as an athlete. Mental and physical recovery is the priority post season, especially if you are ending with an Ironman. Once that’s done it’s time to set some goals. Having good insight to where you sit as an athlete is key to making improvements. Knowing your weaknesses and what you need to improve on is the first step. If you aren’t sure or you need feedback then having a coach is invaluable. Sometimes the things we need to work on or improve are the least fun things to do and we try to avoid them. I always think of a great saying here- “a coach is someone who makes you do what you don’t want to do, so you can be who you’ve always wanted to be. There is no glory in practice and without practice there is no glory”. A coach will also help identify your “athletic blind spots”- these are the things we need to improve on but don’t see ourselves. Identifying our blind spots and taking action allows us to move closer to our potential.
All of us have areas that we need to work on. Whether it is swim, bike, run, technical aspects or flexibility or mobility issues, the key is to identify them and develop a plan with your coach to address them. The ability to take on constructive feedback and make changes are what makes good athlete’s “coachable”.
With all this in mind here are my off season guidelines to help make you faster this summer:
1. Don’t do nothing- the worst thing you can do post Ironman or post season is do nothing. Three months after your key race and still sitting on the couch? Your risk of injury goes through the roof as you have unloaded your musculoskeletal system. One thing that our muscles, tendon and bones love is constant load that they can adapt to. Consistency in training is key to improvement.
2. Don’t just do anything- have an off season focus. Don’t get caught in aimless training for the sake of it. Pick out what you want to improve on, where you think you can make your biggest gains or what your weakest discipline is. Having a goal in mind over the winter months will give you focus and purpose. Luck in my mind is never a good strategy for success. Planning and purpose are.
3. Single discipline focus- we can’t focus on everything at once so the off season is a great time for some single discipline focus. It may be to improve your FTP on the bike, improve your run time over 10k or improve your swimming. If you have coach, talk to them and make a plan.
4. Mix it up- if you want to improve your cycling and you are a reasonably confident rider then join a cycling club and ride with roadies- they tend to ride faster than the average triathlete and your bike handling skills will improve a lot. Likewise with running- enter some races or join a running group. Swim technique not great? Look at getting some individual coaching.
5. Have a focus on strength and conditioning- all of us have areas here to work on and during the race season it’s often an area that gets neglected. The idea here is to improve your movement patterns, make yourself more efficient and reduce your risk of injury. Conditioning will make your tissues more resilient and durable and increase their capacity to absorb load. Better form, improved strength and a reduced injury risk are the benefits. 2 x 30 min focussed sessions a week that can be done outside of a gym with some basic equipment at home are all that it takes.
6. Work out where you want to get to and map a plan with your coach on how you are going to get there. Make it specific so you have nowhere to hide. Work backwards from where you want to be and set some performance based goals so you can track your progress. An example might be if you rode 5:30 at IM Australia this year and think that with some hard work and perseverance you can ride 5:10 next year then use your technology (this is where power meters are invaluable) and put some structure around it. A 5hr30 ride for a 70kg male may equate to a normalised power of 210w or 3w/kg. Work out how many w/kg you need to ride 5:10 or what power you need to average for the bike leg and then build your key sessions around progressively working towards this over the winter months. I.e. Every 2 weeks you may do a key interval session holding3.1 w/kg, then 3.2, then 3.3 until target is reached.
The same approach can be used to push your FTP ceiling up or get you IM leg swim time down from 70 min to 63 min. Work out what you need to be swimming per 100m to achieve your target and structure some key sessions working down from where you are now.
The key is having an end point in mind and breaking it down into small steps. Make it fun, enjoy the process and the outcome will take care of itself. So start thinking what it is you want to achieve over the winter months so you can enjoy the rewards when race season rolls around. Go forward and conquer!
Many of us are using Training Peaks to track our performance. Either with a coach or alone it’s a great tool and allows us to be more specific with what we are doing. Following on from this I’m going to be writing some articles on how to get more out of Training Peaks by understanding what some of the metrics mean. Watch this space!
Campbell is the owner of local business SquareOne Physiotherapy and has been a long supporter of our Triathlon Club, so get in contact if you have any injuries and niggles, and don't forget Campbell generously offers a discount to Club Members on some of SquareOne's services.